Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Post on Reboot Alberta Worth a Read

I have not asked for guest posts on the blog but I am happy to publish this one.  The author wishes to remain anonymnous but I know who they are.  Some people attending Reboot Alberta have been hesitant to give permisson to release their contact information electronicaly for reasons of their own. 

I believe that must be respected but they will be obviously known to other attendees who we anticipate will repsect their perceived need for some privacy.   At the Reboot Alberta blog we decided there would be no anonymous posts or comments.  As a result this post will not appear at Reboot Alberta.  However, I thought the post itself ought to be given an audience.  So I have posted it here. 

Regular readers of this blog know a rail against anonymous commenters, expecially the trite and unsubstantiated kind.  This is not really an anonynmous post, at least not to me. but I will respect the request for privacy.  Here is the guest post and I hope you agree this voice is worth hearing even if it must be from a private source for practical reasons.


I certainly appreciate all the interesting ideas and themes that participants are bringing up regarding social media, voter apathy, citizen engagement, new politics, youth engagement, etc., but I strongly believe that before we get into any of these topics, if the crux of this conference is to discuss how we can reengage progressives so that we are again an influential force in political and public policy discussions, then, respectfully, we need to start way higher level and plan strategically. I think a large part of the failure of progressives to connect with people and to form an influential movement is because we’re too dispersed and haven’t been strategic enough.

We can blame the party in power, and criticize the process and the system – and we do so not without cause – but doing so really doesn’t move us along. We’re not organized and calculated enough. If we want to have a real impact on public discourse, in political parties, as non-partisan advocates, and in government, then we need to think, act, and speak strategically. And we don’t. Progressives in this province (and this includes me as I, too, often make this error) often assume a position of moral and intellectual superiority. And I think this makes sense to a certain extent. I think we are smart people and our principles and values are just. But starting the conversation from a position of presumed superiority (even if it is legitimate) isn’t helpful.

Moreover, we really do get bogged down with the issues and we don’t focus nearly often enough on the global outcomes we want to achieve. I think part of this is because people who are socially and politically active on the progressive side of the equation are social and political activists. I’m not trying to be tautological here. I’m serious. We get involved because there’s an issue or a cause that we’re passionate about. We get our hands dirty and work on the frontlines, and this is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But issues-driven activism does not translate to good strategic planning, good policy development, or ultimately, to forward-thinking governance. Another reason why we find it so hard to conceptualize and plan the big picture is because we’re not a single, unified movement.

And again, this isn’t a bad thing at all. But we do need to leverage our diversity and use it to our advantage. How do we do this? I don’t know, but I it’s a damn good question for discussion. I do think though, that because we are such a diverse group, hammering out a synthesis of common ideas and principles would be a helpful focusing exercise.

We need to talk about the common beliefs that unite us as progressives and the things that divide us (or, to put it in a more nuanced manner, the things that illustrate our diversity). I don’t see progressive thought as a monolithic movement, but surely we share common fundamental beliefs and values. At the start of the conference, I think we should work out principles and/or a framework to guide the weekend’s conversations. Certainly, I would hope that all discussions are authentic and organic, but well facilitated and thoughtfully guided conversation is much more valuable than scattered, ‘schizophrenic’ discussion. We’re way too often shrill, negative, and defensive in our approach and language. I can understand this too. The progressive voice has been marginalized and ostracized for a long time now in Alberta, so I get that people are frustrated.

My point is that the topics that have been suggested are good and important tactical conversations that we should have. But before we even get to tactics, we need to have a strategic, and very candid ‘come to Jesus’ discussion about the state of progressive politics in Alberta right now, what we’re doing right, what we can improve, what we believe in, what we want to accomplish in the near-, medium, and long-terms, and how we intend to accomplish our goals. Surely, a group of thoughtful, intelligent, and engaged citizens can come together to develop a strategy that encapsulates our commonality and defines our values but also celebrates our diversity. We need to start high level; develop a framework for progressive politics; set goals, timelines, and expectations; figure out what we want to do; and then we can drill down and talk tactically.

Otherwise, all that’s going to happen over the course of the weekend is that a number of people will get together to have novel but trivial conversations. We will fail to seize the opportunity before us to galvanize a large body of people to go back to and galvanize their progressive networks and communities in order to start a broad-based, motivated, and ‘densely populated’ movement that can effect true socially progressive and fiscally compassionate public policy.