Politics is an important site for struggle, discussion, and debate. Engaging the public with broad campaigns is a life-long passion and profession for us and many of our readers. Unfortunately, even with this elongated election campaign, the prospects of real, constructive debate seem slim. So far cynicism and sarcasm have dominated the campaign, with partisan mockery on social media and empty mainstream analysis focusing more on style than substance. This may be the result of a calculated move on the part of the Conservatives to call the election early in August when the only people paying attention are the media and partisans, but if it continues into September and October, it will have a negative effect on engagement and participation on election day.
There are several things that drive people to this defensive, agnostic, and passive position. We all know them well:
– Unscientific polls that paint broad generalities of what women, racialized, youth, students, workers, etc. will look for in a political leader.
– Online political questionnaires promising to tell people how to vote based on their favourite Simpsons characters instead of the policies parties actually support.
– Debates that sound more like BuzzFeed click bait than political discussion of policy.
– Undervaluing and under-representing the voices and concerns of regular people with an attitude that such issues should be left to professionals.
– Lengthy talks on the election process as if it matters more than the issues at stake.
– Election ad analysis that rank each clichéd propaganda piece on how good it is at subliminally changing people’s view of the party’s brand.
– Newspaper covers giving the leaders letter grades based on their debate performances. Because candidate X gets an A, does that mean you should vote for them? Why!?!?
Cynicism breeds cynical complaints about cynicism.
So, what is the solution to this noise? Organizing real people, of course.
It is up to people-driven organizations on the periphery to act and make this situation better. The only way to do this is if activists in labour unions, student unions, community groups and social justice organizations start demanding that politics be about people.
There are some interesting political developments south of the boarder and in Europe – similar to what has already happened in Latin America and South Africa that we should pay attention to. Working people are starting to demand their issues be heard and have been striving to build focused movements with leadership that do just that.
In the US, Bernie Sanders has blazed well ahead of where anyone thought possible; in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn (much to the establishment’s chagrin) has captured the passion of working class Labourites; in Greece, Syriza (with all its contradictions) has moved the goal posts considerably to the left; in Portugal, the Socialists are starting to talk like socialists; in Spain, Podemos and other left parties won the local elections with a socialist platform and have set their sites on the national campaign.
So, the question is, what about Canada?
We have never had a social democratic party in power at the federal level. We have been let down again and again by the Liberals, the (Progressive) Conservatives, and the (Reform Party) Conservatives. And while many think they have an idea of what an NDP government might do because of previous provincial governments, these experiences are unlikely to be prescient. What we do know is that the right hates the idea of an NDP government and the left, at least, can revel in that.
While some on the left will predict that the NDP will not do or go far enough, socialists must not fall victim to cynicism and instead use the opportunity to go as far as we can. Electoral politics is about winning, but it is also about movement building. And, one can hardly deny that a federal NDP government will provide the space for socialists to organize more effectively.
In the end, shifting the political discourse is going to require work and many will be disappointed by what is achieved in the short-term. But, it’s important for everyone on the left to understand that building a leftist government and country is an ongoing, unending struggle.
Such disappointment has been a driving force in several other international election races. What may be surprising is that the reaction on the left has been a move to support (even more) populist socialist candidates. Hopefully, this is a sign that people realize that abandoning a disappointing leftist government won’t make things better, but that voting for principled candidates that will push the party further to the left will.
Sure, the capitalist media will say all the same nasty things about the NDP that they say about all leftist parties (even if their policies have been formulated to be more centrist to defend against such attacks). The left should keep this in mind for current and future elections.
Let downs do not have to be the end if there is a vibrant movement demanding more and building leadership to continue the struggle. We have an opportunity to do this in Alberta where popular politics seems to drive the electoral agenda, but we may also have the opportunity to do it federally. Let’s make sure that we all keep our eyes on the ball.