Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of Occupy NS?

I’ve always been interested in the way the public makes itself heard by the people we elect.

When I moved back to Halifax to go to university, I dove right in to the discourse—from the Common Plan, to municipal reform, then going to the Dalhousie campus plan meetings—all before the Christmas of my first year.

I remember saying to my father how exciting it was to live somewhere big enough to be able to do interesting things, but small enough that people could really have an impact.

He looked at me and said “I’m glad you’re excited, but remember, if you’re going to participate, what you say is public. Never write anything that you wouldn’t want to see printed on the cover of the Herald.”

It’s twenty-one years later, and messages now move at the speed of light, email is used every day, and it is simply a matter of cutting and pasting, adding a rash thought, or a poorly worded one liner, or a cutting remark. Then, these things, sent in anger, can end up on a blog, website, or on the front page the paper.

This is exactly what happened to Barry Dalrymple, Councilor for District 2 – Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank since 2008.

Dalrymple’s a long-standing pillar of the community. While a councilor, he is also the Treasurer of the LWF Community Hall, a volunteer-run and -owned community hall serving Lakeview, Waverley and Fall River.

So it was that sometime late last week Dalrymple emailed Sheila Barling, organizer of a “Discussion Group” and told her that a spokesperson from OccupyNS was not welcome at the LWF Hall. Her group of citizens meets to discuss important issues, and had been using the hall for free.

Unsurprisingly, Barling sent the email around to the other group members, and it end up on John Percy’s blog. John’s the leader of the Green Party in Nova Scotia and a member of the discussion group. John’s blog got mentioned on Facebook by author and writer Silver Donald Cameron. I reposted it on Facebook and Twitter. A friend at the CBC saw it and it became hard news.

I feel kind of bad for Dalrymple, as the LWF Hall is not city property, and is run by hard working volunteers, but he sent the email from his HRM email, identifying himself as Councilor. More importantly, rather than de-escalate the situation, he dug in his heels, making a moderately bad situation much worse.

Dalrymple said volunteers “work their tails off as volunteers to keep this community hall running on behalf of the community, and it is to keep it open for community groups and community events.”

How narrow is his definition of community?

I know I am generalizing, but his language is telling, where he says there is no benefit to and no interest from “the community.” This language is exclusionary; it means in his mind, anyone who disagrees is not really a part of the community.

That members and supporters of Occupy NS may live in Lakeview, Waverley and Fall River does not appear to enter his mind. That the members of the Discussion Group live in his community does not matter. It runs against the views or interests of the majority.

There is no evidence of Occupy, a global movement, occupying community halls run by non-municipal units in the suburbs.

If anything, this non-government building is the best place to invite Occupy, if you are worried about them leaving after—they simply have no interest in camping there.

At the end of the day, this small but telling incident shows the vast gulf in opinion of whose views count, whose don’t, and how society should accommodate opposing views.

It also shows that Dalrymple should heed my Father’s advice, and think twice before he sends that next email.

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