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Round Table Post

Nov 28, 2013
Possian: Breaking from Status Quo Logic

Amara Possian is a writer and organizer based in Toronto. She coordinates Leadnow's long-term campaigns.
Beyond Stop Harper

The Harper Conservatives and their policies are the logical outcome of a social, political, and economic system that teaches us to desire alienation and isolation, and teaches us to give up our power – elect the right person, and they’ll fix everything.

Long-term resistance to austerity requires changing this status quo logic by strengthening our communities and social ties so that they are based on solidarity, instead of consumption and production relationships. The panelists have already discussed building collective power, reclaiming agency, and learning from history to unite the left, and to do this, we need to navigate real tensions. How can we make change within the existing political and economic systems, while organizing alternatives to those systems? What’s an organizing model that would resonate across the country, while enabling self-organization and follow through on collective decisions?

By organizing to simply defeat Harper, we perpetuate the logic of our current reality, but we can look at the 2015 election like we would any other crisis or shock – it’s an opportunity, where for a moment, the space for change opens up. The question is: how can we use the attention and energy that will be focused on the next election to change paradigms and not just parties?

Comments

Interviewed by Amara

Here are some quick attempts to provide some tentative, subjective answers to your questions.
 
How can we make change within the existing political and economic systems, while organizing alternatives to those systems? 
 
Very carefully and with an eye to the particular dynamics, power imbalances, rifts and rivalries in play. In terms of balancing the two, I think it has to do with picking demands and campaigns that create more space for alternative structures instead of, or at least in addition to, demanding that the state provide for us. Steve D'Arcy's excellent little essay A Self-Organization Strategy for Revitalizing the Left critiques the tendency to reinscribe the state as a "bulwark against corporate power" which he claims is historically self-defeating. It's a pretty hard habit to kick, though. ASSÉ just used a lot of anarcho-syndicalist organizing methods to take on a demand that was social-democratic in its essence. Nothing wrong with that, but it illustrates how it's very nuanced work to think outside the government while undertaking a meaningful struggle with real stakes for people. For a well-thought-out but admittedly outlandish-sounding proposal for what that could look like, check out Doug Nesbitt's call for Ontario workers to occupy factories that close.
 
What’s an organizing model that would resonate across the country, while enabling self-organization and follow through on collective decisions?
 
I suspect that an organizing model will be hard to find that meets that description. But the groundwork that is lacking and desperately needed is organic, long-term relationships between migrant justice, Indigenous, Quebec and Rest of Canada organizers. That's the firmament that will enable a continent-wide self-organizing movement to grow, but so far the major players have sidestepped that need in favour of tokenism and photo ops. Want fundamental, transformative change? Get the folks with resources to pay for a lot of plane and bus tickets and weeklong gatherings on the land. 
 
How can we use the attention and energy that will be focused on the next election to change paradigms and not just parties?
 
This is the movement version of a game of chicken. You gotta maintain confidence, and you can't flinch. The incentives to backslide into a wait-til-next-time, we-did-a-little-good stance are overwhelming once the NDP or Liberals get into power can't be underestimated. Everything about the existing paradigm is going to be yelling "wait and see" at the exact moment that movements need to set the agenda (or ideally, have it set already and then maintain that initiative, forcing political parties to react to movements and not vice versa). One potential safeguard is to make sure lots of people who are directly affected by what's going to happen next have the personal phone numbers of the people who have their hands on the steering wheel. To the extent that the movements they're influential in are powerful, the leaders* that folks look to for guidance will have really powerful, confident, compelling people telling them "you did a good job, but now you need to understand that everything you think you know is wrong." It happens over and over again, and folks who are serious about not flinching can't be too prepared for that moment.
 
* Yeah, I know, we're not supposed to have leaders. But the only thing worse than being overly dependent on leaders is pretending you don't have them at all.

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