With the subtitle “Chronicles of a Woman in Politics,” Okay, Universe in some ways inspires dread for the incoming reader — not because of expected quality or anything like that, but for the possibility of the horror stories it might contain. In fact Okay, Universe is the exact opposite — it’s a friendly, helpful, realistic portrayal of an actual first-time political campaign that spells out what it takes to conduct one and does so in a helpful manner. That’s unexpected but in a good way. The world could use more constructive books that encourage participation in local politics rather than scare people away and that’s what happens here.
Okay, Universe follows the campaign process as experienced by Simone Simoneau from the moment elected office becomes a possibility through to the end of her campaign. The book starts with Simone and a group of her college friends having a get-together, all explaining what they are doing with their lives. Simone wants more than what she has professionally and is looking for a change. She just doesn’t know where that change is going to come from.
Its source turns out to be Action/Reaction Montreal, a group that is looking for potential candidates to run in elections in Montreal. For Simone, it’s the unexpected answer to a question she wasn’t completely ready to pose to anyone other than herself, but it sets in motion her efforts to run for city council.
From there Okay, Universe does a thorough and engaging job of covering the nuts and bolts of such an effort. There’s endless door-knocking, for example, an effort to create a dialogue that is one part introducing yourself to your potential constituents and giving them an idea of your views, and about three parts listening to what they have to say, their concerns, and from there translating it all into a cohesive platform to run on.
In a grassroots campaign like Simone’s, there’s also the challenge of fundraising and the sometimes organic process of building a team. Okay, Universe takes the time to reveal aspects of Simone’s team members and present their role in the election effort. There are also the antiquated gender views that come out in various people, sometimes well-meaning but obviously misguided, that Simone invariably comes up against and tries to maneuver around, hoping to avoid confrontational ways of handling though susceptible to private frustration.
Simone is actually the alter ego for author Valérie Plante, the first woman to be elected mayor of Montreal in 2017 and still serving. What she delivers in Okay, Universe is a positive primer for women who might want to take a political path, especially in the way she calmly presents the process as achievable and utilizes Simone as someone identifiable in the context of these goals.
Artist Delphie Côté-Lacroix cements this approach with her charming work that presents an urban background evoking the emotional appeal of the world that Simone lives in and which sends her on this path. It’s a world where everyone, from Simone to the political party to the voters, has to work together, and Okay, Universe makes it seem as enticing as it should be.