Saturday, November 5, 2011

On the doorsteps of democracy

Elections are won or lost on the doorsteps, both literally and figuratively.

Connecting with constituents in the comfort of their home, rather than downtown at city hall, is often the best way to spend time talking about issues and finding out what they like, or what irks them about how their city is governed (and the same holds true on provincial and federal issues).

I've been involved in dozens of elections, most often as an organizer or volunteer in support of other candidates, only more recently as one myself. I love the connection you can make with people on their doorstep, or at the grocery store, coffee shop, or community event.  There is so much more diversity to be found than clustering within one's own community of interest that, by design, is more exclusive and less broadly democratic than the deeper pool of citizenry that is at least eligible to cast a vote in our elections for various levels of government.

It's frustrating, of course, to watch as participation declines - only 27% voted in the last municipal election in Victoria; higher, but eroding, percentages vote provincially and federally.   At the municipal level, candidates need to reach out to a shade over 6,000 residents.  That’s a lot of doors to knock on.  I can assure you that  there are so many diverse issues that people want to discuss.  One issue that has been raised lately at the doorstep in this campaign is the “Occupy” movements in Victoria and around the world.  What started out with so much energy, vitality and community support has started to become a debate over tactics and the evolving nature of the occupations themselves.   Of course some people would never find common cause with the protest.  However, it is also fair to note that even among would-be supporters, there is concern over the movement’s strategy and tactics.

The grievances are real and legitimate and the right of protest fundamental.  Unfortunately, for many, this has become a different debate – not about the “occupy” movement so much as the “occupiers”.  There is a disconnect between the ‘occupiers’ and their original support base that can be seen in the use of public space for protest.  At a certain point, one has to ask the questions about how to affect change and get beyond the simple act of protest.  It seems improbable that the path to reforming global corporatism requires the indefinite loss of public spaces for the broader community. 

On the doorsteps, I've encountered some surprisingly positive support for the city's careful and considered approach to accommodations with legitimate protests, and elsewhere, some frustrations with the apparent expansion of an occupation that is less protest than pretext.   The questions have to be raised about how to disengage so that the protest can evolve to find more productive and sustainable expression that has, at least, the hope of recruiting the real 99%. If it doesn't, the message will be lost and "Occupy" will be just another "rebel without a cause", and to the exclusion of the broader community who have an equal claim to our public spaces. How democratic is that?

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