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Campus Notes

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Some of the most exciting thinking and doing in Canada is taking place at the country's colleges and universities, where young people of different backgrounds, interests and politics come together to debate and learn about our world. Campus Notes examines issues confronting higher education through our students, teachers, workers and graduates.

Facebook: not just a distraction for students, but a tool for organizing change

| January 18, 2010

As our prime minister put the breaks on a so-called democracy, what were the talking heads on the evening news and line-art sketched faces in newsprint saying? They were assuring us that we didn't care about prorogation while they busied themselves discussing the tactical brilliance of Mr. Harper's assault on democracy rather than the simple question of whether it was right or wrong. We were told that we would forget about it and that we could look to a Conservative majority sometime after the Olympics. In the pre-social networking age they might have been right, but as over 200,000 Canadians have proven, even the experts can get it wrong.

Days after the announcement of the prorogue, I started a Facebook group, Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, with the simple idea of getting Canadians to write to their Members of Parliament and asking them to return to the Hill on January 25th, the day the session was set to resume. Honestly, I didn't actually think it would work. Sure, I thought it would be great if we had a couple backbenchers showing up, but the best I had hoped for was to keep Mr. Harper's party south of that 40% threshold, humbling him to the will of the Canadian people. My action, however, has snowballed into a movement encompassing Canadians from across the country and the political spectrum.

Now we, the vocal majority, find ourselves to be the new power brokers in Ottawa. With rallies planned across Canada on January 23rd, all eyes will be on us. We are not, as the traditional thinking goes, an apathetic people. We care deeply about our country, but for too long the increasing cracks in our political system have made it seem beyond repair, leaving people feeling frustrated and disempowered. Finally, we have an issue that unites us, one that we can wrap our heads around while keeping an eye on the eventual end game. This prorogation is far more than a matter of parliamentary procedure, it is emblematic of an institution that has turned its back on its people. We can stand outside and rage against the machine for as long as we like, or we can work together and take it apart, brick by brick and rebuild it anew. The upcoming rallies are not the culmination of our efforts, they are the beginning. Let's start with prorogation and use our inevitable success to push for greater reforms, ones that ensure that our government is accountable, transparent, and responsive to the demands of the electorate. As in, you know, do what it's there for.

Last Wednesday, I drove to Calgary to see Michael Ignatieff speak with tomorrow's elites and chattering classes. I went to ask him what his party will do about prorogation. His long-winded and non-committal answer assured me that if nothing else, this man has a career in politics. I'm paraphrasing here, but he discussed an interest in looking into it (a positive sign), of government committees, of not wanting to tie the government's hand behind its back, blah, blah. He got philosophical at the end, waxing about the need for there to be a trust between the PM and the people. If thousands of years of autocratic, despotic rule have taught us anything, its that politicians should never be trusted. How then do we keep them in line?

Rather than look to inept and non-committal politicians to make change, we need to build the momentum started with 200,000 allies and take the streets by storm this Saturday. Take out your pen or bring up your Outlook, tell your MP what needs to be done about prorogation. Should we impose certain criteria for its use, or put it before a vote in the House of Commons? Our politicians are in courtship mode now, we might as well be the ones calling the tune.

Christopher White is a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He started the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, which now boasts 200,242 members and is growing by the minute.




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