Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Citizen Activists

One overcast day I went to a rally at City Hall. While people were arriving and waiting for the speeches to start I chatted with a friend, David, who was there as a summer Calgary Herald reporter, and with a TV cameraman David knew. They were commenting on people they recognized. My friend asked me unkindly, "Why do you see the same faces at demonstrations for different issues?" I was almost speechless with despair. How do you answer such a question? "To see old friends from the last demonstration," I lied "and catch up on what's been happening since."

Later the crowd ambled down the sidewalk with the TV man preceding us. I chatted with David. Every time the TV guy turned around to film us David had to step down onto the road. Reporters are supposed to report the news, not make it. We arrived at the Native Friendship Center where there was ethnic food and live entertainers from around the world.

David went off to file his story. What I never got around to telling him is this: if only for practical reasons, for solidarity, minorities must help each other, and that things are interconnected. A region high on racism is also going to be high on sexism. A politician who mouths "family values" is also going to deny funding to "family strengtheners" such assistance for men who batter or women's shelters.

David was used to individuals who are conservative, in single-issue groups, such as the established unions.

While big unions might have a reputation for being conservative, this has not traditionally been the case. They used to be, or still are, the main support for the (socialist) New Democratic Party. "Those 'labor organizers'...were primarily middle-class revolutionary activists to whom the CIO labor organizing drive was just one of many activities." So writes Saul Alinsky regarding the formation of these unions during the great depression of the 1930s.

In his book Rules For Radicals he continues, "The agendas of those labor union mass meetings were 10 % on the specific problems of that union and 90 % speakers on the conditions and needs of the southern Okies, the Spanish Civil War and the International Brigade, raising funds for blacks who were on trial in some southern state, demanding relief for the unemployed, denouncing police brutality, raising funds for anti-Nazi organizations, demanding an end to American sales of scrap iron to the Japanese military complex, and on and on. They ...organized vast sectors of middle-class America in support of their programs. But they are gone now, and any resemblance between them and the present professional labor organizer in only in title."

I can't get involved in everything- I pace myself- but neither can I deny the issues are there. I enjoy being with others who participate; they are loving and jolly and they remind me of the bumper sticker: "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution."

I would tell David that once you start accepting responsibility there's no turning back.

Sean Crawford
summer 2008
published originally in the University of Calgary Student Newspaper,
The Gauntlet for Dec 8, 1994

~I specifically looked at student activists in my third occupy wall street essay of December 2012.

~The friend was David Gazzard, my student editor for 1988-89. Unlike his siblings he had kept his Aussie accent- I suppose chicks dug it. While I make him sound unkind he was a decent moral person, like Australian Mel Gibson's character in Signs... -Did you know that for copyright reasons many excellent books, predessors to Harry Potter, were not for sale in the U.S.? One day his family dog came by the newspaper office. David said, "Hello Biggles" and I said dramatically, "By Captain W. E. Jones." "Hey, that is who he's named after!" (an aviator in a series)

~David went on to be a reporter in Australia. He said the Oz ecology did not require all the formal training to be a journalist, not like over here. Probably by the time my piece was written he was working directly with the Australian Prime Minister as the PM's (I forget- communications person? Something cool, anyway)

~Later David ran for Australian parliament and narrowly lost.

~In an election year when neither major U.S. party had concrete changes to offer, the republicans seized the high ground with their platform plank of "family values." It was powerfull fear mongering. How could democrats defend against something undefined yet sounding right? Harpers magazine later exposed the scam, with no effect, when they published a secret republican memorandum reminding followers not be taken in or try to seriously implement this "platform." The codeword "family values" mainly meant right wing status quo: no support for women or children or minorities and especially no equal rights for homosexuals.

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