13 Oct 2011

Part Two of Three Part Series:
What progressive groups must do
to defeat, or stymie, the Harper regime

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Canada’s progressive community needs to make some significant changes if it hopes to slow down the assault being carried out on the country by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and their right-wing allies.
   
The observations and suggestions I make in this three-part series are based on what I was able to learn during 16 years working on campaigning with public interest organizations in many parts of the world.

Unfortunately, our Canadian progressive movement is not strategically organized to be able to take on Harper’s majority right-wing government. Many individual groups are using outdated, ineffective strategies.

The first article explored the reluctance of a handful of groups to form a voluntary cooperative network to win the maximum advantage for Canadians from the robo-calling scandal.
 

This article explores how a new, powerful movement could come together and looks at some of the weaknesses of the movement as it now operates.

Next week’s article will present a case study of how a cooperative network could use a mix of tactics to win major victories.
-- Nick

Part II: How progressive groups could work together

Picture this  . . . .  The directors of 25 or 30 of Canada’s leading progressive organizations and unions are hived away in a secluded location for a long weekend. At the conclusion of three exhausting days of discussion and argument, they announce they have created the framework for a new, powerful public interest cooperative movement.

They explain that the cooperative venture, which they hope will expand to include hundreds if not thousands of organizations, will utilize the resources of partner groups to campaign in support of the most significant and pressing issues facing the country.

Organizations receiving support from the Conservative government and/or with charitable tax deductibility status would not be expected to campaign openly against the government – thus protecting them from the likelihood of having their support removed. Their role would be in research, mobilization and support.

Instead, when front-line action, such as picketing or “occupying” against the Conservative government is required, activities would be carried out by groups that do not rely on the government for financial support – often unions or the Occupy Movement.

The network would be a non-binding, co-operative process, not a new organization. Groups would have the right to opt out of any action.

The formation of such a body would create some important firsts:
  • The first time that as many as perhaps 10,000 public interest groups would come together under one umbrella in Canada; 
  • The first time that hundreds of progressive groups from different sectors – such as health care and poverty alleviation – join forces to work together for common causes; and
  • The first time that groups from the progressive community, labour and grassroots activism would come together to cooperate and work on major national issues.

While Harper often has been able to ignore the views of any one group or even groups in a sector, the Conservatives and the corporate-owned mainstream media would not be able to easily dismiss campaigns endorsed by, say, 5,000 organizations and supported by perhaps 2-million Canadians.

Assessing the current situation
No matter whether groups continue working in isolation or, hopefully, as part of a new cooperative network, there are a number of areas where substantial improvements in the progressive movement and labour are required.

For some time now the Harper government has done a better job than its’ progressive counterparts in getting its message out to the public, particularly to its loyal supporters. Too often the progressives are caught off guard and put on the defensive by a Harper announcement that has been in the works for months.

Only a handful of progressive groups and unions are highly skilled at organizing and carrying out all the complicated and sometimes aggressive components of a strong campaign.

Greenpeace happens to be one of the most successful campaigning organizations in the world. While a number of groups disprove of some of Greenpeace’s tough tactics, its strategic planning and its determination to stick with a well-targeted specific campaign for the long haul are central to the group’s many successes around the globe.

Too many Canadian groups and unions put too little thought and effort into developing effective campaigning strategies.

For instance, if an issue emerges in Canada that involves a sector of the progressive community, the response all too often is three-fold: a news release expressing “shock” is issued, their members are asked to send an email to the government expressing concern, and maybe there is a one-time protest march of perhaps 200 or 300 people.

As the expression goes, “How’s that working for you so far?”

Not even the largest and highly regarded organization in the country – the Council of Canadians (CoC) – is able to win many victories on its own or in cooperation with just a few partners.

First of all, the impact of the CoC’s campaigning may be diminished because it spreads itself too thin by working in six, large program areas, plus the recently added robo-calling scandal.  The CoC would be wise to create specific, short-term achievable campaigns that would, from time to time, give the organization a greater sense of accomplishment.

Moreover, because the mainstream corporate media does not approve of the CoC’s liberal message and because the CBC is afraid to provide coverage for what they think the Conservatives perceive as radical propaganda, the organization is unable to get its message to the public on a consistent basis.  

Another issue: The duplication of effort in many areas of progressive community work results in an excessive waste of resources. While I haven’t counted them, there must be six to 10 national magazines or newsletters serving each of a half-dozen different sectors. There also is a duplication of effort when it comes to areas such as administration, research and, to some extent, campaigning.

Too many organizations are involved in very similar activities. While there is a definite need for small, local organizations, many regional or national sectors – for instance, the environment and poverty eradication – have too many organizations that are small, poorly funded and, as a result, ineffective. The existence of so many groups also means that issues are often fractured and supporters pulled in different directions.

It would be a step forward if some of these groups and organizations hard-hit by the lack of support during the economic downturn joined forces with other groups.

Another problem is the tendency of young, ego-driven folks to set up new, independent organizations, thus contributing to the over-supply of groups, instead of finding an already-existing group that could be infused with new ideas and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, some organizations – segments of the labour movement in particular – have lost their way and are too often just going through the motions when it comes to supporting progressive causes. Members of these “fallen” groups need to push their leaders to become active and effective again.

