Thursday, June 23, 2016

NDP Should Forget Leap Manifesto and Protests, Just Go Out and Win Elections - Advice from Occupy Wall Street Cofounder

Maclean's Magazine on the Leap Manifesto, featuring Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on the provocative cover
Party should heed Occupy Wall Street cofounder Micah White's new advice: real change requires electoral success.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 19, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

"My mission is to persuade activists to stop ignoring failures and to stop repeating tactics."

It's the height of irony that while Occupy Wall Street's co-founder outlines how protests are finished and electoral success is critical, the federal New Democratic Party will talk about a protest movement for the next two years.

And so while Micah White's new book outlines how the Occupy movement, marches, social media clicktivism and "environmental materialism" have all failed and that new approaches to win elections are needed to achieve progress, the NDP convention jumped at the chance to discuss in every riding the radical Leap Manifesto that relies on tired tactics and failed leftist/enviro rhetoric.

Talking for two years about a controversial climate change agenda that opposes natural resource development, trade deals, military spending and more won't help the federal NDP's electoral success in 2019 -- but it could hurt provincial parties.

That's why Alberta's NDP Premier Rachel Notley strongly opposed the move, saying that the Leap Manifesto is naïve, ill-considered and tone-deaf, and that it "doesn't actually reflect NDP values" by failing to understand working people's need for economic security and stability.

That sets the stage for a true reckoning between social democrats who say don't Occupy and don't Leap -- and those who do.

BC NDP leader John Horgan also quickly dismissed the Leap Manifesto, which has been fronted by Toronto filmmaker Avi Lewis and author Naomi Klein, who are married.

"In total collectively it doesn't reflect the values of British Columbians. Our past and our future will be dependent on the development of natural resources," Horgan said last week.

"We won't be proceeding under any Leap Manifesto... under my leadership," he added, to be even clearer.

'An ideological battle'

Given Maclean's magazine's current cover story with a photo of Klein and Lewis surrounded by the headline: "How To Kill The NDP," that's understandable.

To be fair, Lewis admits the negative response to the release of the Leap Manifesto during the 2015 federal election surprised him.

"We know this is an ideological battle. What we did misjudge was how this would be used against the NDP. That was certainly not our intent. Maybe we were a bit naïve," Lewis told Maclean's last week. "People have said it's the NDP's left flank attacking [then-NDP leader Tom] Mulcair. That's not true, but we lost control of that narrative."

That narrative is critical to winning elections -- and White says to think that anything but elections will change society is wrong.

"Occupy was holding assemblies in public squares to create a consensus-based democracy that we hoped would give us broad social legitimacy.

The thinking was that, if every day people convened in these democratic assemblies, the police wouldn't be able to attack us because we would be the sovereign power," White told The Globe and Mail in March.

"Well, we realized that that's not true. Actually, sovereignty, in our societies, is only given to the people who either win elections or win wars. Winning wars isn't possible or desirable. Winning elections actually seems like something that can happen," White said.

But there is another important ideological battle going on as well -- over pay for play politics in both the United States and British Columbia.

White's book points out that the original and single aim of the Occupy Wall Street movement he co-created with Adbusters magazine founder Kalle Lasn was simply to get big money out of American politics.

"If money determines electoral victory and corporations and unions are able to give unlimited amounts of money, then it is clear that elections are no longer being decided by the people," White writes, outlining how a single #OccupyWallStreet hashtag on Twitter launched an international protest.

That's exactly what's happening in British Columbia today, with BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark steadfastly rejecting the NDP and Horgan's longtime demands to end business and union political donations.

The BC Liberals have been raising triple or more of what the NDP can collect, thanks to massive corporate contributions, giving them an enormous electoral campaign advantage.

And White stresses that it's those elections -- not protests -- that can bring real change.

"We need to build social movements that can win power -- which means being able to swing elections, hack elections," White told CBC TV this month.

"The 99 per cent could really be governing the world in our lifetimes -- that's the kind of grand vision that we're heading towards," White says.

But getting there won't happen with old-style protest politics, he adds.

"It's beholden on activists and everyday people to see that we're in one of those moments where protest isn't working and break out of it," White told CBC.

"We can't stay here, we can't stay in a time when we just kind of go through the rituals of marching and stuff like this where even though we really know it isn't going to do what we want."

'No more marches'

In The End of Protest, White takes straight aim at one of the left's most predictable tactics.

"No more marches. Orchestrating a synchronized global march with millions of people in the streets rallying behind one demand is an impressive logistical feat that attracts tremendous publicity, but it is not an effective method of social change," White writes.

"The fact is that governments today are not required to listen to their citizens or heed their marches."

That message isn't very welcome to some, like those who organized giant climate change rallies, White admits.

