Game Changers and Tipping Points

This past week a campaign to encourage young people to vote in the upcoming federal election kicked off in Winnipeg. The “Game Changers” tour is part of a Council of Canadians effort led by Brigette DePape that is responding to the fact that in the 2011 federal election, youth turn out was extremely low. This is particularly significant because the election results in many ridings were determined by very few votes. Point being, young people can swing things substantially if they mobilize.1 By numbers, in the last election only 38.8% of people aged 18–24 voted compared to 75.1% of those aged 65–74 and 60.3% of those 75 and older.2 The logic behind getting young folks to vote seems pretty sound, but the emotions and motivations that underlie political engagements are as complex as human behaviour.3 Currently there is widespread unrest in Canada because of the Harper governments flagrant environmental destruction in the tar sands, increased militarism abroad, ongoing colonial violence at home, exploitation of migrant labour, a general disdain for a working class that doesn’t fit with its extreme neoliberal vision and the criminalization of political dissent. This unrest exists within the context of broader geopolitical events such as Obama’s recent veto of the Keystone Excel pipeline, the election of an exemplary, anti-austerity government in Greece, and the general realignment of global power structures in Latin America, Russia, China and the Middle East.4 The point is, that Game Changers is tapping into what could actually be a tipping point in Canadian society and the everyday practice of politics. In a recent interview in Winnipeg, Depape recounted how her own cynical feelings about Canada’s failing democracy have led her to come to think of the vote itself as a critical and strategic step toward emergent and much broader systemic change. 5 In the super successful pop-psychology book “The Tipping Point” (2000) Malcolm Gladwell distills a great deal of social-cognitive psychology along with analyses of fashion and marketing trends to demonstrate how “little things can make big difference.”6 When the conditions are right, or in the case of Canada, when they are so bad that everyone can tell they can’t be sustained and must change, it only takes a seemingly slight umph to push things over an edge. Once the threshold of public opinion and popular feeling has been breached, cascading events follow and can change every aspect of day-to-day life, like ice beginning to thaw once the spring has finally come. Such is the threshold that Canadian politics is teetering upon and DePape and the “get out the youth vote tour” are actively pushing the weight of public opinion toward key pivot points and the promise of overturning the much-too-long era of Canadian political apathy. The need for such a decisive shift is glaring in light of the current historical context in which hyper-capitalist production is literally sacrificing everything along its path of endless growth. Death and life become endlessly interchangeable according to the dictates of an economic calculus. Equally important to this shift in momentum toward a tipping point is the vibrant indigenous resurgence and diverse social movements that have long been planting the seeds, laying the ground work and prefiguring the networks needed for different forms of politics and communities to find fuller expression and more positive relations. Whereas Harper relies on fear of change and fear of the ‘other’ to harness public opinion, Game Changers engages the broad based sentiment that transcends particular movement identities and mobilizes around the hope for a state of affairs in which the strangle hold of colonial capitalism is broken. 1. ( 2. 3.( 4.( 5.( 6.