Orange you glad you voted?

(I was present at the Calgary epicentre of the NDP on election night: what follows are notes from what it was like to be there, and what it seemed to mean. I’m not going into policies and mandates in this post… this about basking in the afterglow.)

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Being in the Calgary NDP celebration felt historic; I watched people who’ve been fighting the good fight without hope of victory for decades become increasingly convinced that something was going to happen.

Everything was happening in the Arrata Opera Centre, an old converted church downtown. The main hall, usually used for opera rehearsals, had a projection screen showing results, with a gigantic pipe organ behind. Along with the domed ceiling and the old wood, this was a beautiful place to celebrate.

I saw a women wander away from the crowd watching the results, shaking her head with a hand over her mouth, in shock. She couldn’t believe it. She slowly wandered back, with a tiny smile she was slowly peeling open into something bigger.

I saw another woman who couldn’t help but jump up and down… she’d pause, see the results, and go again, like a pogo-stick version of a whirling dervish, overcome and expressing it physically.

It was an amazing night.

***

It felt like any other election. The voting station we voted at was active but not thronged with people. My social media feeds rang with voting sentiments, and a lot of support for progressive parties, but that didn’t convince me.

For decades, there has been a disconnect between the politics of my social circle and the politics reflected at the polls. There have been a lot of explanations for this, from apathetic voters to a silent majority of conservative citizens who don’t tweet and post, but do check the box.

I was optimistic about a solid NDP opposition, maybe with a PC minority? I felt like that was a hopeful but realistic possibility.

I joined my friends at the NDP rally at around 8:30 and went over to the bar to get a beer. I looked over at the TV and my jaw dropped. The NDP was nearing a majority. Minutes later, they passed it. Perhaps an hour later, the news started calling it.

An NDP majority government. For years the Progressive Conservative government simply felt like the air you breathed; it was part of the province and always would be. This wasn’t loyalty for many of us, it was more akin to a kind of brutal fatalism.

I’ve often considered myself post-partisan; I’ve been frustrated by a party system and what that sort of process means in terms of political discourse and strategy. It’s why I joined a group called 1 Calgary Vote to look at strategies for the upcoming Federal campaign, and how I supported 1 Alberta Vote, which operated under much the same idea. (Any credit for 1AV has to go to other members of the group who worked much harder me!)

Being at the celebration reminded me of something those parties provide: A home. A family. That’s what I saw in the people, was a family bound together, with all the variations that you come to expect in family. Like the slightly mad uncle telling everyone it was Karl Marx’s birthday (that was true).

(I also used to work for the Opera, so being in the centre felt especially homey for me.)

I’ve been proud of Jen as she’s forged her political career: running against Prentice in the October by-election, managing a campaign for school board trustee Julie Hrdlicka, and for both provincial and federal NDP campaigns, she’s done a lot and succeeded at goals. It’s mostly through her that I had access to the shindig that night. It’s through her that I got a chance to be part of this family.

We left that party near the end, the last few stragglers sunning themselves on the election results and throwing cheers whenever a victorious friend was shown on the screen. I hugged and shook hands with candidates (now MLAs) that I call friends, who probably went on to their own well-deserved after-party. It had turned windy and wet over the course of the night, but Jen and I didn’t care. I swear you could hear something in the air, a click, as something in Alberta switched.

It was an amazing night.

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