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From "Meh" to We

April 17, 2011

2-minute read

More people are paying attention to politics during this election than in the 2008 election.

Still, the majority doesn't seem to much care about the big, life-shaping political issues that lie just below the surface of this election - the increasingly blatant attacks on our democratic institutions by the government itself; the use of public policy to increase the concentration of incomes, wealth and power in the hands of the richest.

What will it take to get over the "meh" factor?

Ignatieff’s Rise Up speech in Sudbury aimed at changing that. His evocative litany of democratic disasters, each followed with a “so what”, packed a powerful, if sorrowful punch. His invitation to Canadians to do something about it was right on the mark. He is not alone in this analysis. The NDP and the BQ regularly say the same thing. So do progressives.

Today Adam Radwanski's piece in the Globe suggested what was missing from Ignatieff's speech. He could have been speaking to anyone in the progressive movement: We need a populist script.

If we are going to go rise up, if we are going to go from me to we, we need to get past the "meh" on the way. How do you get people to pay attention to the big things that affect their lives?

The focus on retail politics is understandable in an election. All politicians do it. What we're talking about, though, is the wholesale politics that supplies the system. That's what Harper's team has been trying to change for the better part of this past decade, and not only during elections.

In the classic tradition of modern advertising, their central message is all about you. The Harper government is there for you, and you, and you. Like it or not, it’s a populist message. But it’s only about me. And it's only about what I can get out of the system.

The hard right has turned populism into a Janet Jackson lyric: what have you done for me lately?

But democracy isn't just about my rights and privileges. It's also about my reliance on and responsibilities to others.

The language of populism should start using the plural form.

There are plenty of narratives that do so, low-hanging fruit for the last leg of this federal election campaign.

Let's talk about the census. You can't serve the public if you can't see them. Let's talk about who government serves. “Of the 1%, for the 1%, by the 1%” is not a cautionary tale. It's freakishly close to what federal spending and tax policies have been delivering in the past few years. Let's talk about what can be done to improve health care. It's easy to point fingers, or predict collapse. It's perhaps a better use of time to inform Canadians how we can get better health and health care for everyone.

Let's pay attention to the message of this era. All over the world, the message is about a longing for democracy, about paying attention to the masses. It's about the, the interdependence between people; yea, verily I say unto thee, between our species and all of creation. (It's Sunday.)

Let’s take this broad-based awareness, understood by people of all political stripes, and use it to grow Think of it as a growth spurt, political rather than physical.

If the leaders keep talking about the big issues, the debate will change before our eyes. We may start seeing things differently, together.

More human development is possible at any stage of life, for individuals and for societies alike. Perhaps our time is now.

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