Monday, July 28, 2008

Hillside - Of politics and festivals

I had a very enjoyable weekend at the Hillside festival in Guelph. Not even a brief spate of torrential rain could dampen the spirits of the huge crowd gathered for a Vinyl Cafe recording. I discovered a number of new artists that I enjoyed. And yet, I left the festival somewhat discomfited by its politics.

Guelph's by-election was called on Friday morning, but the unofficial campaign has long been in swing. Thus, festival organizers were faced with the decision of whether or not to allow the candidates to campaign at the festival. Ultimately, they chose to tell the candidates that they were welcome as participants (like Tom King, who read at the Sun Tent), as volunteers (like Mike Nagy, who ran the water tent) or as attendees, but that actual campaigning was off-limits, even in the "neighbourhood tent" where interest groups like the Council for Canadians were set up. A number of the candidates took this in stride, and deferred to the organizers' wishes.

NDP candidate Tom King objected to this policy, arguing that it is important, in a successful political system, that it be integrated into the community. Initially, I had mixed feelings about this. Part of me wanted to just enjoy a relaxing music festival without the stresses of the campaign. But after three days at the festival, I was won over to King's position, if only because of how extensively politics were part of the festival. On multiple occasions, MCs exhorted patrons to take advantage of the free water, usually taking the opportunity to decry the Nestle bottled water plant. The Tibetan monks not only performed three times and had their own tent, but MCs pleaded with the audience to make donations to their cause, and to make contributions towards the building of their monastery. Halfway through Hayden's set, a parade led by the monks noisily wended its way around the pathway surrounding the main stage. On several occasions, volunteers asked for donations to the green campaign for environmental initiatives at Hillside. A number of environmental and left-leaning groups were set up in the neighbourhood tent.

With so many political causes present at the festival, and not even discretely tucked into one of the tents, I was left wondering what the harm would have been in letting political parties have a presence in one of the tents. It strikes me that the politics of Hillside are part of what is ailing our political system. There was much engagement in international politics and in local interest groups, but the local politicians who can actually enact policy decisions were not even allowed to be there. It is this disconnect between the issues and the decision-makers which really irked me. I don't think that the candidates should have been permitted to wander the grounds with packs of T-shirt clad supporters hitting up the patrons. But to exclude them from the festival entirely when so much politicking was going on strikes me as short-sighted and detrimental to reforming the politics of the society we have to live in from day to day. Ignoring the current Canadian political system, with all of its flaws, is not going to make it go away or any less powerful. It will simply allow other people to hold power.

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At 11:52 am, Blogger JimBobby said...

Whooee! Mounting a festival like that takes amassive amount of work. Usually, it is volunteers who bear most of the responsibilities and do most of the planning. If the organizers didn't want political parties campaigning, their wishes should be respected. There's a difference between advocacy groups, religious organizations and political parties.

To their credit, the candidates in Guelph's upcoming by-election stuck by the rules and respected those dedicated volunteers who made the event possible. Party politics, as practised in Canada, is nasty and divisive. A weekend free of that sort of politicking is not too much to ask for, IMO.



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