Questions

by Glen

As stated in yesterday’s post, I feel no need to question the protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement as to their reasons for taking their concerns over financial injustice to the streets. They have effectively shown that some citizens are taking notice and are reacting by speaking out. What will become of all this we aren’t really sure.

Columnist Chantel Hebert wrote a strong column in regards to these protests that I think must be addressed. The title of her piece gives you the idea: “Want Real Change? Hit the Ballot Box Instead of the Streets.” Try as we might, it’s a logic that can’t be argued with. Consider what she writes as she extrapolates on her argument.

The typical profile of the voter who repeatedly goes missing in action at election time corresponds to the demographics of the Occupy movement in Canada … Younger Canadians dominate both groups … If voters aged 18 to 35 cast a ballot in the same proportion as their elders, the outcome of elections could be different … According to polls, the younger segment of the electorate is strikingly more progressive.”

So here is my first question, sincerely asked: If a good many of those who diligently participated in the demonstrations decline to vote, how will they bring about the change they seek?  Many in the Occupy Wall Street movement are urging governments to consider more financial regulations and to enact programs that build the middle class and provide opportunity for poor families. That’s a valid pursuit. But how will they become the change they seek if they refuse to participate in the system granted them? What if they don’t show up and the seats remain empty? Just blaming politicians isn’t good enough anymore. The cat’s out of the bag and citizens are calling for change. Again, how will they achieve that if they stand apart?

Just for the sake of argument, and for my second question, let’s consider what would happen if the voter turnout were reversed and more Canadians entered the ballot box. Wouldn’t they split the vote among the progressive opposition parties and end up roughly with what they have now? Stephen Harper hardly acquired a mandate yet received a majority. In real political terms this is sufficient; in the minds of the demonstrators it’s a travesty. What’s the answer? Can Canadians who feel something akin to what the protesters are sensing bring themselves to vote for just one opposition party, generating enough numbers to put a progressive government in office? Somehow it just doesn’t seem likely. In the U.S. there are two choices (almost three if you include the Tea Party), but in Canada there are more and the vote split under the present circumstances will always favour the Conservatives. How will the protest movement address that discrepancy? Unknown at present.

My third query is directed at the political parties: Are they willing to put their agendas aside and combine their forces to put progressives back in office? That’s a tough question and doesn’t seem likely at present. Party loyalty is a powerful thing and doesn’t relinquish its grasp easily. The Greens, NDP, Liberals, and, in Quebec, the Bloc contain strong progressive elements, but until the parties figure out how they will deal effectively with the vote split, the status quo will be maintained.

As I stated earlier, these questions are sincerely asked because I certainly don’t have the answers. It is a sad irony of our modern era that people can take to the streets, all the while ignoring the very ballot boxes that could well bring about the shift they desire. I can only see three scenarios that can correct our present predicament: 1) wait until the present government fully sags under the weight of its lack of preparedness over our overwhelming challenges; 2) get those of the progressive side to vote in great enough numbers to win the day; or 3) urge the opposition parties to combine their forces in time for the next election.

The political opposition must now determine if the protesters are of great enough number to offer them full support. And those demonstrating in the streets will have to somehow cobble themselves together enough to exercise their voting franchise in a manner that carries the day.

As present the Occupy Wall Street and its derivative movements have made a compelling point about the collective disenchantment with the present system. But they have done so by demonstrating outside of the very political venues that they so distrust. Fair enough, and it makes sense in simple terms. But how do you bring about political change by refusing to vote or refusing to vote together? Perhaps that’s the greatest question of all. In Hebert’s own relevant observation: “The argument that Canada’s entire political class is disconnected from the people resonates within the Occupy movement. But if that’s the case, it is hard to think of a time when Canada’s mainstream parties have been more ripe for the taking by a populist movement.” How will that be done if we don’t join together and vote? Just asking.