1 Dec 2011

Focus and determination required:
A call to all progressive organizations
to unite under one big umbrella

The mainstream media’s largely negative portrayal of the Occupy Movement in Canada illustrates once again the need for the creation of a large progressive cooperative movement in the country – a cooperative venture that would include hundreds of groups. 

“The Canadian media really dropped the ball on this one,” says Kalle Lasn, referring to the Occupy coverage. “Instead of seeing it as a movement of young people fighting for a different kind of future, which is so beautiful and so valid, they basically saw it as a pesky irritation.”  Lasn is co-founder of Adbusters, the magazine that helped initiate the Occupy Movement.

We need a movement powerful enough to pressure corporate media owners into providing equal coverage, and with access to enough financing to support the development of alternative, independent media. 

If the progressive movement is to be successful in improving society, it is hugely important for it to be able to reach the general public with its information creating a balanced view of important issues in Canada.

The kind of large cooperative body I discussed last week would have a much greater chance of being treated fairly by the mainstream media because of the tremendous pressure it could bring to bear on the corporate owners. I plan to discuss possible tactics that could be used in such situations in a future blog.

Last week I pointed out that we must come to grips with the realization that neither the mainstream media nor Stephen Harper is paying much attention to what we have to say.

Journalists such as Murray Dobbin, Linda McQuaig, and Naomi Klein write excellent, thoughtful articles about the problems we face and, while their stories keep us well informed, they have very little – if any – impact on the right-wing ideologues.

If we are to have the kind of Canada we want, we need to look at the possibility of building a huge nation-wide cooperative of hundreds of progressive groups representing different areas of interest that would develop powerful ways of tackling the right-wingers.

But first I think it is necessary for dozens of key progressive groups to do a little self-analysis.

Inside our organizations, Board members, staff and volunteers need to discuss and respond to the fact that the progressive movement is losing ground to the forces of neoliberalism at a tremendous rate. Every day, the Harper Conservatives destroy another part of the fabric and values of our country.

Unfortunately, many people deeply involved for years in the Canadian progressive community are tired and discouraged. Evidence of this is the failure of leading NGOs, public interest groups and labour organizations to come together to establish a major social/political initiative in response to the devastating election of the Harper majority in May.

The huge public response to the emergence of the radical Occupy Movement indicates that there is a wide gap between the concerns of quite a large segment of the general population and the ability of organized groups to lead and channel those frustrations.

In a number of organizations, young, energetic people with different goals and strategies more reflective of the times, need to be given an opportunity to lead on some important issues. Old tactics need to give way to new tactics.

This is not to say that many organizations are not doing fine work in their chosen areas – but many groups tend to focus on their own issues and fail to see the forest for the trees when it comes to identifying the kind of action that is needed in this political environment.

Some organizations, in particular some segments of the labour movement, have lost their way and are often just going through the motions when it comes to supporting progressive social and political issues. This may be due to the fact that many union members do not actively support progressive social and political issues the way an earlier generation did.

The problems we face as a nation requires that all leaders and would-be leaders in our communities come forward and start working together harder than they have ever worked before.

*    *   *

I launched this discussion on my blog last week with the hope that people would respond to my ideas. Many did. Here are a few of the comments:

“To see what we can achieve by working together, see www.citizensuk.org”, Bruce Edwards wrote regarding a British activist group.  “Political and corporate leaders often don’t embrace change, unless they’re pressured by the people they serve. But too many people don’t realise they have potential to join forces and create change in their neighbourhoods and across the country.”

Anonymous # 1 wrote: “There have been calls for broad progressive/left- wing movements for decades. In 1919 farmers and workers came together to form a provincial government in Ontario. In the 1930s there was the popular front against fascism. In the 1960s there were anti-war coalitions. The CCF and NDP were each formed to be the political expressions of these broad based movements. However, those parties have not yet lived up to their full potential. With the current social upheaval I see the possibility for this to change. You've laid great groundwork here.”

