Skip to content

Fighting the Good Fight

November 13, 2019

Tammany Hall, circa 1900 (image from Getty Images)

“You can’t fight City Hall.” That phrase, roughly taken to mean,“It’s pointless for any citizen or group of citizens to oppose bureaucracy or those in government / in charge of large corporations”, can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when a powerful political organization known as Tammany Hall controlled the New York Democratic Party and thus, in effect, the City Government itself . It’s been used as a expression of frustration over attempts to ‘right the wrongs’ brought upon the citizenry by any large establishment, organization, or system of government. Better to just give up or give in than fight, the thinking goes, because ‘the little guy’ doesn’t stand a chance against the rules, regulations and ‘red tape’ of most bureaucracies. Right?

Not necessarily. My father was a man who firmly believed you COULD fight City Hall – and occasionally even win the occasional battle. Even as a young man, Dad was always a bit of a ‘hot head’; he had opinions and he expressed them openly, and he didn’t care if other people disagreed with him. He wrote many a Letter to the Editor, and was known to speak loudly and freely whenever asked what he thought about something (most vociferously when the topic had to do with democracy, justice, government, education, or politics). He was frequently called a sh**-disturber (a term my eldest brother apparently repeated in Grade 1 when asked by his teacher what his father did for a living), a rabble-rouser, an agitator, or a plain old pain-in-the-backside. He considered himself to be an advocate for the rights of others (especially the ‘little guy’– people just like himself).


Dad, 1970s

Dad was self-employed most of his life, either working alone or alongside a friend or a couple of employees at various times (I suspect his cantankerous personality might have had something to do with that). In the late 1960s, he sold the last of his businesses and began teaching courses for The Henry George School of Social Science (founded after the Great Depression, it was part of a reform movement that “sought to establish fundamental economic justice and sustainable prosperity for all”); their philosophies lined up pretty nicely with his way of thinking.

The only ‘real’ job he ever had (i.e., earning a regular salary as an economist for a firm in downtown Toronto) lasted less than two years. In 1971, frustrated by the way the local government was managing things in his home town, he threw his hat into the ring for the position of Mayor. He lost (by about 3000 votes), but two years later was successful in securing a seat as a Town Councillor for his Ward. He was unsuccessful in his first bid (in 1974) for the new position of Regional Councillor (after a re-jigging of bureaucracy in the area), but returned with a successful campaign for the job in 1976; he was re-elected in 1978. During part of this time (I can’t remember the precise dates) he also wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper, espousing his often-controversial views (and garnering him many supporters and more than a few enemies).

During his tenure on Council, he was probably the only one who read – cover to cover – the nearly three-inch thick pile of papers that were dropped on the doorstep every Friday night, in preparation for the Monday evening Town Council meetings. He questioned anything he didn’t understand, argued against what he disagreed with, pressed for acceptance of issues he believed in. The Council job was part-time, and paid only a small stipend, but Dad dedicated himself to it on a full time basis. It wasn’t unusual for people (his constituents) to call at all hours of the day or night begging him to take on one cause or another. He almost always did. This made him something of a pariah in many circles, but it gave the local newspaper plenty to write about, week after week (and illustrate; Steven Nease frequently featured Dad as the main subject in his editorial cartoons, including this one, published when Dad announced his retirement from politics).


It took some convincing (from my mother and several other family members and friends) to get Dad to call it quits, but a health scare in late 1980 convinced him the time was right. He endured a rousing roast by friends and colleagues in late April 1981; the write-up in the local paper stated Dad was, “well known for his lengthy debating abilities, being a stickler for detail, detesting consultants, attacking regional government, and acting as a watchdog for the taxpayers’ dollars”. It was all true.

A month later, my parents moved to a small resort town on the shores of Lake Huron, where Dad immediately set about criticizing various aspects of the town’s management, and making recommendations for change (some were adopted; many were ignored). He wrote Letters to the Editor, penned a column for the local paper, tried his hand at running for local Council, and generally stirred the pot. If there was something ‘wrong’ he wanted to ‘right’, he pursued it (everything from parkland to taxes to fires to noise to conditions at the local zoo). He never stopped; he never gave up; he never stopped trying to find justice for ‘the little guy’.  (He even self-published a small book  in 1977, long before self-publishing was a ‘thing’, titled, Mannell’s Laws, which was, in his own words, “a satirical look at democracy, bureaucracy, and education in the 20th century.” It contained such personal observations as, “The average citizen thinks that the person he elects to office is the person who makes the decisions and laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. 80% of all laws and rules are made by appointed bureaucrats.” I think it only sold about 30 copies.)

