February 2002
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"Watchdogs and Gadflies": An interview with author Tim Falconer
By: Sarah King, SNN Senior Editor, Ascension Collegiate, Bay Roberts, NF

"Watchdogs and Gadflies: Activism from Marginal to Mainstream". Such is the title of Ryerson University Professor/Journalist Tim Falconer's new book. In it Falconer gives an overview of all different types of activism as well as personal experiences with activists. Falconer's book provides us with a glimpse of how everyday citizens can make a difference...from anti-poverty activist Jim Green who fights for decent housing in Vancouver's poorest neighbourhood to Wendy Cukier who worked tirelessly for gun control legislation. Their stories encourage us to reassess our own ideas about what it means to be a citizen today.

I had the opportunity to interview Falconer while he promoted his book in St. John's. We talked about his book, his work as an activist, and his journalism career. Falconer's book compares the last 3 generations and their interest in politics and activism. "In my father's generation, people would establish themselves in a career and then go into politics almost automatically. My generation grew up with Trudeau and were a generation very turned on by politics," stated Falconer. "But, somewhere in the 80's I think, certainly by the 90's, people in my generation began to turn off party politics. The students I teach… who are in their early 20's, they have no interest in party politics but they have an interest in issues."

As a 16-year-old, I agree with what he is saying. I have a very limited understanding of the "right-wing" and "left-wing" beliefs. But, I am very interested in the issues, what's going on around me, and certainly since September 11th, I think many others are starting to become more aware of the world around them.

Falconer says that students should be taught about current affairs. "Schools should make it part of the curriculum somewhere." He also says that people, and especially prospective journalism students should make themselves aware of current events "… read the papers, watch the news, listen to CBC radio."

While researching his book, Falconer met a lot of interesting people, people with "influence." He interviewed people who have authority in organizations like Greenpeace. But, he says, "My book is about how everybody, including the people in middle class who are quite comfortable in their lives, have to be more involved." Some of the people mentioned or interviewed for Falconer's book include John Willis and David Kraft: former senior people with Greenpeace; Jim Green: anti-poverty activist; and, Ian Brown: host of Talking Books on CBC Radio. An impressive list. Even people such as Wendy Cukier, president of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control had to start somewhere.

If you are living and breathing in Canada, don't you think you owe it to yourself, as well as to your country, to become active in its inner workings? "I'm not asking you to become a full time politician", Falconer says "ANYONE can make a difference".

When I asked him for advice to give to young people considering activism, he said, "You can do more than just vote, and it only takes a couple of hours a month."

As a young person, I think this is great. Between school, part-time jobs, homework etc. young people don't have much time left over. Something that only takes a couple of hours a month and helps make a difference is a real accomplishment, or I know it would be for me.

Activism isn't all politics and environmental stuff. Activism is basically getting your views out about whatever you can, whenever you can. For example, Falconer describes Madonna as "… the triumph of marketing over music."

And the more I think about it, the more I think he's right.