This week marks the end of our weekly series "Reinventing democracy, reclaiming the commons," a project begun last spring to help mark the 10th year of rabble. The series reflected the role of rabble as a site for activists -- a place for people who want to change the world to go, where their values are reflected back to them and where the world is not put through the perverse filter of the corporate media.
Conservatives have been winning -- in Canada and elsewhere -- for the last 30 years. That's because they've been playing to win.
Do progressives want to win? Moreover, do they know how? Observing how conservatives have won for three decades helps to identify three key elements to winning: big ideas; the infrastructure of success; and electoral realpolitik. Of course there are other elements, but omit any of these three critical legs, and the effort will topple.
A big idea is an idea that changes things. It is not an idea that fits in with things as they are.
My nearly 30 years of experience as a social activist in Saskatchewan immediately attracted me to the NPI 10 years ago: I had despaired for years over the deep and irrational divide between NDP party politics and the active social movements which characterized Saskatchewan political culture. The two should have been working together -- at least informally -- yet they existed as two solitudes. The NDP establishment detested social movements (and distrusted the labour movement) as naive and uncontrollable troublemakers because when the NDP was in power they persisted in criticizing the NDP government and making things uncomfortable for the ministers. Roy Romanow once told me he thought social movements were "totally useless."
There have been times in the past when there was a call for the NDP to move left: from the Waffle 40 plus years ago, to the New Politics Initiative in the more recent past. The times today, however, are different, perhaps radically so. Let us look forward rather than backward, uncertain as the exercise inherently is.
On the one hand, while unemployment and inequality are hardly new, these are truly tough times for far too many people. To paraphrase the great economist John Maynard Keynes, capitalism, never a thing of beauty, is no longer delivering the goods to most people.
Plus, compared even to 10 years ago, there is fresh evidence almost daily of the frightening consequences of climate change.
When I told my brother that we were at the 10th anniversary of the New Politics Initiative, he replied, "Really only 10 years ago? It seems much longer." When the co-founder of the NPI Jim Stanford suggested to me that we write a look back at the NPI, my first reaction was not overly positive. It seems like another era when he and I were so enthusiastic about the anti-globalization movement that we thought it was worth a try to convince the NDP to open its arms not only to that movement but to other forces on the Left and start a new united party based on different principles.
I. A short history of the NPI
The New Politics Initiative was formed in the spring of 2001. At that point in time, new forms of grassroots progressive organization were on the rise -- represented most energetically by the anti-globalization movement (which, in retrospect, reached its apex in Canada at the Quebec City protests that April). But that energy and hope was not reflected in the left's electoral fortunes, which at the time were depressed. For example, the NDP had endured three consecutive poor showings in federal elections. The movements and the party seemed headed in different directions.
When I first read the New Politics Initiative's manifesto I thought it was one of the most visionary and exciting things I had read in a long time. Re-reading it a decade later, the NPI's vision of a more fundamentally democratic society and its ideas for a new type of politics still ring true. They also have a tremendous resonance with the current political moment, though in ways not intended by the drafters.
This month marks the 10th Anniversary of the New Politics Initiative, a coalition of individuals and organizations that called for the formation of a new and more activist progressive political party in Canada.
The NPI was concerned with the relationship between progressive social movements and progressive parties, trying to better understand and strengthen the links between electoral and extra-parliamentary left activism.
A little over a month ago, surrounded by red-gold autumn trees on a beautiful October day at noon, I stood with my family and 500 people around the huge fountain in Confederation Park in Ottawa, feeling the thrill of history being made. As our first facilitators -- "rogue page" Brigette dePape and Indigenous environmental activist Ben Powless -- jumped onto the fountain and hailed us, I felt as though the sun had come out at last in this cold, grey capital, where people usually hurry by, sternly avoiding your gaze. At last we were going to take the time to talk to each other face to face.
The most remarkable thing about Occupy Wall Street is how fast it spread. Beginning with a tiny prompt on #Occupywallstreet, an Adbuster's blog, it soon lead to encampments popping up in hundreds of cities. Even small towns decided to join in -- places like Mosier, Oregon, that with a population of 430, no stop lights and a gas station that closed years ago.