I noticed an insert in the local paper titled ‘Local Heroes’ It was an impressive list. People like Mary Everson, Meaghan Cursons, Kymme Patrick and Lori Mazey, all who have made the Comox Valley a truly great place to live. They have made real differences in people’s lives and given so much of themselves for all of us.
It made me think of some of the heroes in my life and times. Not just world figures that I have read about or seen on the television screen but people I have met and in some cases, worked with. These are people who have inspired me to get involved or to look at the world in a new way and have challenged me to do my bit to help make a better world. They are unlikely to have tomes written about them or have their life story filmed for posterity. That is important as I don’t put much stock in the ‘Great Man’ theory of history. I am more the ’atomic theory’ type who believes change happens like an atomic reaction with particles striking other bodies and setting off chain reactions till transformation occurs or a damn big explosion happens.
The other caveat is that these are heroes, not saints. They were human with faults and some were friendly and outgoing with brilliant minds, and others were cantankerous and held one or two rather strange ideas.
Jean Claude Parrot was the President of my union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), from 1977 t0 1992. A postal clerk from Montreal, he was involved in the union since the 1950’s.He always knew which side he was on and so was very unpopular with both Canada Post management and with the corporate media. Jean Claude understood the political dynamics of labour relations better than most and, unlike some of his admirers, never confused tactics for strategy. The reason though that I consider him a hero of mine was his courage and his unshakeable belief in the members of the union.
I was president of the Vancouver Local starting in 1989, just at the time two unions, CUPW and the Letter Carriers Union of Canada (LCUC), were being merged after a narrow vote (51% to 49%) won by CUPW. It had been a bitter and at times vicious campaign and there was a lot of distrust and hostility from the letter carriers. Jean Claude had always made a point of visiting locals and meeting members on the work floor so when he visited the Vancouver Local we made arrangements to visit the downtown depot, Depot 74.
This depot with about 200 workers was a hotbed of LCUC supporters and I knew we would get a loud and rancorous reception but it almost seemed to fire up JC. After informing the local supervisor that we would be holding a coffee break meeting, he went around on the floor inviting members to the lunchroom. There, in front of 200 angry, shouting, and cursing letter carriers he proceeded to calmly talk about the workplace issues, about the common future all postal workers shared and the need for solidarity in upcoming negotiations. By the end of the 30 minutes he had made a real difference in how most of those union members saw the Union. There were still a number of holdouts of course but along with some of work we were doing already in Vancouver, we were able to stand united in the subsequent strike when Canada Post used strikebreakers against us. I asked Jean Claude what gave him the courage to walk into that lion’s den and he said “the members.” He knew they wanted and needed to know what was going on, and they wanted it straight from the leaders of their union.
Another hero of mine is a Quaker from Philadelphia named George Lakey. He is one of the founders of ‘Training for Change’ and has facilitated countless workshops on at least six continents. He is a proponent of nonviolent civil disobedience and author of ‘Strategy for a Living Revolution’. The training I first attended happened about 20 years ago in a place near Hope, BC. One of the exercises was soapbox speaking. I tell you it scared the hell out of me. All 20 participants had to get up on our soapbox on a busy street corner in Hope in the middle of the day and speak on any subject for 2-4 minutes. George took his turn and with his booming voice asked ‘how could people be homophobic when there was a need for more love in the world not less?’ The RCMP squad car that had been circling the block almost came to a complete stop at that. George’s courage to challenge the injustices of the world comes from his heart, from his core.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that another hero of mine was a local dynamo named Gwyn Frayne. Unfortunately Gwyn died a couple of years ago but when alive she was a force to be reckoned with. She cared so deeply, she gave all she had and helped move forward human service groups, advocacy groups and action coalitions. She could be stubborn as hell and once she got an idea in her head it was almost impossible to pry it loose. One time she accused a young man of being a government spy, and despite everyone telling her it was not true, she remained unconvinced. The part of Gwyn I cherish the most was that even in her fierceness she was always laughing. It is a rare combination but quite effective and endearing.
I wonder why superheroes are so popular right now? It can’t be just the escapism and the CGI effects. Maybe it is the complex times we live in; our longing for simple solutions. ‘Blam!, ‘Kapow!’ and ‘Boom!’ may work in the fantasy world of comics but in the real world we need ordinary heroes, like the three I talked about above. There are numerous other people who I consider heroes of mine that I could cite and I am sure you have your own heroes or maybe you are even one. In any case let us applaud and support all the heroes in our lives.Brian Charlton