Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hooligans and How the Cultural Left Can Beat the Political Right

This week in the Winnipeg Sun, a column by Tom Brodbeck; Hooligan Harper haters: Crime bill protestors partisan hypocrites, irked me on many levels.

From the eye rolling "Harper haters" that's been done to death, to the notion of opposition to Bill C-10, being a partisan issue.

I contacted Mr. Brodbeck and asked if he had actually spoken with any of the protesters.  He dismisses anyone who challenges this government's policies, as simple "Harper haters", without asking those protesting how they actually feel about Mr. Harper.
Why is it that when Liberal governments bring in tougher sanctions for serious crimes they’re seen as being thoughtful and concerned about public safety?

But when Prime Minister Stephen Harper brings in harsher sentences for sex offenders and killers, he’s a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who wants to jail everyone and throw away the key. It’s a bit of a double standard.
Many are simply angry over the Draconian crime bills, that are even being denounced by the law and order state of Texas. 

Brodbeck also dismisses the protesters as "hooligans".  A hooligan by definition is "a rough lawless young person."  In the image he provides, I see no roughness, unless you count a profanity on a sign, and I see no laws being broken.  In a healthy democracy dissent is not only allowed but should be welcomed, as proof that we do indeed live in a democracy.  As Lawrence Martin reminds us in his book, Harperland: The Politics of Control:
“In the run-up to the election, Stephen Harper had rolled out the rhetoric on the need for clean and transparent government, expressing frustration with Paul Martin's Liberals over their alleged secrecy and obstructionism. "When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent," Harper declared in a statement to be later viewed as notable for ironic content, "Is frankly when it is rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.”
However, with so much "dissent" over Bill C-10, rumour has it that Stephen Harper is planning to simply again prorogue.  According to Lori Turnbull in the Globe and Mail:
Rumour has it that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is planning yet another prorogation of Parliament. This means the work of the House of Commons, including its committees, would stop and our elected officials, as a group, would be rendered incapable of performing their basic functions, including holding the government to account in Parliament. 

The prorogation rumours are not surprising, given the other tactics the government has employed to “manage” opposition scrutiny. During the current parliamentary session, the Conservative government has invoked strict time limits on House debates on complex bills, including its omnibus crime legislation, and forced committee proceedings behind closed doors, out of the public eye.
Stifling dissent, operating behind "closed doors", and limiting debate.  This man has no shame and clearly no "moral authority to govern".

Hats off to the Hooligans

If a "hooligan" is simply someone who opposes government policies or practices, then I think we must pay homage to history's "hooligans".  Like Harriet Beecher Stowe (above) who protested against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law that prohibited assistance to fugitives.  Wrote Stowe:  "I feel now that the time is come when even a woman or a child who can speak a word for freedom and humanity is bound to speak... I hope every woman who can write will not be silent."

Though arguably not a youth at 40, when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, she inspired others, young and old, by injecting an anti-slavery message into popular culture.  And of course her work with the abolitionist movement is legendary.

But what of other "hooligans"?

Like Barbara Johns, who at the age of 16, took over her black high school and shut it down, leading to the legal crisis that wound up in the U.S. Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education, the case that ended legal segregation in America.

Or Claudette Colvin, who at 15 in 1955, defied segregation laws by refusing to surrender her bus seat for a white passenger, choosing instead to be arrested.  Civil Rights leaders contemplated organizing a bus boycott then, but were concerned with Colvin's age.  How much traction could the movement obtain by backing a "hooligan"?  It wasn't until 42-year-old Rosa Parks, inspired by the young activist, did the same, that they had their heroine.

And what of the "hooligan" Joan of Arc, or the less well known, Sybil Ludington, who like Paul Revere took a famous ride.  At just 16,  Ludington rode twice the distance Revere did, through a rainstorm no less, to warn the countryside that Red Coats were sacking Danbury,  Connecticut.  Ludington alerted militia men, and the militia was able to stop the invasion, chasing the Red Coats back to their ships.  A "rebel" on the right side of history.

Or how about the 15-year-old Louis Braille, who created the Braille writing system, while a student at Paris's Royal Institution for Blind Youth.  Teachers at the school revolted, banning students from using it, claiming that the paper-punching note-taking was noisy and disruptive.  Braille has changed the lives of so many people living without sight, because he was a rebel.

Young "hooligans" like Brigette Depape, who challenged authority with the 'Stop Harper' sign on the Senate floor; or Emma Sullivan, who refused to apologize to a governor for a disparaging remark she left on Twitter, are inspirational.  I hope Pat Martin is now following Sullivan.  If we can't even Tweet dissent, where is our democracy?

Or maybe Brodbeck should wonder about another political agitator, or "hooligan",  born into a time of occupation and oppression.  Arriving at an annual festival, with a very large following, he attacked the greedy bankers, was later arrested and put to death.  His name was Jesus of Nazareth.

