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Round Table

Beyond Stop Harper

Confronting austerity and the Conservative agenda

Struggles for climate justice are working to stop corporate oil pipelines. Indigenous movements are fighting to decouple economic growth from the exploitation of traditional lands. Migrant justice advocates are struggling to halt the criminalization of immigrants and refugees. Students and workers are building struggles against neoliberal policies which undercut public institutions, from universities and schools to Canada’s public health system. 

Globally, Canada’s Conservative government is leading the push at the G20 toward a global version of the austerity-driven economic model which is wreaking havoc on much of Europe today. Canada is also supporting the coup d'état government in Honduras, while at the United Nations, Canada is undermining efforts like the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and blocking recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. 
Efforts to stop the Conservatives are diverse, and are chiefly emerging from grassroots organizing. Coast to coast, people are strategizing together to stop the Conservatives' political momentum.
How do movements seize the initiative rather than constantly reacting to the latest Conservative attacks? And how do we avoid playing into electoral politics, which have a long history of leaving movements in disarray as people “wait and see” if politicians will fulfill electoral promises? What are the first steps toward a more effective, long-term resistance to austerity? What is the role of decolonization?
The Media Co-op’s inaugural round table features 11 movement voices, collectively articulating answers to these questions.
September 2013

The Discussion

Sep 9, 2013

Sam Gindin is a former Research Director of CAW and former Packer Chair in Social Justice. He is a member of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly.

False hopes undermine true possibilities.

The most important political lesson from our own recent past is to appreciate the potential from below while honestly acknowledging that - as a legacy of past failures - we aren’t yet in a position to ‘win’. The collective challenge is how to build the kind of movement that can expand our options in the future. That obviously includes continuing to expand what we’ve been doing and addressing the sometimes uncomfortable task of developing deeper connections across our fragmented movements.

But it also means – and this is where we haven’t actually gone very far - that we need to start thinking strategically about a new layer of politics that goes beyond each of our projects. Among other things, this will also affect how each of our separate movements function. Put more directly, I think we need to more seriously educate ourselves about the whole - capitalism - and ask what taking it on really means.

It’s only in that context that we can think about where specific responses like elections fit in. How do we defend ourselves/the environment now (without which no movement can be built), while also building towards transforming the system (without which we remain on the treadmill of at best sporadic and temporary victories)?

Sep 19, 2013

pascale brunet is a community organizer and social knitter based in montreal.
When I think about strategically investing "new" layers of politics that could help us build stronger movements to fight the right wing wind/tornado that is blowing on us, my mind goes instinctively to the layer of intimacies and the politicization of the notion of care.
Feminists, Queer, Anti-Oppression & Decolonization perspectives offer us interesting insights on the links between the systemic violences and the intimate violences that shape our daily life, our environment and our bodies. We theoretically know that "the personal is political" but we still have a hard time to embody it in our politics.
A lot of the Conservatives attacks have been done in the name of security: militarization, police brutality, shutting the borders, etc. We know that those attacks create more insecurities and violences in our communities. But when we personally confront intimate violences (domestic abuse, rape, lack of consent, harrassement, isolation, etc) we often rely on the state for our own "security".  
And again, it only creates more insecurities and violences in our lives.
While we’re walking towards social justice, our movements tend to leave issues of intimate violences where they too often happen: in the isolation of our homes. We fail at recognizing that those violences exist inside our movements. The perpetrators aren’t big oil companies, the state or business man; they are our partners, our families or our comrades. 
So while we’re strategizing against tar sands or cuts in social programs; let’s create safer spaces where we can challenge power relationships, unpack privileges, be accountable to one another, break cycles of violences and move towards healing. 
Let’s show we care about the people in our communities and that we’re committed to our collective struggle and ideals as much as we’re committed to one another. So we can fight side by side, knowing that we have each others' backs.


Sep 20, 2013

Jérémie Bédard-Wien is a student activist based in Montreal. He was last seen on the executive of ASSÉ.
2015 follows an established scenario. We will vote for different brands of liberalism (neither in much of a hurry) and hope the big bad wolf is defeated. Some will directly argue for this course of action, given the institutional relationship between labour and the NDP. Others will manage expectations. Same difference. Mobilization aiming to give the boot to Harper will die down as soon as Peter Mansbridge delivers the score.
By betting everything on 2015, we might win a battle, but we’ll lose the war. How can we succeed at both? Sam Gindin reminds us that we are still afraid to think strategically about capitalism, the new layer of politics connecting our movements. Yet everywhere, the disenfranchised are articulating audacious, radical answers to the current crisis while demanding immediate reforms to improve their material reality. Since the last time Canadians went to the polls, Quebec students challenged neoliberal reforms at home and inspired international student movements to action. Idle No More brought First Nations issues to the forefront of the national political agenda. Behind Theresa Spence’s hunger strike, communities resorted to direct action and economic blockades, tactics defenders of the land have honed for years.
Rhetorically, our movements eschewed personal attacks and a systemic analysis, attacking consensus politics: neoliberal economics or oppressive systems of governance, for instance. We built leverage in the streets of our communities before going through the traditional channels of Parliament. In doing so, we laid the foundations of something much bigger: the prospect of a mass movement that can challenge the ideas that will survive Stephen Harper’s government. Should we toss it out the window ahead of the election? Or should we jump on the opportunity to take the road less traveled?
Sep 23, 2013

