I got invited to WE Day this year, which was yesterday in Ottawa. I have written in the past about how I find it a little too slanted towards marketing and sponsors for my liking, although my kids love it, so I was thinking of not going. But then Tuesday evening rolled around it became increasingly clear that Trump was going to win the American election, and I got a last minute email saying that the Prime Minister was going to be at WE Day, and I thought to myself, maybe what I could really use right now is a little rah-rah enthusiasm and the sight of a world leader who is actually a decent human being.
So I went.
And overall, it was great – a lovely way to heal from the fear and horror of what happened in the U.S. (oh, how my heart breaks for Hillary).
Seeing Justin Trudeau was everything I wanted. He was hopeful, and positive. It was kind of like having your big brother pat you on the head and tell you that everything is going to be okay. He said, “Step up and be involved, and together, we will change this world.” I hope so, Justin, I hope so.
You can see his full speech here.
The Governor General, David Johnston, was there too, and I love him – he always has a twinkle in his eye like your favourite uncle. Rick Hansen was there and he was as inspiring as always. The American Ambassador made an appearance, and although of course he said nothing about the election, his whole speech was about how Canada is an amazing place because of the way we have embraced immigrants, and then he introduced a young man who is a Syrian immigrant and a blind photographer, who has been living in Saskatchewan now for just over a year and has recently won a full scholarship to study engineering, and if that isn’t a quiet flip off to Donald Trump, I don’t know what is.
(His name is Hani Al Moulia, and he’s also a member of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council.)
I cried twice. First, when they showed this video about how kids could name quite a few male inventors, but no female ones.
Jeez, I just cried again, watching that. I am going to learn about some female inventors, STAT.
The second time was when Gord Downie’s older brother got up to speak about residential schools. If you haven’t heard about it, Gord has created a lovely movie about one student’s sad journey, Chanie Wenjack, set to music he has composed. It’s so hard to watch, but we must do it, because it’s so important.
Gord’s brother got up to talk about Chanie, and then Chanie’s two sisters, Daisy and Pearl, got up to give an indiginous prayer, and then Gord Downie himself came out on stage looking fragile but determined, and I totally lost it. They ended by mentioning their new charity, the Downie Wenjack Fund for reconciliation, and I was like, PLEASE TAKE ALL MY MONEY.
And right after that, singer/actor/poet Tom Jackson got up and spoke a poem about how when they tell you what’s done is done, don’t believe it, because there is power in one, and man, it was a good thing I already had the tissues out. I wish I could find his speech online but my ability to Google is limited with tears in my eyes.
So that’s the good stuff, and although it was a long day, and a tiring day, I left feeling better, with new resolve to move forward with hope, and to stop listening to the CBC for a couple of days because it’s just so depressing as everyone struggles to process what happened with the election. Sigh.
As for the marketing stuff surrounding WE Day – it was better. Maybe I needed to focus on the positive, maybe I needed to just be a Pollyanna for once, but it seemed much better integrated into the day, and much less about BUY THIS STUFF and more about, hey, we know changing the world is hard, but here is just one small thing you can do, you can buy a bracelet for $10 and half of that will go to our charity. And that seemed like an okay thing to ask. And on top of that, I love the fact that they are so open about their spending – if you do buy a bracelet, you can go online and enter a code on your package that will tell you exactly what they used your $5 for. And if you really want, you can even take a trip to the villages they are working with, and help out first hand, and see what your dollars are doing. Which is cool.
Of course there were sponsors. Some of them were more successful than others – Telus did an anti-bullying thing that featured a fantastic young woman who talked about how to rise above it all, and that worked for me. They were going to donate to charity if the kids there used their Snapchat filter which didn’t seem like too much promotion – it was subtle. RBC has some sort of program on where you can tweet to win a $150 package to use on a social project in your community, but their presentation was a little pushier, and less about “let’s get everyone involved” and more about “let’s all promote RBC, and we’ll reward a few of you.” So, less successful there.
And taken as a whole, WE Day can get overwhelming – when you add up all the speakers, they want you to take local action, and global action, and to buy certain products, and use certain hashtags and filters, and to fight bullying, and to recycle batteries, and to think about inclusivity, and to fly WestJet, and to spread the word about the Invictus Games, and to get Canada a 150th birthday present, and to organize test drives at Ford, and to eat more kale (says Margaret Trudeau) and to believe in your dreams (says Paula Abdul) and to fight sexism and to make sure every girl gets an education and man, it can be a little much, turning into a big swimming mass of things to think about do.
I think the best thing is to pick just ONE thing, and hang on to that, and try to do that. That’s what I suggest the Kielberger brothers focus their message on next year – here are a lot of things people are doing, and hopefully just one thing will resonate with you.
But overall, WE Day is a positive thing. I was looking around, early in the day, at the enthusiastic, screaming kids around me and I thought, they’re so naive, they think these small little things can make a difference. But then I thought, maybe it’s me who is naive.
Because one thing the American election has shown is that people’s beliefs run really, really deep, and can’t often be changed through rhetoric and explanations. And if we are working hard to make our kids believe that they have the power to change the world for good, and that good means equality, and reconciliation, and inclusivity, and kindness, then maybe that’s how we prevent something like this from ever happening again.