“Great article and analysis,” wrote John Stockton. “Yes, you are absolutely right, Canadians can no longer afford to denounce the situation and then leave it to others to rectify the problem. The problem being that the Conservatives are nothing of the sort. They are quasi-fascists who believe that what they don’t know isn’t worth knowing, hence putting a creationist in charge of the ministry of Science and Technology. . . . The arrogance of the Harper government is breathtaking and it is only by the marshalling of those socially progressive forces in Canada that we can get back on the path of using our mutual strengths to confront the very real problems facing our country.”

And finally, blogger Emily Dee (Pushed to the Left and Loving It), says, “I'm in. How can I help? I have two dogs that can lick envelopes and a genuine concern for the direction that our country is headed in.”

*  *  *

I would like to ask readers to bring their ideas forward concerning how we evaluate the need for a progressive coalition. First and foremost, information about the basic concept needs to be distributed more widely. I can prepare a condensed version of the basic idea for anyone who has access to email-lists or who would like to circulate it among groups. Contact me at: fillmore0274@rogers.com

A project like this – which would become massive – needs to proceed slowly. But based on the number of people who have shown interest, it would not be difficult, even at this early stage, to enlist the support of at least 20 volunteers. More important, two excellent organizations – one an NGO with developmental skills and the other a major research organization – have indicated their interest in supporting the building such a project.

Please add your comments to my blog. If there is enough interest, we will move the project discussion to a website in the New Year.


JABS AND LEFT HOOKS: Who can tell me why the Canadian mainstream media provides so much coverage of the practically meaningless goings-on (at this early stage) of the selection of the U.S. presidential candidates? All that space and journalists’ time wasted! Think of all the good stories they could be doing.

For example, CBC Reporter Margo McDiarmid says ... that Canada is being seen as the Darth Vader of the climate conference in South Africa. . . . 

I’m announcing this a little late, but I have a solution to the dispute among the countries about who should pay for cleaning up carbon. My idea is to break this into three categories: rich nations pay a lot; emerging economies pay a reasonable amount that would escalate over 10 years; and poor countries pay nothing.

Please subscribe to my blog to receive future articles.


  1. Occupy 99% is already "an umbrella organisation"; it is above all, INCLUSIVE. Others, individuals and organisations are welome to join; welcome with or without SPECIFIC needs of their own.

    However "Liberals" (in any party or other entity) with the idea of co-opting the movement and thus blunting the drive for FUNDAMENTAL change will be disappointed.

  2. Good post, Nick. The idea of having a consolidated, unified progressive movement in Canada is obviously a good one. Evidence of the acceptance of this idea seems to be everywhere these days ... at least from my perspective. Or at least it seems 99% of people want this change.
    Reading your offering made me think about what makes the regressive Conservative Party work so effectively. What is it that keeps their base of 40% willing to get out and vote for them, consistently? And what keeps them staying on message so effectively? And (no longer)shooting themselves in the foot on a daily basis? Is it the religious fervour of its adherents? Or a lust for their share of the bounty promised? Or do they have a common vision of what the future could be and keep driving toward it without
    I'm not suggesting that any progressive group necessarily need to use the same tactics, but it is worth considering what makes them so effective in getting elected (besides the split of the vote for the progressive parties).
    Perhaps it is the seemingly unified vision that they have? I'm not sure how that's possible, all being human, but it *does* have the appearance of solidarity that seems to be lacking in the multi-agenda progressive world. (Not that this is a bad thing; diversity is what we want and need for a healthy, creative & functional society.) Perhaps others will fill in the blanks here, but after the last election, I'm not sure how we get all progressives on the same page. Everyone seems to want to stake out turf and keep it theirs ... or am I viewing this incorrectly?
    In any case, I will give this further thought and see if something comes up, vis-a-vis positive suggestions as to how to move forward effectively.
    Meanwhile, I suggest everyone take in an Occupy General Assembly meeting in your area, or join a Working Group that you can contribute to, and engage in this new form of participatory democracy. It's quite different when you're engaged in it than just observing.