Zoe Blunt is a founding director of Forest Action Network, and a long-time campaigner for environmental justice in Coast Salish Territory.
“How do movements seize the initiative rather than constantly reacting to the latest Conservative attacks?”
In reality, we do both. Every movement experiences “trigger events” that shock the conscience of the nation. Every year we witness horrible crimes against nature and humanity. Homeless people freezing to death in winter. Oil spills in salmon streams. As organizers, how we respond and push through the pain in times of crisis can determine whether our movements snowball or fizzle.
Earlier in this series, Sam Gindin touched on the value of strategic thinking. Strategic action puts pressure on the state – economically, politically, or otherwise – and gives us the leverage that will start to tip this top-down system.
False hope undermines potential, Gindin noted, and I would add that it keeps people bound to a system that abuses them. While we must acknowledge and learn from our failures, we also must name the “winners” for what they are: criminals and mass murderers.
The way out of false hope lies in reclaiming agency. Asserting our right to refuse. Acknowledging the deep trauma and anger that is the legacy of this abusive system. We must start the work of transforming that pain into a global force for change.
Oct 3, 2013

Louis-Philippe Véronneau is a student activist based in Montreal, who has been organizing in the Quebec student movement since 2010.
“How do you want to unite workers if you are not united amongst yourselves, comrade?”
- Ouvre bien tes yeux, camarade (chant sur l'unité), En Lutte! / In Struggles!
As Mr Gindin expressed in the first text of this round table, “we aren’t yet in a position to ‘win’.” Why so? Why are we not able to challenge efficiently Harper's politics [1]? I do not wish to claim I have the solution. Throughout this round table a lot of people have suggested a lot of good ideas: independent media, care policies, rank-and-file unions, etc. Yet, I think one of the keys to our common problem is left out: our inability to unite as leftists.
Unity of the left. Even though this sounds like a 1970s Marxist-Leninist catchphrase, I think it is something we have overlooked in our recent struggles. I'm not talking here of unity of social movements, as this is yet another problem. In my opinion, the first step towards that common “new layer” is to stop fighting amongst ourselves. Yes, we do not agree on everything. Yes, theoretical debate is important and should continue. Yet, we all know that to win, we will have to stand together, as one.
And again, unity of the left can't be achieved without clear principles. Some people define themselves as leftist, but clearly are not. France's Socialist Party is a good example of this. Learning from ASSÉ's example, mass movements, direct democracy, feminism (in the broad sense of the term) and militant syndicalism should definitely be part of our common platform.
[1] The distinction between Harper and Harper's politics is an important one. The only way to kill the hydra is to attack the whole thing, and not just its head.
Oct 15, 2013

Mostafa Henaway is a community organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre, and member of Tadamon! Montreal.
There are some sleeping elephants in Canadian society, which might be worth waking up. I agree with Louis Phillipe in that the unity of left can create a degree of momentum, but unity is not the only strategic problem we face. An equally pressing matter is engaging the vast numbers of people who are affected by Conservative legislation, but whose concerns are not represented by any political party.
To see them, we need an orientation that looks beyond the left. A majority of people -- working people in precarious work, precarious immigration status -- are struggling. These groups are also the most impacted by the omnibus budget bill C-38/C-45. Who will end up with no pension? Who will retire at 67 instead of 65? Who will struggle to access unemployment insurance? Whose lands will be damaged by industry? Who is impacted by the changes to immigration policy? People in all these groups are unlikely to perceive themselves as part of the left. 
It's a question of strategy and orientation. There is a deep and broad part of the population that can move us down the road less traveled.
This government needs to be challenged, but blaming other parts of the left is not the way. We need to take the first steps, but we also do not need to create something so new. Existing initiatives -- anti-poverty, migrant justice, anti-colonial and environmental -- can form a solid foundation. These are not marginal issues; each one is central to neoliberal economic restructuring. Many of the pieces are in place, but a shift in orientation can build an anti-austerity movement that will challenge these politics regardless of who is in power.
Nov 28, 2013

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

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?

