Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Uprising to Movement: Five Ideas

This is a pretty good, simple, article pointing out some of the problems and potentials with the left right now, and offering 5 important suggestions for change.

1. "Think Global, Demand Local" - He suggests working with state/province and local powers for progressive change. (I think the local level has a lot of potential for progressive action, with all the fantastic grassroots community organizations. I find it odd how few people pay attention to municipal elections.)

2. "End the Oxymoron of Autocratic Progressivism" - By which he means undemocratic, top-down organizations, like many leftist think-tanks. We need to practice the values we preach! This means, I think, really coming to terms with compromise. We won't all have the same vision of the progressive future, but we need to let go a little and try not to impose our own little utopian fantasy on others.

3. "It's the Economic Issues, Too" - Social issues are important, but they tend be more divisive. We must support gay marriage and choice and other social issues, but we shouldn't let them crowd out other important basic issues like jobs and poverty and health care. Why the heck has the Right captured the populist imagination, when their policies do the most to harm the little guy/gal?

4. "Elections Are Means, Not Ends" and wasting too much energy on them is counterproductive. As he puts it: "we believe that the messianic politicians will just hand down change from Mount Olympus, that all we have to do is make sure the right messiah is on top of the mountain"

5. "Remember That Thing Called Direct Action" instead of spending so much energy on elections, shift our focus outside the electoral arena. He says:
The Establishment wants us to focus all of our energy on elections because elections are the controlled space whereby popular ferment can be contained by rules, regulations, etc. And without direct action, republican democracy is truly disempowering: our only means of influence are to beg the Very Serious And Important Intermediary —the congressman, the governor, the president, etc. —to do something on our behalf. But there are many different methods of direct action —i.e. taking matters into our own hands—that can wield a tremendous amount of power.


Beijing York said...

That's a good list. I especially agree with number 4. Right now Harper is getting away with drastic changes because all opposition parties are focused on election timing and positioning. In the meantime, the damages being done will be hard to reverse if ever there is a change in government.

Scott said...

Hey you think this list, which was derived in the U.S. context, is directly applicable to the Canadian context, or would you tweak a few things in porting it over?

Red Jenny said...

Hey Scott, that's a good question. I think in many ways it applies here too, although our political climate is somewhat different.

1. Here in Toronto I find people are least likely to turn out for municipal elections, but most likely to complain about municipal politics and policies. As far as I know it is similar in other parts of the country, but I haven't lived everywhere (yet) so I couldn't say for sure.

2. I haven't been involved in many bigger organizations so I don't have personal experience with this one, and most smaller orgs have been quite democratic, IMHO. But I do know this applies often to many nonprofits - especially charities.

3. We definitely tend to have less focus on social issues than in the US, but there's a tendency here too for these to overshadow economic issues. Although I actually think with the current recessionary economy, there has already been a definite shift in the US too. The American media actually started talking about regular people's financial struggles. When was the last time that happened?

4. Well, we haven't had a Canadian messiah for a long time, but otherwise I think many Canadian progressives focus on elections too much. I think it is natural, and easy to get swept up in election fever, but we know whichever dude is at the helm (and they are rarely not dudes) things go on pretty much as before.

5. This is important for both Americans and Canadians, although the USA has seen an amazing number of marches and protests and other direct actions over the last few years. The anti-globalization and antiwar demonstrations have been huge. They just aren't working. I am not sure what kind of tactics we need to work with but I think we need to try something else. I like the idea of building alternatives like this, but we can't substitute that for direct action - just add to it.

Not sure if I answered your question - what do you think?

Patrick Ross said...

I agree wholeheartedly.

Furthermore, I'd personally remind people of all political stripes that democracy is something that originates with, and is best developed by, the citizenry rather than the government.