Sunday, January 22, 2006

Election Post #6: Hope and Social Movements

So what about the rest of us? What about oppressed communities, liberation politics, the "antis", socialists and anarchists and indigenists and explorers of radical ecologies, feminists and radical queers and revolutionary people of colour, and those who are some or many of these things? What does it all mean for what I have previously described as "those of us in the diverse but sparsely populated territory to the left of social democracy?"

It ain't pretty. But perhaps it can take the edge off the frustration at whatever result occurs on the 23rd, in a perverse kind of way: I firmly believe that no matter who wins on Monday, things are going to get worse. And despite that, we exist and we are going to keep doing our things.

Saying that things are only going to get worse does not mean that I think who wins is irrelevant. As I have argued, there are non-trivial differences at stake. Rather, it means that none of the range of even vaguely likely possibilities will stop things from getting worse, it will just determine how fast and in what ways. Nor is this some sort of simplistic "No matter who wins, the government always gets in" kind of position. Rather, it is based on looking at recent history and likely futures.

Most of the relevant trends of the recent past I talked about in my post on social democracy: the rise of neoliberalism over the last three decades, with the support of both parties that have governed; the decline (unevenly and with exceptions) of rich-world social movements over the same time period; and the loss of the deeply flawed but still space-creating example of the Soviet Union. Whether it is neoliberal capitalism proper (and all of the oppressions with which it intersects and upon which it depends), the "right" elaboration on neoliberalism, or the slightly softened and delayed neoliberalism that another NDP-supported Liberal minority might bring, no outcome on election day will divert this trend on its own. The results four years down the road from each of these alternatives may be better or worse from each other, but none will take us to a place better than where we are now.

There are also things coming up that have only begun to make themselves felt which, as I have briefly argued before, are likely to make the changes over the next 30 years on a global scale much greater than those over the last 30 years. These are peak oil and the tremendous impact that will have on the global economy and those of us dependent on it; increasing climate change and environmental instability; and the loss of dominance of the United States and the likelihood that its elites will turn increasingly to the one area in which they continue to reign supreme, that of massive and horrible violence, to try and reverse that process.

The rather depressing situation for those of us who are the subject of this post can also be seen in the context of the election itself. Liberal corruption lead to a crumbling of at least a certain level of legitimacy in "how things are" despite the fact that the majority of Canadian elites did not seem too displeased with Liberal rule otherwise. Despite the loss of legitimacy, the Conservatives (and in particular the "right" tendency that dominates them at present) were not necessarily the automatic beneficiaries -- they have surged through the campaign, but it was extremely odd, and indicative of the hesitancy with which many ordinary and elite Canadians regard them, that they weren't polling at 60% going in to the election. This was an opening, but we (in the broad way I mean it in this post) weren't able to take advantage of it. In another time and place such an opening could have been used by popular movements to send all parties lurching to the left, and cracks in legitimacy could be forcibly deepened so that something that started as a corruption scandal might lead to larger questions about how things are and how they ought to be. And I'm not blaming us for not doing so; we just couldn't.

Scary, depressing stuff, right? But the point of this post -- all of my election-related posts, really -- is not to paralyze people with depression about the state of things, but to help chip away at the illusions that help keep things that way. Ideally, now would be the point in the post when I whip out the reasons to believe that social transformation is really just around the corner, or my simple four-step plan to make it happen.

That would be dumb, of course. If we are to find hope, it will not be grounded in predictions of inevitable salvation or in supposed magic answers.

Despite what I've said, there are signs of hope in the world, particularly outside the rich, white-dominated countries. And within Canada, there are deep reservoirs of consciousness of and anger at injustice: on reserves, in neighbourhoods, at women's shelters, in housing projects, on the buses, in bathhouses. It may seem fragmented and weak, even invisible, but there are always people organizing, educating, resisting. And as long as that is true, it is possible for that hard work plus unpredictable opportunities and shifts in momentum to result in much more visible and powerful popular movements.

This, then, is the only place where hope can reasonably be sought, however beleaguered it may seem at the moment. And it can only be meaningfully sought by becoming a part of the efforts, not just through some vague awareness that they exist. Hope comes not only from the fact that we may someday win great victories, and on any given day can win small ones, but from the very fact that we are actively working together in struggle.

Now, that is often an easier thing to say than to do. How we can be part of struggle depends on who we are, on our social location, on the privilege or oppression that we each experience. I have enough trouble figuring out what to do myself without being so arrogant as to think I have business telling the migrant farm workers who harvest food crops in southern Ontario or members of the Mohawk Warrior Society or militants at Vancouver Rape Relief a single thing about struggle. But I do know that one central task we have is to dispel the myths that we can do nothing and that the pinnacle of what we can do is to vote Liberal or NDP or Green or Communist. (And obviously the approaches to challening the hold of these myths over people need to vary a lot, since political despair based on experience of unrelenting oppression and dehumanization is a much different creature than semi-willful denial of the existence of harsh realities based in experiences of privilege, for example).

The point is this: If you want to take hope despite the fact that no outcome in tomorrow's election is going to stop things from getting worse in Canada, take it from the fact that you are doing what you can, in amidst the pressures and opportunities and challenges that structures of power have placed in your life, to participate in and build such struggle. Look at friends, comrades, allies, and take a moment to really appreciate who they are and what they are doing to change the world. All of that may not seem like much compared to the magnitude of the problems facing us, but it is still a pretty amazing thing, and it is our only source of future strength.

And if you are not already part of that, or figuring out ways to become so, then the day after election day is a perfect time to start.

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