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Friday, December 11, 2009

what will be the 21st century tidal wave?

The politics of the latter half of the 20th century were shaped by the Cold War. Communism and free-market capitalism were the tidal waves that splashed everywhere and pooled into hundreds of mini-ideologies across the world (in Alberta, this included formation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the United Farmers of Alberta, and Social Credit). We tend to forget our history, or accept modern day revisionism, and ignore how much our history has shaped modern day politics. Even as they gravitate their policies towards the 'centre' of the political spectrum, the traditional political parties in our Legislative Assembly continue to frame their debates, their ideas, and their opponents in a similar left-right context.

After attending the recent annual conventions of both the Liberal Party and New Democratic Party, I have not seen convincing evidence that the membership of either party are willing to step out of their traditionally defined comfort zones. A participant at the recent Reboot Alberta gathering in Red Deer framed it well by suggesting that when the party logos are removed from their campaign material, it becomes difficult to tell which motherhood and apple pie statement belongs to who. I see Reboot Alberta as an incubator of new progressive ideas, something that is easier to do when liberated from traditional party loyalties.

I have talked with a lot of people who have had a difficult time understanding why I have become involved in a non-party progressive group like Reboot Alberta. “Join the Liberals or NDP, Dave. Pick your side,” is a phrase I have heard a lot over the past two weeks. “Politics aren't going to change, so join what exists” is another common response. What exists is not good enough. Unlike the delegates at the recent Liberal and NDP conventions, many of the participants at Reboot Alberta have made a commitment to contribute to the reshaping of political ideas in Alberta beyond what already exists.

When asked to define "progressive," the three words I heard that resonated strongly with me were: adaptability, understanding, and interconnectivity. I am not sure that these ideas fit in a left-right spectrum and I know many people who have had a difficult time understanding that.

Does a political generation gap exist in a constructivist versus structuralist context?

Another new (and similarly named) group,
Renew Alberta, is collecting signatures to start a new political party. I am not at the point of jumping on any bandwagon, but I am supportive of the people involved in this group. Political warhorses, like David Climenhaga, are understandably skeptical, but are relying on traditional partisan labels to frame the yet to be registered political party. An honest dose skepticism is healthy, but when it is mixed with undertones of negativity and mistrust it quickly becomes toxic.

countless election results (and recent polls) showing that the traditional opposition parties are not resonating with Albertans, there are many people who are feeling vulnerability in this volatile political environment. I remain open-minded to any group of people who are willing to put in the personal commitment to contribute something new to the politics of our province. A successful new political party cannot be a mirror of the current unsuccessful political parties, it must be different or it will fail.

Twenty years ago, the
Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed. A generation of 20 to 30 year-olds now exist whose only exposure to this time period is through reading about the Soviet Union and Bert the Turtle alongside Rome and the Renaissance in their social studies textbooks. If the political waves that shaped my parents and grandparents politics are now in the history books, what are the waves that will shape the politics of the 21st century?

Social media like blogs,
Facebook, and Twitter are connecting citizens with new communities and instant information in incredible ways. Groups of citizens have begun gathering organically in movements like ChangeCamp and CivicCamp, but what is next? Does the interconnectivity built through the online social networks need to translate to change on the street level?

It is an exciting time to be involved in politics in Alberta! As a next step for Reboot Alberta, I have joined a group of participants in generating idea papers that will be used to stimulate more positive debate and discussion when we gather again in February 2010. Questions I plan to raise include: What does the word ‘
progressive’ mean in the 21st century? What does progressive change mean in the 21st century? Will the change be technological? Will it be environmental? Will the next generational waves even be ‘political’ in the traditional sense of the term?


Anonymous said...

I'm glad your having fun with the Renew Alberta project Dave, but in the meantime Danielle Smith has gathered up the hunger for change and directed it into a narrower right wing vision for Alberta.

I don't know you well enough to say which legislation hits closest to home, but the Bill 44's and Bill 50's are just the beginning. Once the Byfields, Chandlers, etc have control of the Legislature, you might wish you had done more than share idea papers with other like minded individuals at this time.

But then again, maybe you'll feel fine. Ineffectiveness and inaction have been the hallmarks of Alberta Liberals for so long, it's hard to see how Reboot/Renew is any different.

daveberta said...

