In December of 2008 the majority of the members of the Canadian House of Commons, in harmony with parliamentary tradition, came together with the proposal for a coalition government. Instead of either listening to the voice of the majority of the elected members of the Canadian government and calling upon Stéphane Dion to form a new government or requiring Steven Harper to call for a vote of confidence by the House of Commons, the governor general of Canada prorogued parliament. When the house resumed sitting, the coalition became mute. For me, the idea that there was any possible value to electoral politics ended that day. When the majority of the House of Commons could not determine who was prime minister, parliamentary democracy was injured. When the majority of the House of Commons accepted this, the possible value of voting became meaningless.
I have voted since then, but only for individuals with whom I have worked with outside of electoral politics. It would have been nice to have had them elected, but it wouldn’t have resulted in a better world.
Low voter turnout may indicate that a large number of people have also come to feel that it is not important to participate in a process that has become symbolic rather than meaningful.
When the Occupy movement came to life and, more specifically, when it appeared in a place about 15 minutes walk from my home, I became immediately encouraged. In a time of political cynicism and barely responsive elected officials people from diverse backgrounds came together to talk and raise questions. Specific demands were less important than the exploring of ideas and possible options. There were points of clarity—a real desire for inclusive political processes, efforts to bring into the Occupy community the marginalized who (with the exception of OCAP) have historically not been too welcome within social movements, respect for opponents, the need for people centred economic structures. The Occupy movement came into a politically and emotionally empty void.
The vicious attacks on the movement, whether in the media or in places by the police, have not been a surprise. Public dissent is rarely welcomed, even more so when it actually is unique. An effort that can gain support from the Paul Martin’s of the world as well as those charged with conspiracy for their participation in the G20 protests is a rare and potentially truly radical, truly turning the world upside down.
I hope that the state supported attacks on the Occupy movement don’t end it. I hope that it doesn’t disappear into the many private spheres but finds a way to be a physical present in our towns and cities. As someone who finds little to support in traditional politics I may be expecting too much from the Occupy movement. But it has been a true beacon of hope for me. Somehow in the midst of all the social, economic and political ills, when police violence against dissent is displayed across the internet if not in our recent personal memories, people from faith communities and unions, homeless people and co-op housing activists, people with drug and alcohol issues and small business owners, students and veterans, libertarians and Liberals…a phenomenal diversity of life experiences and social visions have found a shared expression in our common community spaces.
I go to sleep with the memories of watching my union brothers helping to take apart a physical statement of an desire for a better world and with the knowledge that a member of the clergy who had seemed surprisingly and wonderfully supportive of the camp at St. James banning participants from Cathedral property. This does not sit easy with me.
But I also go to sleep knowing that I am not alone in wanting the seeds planted in the Occupy movement to grow. This will help keep the darkness at bay.