Many have written about what we can expect from Harper and the austerity agenda. You can read more here, here, here and so on. Many have also written about what we should do. You can read here, here, here and here.
Here are my thoughts, as a grassroots organizer, gleaned from conversation with people that organize in Toronto. It is directed towards responsible community people, and activists in Canada’s urban centers and really hoping that people add their voices in the comments section.***
1. Find where it’s going to hurt: In Toronto, we know that Rob Ford is trying to privatize every public holding he can, make a buck selling off every public asset he can while giving cops a raise. A few people in Toronto have begun to pull together the details that are hidden in the media. The same needs to happen across Canada. In every city, town and province, journalists, activists, researchers, and academics need to figure out what Harper and other right wing governments will attack. We need to know which hospital, which school, which neighborhood is on the chopping block, and we need to know how this will be justified. We need to share this information. Perhaps a few people can take on building a searchable website, connected in to social media, that compiles all this stuff.
2. Build local fighting organizations: At these hospitals, community centres, schools, food banks, public housing buildings, post offices, whatever they are, we need to go in (if they are not organized already), put up posters, start calling meetings and start talking about the coming cuts. Many activists in our movements don’t use free community centres, don’t wait hours on a bus line, are not on welfare, don’t live with the threat of deportation — we can’t be making the strategic decisions. It is imperative that the fight against austerity include leadership from people already involved in community organizing, living with the realities of these cuts. Self-determination must be our guiding principle.
Let us not romanticize this too much either. We will not be able to organize everything and everyone, we just need to seed and root ourselves where we can be most effective. Its important not to just parachute into places where we have no relationships. In larger cities, all the grassroots groups can come together and perhaps split up the city and start building in places where they already have these relationships. Having spaces where organizers can meet and learn from each other are extremely important and must be built.
3. Prepare for defeat: We are going to lose some of our fights. There will be clawbacks in health care, in education, in pensions, on environmental, indigenous and reproductive rights. Policing will escalate and our communities will be attacked. So, if we haven’t done so already we need to start building alternatives. We may need to build our own schools, grow our own food, build real community accountability practices. This may not always be necessary or possible, but where it is, we have to get on it right away. Working on alternatives does not mean withdrawing from all other organizing. Its about defending what we have and trying to create the worlds which we wish to live in at the same time.
4. Consider all tactics: Petitions, letter writing, deputations, lobbying, press conference, rallies, protests, marches, demonstrations, blockades, pickets, strikes, work-ins, walk-outs, occupations, economic and political disruptions, direct actions — all options must be on the table. Each community has its own story, its own decisions on risk and escalation, its own strategies — we need to empower that choice rather than cleave to our own histories of what is the right thing to do. Organizers need to meet people where they’re at, share skills, and escalate with them.
5. Unions, NDP and progressive institutions: The French anti-austerity, U.K. tuition fee protests, and Madison occupations are all fights where the Unions and so-called progressive organizations managed to steal defeat from the jaws of victory by refusing to escalate when many people were prepared for it. In Guadalupe and Martinique, progressive organizations and Unions became part of a community wide force that carried out a 41-day unlimited country-wide general strike to defeat austerity measures. Guess what? They won. We need to work with organizations that have resources, we need to build accountability structures, and we need to be in solidarity. At the same time, our organizing should be such that if a few bureaucrats decide to pull the plug on us — we can continue to escalate if that is where our communities want to go.
6. Escalate the cultural campaign: One of the main intentions of a right-wing agenda is to push the entire country towards conservative values. We need to support independent artists and cultural producers whose funding will be cut. We need to think of culture jamming, of street parties, of mass education and mass demonstrations as very important political acts that allow radical, progressive ideas to hold space, to continue. We need to turn as many people as possible into spokespeople, that argue with their friends, with people on the streets, and in daily interactions to stem the tide of bigotry that Harper aims to unleash on us.
7. Anticipate a convergence: It might be health care, it might be pensions, it might be indigenous, queer or immigrant rights. Something will happen, a policy, a law, a catchy slogan — and mass demonstrations will start. This will happen spontaneously AND they can be built. We need to have communication across all the sectors where people organize to predict such moments that will capture the imagination of a large amount of people — and we need to quickly and coherently build these moments so that they last longer then a day or two. This means everything from the logistics of a convergence, to building community participation, to being prepared for repression. These mass demonstrations alone will not win everything but as we keep seeing in actions across North Africa and the Middle East, sustained, continued mobilizations can push back a lot.
8. Keep doing what you do: Many of us are already part of movements, for status, against poverty, for justice. We may have to stop some of that work, or escalate some of it. Having honest conversations on what can be won, and what may be lost due to inaction needs to be had and then we need to move. This is going to be a long long haul so we need to bring in new people and sustain old ones. This means more love, more care, more accountability.
9. Maintain perspective: Yes, Harper’s got a horrible agenda. But for undocumented, racialized, poor, indigenous and marginalized communities — it hasn’t been all that great before the majority win either. For those in the global south whose homes are being ravaged with the political support of, or through the direct economic intervention of Canadian interests, the crisis has been ongoing. As we fight to maintain what we’ve got — we must build our capacity to get what we actually need. We don’t need just a welfare state — we need empowered people, anti-colonial practices, and accountability.
Thats all. Please make sure to read the comments and leave a note.
***I will not be organizing, assisting in organizing, or participating in any public demonstrations
On elections: Canada is a settler state on Indigenous land and has no moral authority to impose a government. Elections are the means by which this colonial project claims legitimacy for its aggressive policies of cultural and material appropriation and murder. Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people on this land refuse to vote as an assertion of sovereignty. 1 in 25 residents of Canada, undocumented migrants, temporary workers, permanent residents and others without full immigration status cannot vote. Electoral democracy is a sham where certain people make decisions without building consensus or gaining a mandate from their so-called constituents. The transformative change that most people desire will not come from the ballot box. Neither voting nor avoiding the vote are sufficient to create the kinds of worlds we wish to live in.