Archive | April, 2013

The NDP stumbles over the “S” word: Strategy

14 Apr
Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 10.54.08 AM

The CCF withstood attacks from the Liberals who tried to like Socialism to the Nazis. Why change the language today, then?

This weekend the NDP is meeting in Montréal. The party’s intentions are clear: they want to show Canadians that they’re ready to govern. This, despite the fact that most Canadians have lived under a social democratic government at some point and know that the NDP can govern.

Unfortunately, they failed the first test: offering proof that they are interested in debating issues of governance. Instead, the big controversy of the convention has been a carryover issue from the last convention, two years ago: to or to not remove the word “socialism” from the NDP’s constitution.

While this question was probably not at the front of most delegates’ minds, it’s clearly on the minds of most journalists at the convention. The party brass had to know that it would be (it was last time) so why has the proposal been brought back?

Rather than attacking the Conservatives to demonstrate their political might, the NDP has chosen to attack Socialists. They’ve framed this discussion by arguing that the current language is outdated, as if socialism is a relic of the past best suited for TV docudramas of Tommy Douglas and history classes. To do this, socialism has been posited in such a way that reinforces the lie that it isn’t democratic unless the adjective “democratic” modifies it.

I’d be shocked if the average Canadian cares about what the NDP constitution says. It’s not as if the presence of the word “socialism” is the thing that stands between the NDP forming government. Surely, the party’s inner circle doesn’t believe this either.

As such, I can’t make sense of this strategy. With the Liberals poised to elect a leader who is easy to attack on substance, it seems like they’re ignoring the lowest hanging fruit to settle a score from a previous convention.

For some reason, rather than embracing the term or ignoring the preamble of the constitution, the NDP has offered socialism up as a sacrificial lamb to the more than 200 journalists covering the convention. I wonder how that strategic decision went: hey guys, rather than debating capitalism, let’s go after socialism to prove we’re ready to govern. Great show of solidarity.

For the only progressive political party in every province but Québec, this approach is terrible. Not only is socialism not a relic of the past, it’s the only way to meaningfully confront the destructiveness of capitalism.

The NDP will not benefit from this strategy. Instead, it makes the party look as if it’s a populist horde doing whatever it takes to get elected. Somewhere, someone forgot that it’s this thinking that has lead to the demise of the Liberals.

Surely, the NDP knows that they’ll never be as good at being Liberals than actual Liberals are.

I sympathize with New Democrats who consider themselves to be socialists, which I’m sure a sizable chunk still do. Unfortunately, the pull toward party discipline is a necessary but sometimes destructive aspect of party membership. While many MPs told CPAC that really, the name change doesn’t matter as it won’t change the true orientation of the party, I’m left wondering what then is the point of this debate?

Instead of taking a page from the Liberal playbook, New Democrats should be taking a page from the Conservative playbook: unite the left on the terms of the left. Organize the base and convince them that the party’s socialist roots offer the only solution to improving our collective lives.

Harper didn’t ride in by uniting the right around the mushy, nebulous centre. He used the more moderate parts of the party to shield his ascension to power but has maintained his party along the lines of a strict, right wing ideology. It would work for the Left too.

There’s nothing that people hate more than something that’s been watered down: it’s true for fruit punch, it’s true for wine and it’s certainly true for politics.

If there’s been any time since the founding of the NDP where referencing socialism is critical, it’s now. With the undeniable lack of democracy in Canada, a new political system that places power into the hands of Canadians is more relevant now than ever before.

And, while I respect and adore many people who are active within the NDP, I can’t help but feel a hopeless sense that not only is this strategy bad because it attacks the left, but it is also going to lead to failure.

If the Left could be successful and progressive as a populist, ideologically vacant political party, it would have formed government already. The NDP needs to remember that people actually believe in the progressive vision it espouses.

Attacking socialism to demonstrate how “reasonable” a party it is will not only not help the NDP, it will further alienate many of the party’s most important and valuable allies and members.

For their sake, I hope they realize this before its too late.

GTFO of your car

10 Apr
manif contre les coups

Saturday’s rally before it reached rue Charest

Last Saturday, I was at a rally against planned cuts to social services announced by Agnès Maltais (my MNA) and the PQ government.

The rally walked down rue Charest and up to rue Saint-Joseph, but stopped in a street linking the two. The crowd was large enough to block two of three (or four) exits for a parking lot where a Metro and a Chez Ashton is located.

We stayed there for long enough that the people in cars trying to leave the parking lot started to drive around to the other side to leave, or laid on their horns in an attempt to get us to move. As there were speeches being made, no one paid much attention to the annoying, car-alarm-ish honking.

I leaned over to my partner and predicted what would happen next. “See that car there? He wants to leave this parking lot. What he should do is get out of his car, talk with the folks standing around the exit and ask if they can move to the side so he can get his car out of the lot.”

We agreed.

We also agreed that that wasn’t likely going to happen. As militant cyclists, we’re deeply aware of the power trip that normally accompanies frustrated people are behind a wheel.

Sure enough, the car deliberately rolled forward into a crowd of protesters. There were at least 20 people in front of his car, and another 40 blocking his access to the street. He was either 1. demonstrating that he’s a dick, 2. serious about either injuring or killing people just to get out of the lot, 3. hoping to scare the hell out of people who would then get out of his way and beg for forgiveness, 4. all of the above.

The group crowded around the car and, rightfully, started yelling at the driver. The police (and journalists) ran to the scene. I didn’t see anything happen after, no one arrested, no cop asking the driver to come with him to learn about why driving your car into a crowd of people is a bad idea.

What is with people in cars?

The experience of being in a car is a strange combination of being in your living room, controlling a really fast robot and operating a weapon. It’s so mundane that we never think of what it does to our sense of ourselves or our environment. We sit in traffic, we hurry about our day driving from one soul-sucking box mall to another. We listen to the radio.

And, when we have to communicate with others, we let the robot do our work for us: we honk, we yell things as if the car will react to our demands, we operate a series of levers that sometimes put the lives of others in danger.

With a society that is as car-obsessed as ours, it’s no surprise that we seem to have had a collective surgery that has removed our sense of community. It’s broken our relationships with each other, especially the relationships we’re supposed to have with people we have never met.

We don’t normally act like this in real life.

When we’re walking on the street, if we take much notice of the people around us, you might find yourself actually smiling at someone. Ever spend time with strangers in a stuck elevator? People talk to each other. Even after a several-hours delay on a tarmac in a cramped and fart-filled airplane, people, through frustrated, tend to remain friendly. At the very least, I’ve never witnessed anyone run up and down the aisles as fast as they can giving the finger to everyone when the airplane’s door finally opens. This stands in total contrast to how people react in traffic, you know, the person who aggressively accelerates towards an off ramp during rush hour across the 401 over top of Toronto.

Next time you’re in a grocery store, imagine operating your car the way you’re operating your cart: oops, someone accidentally took your cart? No matter, ask for it back. Did you bump into someone? Apologize. Is someone blocking you way? Either wait patiently or ask them to move. Mostly, our grocery store etiquette is humane and kind.

Cars should not give people a free pass to be an asshole. We can do all of these things in our cars too; we can be nice, we can talk to each other. We can, as we all heard in Grade 1 use our words. Sometimes, this means that we just have to exit our cars.