Defending Democracy

Trump has Dominated Our Thinking

Trump has taken over the news industry. It seems every little thing he does or says has become public discourse. Social media is saturated with him on video, in text and imagery.  I have not been to a social event in the last year where his name has not come up, either in expressing regret or humour.

I think we have to avoid becoming obsessive with him and focus on what we need to do to avoid the damage he and his ilk are bound to inflict on us locally, nationally and globally.

Let’s remember to start, that the people who voted for him and who support him now, have been hurt by the economic and political system they have. There has been decades of corruption and elitism in the American system and working people have borne the brunt of this system. The middle class are now feeling their dreams and expectations have been stolen from them. These people are angry and afraid. Anger and fear do not lead to rational thinking, choices or action.

One specific dimension of this exploitation was the signing of NAFTA almost 30 years ago. Those of us who protested this political shift to the control of corporations and the financial institutions warned of what was going to happen and it has. We spoke about how Canadians were going to feel the effects of these corporate trade deals when it hit their municipalities and manufacturing. I believe people see they have been sold snake oil but may not yet know who is responsible.

Second, lets pay attention to what Americans are doing in response to Trump. The mid-term election was not a resounding condemnation of the Trump juggernaut but it has put in place the means to formally challenge what he is doing. Congressional men and women may not have control of government but they control Congressional Committees where they have some leverage they did not have before. And we can see that the Democratic Party is still floundering, unable to take responsibility for the crisis in America and unable to propose a viable alternative.

However, the number of people who turned out to vote is significant (though it astounds me that commentators were gleeful that nearly 50% turned out – no one said much about the 50 million who did not vote). And women said in 2017 they were going to do more than protest about the corruption of power in America and they have. Women organized, got practically involved, elected women to Congress and have expressed a new sense of power in other aspects of American culture.

In Canada we should be doing our part, not just to help American clean up their system,  but in making sure our country does not slide further into a reactionary abyss. We have some experience seeking democracy that is just and inclusive, but we have huge deficiencies to correct. Indigenous people, those living in poverty and homelessness know well the deficiencies in our system.

My next post will deal with some of the ways I think we can organize now.

 What Just Happen in the US?

Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. There is going to be a flood of commentary on the election and what the American public should expect and what could happen globally. I expect a lot of this follow up will still be highly socially polarized, focused on the personalities of the candidates and probing the polling to define what happened.

Here is my perspective. I think the American public surprised itself with a protest vote that was rooted in a failure of capitalism and its globalization strategy of survival. A public that has not really benefited from globalization has lashed out at their establishment elite. Their selection of a buffoon as their leader is an indicator of their deep fear and anger and how much they are willing to risk to change their political and economic system.

The foundation for this historic vote and change, I believe, is the economic impact of globalization on America and the rest of the world. While trade has increased and statistically there are more jobs, overall the quality of life and income distribution in America has not improved in 25 years. Cost of living, limited educational opportunities, international insecurity, the impact of dramatic environmental episodes and continuing racial conflict have undermined the public’s perception of peace and prosperity. For a majority of the American population, the American dream is a myth. For the millions who bought into the promised materialism and individual freedom of capitalism, there is a visceral disappointment.

And instead of embracing the challenge of change with optimism and enthusiasm they capitulated to a campaign rhetoric that was laden with lies, impossible promises, individual hubris, armed defence and outright national arrogance that was already characteristic of American culture.

The results of the American election, the Brexit referendum, and the return of authoritarian governments around the world are all indicators of a tsunami of public dissatisfaction. Without sounding melodramatic, it looks like a global reaction is mounting to contemporary capitalism and its use of globalization to prop up a failing ideology. However, these waves of public opinion also show that people will turn to their classic leaders who used them – for change, they turn to the very system that has abused them – to save them. I have not seen any strong indications that there is an appetite for changing the system that has created the economic and environmental destruction we now experience (please someone prove me pessimistic).

As I have written before (see below), since the 1990’s and the launch of the free trade era, the quality of life in Canada has not improved as much as the accumulation of wealth by the elite. There has been an increase in trade, the GDP has increased by about 30% and there are more jobs BUT none of this has resulted in reduced inequality, a higher standard of living for the public nor significant efforts to reduce pollution.

So I think there should be a warning for Canadians and particularly the Canadian government in what has happened south of the border and around the world. I think there should be an awaking from the sleep of free trade that it is the panacea for the economic, environmental and social needs of our society. Instead of assuming the beneficial outcomes of increased international trade, I hope our government now seeks and confirms that the ultimate beneficiaries of trade are the mass of the people who work and live in the countries involved, not just the elites.

