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In the wake of the passage of Bill C-38: “A moment of alchemy beckons”


Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope of Leadnow.ca address crowd in Sechelt last week

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the best thing that ever happened to activism in Canada, says Leadnow.ca spokesperson Jamie Biggar.


“He’s over-reaching catastrophically for his own causes,” Biggar told about 100+ Sunshine Coasters at the Seaside Centre in Sechelt, BC last week. “He’s the greatest organizing opportunity. People understand this.”


But more about that later.


Today, I mourn the passage of federal Bill C-38 and all that it means to Canada’s democratic process, environmental future, and habitat protection. (I won’t recap these issues here, since media pundits have already thoroughly covered them.)


Last week, I joined dozens of concerned Sunshine Coasters to hear Leadnow.ca activists Jamie Biggar and Julia Pope ask: “What does YOUR Canada look like?” The visiting duo, rooted in a vision of hope, positive action, and collective organizing, asked the crowd to each write down a personal view of Canada, articulating the values and traditions that have made the nation special to our hearts. Biggar then urged us to mail these handwritten notes to our local MP John Weston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.


I dutifully complied, easily stating the qualities that have made me proud of Canada, from its tradition of an open democratic process to freedom of speech and dissent. I mailed my letter to Weston the next day. Yet, it was obvious when reading Weston’s subsequent editorials in local media, in direct response to the correspondence that he had received, that he has neither truly listened to, nor respected, his constituency.


The paternalistic tone of his writings essentially insisted that Bill C-38 will help the environment. He did not once acknowledge the validity of any countering viewpoint; his opinion pieces, instead, held this implied thread: “Listen, you poor misguided souls: The sooner you realize that I know best and will move ahead regardless, the easier it will be for all of us.”

Biggar inspires an audience of multi-ages at Seaside Centre

At the Sechelt gathering full of activist spirits (with regular faces like George Smith, Rick O’Neill, Jack Stein, Caitlin Hicks and others) it was easy to feel hopeful about the power of group action and speaking out. Yet, what struck me visually as I sat on the aisle next to the audience’s microphone were the number of white-haired seniors in the audience. Indeed, they were the majority, embodied in the leadership of Jef Keighley, chair of the Sunshine Coast Senior Citizens.


These seniors weren’t radical naysayers and hippie extremists, as Weston likes to portray anyone who disagrees with his stance on the environment and other positions. Weston, this is what democracy looks like.


“The energy is out there,” said Biggar, who refered to online and on-site activist momentum as “a wave.” “We built a surfboard for that wave.”


Buoyed by Biggar’s praise – he said that the Sunshine Coast’s rally at Weston’s office the week before had been the best turnout (200 people) in the country, along with the Yukon’s, of 75 similar actions nation-wide – the group agreed to form an alliance of diverse activist groups on the Coast.


“You’re an inspiration for the rest of the country,” said Biggar.


I think that such action is essential and I applaud it. Yet, when I consider how patently Harper and Weston ignore the voices of grassroots democracy and public process and discourse – even in our highest political body, federal Parliament – I grieve for this country. As Canada’s current stance at the Rio+20 summit reinforces, at the political level of official decision-making, our nation is going backwards.


“There’s been a fundamental eruption in our democracy,” said Biggar. “It was a rupture, a wound. We’re trying to go back to that moment and heal that fabric of democracy.”


Today’s democratic protest movement needs more youthful energy, said many people at the Sechelt event. They’re the ones who are media and technology savvy and can easily use social media as communication and organizing tools. (A few students from Elphinstone Secondary were present.) That’s why groups like Leadnow.ca and visionary catalysts like Biggar need our support.


For next steps, Biggar offered his own suggestions and those he recapped after listening to speakers at the mike:

  • Make moveon.org a good model for action. This U.S. group built “democratic muscle” against the Iraq war, as one success story.
  • Use “unscripted opposition” (not protest form letters) because it’s more vigorous and can change political calculations.
  • Build a community of activists. Engage people face-to-face and integrate art and fun into public actions.
  • Ask young people what they care about.
  • “You need to ask for what you want and back it up with mobilization.”


Biggar reminded us: “Success looks like changing the national conversation.” He added: “We want you to be powerful. It is a moment of alchemy. It’s time to meet the anti-democratic with a groundswell of democratic revitalization.”


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June 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm Comments (0)