The Unstoppable, Viral, Political Change of the People

The recent passing of Bill C-51 is a significant legislative step down a pretty freaky road. That is to say, it opens up the legal space where the Harper government, through CSIS, has increased powers to secretly disrupt, manipulate and detain people based on arbitrary designations of “terrorism” (to view the text of the bill go here 1).

Obviously this bill is not popular with the majority of Canadians, and has been trashed and decried by the legal community, civil society, indigenous groups and just about every half-right thinking group out there. However, as bad as C51 may be, it is part of a larger pattern of of legal, political and financial manipulation used by the Harper government to advance a very particular variety of “the Canadian National Interest.” Fittingly, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians released a scathing report on May 8th – the day after C51 passed – called “BROKEN COVENANT: HOW STEPHEN HARPER SET OUT TO SILENCE DISSENT AND CURTAIL DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION IN CANADA” chronicling how the Harper government has systematically set about re-engineering the Canadian political landscape (see the report here 2).

Harper and his special interests groups have had to rely on ridiculous legislation, backroom dealing and fascistic policing practices because they are, at a fundamental level, losing their power. I don’t simply mean they’re going to be voted out – which I hope they are – but, rather, that their capacity to harness and work with the social force of the people is increasingly negligible. The fact that bills like C51 are borne out of the fear of the governing WASPs and a handful of Richie Riches  demonstrates their desperation in the face of a global surge that is changing the nature of power relations.

Movements like Idle No More, the fight against pipelines and environmental destruction, new Immigrant Deportation rules, and resistance to a series of totally lopsided free trade agreements is spreading virally. The intersection of all these movements is natural. People are not blind, nor are our feelings totally turned off. We can see that these issues are all benefiting the same select few and that they have absolutely no problem using whatever means necessary to make their money and keep their power, no matter what the consequences. We can feel hope in communities, in the energy of art and music, and in the victories that are happening when people come together and to fight as a diverse but unified movement in touch with itself, connected to each other and responsible to the earth.

A recently published report by APTN indicated that the “Idle No More is like bacteria, it has grown a life of its own all across this nation.” It continues that, “It may be advisable for all to have contingency plans in place, as this is one issue that is not going to go away.” 2 Of course, the report suggested that this could escalate to direct violence – which is the same rhetoric that underscores much of Bill C51 – but in fact what is most telling about this is that it reflects the government and the po-po’s inability to control a natural spread of ideas and actions that not only unite people, they have the capacity to create a very different social and political reality. The viral spread of communities organizing in non-hierarchical ways which are healthy and positive is the greatest threat to a plutocratic system of corporate governance that is both boring and sick.

Whereas the Harperites try to structure things for their own benefit through laws and economic investments, the new politics is fluid and creative, it’s really compelling. Harper’s agenda panders to greedy soulless demons who already have way too much money and power, and continue to do far too much damage. The current political momentum is being spurred on and guided by the people most affected by the colonial-capitalist machine, and they’re creating something at once new, while also remembering and reconnecting with teachings and truths that are very very old. The Harper regime is extractivist, it takes away life and leaves devastation. The new movement is activist, it gives life, cultivates, plants and nurtures seeds.

Of course the powers-that-be have a long history been of labeling internal threats to their power “bacteria,” “germs” and “insects.” Canada’s new laws enable racism and have handed over the state’s “legitimate” power to some of the most violent and unjust people in society. These laws are made in service of corporate finance, they rely on bigger industrial projects, more infrastructure to ship oil, and more jails to keep people locked away. The spread of resistance and creativity is natural and spreads through culture, touching individual hearts and minds and speaking truth to power.

It’s not a fair field of play for those staunch old bastards. They cannot win, and they have less and less real power than ever before. They are fighting a losing battle and they know it. Resistance is fertile.


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.