Given its many difficulties, the progressive community seriously needs to evaluate its operations and its real contribution to society. After all, the movement exists to benefit society – not to just perpetuate itself.

Which groups will show some leadership?
Perhaps some of the country’s leading organizations can show the required leadership to convene a meeting to discuss some of the difficulties as well as the potential of a cooperative network.

The formation of a new cooperative venture depends on groups and individuals having real determination to fight for the kind of Canada they believe in.

If a new cooperative movement really captured the country’s imagination and hundreds of groups and hundreds-of-thousands of Canadian became involved, this new entity could become a significant force in the country’s fight for positive change.
-30-

Next week’s article will present a case study of how a cooperative network could use a mix of tactics to win major victories.

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16 comments:

  1. Keep it up, Nick. Maybe there will be a weekend in the future where progressives actually do meet and agree with each other.

    That said, the use of a phrase like "Another problem is the tendency of young, ego-driven folks to set up new, independent organizations..." is likely to be counter-productive. It is certainly off-putting to me, and I'm long-in-the-tooth like you. This is what youth does, unless they are the young regressive Conservative members. When the kids of today look around at what the efforts to date have done to resist the regressive movement, why wouldn't they want to set up new groups (like the Occupy Movement you mention and now want to employ)?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Deborah Richmond21 March 2012 at 19:16

    Thrilled you are taking the initiative on this, Nick. I would like to offer a domain name that I registered after Harper engineered a majority (SaveOurCanada.ca) for use by your network/coalition.

    In order for such an umbrella organization to work, I think there would have to be some clearly stated goals and a road map for how to achieve them. I vote to call the network 99% because it is a powerful descriptor of what we're up against. People in Canada and other developed countries around the world have to take back their societies from the corpocracy that is calling the shots and reducing us all to serfs who exist only to increase their profits.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Deborah . . . Sorry for replying late; I have been travelling. Thanks for the kind words, and the offer of the domain name. I will discuss it with our group. We are launching a new Facebook page -- Campaign to build One Big Campaign -- on Thursday. If you have any time to give us a hand, please email me at fillmore0274@rogers.com

      Delete
  3. "The duplication of effort in many areas of progressive community work results in an excessive waste of resources. While I haven’t counted them, there must be six to 10 national magazines or newsletters serving each of a half-dozen different sectors. There also is a duplication of effort when it comes to areas such as administration, research and, to some extent, campaigning."

    This gets to the problem; how can we get six to 10 (or more) publications condensed to one to two that would be read by more than the sum total of the individvuals?

    Might it be possible to independently condense highlights from the lot (Eg. like a progressive Readers Digest*?) in to something that could attract an hour/week of many readers time??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your point is well taken. But the idea of a coordinated effort is a good one indeed.

      Informing the public in the most efficient way can only add substance to political discourse.

      In particular, I like the work of the Openmedia team and Bill C-30, whereby Dr. Geist was one of a few talking about the issue. Openmedia then launched a campaign and others came on board, including the academic community. It is an example of how to get a sustained campaign going on an issue. It was a highly successful pre-emptive strike against Bill C-30 that got results with Harper & Co. The mainstream missed the story, somehow, during the election! But by the time the Bill came before Parliament, there was so much blogging etc. on the issue, neither the government, nor the MSM could ignore it. I did my part by assisting with some research and handing it to them and others. I blogged about it too. And when I see something that could possibly take away from the effort in the MSM, I send off an email to the team. Straw Man Vic didn't have a chance, this time!

      As to how Harper and his base have managed to succeed? I'm very concerned about exposing the echo chambers that have popped up. This, in my view, assisted in getting us to where we are at today.

      Just some thoughts:

      It's a lot of work uncovering facts and details. When I went to J school, we were taught to do a story, and continue to add to that story as time went on so the reader can catch up in one story. It also gives context to an issue. As such, I've been writing my stories linking to other stories to fill in gaps, plus give the required context.

      Linking stories allows the reader to look into the issue (a matter of choice) and also give credit to the person who usually does the research or exposes one element of a story.

      Networking with other writers who are working on the same issues could possibly help with duplication of work. Networking will also help in terms of asking questions about a particular subject. While I might dig up something, someone else is looking into the same thing from a different angle that could add clarity, plus speed up the process.

      Delete
  4. Just read a G&M article on Environetics poll with NDP tied with the Cobns for FIRST place.

    Good news is that! And the pundit also supplied a laugh as follows;

    "The fact that the NDP has been without a permanent leader may be a bit of a blessing, Mr. Karasiuk believes."

    “Some people, without a leader in place, will project a perfect leader in their minds,” he said."

    Two months ago the pundits were faulting Nicole Turmell as the source of a decline!

    A word of caution regarding Quebec. The BLOC has partially rebounded from the low of last May; this might be good news also to the Liberals who relie on a Separatiste "BOOGY MAN" to gather UNITY" support amongst Toronto yuppies, but PROGRESSIVES beware.

    However the surge in the West is real and they are up some in Ontario so perhaps we are to see a more natural rebalancing?

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