"I do think I've become kind of unpopular in the activist community. They like to tell one story. Nothing's ever a failure. 'We're actually winning' -- this feels really good when people say this to themselves, but it doesn't help us learn anything," he told the CBC.

White also has alienated environmentalists with a withering critique of their failures in his book.

"To move forward, environmentalism must end its obsession with materialism," White writes. "There has been a fetishization of our ability to correlate climate change with scientifically verifiable hypotheses."

"Environmentalists got stuck in proving the scientific argument and have been falling down the rabbit hole of computer models and intellectual abstraction ever since."

White is not anti-environmentalism; indeed he says that "it is the ecological struggle that has the greatest potential to unite humanity."

But White is very clear once again that anyone taking the same approaches that doomed Occupy Wall Street and other mass protests simply will not work.

Neither Occupy nor Leap -- just win elections. It's a revolutionary idea.


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Tom Mulcair's NDP Election Campaign Mistakes Were Fatal Wounds, Convention Vote Determined

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau
Politics is unforgiving, as NDP's vote for a new leader showed.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 12, 2016

By Bill Tieleman

"A man who is used to acting in one way never changes; he must come to ruin when the times, in changing, no longer are in harmony with his ways."

- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532

Tom Mulcair went into his New Democratic Party convention on Sunday as a man out of time after the disastrous results of the 2015 federal election -- and delegates stunningly punched the clock on his leadership.

Mulcair didn't make a convincing case that he had changed and learned from his errors, and with the times changing rapidly under Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he indeed came to ruin.

Politics is an unforgiving business when one fails, as Mulcair fully knew, but even veteran observers were shocked after numerous pundit predictions that the NDP leader would leave convention either unscathed or mildly wounded.

Instead, Edmonton delegates delivered a politically fatal blow, not willing to take any chances that Mulcair might survive long enough to regroup and regain sufficient support to contest a 2019 rematch with Trudeau.

Despite Mulcair's acknowledged success grilling former prime minister Stephen Harper in Parliament while Trudeau was busy finding followers on Twitter, he and the NDP discovered too late that it is constant campaigning, and not accumulating House of Commons accolades, that gets you elected.

Fifty-two per cent of New Democrats at convention voted in favour of a leadership vote -- a result that, when announced on national television, left delegates in solemn silence.

And just like that, the NDP came to a fork in the road and chose a direction without a clear indication where it will lead, or who will lead it.

A leap in the dark

More obviously, they have taken a leap into the dark -- endorsing the Naomi Klein-Avi Lewis led LEAP Manifesto that was vigorously denounced by Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley as detrimental to the economy and jobs but backed by a slim majority at convention, due to environmentalist members.

Notley made an impassioned and impressive speech to delegates Saturday, calling on them to back Alberta as the province whose natural resource revenues have supported Canada for many years in good times.

"We're not making a choice between the environment and the economy. We are building the economy," Notley said.

"I'm asking you to leave here more persuaded than perhaps some of us have been, that it is possible for Canada to have a forest industry, to have an agriculture industry, a mining industry, and yes, an energy industry, while being world leaders on the environment."

And Notley asked NDP delegates to support building pipelines to B.C. to export oil.

"We need to be able to get the best possible world price for the oil we produce here, at the level of production that will be responsibly allowed under a climate change plan. And the way to do that is through pipelines to tidewater," Notley said.

Not an easy sell -- and one that delegates rejected in favour of the LEAP Manifesto's hard-left politics that call for no energy development "if you wouldn't want it in your backyard," no new oil pipelines, cancelling all trade deals that "that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies," and much more.

Notley was having none of that, preferring real power to pontification.

"We're acting, really acting, on the basis of a concrete plan that is actually being implemented. That is what you get to do when you move up from manifestos, to the detailed, principled, practical plans you can really implement by winning an election," Notley told delegates.

Pipeline provocations

But Mulcair himself appeared desperately ready to leap to save his leadership, telling CBC TV he'd "do everything" he could to keep oil in the ground if delegates agreed.

That only alienated his host Albertan New Democrats and private sector unionists who had supported his leadership -- at the very convention that decided his fate.

But it again illustrated Mulcair's fatal failings as a politician -- a propensity to make snap decisions without full consideration or consultation, and with disastrous consequences.

Mulcair's election announcement boasting that the NDP would balance every budget despite a shaky economy, when Canadians weren't looking for fiscal austerity from a social democratic party, was his campaign's terrible turning point.

Trudeau pounced on it, promising modest deficits to pay for infrastructure and other spending that Mulcair's penny-pinching would prohibit -- "real change now," as the Liberals claimed.

But now it's the NDP that seeks real change -- in a new leader for troubled times.