We can't dismiss youth simply because they are young, nor can we dismiss those wonderfully crazy enough to believe they can change a vote, a policy, a bill, or the world.

We go along to get along until someone doesn't. 

Why I Believe That the Cultural Left Can Beat the Political Right

There is a very interesting book, written by Michael Kazin, American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.  In it he discusses, as the title implies, the contributions made by the Left to Western culture.  Naturally, the New Right is trying to topple them all, and yet they are not succeeding, I think because the notions of justice and injustice are fundamental to who we are.

Critics have blamed liberals for not doing enough to denounce right-wing rhetoric, but the nature of liberalism is in support of free speech.  The Right likes to use "free speech" as their rallying cry, but the fact is that they only promote "free speech', when that speech is what they want to hear. 

Kazin argues that liberal, or left culture, can impact the political, when their message resonates with voters, even when they are not involved with a political party.  Chances are pretty good that the young people in Brobeck's photo, are not affiliated with any.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was not really anti-slavery.  In fact, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, called Lincoln "the white man's president".  In 1864, one year after the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass threw his support to Lincoln's opponent, John Fremont (he was not able to actually vote until 1869).   Lincoln only began to listen to the abolitionists, mid-way through the Civil War, when he realized that emancipation could speed victory for the North.  Almost 200,000 black soldiers then joined the fight, recruited by Douglass himself.

A cultural movement inspired a political change.

The post WWI militant union activists, did not gain real validity, until FDR realized that he needed labor votes.   Lyndon Johnson gave up on the white South, to denounce Barry Goldwater.  He won in a landslide, and passed Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts.

Says Kazin, "For a political movement to gain any major goal, it needs to win over a section of the governing elite", but that doesn't mean that they began the movement on behalf of any political party.  They only worked through, or against, the government of the day.

In a January 2003 column, headlined It's not Canadians who've gone to the right, just their media, Lawrence Martin quoted an unnamed European diplomat as saying "You have a bit of a problem here. Your media are not representative of your people, your values. Too many political commentators are right of centre while the public is in the middle.  There is a disconnect."

If you judged the Canadian mood based on our media, you might think that Canada is indeed a right-wing country.  However, that is not the case.  We repeatedly prove in opinion polls, that we are progressive, and care about things like poverty, war, climate change, human rights, etc.

If Stephen Harper had to rely solely on his base for votes, he would probably be leading a third or even fourth place party.  In fact, his Reform-Alliance had stagnated by 2003, propped up primarily by the West.  It was only when he bought out the rights to the PC party and began calling himself a "Tory" that he was able to garner more mainstream support.
He himself wasn't pleased with the new name.  He had referred to the PCs as "elitist" and called Red Tories "Pink Liberals" promising to "jettison them" from the party once he took over.
In January of 2004, he told the Hamilton Spectator, when asked if his Reform-Alliance Party would now be called 'Tories':
"It's actually not a label I love… I am more comfortable with a more populist tradition of conservatism. Toryism has the historical context of hierarchy and elitism and is a different kind of political philosophy. It's not my favourite term, but we're probably stuck with it." (Stephen Harper, Hamilton Spectator, January 24, 2004)
He may have felt that he would be "stuck with it", but capitalizing on the "Tory" name has given him enormous political advantage, since many people who vote for him, believe they are actually voting "Tory".  The media has perpetrated a grave injustice, by allowing him to keep up the facade.

Returning again to Martin's Harperland:
The merger was a ruse of sorts. This was no equal partnership. The merged party had five times as many Alliance MPs as old Tory ones. In the election before this merger, the Alliance Party had won sixty-six seats, the Tories only twelve. Before long, Harper won the leadership of the new party, making the domination of the Reform-Alliance wing even more pronounced. This wasn't so much a merger as the Alliance Party's annexing of an auxiliary group.
This is actually good news for the "Occupy" movement, because most Canadians are not right-wing, but have an ingrained sense of justice and faith in democracy.  If the 99% of those who feel that they are not being given equal opportunities for success, or the roughly 2/3 who did not vote for the New Right party of Stephen Harper, or even those who voted Conservative, having fallen for the bait and switch, come together; we could see positive political change.

We won't alter Harper's ideology, but his own party could demand that he loosen the reins, if they are forced to wear his full frontal assault on our democratic institutions, with his unheard of control.  They can't enjoy being muzzled and scripted.
We could also inspire opposition parties to include our demands in their platforms.  They'd be crazy not to.
Says Kazin, "The divergence between political marginality and cultural influence stems, in part, from the kinds of people who have been the mainstays of the left." 
Not necessarily, those who march, clash with police, get arrested or want to overthrow the government; but those who have been able to articulate their grievances.  People like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Beecher Stowe and Tommy Douglas. 
The Occupy Movement has our attention, as they are beginning to articulate their message, and Canadians are listening.
So hats off to the "Hooligans" and thumbs down to a column that condemns them without cause.

No comments:

Post a Comment