In particular I think Canada should see the executive change in the USA as:

  • An opportunity to expose and assure the social and environmental benefits flowing from CETA, TPP and NAFTA,
  • Another place to demonstrate our principles an commitment to equality, justice and energy conservation,
  • Encouragement to seriously address the needs of people living in poverty, particularly Indigenous citizens, and
  • An impetus to seriously reform our electoral system so it is more representative and participatory.

Antonio Gransci (Italian communist who died fighting fascism) once suggested that political action must always be based on ‘an optimism of the will though we may suffer a pessimism of intellect.’ What happened in the USA and is happening around the world will certainly test and hopefully express our collective will.

Lyrical inspirations from Leonard Cohen

In “Everybody Knows,” he captured the perception of many of the state of US democracy:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows


And in “The Future,” he gave a prediction, and voice to what many are feeling now:

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole
In your culture
Give me back the Berlin Wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
I’ve seen the future, brother
It is murder
Things are going to slide (slide) in all directions
Won’t be nothing (won’t be)
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard, the blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned
The order of the soul


On the same album, in “Democracy,” which he offers some optimism:

It’s coming from the feel
that this ain’t exactly real,
or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the USA.

It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the USA.

We live in a time of political turmoil in Canada.

While we as a society generally hold to democratic principles and ideals, we seem to be indifferent to the erosion of democracy taking place in Canada. As a society we seem unconcerned about the abuses of democracy taking place around us. The abuse of privilege by Senators, the passing of legislation to restrict voting and the cavalier attitude of the federal government to protecting civil rights are indicators of a serious dismantling of democratic structures, that the public has not aggressively challenged.

Here are some articles and links that I think are important in defending democracy and a few groups who are organizing to defend democracy in Canada.

Democratic Engagement Highlights.sflb

Ideas for Democratic Change.sflb

 Indigenous ROCK the VOTE

Council of Canadians Election Campaign

Rick Mercer RANT CBC January 2012

 Rick Mercer RANT – CBC March 2015

Lead Now – people powered politics

Understanding Politics Today – my perspective on how the dynamics of democracy are shifting and what this means for voter participation.

Manitobans in the heart of the Anti-Apartheid Movement

The role of the Government of Canada in promoting trade sanctions against South Africa and helping draw attention to apartheid, is well known . This political action was important to the process of democratization in South Africa.

However, what has not been acknowledged, is the vast popular support in Canada for ending apartheid and the Government’s action. This support was due to the decades of solidarity action on the part of the anti-apartheid movement.  In the 1970s and 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement in North America and Europe mobilized a wide spectrum of support in protest to the apartheid system. People of all races, ages and backgrounds came together to challenge the world to end apartheid.

As the movement grew, it gained support for boycotts of the South African government, for the withdrawal of companies from the country and for the release of Nelson Mandela. Investing in South Africa by Americans, Canadians and others was exposed and then condemned as an active policy of disinvestment ensued.

Manitobans were in the heart of the movement, persistently raising awareness, educating others about apartheid and campaigning to support the South African liberation movements.

Anti-apartheid organizations formed and were active in Winnipeg. Their representatives could be seen often in front of the South African consulate on Donald Street, Shell gas stations or the liquor stores. For a number of years, the Manitoba Anti-Apartheid Coalition reported on the struggle and encouraged Winnipeggers to support the call for democracy in South Africa on the cable television program, ‘The Right to Choose’. Their socials, with a mix of politics, music and dance, were always sold out.

Members of the African National Congress toured across the province , speaking in community and church halls, to government and business leaders, and to the media. In the mid-1980s the cultural arm of the ANC brought the music of Amandla to Canada.

The constant pressure of the anti-apartheid groups, plus the clear injustice of the apartheid system led the provincial government in 1985 to take a position on South African wines. The government allocated funds from the sale of the South African wines to the Manitoba Coalition of Organizations Against Apartheid to support advocacy efforts. In the same year, the western Canadian stores of both Safeway and Super-Valu stopped carrying South African products. Then with pressure mounting across Canada, the federal government imposed sanctions on trade with South Africa in 1986.

Today there are strong ties between South Africans and Canadians. Partially because of the government’s position in 1986 but more so because thousands of Canadians stood up for freedom and democracy in South Africa.

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