During all this time, I was growing up and paying attention. I wrote my first Letter to the Editor when I was thirteen (the first of many). I constantly questioned what I saw as unreasonable requests or expectations or statements from my superiors (teachers, employers, bosses); I argued against whatever I felt was unfair or unjust. Over the years, I sat on various volunteer committees organized to institute positive change of one type or another; I took on leadership roles when no one else would. When my sons’ public school for short-listed for closure (due to low enrollment), I spearheaded the campaign to save it (which was successful, despite the odds being stacked against us). At work, I redeveloped problem (College level) courses, re-imagined outdated Programs, developed strategies to improve student success. I helped develop a cutting-edge teacher education program; led workshops and seminars to improve student learning; mentored new faculty (because I believed better teachers resulted in better student satisfaction and that led to higher success rates). I continually pressured management to consider and institute changes that would improve morale and efficiency instead of stifling creativity. I fought when no one else would. I did as my father had before me.


Me, circa 1970

In 1970, the graduates of my high school class were asked to include a ‘Claim to Fame’ as part of their biographies, to be published in the school year book. I wrote, “Being the daughter of THE Laurie Mannell.” At the small family service we held after Dad’s passing (in 2008, at the age of 93), I shared that sentiment once again, adding, Dad gave me the courage to speak up when no one else would; to stick to my convictions no matter what; to press on even when other people told me to ‘sit down and shut up’; and to never stop until I was 100% satisfied that I had done everything in my power to fix whatever it was that needed fixing.  Like Dad, I’ve probably pissed off more than a few people over the years, but I am very proud of all the things that I’ve accomplished with him as my guide.  And I know he’ll always be there, at my back, as I continue ‘fighting the good fights’ yet to come.”

WalkAwayTryHarderI never entered politics, choosing instead to work hard and raise a family without dipping my toes into the waters of ‘City Hall’. But I still fought fights and suffered losses. I left a job once because I couldn’t accept the president of the company’s opinion that women should be paid less than men because they were “only working for pin money”. I lost a job – a long-held job I loved, was extremely good at, and had received repeated praise and awards for doing well – because I stood up to injustice and refused to give in. I left my last job (which I also loved and was very good at) because I just couldn’t deal with the politics and near-toxic environment anymore. I took early retirement, gave in. I guess I thought there just wasn’t any fight left in me.

Unlike my father, I didn’t see retirement (or moving to a new place) as an opportunity to fight new fights or take on new challenges. I only wanted to relax and ‘just be’. But, you know what? There’s still some fight left in me. I’ve realized (once again) that I can’t just sit by and let something I know to be wrong go unchallenged. It might be a little thing (a disagreement over a job contracted to a supposedly reputable company that wasn’t executed to my satisfaction – despite a bill for >$700), but I’m not going to just give in and give up (my husband suggested we just pay the bill and be done with it; I couldn’t bring myself to do that). It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s certainly not been a comfortable one (I’ve gotten less combative in my old age and arguing a point makes me a bit queasy these days) but we’ll see where it leads. I think Dad would be proud of me, knowing there’s still some fight left in his youngest daughter, even though I’m well past … the other side of 55.


  1. November 15, 2019 2:14 pm

    It sounds to me as if your Dad was a good citizen, fighting the good fight against city hall. Even though you’re not tackling city hall, speaking up against a wrong is worth doing. I’m sure your father would be proud of you. I’ve never been very confrontational but as I’ve gotten older, it’s harder to just let things go like I used to. Maybe I’ve become like MY father who had a bit of a stubborn streak. LOL Currently though, I’m letting my hubby ‘fight’ with a service we use because they haven’t, after several months, corrected a wrong.

    • November 20, 2019 8:40 am

      I’m tired of fighting, honestly, but sometimes I just can’t let something go! I “blame” my Dad for that! LOL!

  2. November 13, 2019 10:16 pm

    Do you sometimes wonder what your father would be trying to fix in this day and age!?

    • November 14, 2019 8:39 am

      OMG – EVERYTHING! I’m honestly glad he didn’t live during an age when he could write (controversial) blogs or engage in social media “wars”. The newspaper stuff was bad enough. LOL!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: