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Op-ed: On the Defeat of Megan Leslie & Peter Stoffer

by James Hutt

No amount of flashy actions will save us. No disruptions, banner drops, or media stunts can give us a short cut. It will not be cool, or always fun.  There is no replacement for face-to-face organizing and community building. Photo Robert Devet
No amount of flashy actions will save us. No disruptions, banner drops, or media stunts can give us a short cut. It will not be cool, or always fun. There is no replacement for face-to-face organizing and community building. Photo Robert Devet

What happened on Monday is proof of how divorced from reality we are. Progressives, radicals, the Left, whatever you call the people who believe in and strive for deep social change - we are disconnected from the majority of people. We are insulated in our communities of like-minded activists, surrounded by people with similar beliefs and thoughts.

For most of us, the loss of Megan Leslie and Peter Stoffer was unfathomable. There was no way that voters would turn against some of the best politicians in the country, especially not Megan, a celebrated local hero.

The most casual of observers recognize that Canadians did not vote for Trudeau; they voted against Harper. Even more so, they did not vote for Andy Filmore, or Darrell Samson or many of the other Liberal newcomers. They voted against Harper, Megan Leslie and Peter Stoffer were casualties in the cross fire.

Still, beloved as they are, their defeats were crushing. Megan lost by over 7,600 votes and Stoffer by over 6,500.

Those margins are shocking. The fact that we could not anticipate, let alone imagine the choice of so many voters is deeply concerning.

I think this is our greatest failing; we are caught up in echo chambers, surrounded by people who think and believe similar things. Everyone we know supported Megan; they changed their profile pictures, they posted about her, and many made phone calls and canvassed. Halifax seemed to be a sea of orange. Everywhere around us our opinions were reinforced.

Our Facebook and Twitter feeds are an endless reflection and reiteration of our world views. We often fall into the trap of extrapolating trends from this limited and very biased sample and applying them to the rest of the country.

It needs to be said again and again: social media is no substitute for the long slow work of organizing.

We live in a bubble, and a small one at that.

What amounts for debate in our feeds and in our communities is at best a discussion of tactics, and at worst a display of activist fashion trends.

We have grown comfortable with our own, coddled with cushy reinforcement of our beliefs from all sides. These soft supports serve us best as a padded cell. They do nothing for social change.

We cannot overlook the NDP’s own failings. The last several decades have seen them lurching toward the centre, hoping to outdo the Liberals and Tories in their own neo-liberal clothing. The party has traded the Socialism of its youth in order to become a “mature party,” less threatening and more palatable to the corporate media and business classes. They aimed for respectability, when what Canadians wanted was inspiration.

In an election where voter turnout increased by 10%, the NDP lost over 1 million votes from 2011. Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call for them. The NDP are not a vehicle for structural change though, and we forget that at our own peril.

The amount of radicals in this country is small enough to be discounted. We cannot even influence the most left leaning of political parties to adopt a progressive vision.

The Left is fragmented and weak. We are disconnected from the majority of working people. Yet, we remain content to squabble with each other over dogma and revolutionary purity.

We must now do the hard, unglamorous work of talking to and living with people different from us. We have been content in our own company for too long, and we see the result of it. We have become divorced from reality.

We need to be in constant conversation with people who believe differently than us (or don’t believe at all). It will be uncomfortable and, at times, tedious. We need to get better at explaining our ideas to families, to older generations, to rural people, to the apolitical. We need to live with difference, to organize among it, and to build the bases for our movements upon it.

No amount of flashy actions will save us. No disruptions, banner drops, or media stunts can give us a short cut. It will not be cool, or always fun. There is no replacement for face-to-face organizing and community building. What we need is not propaganda of the deed, but the power of word – that is the deep, messy and ever-evolving personal relationships of community. We need the power of connections over the comfort of identity.

 

When more than three-fourths of our people from the point of view…of their self-identification are middle class, it is obvious that their action or inaction will determine the direction of change…

Our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and the way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt. They are right; but we must begin from where we are if we are to build power for change, and the power and the people are in the middle class majority.”– Saul Alinsky

 

Follow James Hutt on Twitter @JamesRHutt

 


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Topics: Ideas
830 words

Comments

“You need a professional or

“You need a professional or elite class devoted to profound change. If you want to get power you have to be able to hold it. And you have to be able to hold it long enough to change the direction.
The neoconservatives understood this. They have always been Bolsheviks. They are the Bolsheviks of the right. Their methodology is the methodology of the Bolsheviks. They took over political parties by internal coups d’état. They worked out, scientifically, what things they needed to do and in what order to change the structures of power. They have done it stage by stage. And we are living the result of that.
 
The liberals sat around writing incomprehensible laws and boring policy papers. They were unwilling to engage in the real fight that was won by a minute group of extremists.”
 
- John Ralston Saul
 

A response to this great piece:

I've written a post building on the important insights in this piece that folks might be interested in: http://scottneigh.blogspot.ca/2015/10/election-losses-filter-bubble-and-...

Lefties suck

I think that the writer has some of what happened right.
During the election, I was fairly active in 4-5 ridings putting up the signs, ringing doorbells, going door-to-door, mking phonecalls, and like the rest of my fellow working class crowd, donating whenever many could't even afford to. This was in stark contrast to the generic types on the left that yet again sat out the election due to questions of purity and so on, who've kept Monday morning quarterbacking the election and talking strategy. 
It's been my experience in the front lines, that you meet the best people during campaigns. May not always agree with them but they are the better people.  A lot of chicken little 'the sky is falling on us' people talk about 'the decimation' and beating that the NDP took. This takes me to the last rally where people started screaming in the audience, 'we are not going back!  we are not going back.'  Now did we get beat?., Sure. No argument there. But this isn't '93 when we got 6% of the vote and maybe 7 MP's elected. We still scored almost one and five votes and got the second largest numbers of MP's ever elected which is still the second best result since '88.
One of the early election rallies that we had here in Montreal some of the BDS people showed up. By the way this was before the niqab thing. I think that all thinking people support BDS but what they were doing in front of an NDP rally., well, you tell me. Anyways, they had these giant (and I mean giant) God-awful pictures of dead people and children. An old lady in line turned to me and said in French 'don't these people know that we don't support Israel or the IDF's actions?.'., I just shrugged. Short of turning people's stomachs, I don't know what they accomplished that day. Shortly, thereafter their signs (below) started to pop up strategically above NDP signs. 

http://thelinknewspaper.ca/images/made/images/articles/Volume_36/News/_resized/8ca.bds2.(JonCC)_900_600_90.jpg

 

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