Don't get stuck in idle

Posted 01.15.13

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Need proof that we live in interesting times? How about the Idle No More movement, the student anti-austerity protests last spring, the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring upheavals -- all just the start of a list.

We hear a hundred interpretations and predictions for each of these movements, based on details and the personalities and ambitions of those involved, but what we should also notice is the general message sent by the totality of this upheaval.

The message behind these movements is simply that democracy is an ideal, not a reality.

These movements are so broad in scope and participation, cover so many societies and issues, that this message, by its huge and widespread support, tells us also that there are no genuine democracies functioning today anywhere -- and that this is a positive message.

It tells us that we cannot assume our political processes and structures are complete and set in stone.

Democracy is a fluid process, always growing and facing new challenges and facing continual attempts to undermine its strongest people-centred features. Those sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, speakers, and petitions tell us we cannot assume our political processes, institutions, parties, and people have not been compromised. The political arena is a massive, sloppy game-show to be played with the utmost skill and hard-heartedness, usually -- and of course there are always multiple games underway.

What's positive is that we have to stay engaged, involved, alert, informed, and stay working towards the ideals of our democracy. Even if those ideals remain far in the distance, we have to pursue them continually to make sure the democratic nature of our government remains in force.

We can't assume we've reached the goal of democracy just because we have high-minded documents and processes within our public sphere. All those documents and processes can be subverted and side-stepped. They can be distorted, and money is the biggest distorter. Government decisions involve a lot of money; they attract people and forces focused on money, and as we've found with Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, all that money sloshing around has a terribly destructive effect -- destructive to our communities and their financial health -- and especially destructive to the democratic process.

How democratic is it, really, to be given a choice of two or three people, picked by a small group, to represent either us or their party for the next four years? No unfailing commitments, no promises guaranteed.

This complaint is what all of these protest movements have behind them, and why they are so important -- and so positive, despite their mess and disruption. If they were not disruptive, they would pass un-noticed, squeezed between news of hockey games, car accidents, and far-away tragedies.

The Idle No More, student protests, Occupy, and other popular mobilizations are important because they are the democratic process in action. They all challenge the status quo. They do not challenge democracy or our other social ideals. Every one of these protests challenge the anti-democratic, plutocratic, and corrupted elements within our social system.

They can begin with a small issue -- raising tuition fees a few bucks -- but soon reach a level where they automatically challenge the status quo and the rigidities which re-enforce it. What is more democratic than that?

More democracy and more people involved are the best insurance for our democratic institutions. Idle No More and the student movements are thus very important and very positive developments in Canada.


Copyright © 2013 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/01.13