I am involved with Reboot Alberta. Renew Alberta is the group starting the new political party. Yes, the names are similar, but are independent of each other.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Dave. I think that there is a generational gap in how younger and older people engage in politics. There is a difference in meaning the creates his gap.

andy grabia said...

you might wish you had done more than share idea papers with other like minded individuals at this time.

Yeah, Dave, show some real courage, like that Anonymouse commenter.

Kyle said...

Good luck at Reboot. I might try to come to the next meeting. I left the NDP after 5 years because my local association had become a social club for negative 60 year old socialists. Hope that positive change can start!

Matt Grant said...

I've got to hand it to you, Dave, "Does a political generation gap exist in constructivist versus structuralist context?" is certainly not an apple pie question...

Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" had something to say about how this kind of language, that I've seen a lot of from ReBoot, might impact this group's interconnectivity aspirations.

I say this in the spirit of constructive criticism.

daveberta said...

Thanks for the comment, Matt. I haven't read that piece by Orwell, but my intention wasn't to create more division. The question it raises for me (and probably something that I should have included in this post), is if such a gap exists, how do we bridge it?

I don't want to suggest that we abandon our history. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater would be a mistake, I am simply trying to stimulate some discussion and ideas about why our politics are shaped the way they are. Thoughts?

Also, it would be a mistake to view Reboot as a threat. Frankly, if I were any of the leaders in the three main political parties, I would desperately be trying to recruit the kind of people who will travel to Red Deer for a weekend in the middle of winter to discuss, debate, and generate positive ideas about how to make Alberta better are not a common commodity.

Matt Grant said...

No, it's great what you guys are doing. And there's clearly a lot of smart and dedicated people involved, I just wanted to caution about the use of language that might impact on accessibility. As a general rule, if you need to use wikipedia to figure out what it is someone said, they're not really trying to communicate with you. I know that's not your intent, so if you're trying to build a popular movement, I think there's a middle ground between fluff that means nothing, and jargon that means a tonne to a few intellectuals.

"Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration".

Though, I fully appreciate the irony of talking about perils of intellectualism by quoting an essay from 1946.

daveberta said...

Thanks, Matt. Good advice. I do sometimes using big words and jargon on this blog, but I am sure that any work that Reboot Alberta produces will be in clearer language.

And yes, there is a certain irony to your source.

Interested in participating at the Reboot meeting in February?

Matt Grant said...

Indubitably... um, I mean, yes.

If I can be there, I will.

Mike B. said...

Organizations that lack leadership and continue on unsuccessfully, which are too rigid to adapt, aren't democratic enough by inflexible rules or lack of participation for members to accept decisions tend to have said members disagree with the status quo, who then are eventually frustrated enough to split off into other groups. This, however, causes a narrowness in vision and having one's principles never come into being by never gaining power to implement them.

kenchapman said...

Great post and very helpful comments. The Reboot Alberta movement is in the process of having an array of people involved take some time to write up some thoughts on what it means to them to be a progressive in Alberta in the 21st century.

These pieces are being written in theme areas now but will be posted on and our target is to get the drafts out before Christmas.

Feedback will be welcomed as will submissions from others who want to take the time to write.

I will do a blog post on that sight and link it to too so people can see and follow what is happening around all this.

Berry Farmer said...

I've already found four friends interested in attending the next REBOOT. "You bring four friends... I'll bring four friends... They'll bring four friends.... We really could make something happen.

Also, the newest poll that puts the WAP out front was taken before Ms. Smith came out and said the science of climate change is unsettled.

While that "head-in-the-sand" view might attract some followers in this province, my guess is that it will put the brakes on quite a few others who will take her remark as the sign it probably is: unreserved support of continuing the one-horse economy of petroleum politics.

Those (with progressive tendencies) who are putting their hopes into the empty vessel of the WAP because there are no other new ideas on the horizon will now abandon that ship.

Now is the time for progressives of all stripes to drop their labels and pride and get together with something new. We have more in common with one another than what holds us apart.

Looking forward to the next REBOOT.

CS said...

Is reboot by invitation only?

Ian said...

I wonder if you might want to model Reboot (or the founders of Renew) on the success of Vision Vancouver that swept the city's election recently. They started a new (at the civic level, Vancouver is weird) party to represent progressives, then managed to get a non-compete agreement with the traditional left-wing party (COPE) and a coalition with the Greens. The old right wing party (NPA) that usually ran Vancouver now has ~3 seats across 3 boards and Vision is well established.

