Here’s a guest post from friend-of-the-blog Peter Ladner:
I recently got my most retweets ever, for agreeing with Patrick Condon and Scott Hein’s call in The Tyee to convert half the land in the City of Vancouver’s municipal golf courses into much-needed housing, and turn the other half into real parks.
— Peter Ladner (@pladner) October 30, 2019
Mmm, that warm feeling of people flooding in to agree with me! Like! Like! Like!
Then I read the pushback comments. Then I changed my mind.
I now agree with those who say we need to save the golf-course green space, that we have plenty of other space for more housing all over town in the single-family zones. I realized part of my enthusiasm for the golf course conversion was the prospect of converting those golf greens into more accessible and varied public parks.
I mention this because “changing minds” (advocacy, campaigning, rallying, persuading, writing op-eds, sloganeering…) is such a large part of what so many of us do these days. But it’s all push and no followup. Outing and celebrating our own mind changes is seldom practised. It’s not easy to do. But only we can do it.
Sure we lavish praise on others who “come around” to our point of view. But what is it like for the mind-changer? I haven’t gone on Twitter to announce my change. I much prefer to duck, lay low, and hope this all blows over before I ever have to admit I was wrong.
Recently a man approached me at a grocery store lineup. “You might not remember me,” he said, “but I led the opposition to the condo project at 16th and Granville.” I certainly remember sitting in Vancouver City Council being bombarded with the heavily-financed campaign to “Save Shaughnessy”: a roused angry mob arraigned in designer T-shirts slogans, armed with lawyers and a PR firm.
“Well I thought you might be interested to know,” he went on, years later now, “that I moved into that project and love living there.”
We need a better place than random grocery lineup encounters for such reveals. It was only last month, more than 10 years after it happened, that I shared with someone outside my personal circle that I regretted pushing out then-mayor Sam Sullivan in my unsuccessful run for mayor in 2008.
I have been a little more open about my mistake in opposing dedicated bike lanes displacing auto traffic on the Burrard Bridge, but it’s not something that’s easy to talk about. We all fear recrimination, “I-told-you-so” scolding, and that politically-toxic label: “flip-flopper”. We dread the smug satisfaction we might be offering to objectionable people who once shouted at us, splittle flying.
And yet the end-game of all advocacy is to get people to flip.
Wouldn’t it be great if those who once opposed us came out somewhere and admitted that they had seen some wisdom in our arguments and now agreed with us? It would be heart-warming to me if someone from Brock House Society stepped out and said that they had once opposed the Point Grey Greenway I championed but now they love it. They now have organized bike rides for seniors down that protected route that never could have happened before.
Or if someone openly admitted that the new housing development they feared would ruin their neighbourhood actually didn’t generate all the traffic congestion they had cried out against.
Or if someone who had insisted needle exchanges wouldn’t lead to more needles in nearby parks, playgrounds and schoolyards admitted they were wrong: yes, free needles actually did result in more needles where kids play.
We need that forum – #iwaswrong. It would empower advocates, and give them a chance to seek a graceful exit for opponents, to learn to hold the gloat. It would give protagonists in the next similar fight some valuable perspective to share.
It would demonstrate that yes, even in our echo-chamber world, people do listen, learn and change their minds.
Maybe we need an annual day of disclosure, where crowds of flip-floppers can confess their former goofs together, strengthened by their numbers– a day of atonement where onlookers would promise to keep quiet and be forgiving.
So here’s an offer: dare to share with Price Tags readers some change of mind you’ve made about a civic issue, and how you feel about it now.
I’ve just done it and it feels good.
I’m savouring the release—at least until the Twitter bots come storming in.