Saturday, June 09, 2012

On activist parties

I haven't written much myself on the NDP's relationship to the growing casserole protest movement (which in recent weeks has expanded well beyond its Quebec origins). But I'll take some time to highlight a few key points.

First of all, the themes behind the protest represent almost a perfect match for the roots the NDP needs to cultivate in Quebec in Thomas Mulcair's familiar "roots and trees" message. The mere fact of greater citizen activism is generally a plus for a party whose success depends on popular engagement as a counterweight to elite-driven decision-making. And that goes doubly when a movement is based on such themes as a sense of exclusion (particularly among youth), a perception that public policy is being made with little regard for the people most affected, a concern for civil liberties, and a desire for a more supportive government than corporatist politicians are willing to deliver.

So the NDP has a significant stake in the casserole movement, based on both the principles it shares with the Canadian public and its own partisan interest. But that doesn't mean we should listen to the numerous pundits who have tried to create a story out of the party's election not to take centre stage.

After all, one of the surest ways to breed cynicism about an activist movement is to co-opt it for partisan purposes. And the NDP has nicely balanced its affinity for the casserole movement with the recognition that there's little to be gained by trying to take it over.

As a result, plenty of individual MPs have rightly participated and shown support in their capacity as individual citizens - placing the NDP's elected members on the same footing as everybody else who's taken the time to become involved in the movement. But none have tried to claim the protest as the party's own - which would give other activists reason to wonder whether they're serving as mere political props.

In sum, the NDP's ultimate message to protesters is that in getting elected to Parliament, its MPs have retained their ability to support and participate in popular movements - but also haven't bought into the view that everything (including public activism) has to be boiled down to partisan interests. And that combination should go a long way toward encouraging Quebeckers to stay involved - both in the streets and in the NDP.

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