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Jack Layton's legacy remembered on social media

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Jack Layton's legacy remembered on social media

Rebecca Lindell, Global News : Wednesday, July 25, 2012 10:59 AM

Love, hope and optimism? A think tank is marking the first anniversary of Jack Layton’s death by asking Canadians how the politician’s dream has inspired them. 

The NDP leader stepped down a year ago Wednesday to focus all his energies on his battle with cancer, a disease that ended his life in August 2011. 

In death, Layton left Canadians a letter urging them to forge a path towards a better Canada, one of greater equality, justice and opportunity. The letter ended with these final words: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” 

The words became a mantra for the millions of Canadians who grieved Layton in the weeks and months to follow. Now a year later, the Broadbent Institute has launched a social media campaign called “Dear Jack” to ask Canadians how they see that dream alive now. 

“It was always really important to (Layton’s) family that the letter was not just meant to touch Canadians, but was actually to be a bit of a call to action for Canadians to actually envision a more loving, hopeful, optimistic, progressive Canada,” said the institute’s executive director Kathleen Monk. 

Monk said Layton’s family knew Canadians would want to commemorate his death, so they came up with the idea to ask Canadians how they responded to that call to action. 

“Why not go back to those values of love, hope and optimism and ask Canadians to give us a report back and to tell us how that message touched them and what they’ve been doing to keep that message alive,” Layton’s son Mike said of the campaign. 

The hub of the campaign is DearJack.ca, a website where Canadians can go to share their words, photos and videos. Canadians are also being encouraged to post on the Dear Jack Facebook page or tweet using the hashtag #DearJack or #cherJack 

Dozens of people had posted since the site went live Wednesday morning, with many thanking Layton for his life and sharing memories of a favourite speech or moment. Others were inspired to get into politics. 

“Your work inspired me to be more active in my community and, especially because of your 2011 election campaign, to begin my political career. You’ll never be forgotten!” wrote Alec Smith. 

While Layton, a Toronto politician, was known as a staunch New Democrat, the Dear Jack campaign is meant to be non-partisan, according to organizers. 

“There are those with many political stripes who share in the belief that we should be building a more optimistic, loving and hopeful Canada, sometimes they just don’t share how to do that. This platform gives everyone the platform to see what they are doing,” said Mike Layton. 

The NDP is not officially affiliated with the campaign, which is being run by the Broadbent Institute, an independent think tank. 

“Jack was a political leader,” Monk said. “Jack’s message was directed in a very non-partisan way. He recognized our county needed to cooperate and work together if we wanted to be the country we want to be.” 

Just months before his death, Layton led his party to a historic electoral victory that saw the NDP become the Official Opposition for the first time. Layton started the campaign using a cane as a result of hip surgery, but as the days wore on Layton recovered his energy and finished strong. 

By July 25, 2011 things had changed and a frail Layton held a press conference to announce he was facing a new battle with cancer – a fight that would require him to step back from his political duties temporarily. He died on Aug. 22, 2011. 

The Dear Jack campaign will culminate on the anniversary of that day in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. Layton’s family will join with others inspired by his message to write their own messages, to watch Dear Jack submissions broadcast and to enjoy some artistic performances.