Dec 3, 2013

David Camfield lives in Winnipeg, and is one of the editors of New Socialist Webzine.
Let’s start with an honest recognition that, overall, the forces committed to opposing neoliberalism, halting ecological destruction, and ending colonialism are weak and fragmented. 
I agree with Sam Gindin that “the collective challenge is how to build the kind of movement that can expand our options in the future,” though I’d say movements. But in order to forge “deeper connections across our fragmented movements” we need movements! In most places what we have isn’t movements but -- at best -- small groups of organizers who aspire to build movements.
The best hope for strengthening the forces that want to do much more than put the NDP in office lies in grassroots organizing in workplaces, in communities, and on campuses that aims to plant the seeds of future mass movements. 
Developments in Quebec since 2001 (and elsewhere) suggest that new left-wing political organizations are most likely to be built when the experience of powerful movement mobilization has radicalized many people and given them inspiration, commitment, skills, and confidence.
Where that’s missing, as in Canada today, radicals should prioritize movement-building efforts. Political education is also needed (ideas are too important to be left to academia), and we should look for new opportunities to collaborate (Solidarity Halifax is one positive example). 
In Quebec, prospects for new political projects of the radical left are better.
Dec 5, 2013

S.K. Hussan organizes against migrant detention and deportations, for access to services for undocumented people and in support of indigenous sovereignty.

Too many of the ‘Stop Harper’ campaigns leave those of us on the outside by the wayside.

Too much of the organizing against E.I. cuts, or ‘right to work’ legislation, or to ‘stop’ climate change shoves aside migrant and undocumented people who have no E.I., effectively live under ‘right to work’ legislation and have been pushed out of our homes by capitalism and imperialism.

As many panelists have argued, we must not simply stop or reverse the changes Harper made, we must take, transform and create for those of us that were never included or don't wish to be included. Our voices must soar as polyphony that too often ring hollow in shallow individuality or false unity. 

At the same time our struggles must be rooted in the material needs of our communities and encompass a global solidarity. Inspired by Indigenous land defenders, we must build new relationships with the land; where we belong to it, not it to us. 

As for when those in power hound us for our votes, let us give them little, and take what we can. But let us stay focused on our visions - our dreams cannot fit in ballot boxes.

Dec 15, 2013

Dave Bleakney has been the national union representative (Anglophone) for 17 years for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. He was an active founding participant of Peoples Global Action and is active in anti-colonial Indigenous solidarity and has authored several publications and articles on social struggle and radical pedagogy.
We are never permitted to vote on neoliberalism and colonialism, only the players defending them.  The majority party now is actually the people that don’t vote, which reveals something of how well the system is resonating. People often vote to keep someone out of power rather than bring in anything meaningfully new. 
Strategic offensives can take the place of constant reaction. We can re-learn how to be in movement, or else learn from diverse and vibrant struggles away from the mainstream. 
Radical rank and file activists must build connections and spaces, going around the stifling bureaucracies. New structures, cross-sectoral and community assemblies for enragement and participation will learn to “dig where people stand” and stop waiting for a faceless “public” to come to us. 
In our representative organizations, strategic planning and membership engagement is exceptional. Membership involvement is an afterthought. This can change. If we shift our priorities and bureaucratic-liberal gestures, it is easier than we might think. Isn’t it time for some class victories?
But this requires a fundamental rethinking. Building human-community-earth relationships in the long term, and learning to convene assemblies in places they have never happened in the short term. We must learn the value of face to face communication and understand how to listen. 
If we are to make long term change we need now to change the way we do things at the ground floor. Resistance is emotional and cultural and learned by doing, not by “telling.”
Feb 12, 2014

Liisa Schofield is an elected organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. She works on both the 'Raise the Rates Campaign' to raise social assistance rates in Ontario, as well as the 'Downtown East Fightback' in Toronto against gentrification and for housing and services.
I work with (and come from) communities that have faced a constant onslaught of cutbacks and grinding poverty, especially since the 90’s. Given the strength we need to win even small victories, too often our power feels insufficient.
As crises escalate, we scramble to find or create overarching meaning and to be strategic in everything that we do. This can be healthy, but big-picture perspectives can lose sight of what Hussan calls “struggles rooted in the material needs of our communities…”. How do we balance the desperate growing needs of day-to-day campaigns ‘on the ground’ and strategizing to build broader interconnected, powerful and disruptive movements?
Mostafa's point about "an orientation that looks beyond the left” is important in this respect. To build relationships with people ‘beyond’, we have to be present in the immediate issues and emotionally connected to the work we do and the people we work with.
As we build those relationships and our organizations, we should treat each other with true camaraderie and care; ‘committed to one another’ in the anti-oppressive ways that pascal brunet very importantly talks about.
I believe that our strength is in our rootedness and interconnectedness. There are a lot of people out there working hard and fighting back every day. Let’s find each other and support each other. History is made of many movements, collisions and escalations. Building relationships rooted in principles of genuine solidarity is where we start. From there we can develop the power we need to win.