What if we’ve run out of time?
What if there’s no time left for baby steps; for one step forward and two steps back?
What if it’s time to go big or go home?
Last weekend Ms Soapbox attended two events focused on our future. One was a convention hosted by the Alberta Federation of Labour, the other was the screening of the documentary Knock Down the House which tracked the campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and three other women in the recent American primaries.
Both events presented a fresh take on our political choices.
Simply put, it’s not about going Left or Right, but going up or down, about choosing a government that represents the people, not one that represents corporations and entrenched political parties.
Alberta Federation Labour 2019 Convention
The theme of the AFL convention was “Choosing our Future”.
The line up of speakers carried a powerful message: heed the lessons of history to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.*
The lessons of history
Historian Alvin Finkle described the rise of the labour movement after WWI, starting with the fight for public education, public healthcare, job security, pay equity, an 8 hour day, and safe worksites and culminating with…what…neoliberal governments led by politicians like Jason Kenney who promise to “fix” the economy by gutting public services, imposing austerity, blessing the wealthy with ridiculously low taxes and granting corporations unregulated nirvana?
We’ve been at this for a century and we keep having the same conversation.
The world’s oldest activist, Harry Leslie Smith, was represented by his son John.
John described Harry’s life which started in crushing poverty but thanks to progressive government policies blossomed into one rich with opportunity.
Harry was deeply concerned by neoliberal attacks on the welfare state which contrary to what we’ve been told by Thatcher, Reagan, Klein, Harper, Ford and Kenney, do not create greater prosperity but greater inequality and crushing debt.
Harry had seen all this before. He said we’re living on the knife edge just like in the 1920s with the same divisions, a similar lack of social safety net and rising poverty which led to war. He desperately wanted to return government to the people, not the corporations.
Just before he died, Harry asked John for a beer and said, “Enjoy yourself, because it’s later than you think.”
The rise of intolerance
Human rights activists described the rise of intolerance. They said the politics of hate is not new, but has become more obvious because racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, sexists, misogynists and bigots aren’t afraid to show their true selves. Malcolm Azania said the UCP attracts racists like a bank attracts money, it’s part of their business model.
Jean Philistine Old Shoes described the normalization of hate in indigenous communities in southern Alberta, illustrating her point with a story about a First Nations hockey team that returned to the locker room to discover someone has pissed all over their clothes. Saima Jamal described the vicious verbal abuse she endured as she stood alone, the sole protester, at a Yellow Vest rally in downtown Calgary, and Malcolm Azania urged activists to learn self defence to protect themselves because neoNazis will hurt and kill them.
We’ve seen what happens when fascists get into positions of power, we need to stop them before it happens again.
Politics and the future
Rachel Notley acknowledged there were many opinions about what her campaign could have done differently, but what really mattered now was how the NDP were going to move ahead. She promised to oppose policies that harm Alberta workers and to propose policies that will help all Albertans.
Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, described what pro-labour governments have done to improve the lives of all Canadians. He said the goal is simple: Every generation must fight to make the next generation better.
Given the existential threat of climate change we’ll be lucky to maintain the status quo.
This is where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) comes in.
Knock Down the House
The documentary Knock Down the House follows Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other female candidates fighting to take government out of the hands of lobbyists, the power brokers and the old guard and return it to the people it is intended to serve.
AOC was the only candidate to succeed. She defeated Joe Crowley, a 10 term incumbent Democrat and the fourth ranking Democrat in the USA in the New York primary to become the youngest woman (age 29) in Congress.
She campaigned on a platform that would be radical even in Canada. She supports Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee, a Green New Deal, the abolition of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, free public college and trade school, and a 70% marginal tax rate for incomes over $10 million.
Mr Crowley rolled out the traditional Democrat rhetoric saying only he could fight Trump. He demeaned and patronized AOC as too idealistic and immature to represent her constituents.
She went big, she won, and she’s been making waves ever since.
If we’ve learned anything from history it’s this: when progressives “frame” their policies to appeal to “progressive conservatives” they limit themselves to taking tiny incremental steps that fail to spark the imagination of citizens beaten down by cynicism and manipulated and misled by opportunists pushing their own agendas.
This incrementalism won’t deliver the dramatic policy changes necessary to address rising inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class. It doesn’t respond to the rise of neoliberalism and neofascism or the existential threat of climate change.
It’s time to go big or go home. To get behind politicians who are crystal clear about their values, who they represent and what they’re fighting for.
And we’d better do it fast because Harry Leslie Smith is right; “it’s later than you think.”
*The convention ran for four days; my observations are based on the one day I was able to attend. I was blown away by the quality of the presenters.