2010 Hero: Dave Meslin
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2010 Hero: Dave Meslin

Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

After a contentious mayoral race that has drawn deep divides in our amalgamated city, political tensions seem to be on the rise: pinkos versus conservatives, downtown elites versus suburbanites, cars versus cyclists, subways versus LRT, long-term vision versus short-term savings. As the new city council starts up and the battle lines are drawn, we need people like Dave Meslin to direct all the fury and energy into productivity.
Meslin is a man who knows how to get things done, and he wants us all to know, too. The professional civic activist has organized or participated in almost every cool community thing happening in Toronto. He helped found Spacing magazine and the Toronto Cyclists Union, he tours with the Hidden Cameras, and he recently edited and contributed to Local Motion, a guidebook to civic engagement. It was the sixth and final title in the uTOpia series published by Coach House Books.
A champion of partisan-free activism, Meslin even told the Star that he’s kinda pumped about our new mayor because he “claims to be responsive and a listener. That’s what activists should be looking for in a mayor.”
And as for how activists should be looking for a mayor, check out one of Meslin’s major projects of 2010—the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. RaBIT proposes a small change to ballots: each voter ranks as many of the candidates as they wish on voting day, and no candidate is able to win with less than half the total votes cast. So if the top candidate doesn’t get a majority of votes in the first round of voting the lowest vote-getter is cut, the people who voted for that candidate get their ballots re-allocated to their second-place choices, and the totals are re-tallied; the process is repeated until there is a winner with a clear majority. This would eliminate the vote-splitting and strategic voting that can dominate elections. RaBIT also argues the change would discourage negative campaigning and make the election process more inclusive and fair. In fact, runoff voting was one of the few things the top three mayoral candidates all agreed on.
Giving voice to this pragmatic approach to activism, Meslin gave a talk this year at TEDxToronto about civic engagement. In it he rallied against the perception that we’re all just too apathetic and selfish to get involved, and identified the barriers to engagement in hopes of busting them down.
He even has a take on the concept of chosen ones, or heroes:

A heroic effort is a collective effort. It’s imperfect, it’s not very glamorous, and it doesn’t suddenly start and suddenly end. It’s an ongoing presence your whole life. And, most importantly, it’s voluntary. As long as we’re teaching our kids that heroism starts when someone scratches a mark on your forehead or someone tells you that you’re part of a prophesy, you’re missing the most important characteristic of leadership: that it comes from within, it’s about following your own dreams—uninvited—and working with others to make those dreams come true.

Meslin’s wish: that we all aim to be heroes in 2011.