Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chris White Empowered People to Pay Attention to Politics

What an incredible young man. He started the group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament while sitting home in his jammies.

Now there are more than 206,000 members, sharing stories and organizing rallies across the country.

Is there a budding prime minister in our midst?

Yellowknife student gets 200,000 names for petition
Elizabeth McMillan
Northern News Services
January 18, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - A 25-year-old Yellowknifer is spearheading an online campaign to get people involved in protesting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's decision to prorogue Parliament.

Christopher White, an anthropology graduate student at the University of Alberta who grew up in Yellowknife, started the Facebook group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament on Dec. 30, shortly after the prime minister announced he was suspending parliament for two months.

White said he wanted to empower people to pay attention to politics.

The bilingual page includes directions for how people can get involved, by e-mailing their Member of Parliament or Harper, and a form letter people can use.

"It has a very clearly stated intention but it's one thing at the beginning to think that, it's another thing to be in the middle and actually see results happen," White said.

Within the first week, the Liberal party announced it would return on Jan. 25.

As of Friday afternoon, the group had 192,799 members, making it the largest Canadian-specific Facebook page ever.

Individual chapters sprung up in centres across Canada and White has acted as a spokesman for the group as national media outlets have used the group to gauge public opinion.

White said he doesn't consider the group partisan and he wouldn't classify himself as an activist. He was motivated to contact his MP for the first time after Harper's announcement.

"What's happening here is more than having the Liberals or Conservatives in power. It really comes down to the fundamental issue of democracy," he explained. "This is more than prorogation, this is about government accountability."

Thousands of Canadians agree, with people of all ages posting their opinions in around-the-clock discussion forums. But White says the media isn't the message, he wants people to engage beyond the social networking site.

"Facebook is just a tool, not the movement in itself ... people are starting to question what it means to be a Canadian citizen," he said. "It democratizes the media, we're deciding what the issues are."

People have used the group to network and localize the anti-proroguing movement. Local chapters will hold rallies in more than 35 communities across the country. The Northern Territories Federation of Labour is holding a rally in Yellowknife on Jan. 23, and more than 70 people have confirmed their attendance on the federation's Facebook page. White is helping organize a rally in Edmonton, and hopes several hundred people come out to show their support.

"The Facebook group, and the fact that it continues to grow, is an example that (the prorogue) continues to resonate with Canadians," White said.

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