rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

We can haz democracy

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

On behalf of the Internet: welcome aboard Mr. Harper!

The Prime Minister's new tricked out YouTube site is hosting a pre-approved, moderated Q&A between the PM and Canadian citizens. This comes on the heels of a budget brought to you by Twitter and Michael Ignatieff's own pre-vetted, realtime chat sessions.

Have our elected representatives suddenly developed an appetite for Web 2.0?

More likely, they are jumping on the social networking bandwagon after the success of a little Facebook group earlier this year and the ensuing buzz around politics and the Internet. While throwing around phrases like "connecting with youth" makes for good PR, I'm not convinced that this foray into the digital world is going to do much to get Canadians fired up for political involvement.

Our political parties are top-down, hierarchical structures -- after all, we can't have MPs spouting their mouths off or speaking to the leader on a first name basis. While this is good for a system in which power is concentrated in Central Command, it's completely incongruent with the way the web actually works. Anyone with a keyboard and a ethernet connection can get online to contribute and/or troll. It is currently one of our purest forms of democracy and while there are risks (eg the invariable Bilderberg/Illuminati Flame War) they can be mitigated. As a moderator the trick is from the outset to position yourself as one capable of taking criticism and acknowledging dissent. For a Prime Minister who has long espoused an "I'm-not-listening" approach, his YouTube experiment comes across more as a death bed conversion then a road to Damascus transformation. If you see Mr. Harper's exercise as anything other then a chance to regurgitate his talking points, then I have an overused bridge metaphor I'd like to sell you.

The surest way to engage will always be face-to-face interaction between constituents and their Members of Parliament, who need to be empowered and not simply expected to toe the party line. If government is genuinely interested in using social media to connect with Canadians, then they'll need to rethink some basics about their role and the way they operate. For instance, why not stream committee meetings online and allow users to submit questions in real time? It is one thing to let people passively watch the Prime Minister in a YouTube address, but it's quite another to invite them into the conversation.

The overarching lesson here extends to citizens movements hoping to capitalize on social networking. Traditional NGOs operate in the same way as governments with formal structure, quorums and scandals. The anti-prorogation movement succeeded because it gave people a forum to vent, debate and organize without any of that excess baggage. Anyone could stand up, and put forward an idea, and if it gained traction it would be a success.

I'm happy to see the prorogation momentum being channeled into a broader social movement just so long as it remains a loosely organized coalition of concerned Canadians where leadership is malleable and initiatives can grow organically. Any attempt at imposing structure would be like trying to building a skyscraper out of Jell-O. Canadians are tired of figuratively banging their heads against the doors to Parliament, but we need to create a new system rather then emulating the outmoded one we currently have.

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 boasts over 224,000 members.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.