  3. I note and share your disgust with the contemporary Macleans. The decline from what they were in the 1960s to what they are today parallels the paths taken by the Globe and Mail and Canadian Broard casting Corp; Objectivity has been the prime victim of current owners and managers of this "big three".

    I personally like the idea of the MAJOR media to be NGOs; this is due to all the "stories" we read being ultimately "commodities" produced for a maximum exchange value. The urge to bias and/or omitting can thus be irresistable; I.e. truth suffers. We have seen this in spades with coverage of Occupy 99%; indeed the coverage in Canada is worse than that by Wall St Journal And other notables in USA and Europe.

    Time to specifically target the Canadian Media for CHANGE!!

  4. Marke points to a conservative voter base of 40%, but what he overlooks or forgets is that this is 40% of 60-64% voter turnout or 24-26% of eligible electors. Also latest polls indicate cons losing 2-3% to Liberals or others and NDP losing similar to BLOC. Nevertheless 36-40% are stay at homes who see little to be gained from any of above; the turned off young make up the majority of these.

    In other words what needs to be done is to recruit PROGRESSIVES from:

    1) Stay-at-home young people who have the most life ahead of them and thus a lot more to win/lose than does an old fart like me. Occupy 99% has made a good start in involving youth though Canada lags the USA in this regard.
    2) Recruit SKILLED working class types who see through liberal lies and deficit financing as bait in traps for which they will eventually be given the bill. Unfortunately a majority of these go for tory's simple solutions; on the surface these do appear more valid. Skilled workers are not untrainable labour; they can think. Some go on to further education; so with right inputs they can be progressive. I am one ; so is NDP MP Pat Martin.
    3)"Professionales" are increasingly facing the same creeping maginalisation as working class; inevitably they will evolve a new identity.

    Crunching the numbers from these three groups indicates a float of about 44-47% of the total electors literally "up for grabs"!

    In the unlikely event that all these could come together to vote en block they could formk a MAJORITY government with an opposition of cons and three rumps.

    However we need to look for something realistic for the intervening years before the STATE (NOT NATIONS) is dissolved; this will involve the current unseemly lot of political parties.

    Of these only the NDP offers any promise; actually it is only their foreign policy that is to progressives TOTALLY unacceptable. Support for (mis)adventures such as WARS in the Middle East and "race to the bottom" (un)free trade has to be a NO-NO if real progressives are to support the NDP. For progressives an end to deficits by equitable taxation is paramount and would be demanded.

  5. I certainly applaud and support your call for unifying individuals and groups with progressive ideologies. However, I believe there is one huge obstacle: human nature. Although (thank heavens) there are many enlightened individuals among us, collectively humans have proven themselves to be exceedingly greedy, violent and capable of dealing only with short-term, self-centred concerns. Even international discussions on greenhouse gas emissions focus on how to cope with the devastating consequences of climate change, while ignoring the almost unanimous view of the scientific community that life on our planet is headed for a global disaster not seen in more than fifty million years. There won’t be much use for comfortable progressive movements in the midst of our population explosion, environmental and habitat destruction, and especially the impending human-caused lethal chemical changes in the ocean (I strongly suggest that everyone read Alanna Mitchell’s book “Sea Sick” – it will scare the living daylights out of you). For me there is one overriding issue that must be addressed immediately: ending and reversing humanity’s all-out war against the biosphere. I also believe that, strangely enough, coming together to solve this threat to our very existence would facilitate the achievement of many other progressive aims.

  6. While I fully agree that we should organize, I think it nothing short of idealistic to think that we will ever get the corporate media to provide equal coverage. They just will not do it and all the organizing in the world will not make them. So why not put that energy and our resources into the development of an alternative and independent media. as you suggest.
    The second part of this is to develop a political movement of people who will read that alternative media. I find appeals to influence the corporate media to be highly misleading both in terms of the stated purpose and in suggesting that somehow we can alter, reform, reconstruct the existing order in such a way that it will ever work for people.

