Nick Fillmore: Occupy movement a valuable partner for Canadian progressives
By Nick Fillmore
Adbusters magazine is at it again!
The radical Vancouver-based periodical that launched the Occupy Wall Street movement wants people to boycott shopping on November 25 and 26—the days when Americans and many Canadians traditionally rush to stores to stand in lengthy line-ups to grab Christmas season bargains.
“Let’s take the opportunity to hit the Empire where it really hurts—the wallet,” says Adbusters. While the anti-shopping campaign might not have much impact on most people at the present time because of their love for shopping, the campaign is a call to arms for protesters like the Occupy movement to oppose the excesses of capitalism.
The 20th annual Buy Nothing Day comes at a time of crisis for the Occupy movement, as police dismantle many of their encampments. The mostly young people were badly shaken by how they were treated by officials and the police, but I hope they will regroup and continue their attacks on the financial community and the wealthy and powerful.
In its very beginning, the Occupy movement inspired millions of people around the world with its slogan “We are the 99 percent”. Properly focused and with a strategy, the highly energized and determined Occupy members can play a very important role in helping bring positive change to Canada.
Now the Occupy movement is providing the inspiration for the possible creation of a large Canadian cooperative movement or coalition that would tackle major issues in the country.
In the U.S., Occupy members and several American radicals met in New York last weekend and hammered out a program of “10 Things We Want”.
If the Canadian Occupy movement does regroup and rebuild, both the movement and traditional progressive organizations in Canada face the difficult task of taking on the powerful right-wing movement.
Now that Stephen Harper has a majority in Parliament, he is slashing in all directions, and it is only going to get worse. It looks very much like the “austerity”—make that attacks on ordinary citizens—that currently is ravaging the people of Greece and moving into Italy is going to spread to other parts of the globe.
If Canada slips back into recession, Harper will have the excuse he needs to further dismantle Canada’s social support programs—unless progressive forces can come together to reverse the trend.
Unfortunately, right-wing forces are very strong. They control all the key levers of power—access to billions of dollars to promote their beliefs, control over our federal government, and ownership of the mainstream media propaganda machines.
The progressive community must learn it has to confront power with power—something we don’t do well in Canada. It’s seems enough to most Canadians to simply point out that something is wrong, and leave it to someone else to shoulder. This doesn’t cut it any more. We need to stop being nice, and start fighting harder!
By any account, there are possibly 10,000 progressive and liberal-minded organizations (including branch offices) in Canada, and many of them work in isolation of each other, sometimes even at cross purposes. This means that the 10,000 organizations might be fighting on, what, 300 or more different causes at any one time?
Individual groups do need to work on their own priorities, but when it comes to tackling major problems, or when a campaign needs to be mounted quickly, Canada needs to have one strong and effective vehicle: the creation of nationally coordinated movement that would work on the most pressing issues of our time.
Progressives in Canada—hopefully including the Occupy movement as a tactical force—have the potential to establish a movement to be reckoned with. The way Canadians responded so positively in the beginning to the Occupy movement’s attack on the banks and the powerful is proof that tens-of-thousands of people out there are in need of leadership. And remember that more than 60 percent of Canadians voted against the Conservatives in the May election.
While there is some excellent coordination among groups working in the same area, such as environmental groups cooperating with other environmental groups, there appears to be very little cross sector coordination—few environmental groups cooperating with, say, poverty groups—even though they both care about the same issues.
Campaigning on major issues could be greatly strengthened if a national coalition were to unite many different kinds of groups around key issues.
The Occupy movement scared the hell out of many bankers just a few weeks ago. Imagine what a network of local Occupy groups coming together with, say, 200 or 500 other progressive groups, could do!
Many of those traditional 10,000 groups have staff members and financial resources, some of which could be allocated to work on key issues. Combine this with the energy and determination of the Occupiers, and it could become an effective force. If some sort of process were developed, leaders and ideas for the creation of a strategy would emerge.
Dozens of groups have a lot they could bring to a coalition or cooperative movement. An organization as large and as skilled as the Council of Canadians is not strong enough to win all of its battles on its own, but it has tremendous knowledge and resources that could be shared with others as part of an even larger and more powerful force
Many groups are weak when it comes to developing campaign strategies, but Greenpeace is among the best in the world at building hugely successful campaigns. Many groups work on income disparity, but it is unlikely that they think to seek out the person running the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Growing Gap Project.
Such a movement would develop its own objectives by identifying the right’s weak points and exploiting them. Hopefully, the coordinating process would be run by the same consensus mechanisms used by the Occupy movement.
From my perspective, here are three major issues that a movement could unite around:
1. Income disparity
The bulk of the wealth created in Canada in the past 22 years has accrued to the top one-fifth of the population, and one-third of that has gone to the top one percent. Because of its initial strong work in this area, perhaps the Occupy movement could play a “front line” role on income disparity. After a strategy has been developed in cooperation with other groups, the Occupy movement would go into action with disruptive protests, marches, office occupations, and other activities to expose the greed of wealthy Canadians.
At the same time, other organizations in the coalition would conduct research, issue reports, and demand that the media give this important issue the proper attention.
2. Lobbying the NDP and Liberals
The next federal election is likely to be held in 2015. A coalition could explore all possible ways of defeating the Conservatives so they will not be able to govern until 2019 or 2020.
With both the New Democrats and the Liberals selecting new national leaders during the next few months, a coordinated effort needs to be carried out to determine the positions of leading candidates on key issues—such as whether they pledge to tackle programs identified by the coalition, explain their economic and social policies, and indicate whether they support changes to the electoral system.
3. Poverty and unemployment
Research shows that about 17 percent of the population at the bottom of the income ladder are pretty well firmly lodged there. While government figures show the unemployment rate at 7.3 percent, the real figure is likely closer to 12 percent when those unemployed that are no longer seeking work are included. The situation for native peoples is much worse.
A full and ongoing strategy needs to be developed for campaigning around these three issues, as well as others.align="center"> * * *
If the idea appeals to you, please indicate your interest by putting a comment at the end of my blog post. Perhaps you would like to add additional suggestions. And maybe you could raise the issue on Facebook and Twitter.
If there is a strong interest in this idea after a few days, perhaps someone or some organization will volunteer part of their website or create a Facebook page where a discussion can continue.
Nick Fillmore was a producer and journalist with the CBC for more than 20 years and was one of the founders of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ). He now is a freelance journalist and social activist based in Toronto.