ICYMI: Stephen Lewis lays it down

Image description: The outlines of the letters "L E A P" appear over a background of colourful shapes and patterns drawn in what looks like pencil crayon. The images include a tree, the head of a bird, triangles which may represent mountains, and a building with a smokestack. At the bottom, in small white letters, is a passage which reads: ""Moved by the treaties that formed this country and bind us to share the land "for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow," we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land." - The Leap Manifesto" (Image credit: Matt Forsythe/Leap Manifesto)

Image description: The large outlines of the letters “L E A P” appear in white over a background of colourful shapes and patterns drawn in what looks like pencil crayon. The images include a tree, the head of a bird, triangles which may represent mountains, and buildings with smokestacks. At the bottom, in small white letters, is a passage which reads: “”Moved by the treaties that formed this country and bind us to share the land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,” we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land.” – The Leap Manifesto” (Image credit: Matt Forsythe/Leap Manifesto)

Last September, when the Leap Manifesto burst into the middle of a massively meh marathon election campaign, I was completely in favour of the proposals it espoused and entirely pessimistic about its chances of being seriously considered by any of the major parties.

The Manifesto, in case you came in late, can be read here and is essentially a concrete and detailed plan for a transformation of the Canadian economy, political system, energy infrastructure, racial relations, and worker/capitalist relations, all with the aim of making Earth more habitable and life more enjoyable in both the short and long term.

As I wrote at the time, the Manifesto seemed to be doomed due to its overt hostility towards the ruling class:

We’ve never had any shortage of great ideas in terms of how we should radically transform the world to make it more inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, racially just. Plans to conclusively end poverty once and for all have been kicking around for a century or more. And I’m not saying that these ideas and plans and schemes and manifestos have been ill-informed or poorly designed or unworkable in practice.

It’s just that, well…

Capital doesn’t really care for these plans.

Because by and large they involve a lot of things that Capital flat-out loathes. Worker and consumer control of the means of production. Much higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporate profits. The non-extraction of lucrative resources. The regulation of unregulated industries. The dismantling of cissexist and racist Old Boys’ networks.

For these Capitalists, any policy change which challenges their undisputed supremacy, which erodes their hard fought gains over the past three decades in their fight against workers and the poor and those goddamn radicals who keep insisting that they get their fair share, is on its face unserious, dangerous, and deserving only of the most well-organized scornful opposition.

So I was (pleasantly!) shocked to hear that the NDP had passed a resolution at its convention to refer the Manifesto to its riding associations for consideration and debate, with the aim of adopting some or all of the document’s proposals as party policy in 2018.

And, as I predicted, the pundit class has earnestly commenced its horrified pearl-clutching, insisting that the NDP has doomed itself to permanent irrelevance with this “radical” leftward turn. The reaction on Twitter was equally scathing, evoking the kind of apocalyptic imagery one would more commonly associate with climate scientists:

But here’s the thing: the Manifesto, whatever its flaws, is the most practical and detailed attempt to build a policy framework which seriously addresses the existential climate crisis facing our planet. And what’s more, it attempts to use the very process of meeting that challenge to simultaneously address fundamental injustices and inequalities which have been a feature of our political and economic systems for far too long. These are noble and laudable goals, goals that no other party is even pretending to try to achieve.

I wrote yesterday about the ongoing internal conflict which has the potential to tear the NDP apart. But it’s important to recognize that this could be a policy innovation which breathes new life into a party that in recent years has been little more than a pale facsimile of the Liberals and which has little reason to exist now that the Grits have sorted out the leadership difficulties which bedevilled them for much of the last decade.

And nobody has made the case for this better than the inestimable Stephen Lewis. In a remarkable speech to the NDP convention this past weekend, Lewis eloquently argued that the Liberal Party’s “progressive” credentials are entirely illusory (an argument which will be familiar to regular readers of this blog), and that therefore the NDP are in a “target-rich environment”. He went on to make the case (diplomatically but firmly) that the vision of incremental environmental reform put forward by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and exemplified by the Paris COP21 conference is woefully inadequate to the task before us, and that radical change (i.e. the Leap Manifesto) is entirely appropriate to this context.

It’s ironic that Lewis, who fought so fervently against the “party-within-a-party” Waffle Movement in the 1970s, is now one of the key figures pushing a similarly radical program on a similarly divided party.

Perhaps he has radicalized in his old age. Perhaps it’s the urgency of the moment which compels him to push this program. One thing is certain, though: there could be no better spokesperson than Lewis, who is the most powerful public speaker of generation.

I can’t urge you strongly enough to listen to Lewis’s 40-minute speech in its entirety, and especially the portion which deals with climate change beginning at roughly 20:30. Regardless of what you think of the NDP or the Leap Manifesto, Lewis brilliantly communicates the importance of taking immediate and dramatic action.

Seriously, give it a listen.


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