    Errol Sharpe

  7. This is excellent. Ms Roy sees clearly the DANGER in too much involvement in an EXISTING political process that is in reality designed for a l% "Status Quo". Although her focus is on USA, her observations apply to Canada as well; perhaps more so as the presently more complacent Canadians are more susceptible to being seduced by a coalition of liberal types, (PHONEY Progresives). This is just bone paragraph; Interested persons might go to 'Truthout' for the full context.

    Arun Gupta for Guardian

    Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things,

    AG: You mentioned that they are under attack. Dozens of occupations have been shut down, evicted, at least temporarily, in the last week. What do you see as the next phase for this movement?

    AR: I don't know whether I'm qualified to answer that, because I'm not somebody who spends a lot of time here in the United States, but I suspect that it will keep reassembling in different ways and the anger created by the repression will, in fact, expand the movement. But eventually, the greater danger to the movement is that it may dovetail into the presidential election campaign that's coming up. I've seen that happen before in the antiwar movement here, and I see it happening all the time in India. Eventually, all the energy goes into trying to campaign for the "better guy", in this case Barack Obama, who's actually expanding wars all over the world. Election campaigns seem to siphon away political anger and even basic political intelligence into this great vaudeville, after which we all end up in exactly the same place.

    Join hands with Ms Roy and REAL progressives; remember to NEVER be satisfied with the political process AS IS!

  8. More from Ms Roy

    AG: Your essays, such as "The Greater Common Good" and "Walking with the Comrades", concern corporations, the military and state violently occupying other people's lands in India. How do those occupations and resistances relate to the Occupy Wall Street movement?

    AR: I hope that that the people in the Occupy movement are politically aware enough to know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East. Ever since the Great Depression, we know that one of the key ways in which the US economy has stimulated growth is by manufacturing weapons and exporting war to other countries. So, whether this movement is a movement for justice for the excluded in the United States, or whether it is a movement against an international system of global finance that is manufacturing levels of hunger and poverty on an unimaginable scale, remains to be seen.

    INCLUSIVE pertains to INDIA, USA and ALL others.

    Occupiers 99%, hold on toyour INCUSIVE SOUL!

    Hang tough: We have a WORLD to WIN!!

  9. Corneredcat,
    Human nature is a complex DUAL nature.

    That is we have instincts for an instrumental fight or flight - save my own skin course of action but also a instinct for collaboration or collective action; these are common to all primates and to many other intelligent species.

    Anthropologists particularly Primatologists have made a vconclusive case for this duality, the essence of which is not as contradictory as a first blush observation might indicate.

    Primates all live day to day in association with other group or tribal members, depending on the groups collective strength for food and defence. However there are calamities that lead to the group breakdown; then any survival will be of the fittest individuals who may or may not survive to regroup in the future.

    The human animal above all others has the POWER to INFLUENCE calamities and other environmental factors as well as our own thinking patterns; these factors in turn influence when and where which of the two instincts may be at work.

    The Capitalist system would have us believe and work in a way that the individual survival is how we should think; this even where/when industrial production depends on co-operation.

    As humans we can, as progressives we should, set aside the dominance of individual instincts in favour of collective thinking which serves us best for 99% of our time.

    For more on the subject I recommend:
    "Lucy's Legacy" by Allison Joli;
    she knows well the social relationships of Chimps, Bonos and Humans from sub to present and how natural and thought out environmental changes affect all of above.

    In a word human nature can be influenced in many ways, different directions.

  10. Christopher Porter4 December 2011 at 08:52

    Nick, great to see people like you build things to the future. I have forwarded your article to the Party Executive and will get them to put it on our site. Great article. And a call to action this great country needs.

    Christopher Porter | Canadian Action Party

  11. Thanks for another thought-provoking piece Nick. Occupy has all the makings of a powerful civil rights movement. Focus/clarity of messaging will come, but it seriously lacks leadership. Interesting piece in yesterday's Globe with Malcolm Gladwell. http://bit.ly/sR9S78

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