Of course this may all be moot if Rewew can't attract a charismatic leader to front the party (who doesn't have to come from politics, see Danielle Smith).

Anonymous said...

Except what necessitated Vision's alliance with COPE was a split among progressives created by Vision splitting off from COPE in the first place.

And given all the Olympic related bylaws passed by the Vision dominated council, I don't know if labelling them as progressive is something I would do.

Anonymous said...

"when the party logos are removed from their campaign material, it becomes difficult to tell which motherhood and apple pie statement belongs to who"

I keep hearing statements like this from proponents of electoral cooperation or merger between the NDP, Liberals and Greens, yet they always fail to provide concrete examples of which policies are similar/identical, and how. The furthest they ever go is to say something like "The Liberals NDP and the Greens have similar healthcare policies" but then don't actually tell us how they are similar. Until the proponents of these types of moves are actually willing to prove statements like this, they won't be taken seriously.

Party of One said...

"Frankly, if I were any of the leaders in the three main political parties, I would desperately be trying to recruit the kind of people who will travel to Red Deer for a weekend in the middle of winter to discuss, debate, and generate positive ideas about how to make Alberta better are not a common commodity."

Well, you're right here Dave, but I think by definition the participants in ReBoot and ReNew are probably LESS available to join traditional parties than most people; they've already expressed their disatisfaction with tradional parties by taking a new direction.

Traditional parties would do better by trying to engage those that HAVEN'T been involved previously. I don't know the percentage of people that this represents, but I'm pretty sure it's significantly larger than those who HAVE been involved. In other words, instead of trying to get a bigger proportion of the "engaged individual" pie, work harder to make that pie bigger.

Unfortunately, I haven't yet seen an Albertan party make a serious effort to do this. It would take a lot of hard work, discarding of preconceptions(i.e., that only current "intellectuals" and "social activists" can make useful and valid contributions) and accomodations of interests that are traditionally underrepresented (NON-organized labour, immigrant women, any other group that is otherwise marginalized).

It would take a massive political and social education effort, which could only be undertaken with the explicit understanding that such an effort may not result in objective "gains" for the organization, but would be for the benefit of society generally as people become more informed about issues and processes. Some people, once they've acheived a greater level of awareness and "engagement", may well gravitate towards "traditional" parties...and that would have to be acceptable to whatever organization sponsored the information. There could NOT be an expectation of "loyalty". After all, even if you teach someone to fish, you can't expect them to then provide you with half of what they catch.

I've long thought that a fruitfull approach would be non-partisan citizens forums, at the constituency level, and an "extra-parliamentary" deliberative body that would gain de facto, if not de jure legitimacy by effectively articulating the concerns of those currently outside the "traditional" political processes and structures. Granted, this may be a somewhat naive hope...but hope springs eternal, as they say.

The constituency-level forums would also be akin to "citizens' resource centres", but unaffiliated with any political parties OR the government. They would be staffed by volunteers, perhaps funded by donations, and would provide information and advocacy services to those having trouble accessing regular government services.

Well, that's my two cents worth; you may want change! But don't we all!

jerrymacgp said...

Where many political commentators, yourself included, err in this sort of discussion is in characterizing Liberals as "progressive". Those of us on the true left of the spectrum (i.e. New Democrats) do not view the Liberals as progressive. They are just as much in the pockets of big business as the Tories. Their policies are just as pro-business and anti-worker as the Tories'. The Alberta Liberals may have a more urbane and intellectual way of communicating than the Alberta Tories, but they are hardly "progressive".

There's a reason why the Alberta NDP convention rejected any form of "non-compete" agreement with the Liberals: it would just replace the black cats with the white cats, leaving the mice no better off (apologies to the late Tommy Douglas).

Merlin Durken said...

Matt Grant makes a good point... I've heard it said that if you want to connect with people you have to start listening to Country music. As distasteful a prospect as that is, unfortunately it's pragmatic and neatly circumvents the urge to Deconstruct, analyse and then reassemble the parts in a slightly different order.

A good point to remember is that this stuff ain't rocket science -- if it was the current party in power would never had the chance to take the reins. In Alberta at least, if you understand herding and stock penning you're almost there...

Unknown said...

Merlin - There is nothing wrong with Country Music. What is wrong is a condescending and ignorant attitude. Excuse me now I have to get back to my herding and stock penning.

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