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Actions not Words: How to Realize the Ideals of One World

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

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Written by Tristan Dineen

This past week has seen two demonstrations of the growing desire for peace, justice and unity between human beings on a universal scale, and I am left with no doubt as to the sincerity of the people who made them happen.

The first, was the One World show, which was a very impressive gathering and, in many cases, a fusion of cultural traditions with the expressed intent of building a sense of togetherness and unity between people of diverse cultures. I remember being particularly moved by the show’s motto (“one love, one people, one world”), which hung above the stage the entire time as people from all manner of backgrounds showed their diverse talents in one place. The second was Earth Hour, which was truly a worldwide phenomenon, with the University of Guelph being part of this global effort to raise awareness about climate change and its global implications for all of humankind. The coordination of this event around the world shows that people do care and that people are increasingly seeing the world in a broader and more inclusive sense – this is a beautiful thing.

However, while I support these efforts, let me also say without hesitation that they are not enough. They are not nearly enough and I think people generally know that, but given the commonality of the sad tendency of resorting to band-aid “solutions”, feel-good events, and awareness campaigns in modern progressive circles, I feel the need to offer some serious criticism and some suggestions which I hope people will consider in the future – because if we rely exclusively on the present methods being used (that I have just mentioned), the “one love, one people, one world” vision can never be realized. If we want something so profound – just as people who have wanted something profound throughout history have had to do – we have to be willing to fight for it.

Fundamentally, this cuts right to the heart of what I have been arguing in all my articles about cynicism. A lot of people, especially young people, these days think that the concept of power itself is basically wrong and that anyone who wields power, especially political power, will inevitably abuse it and use it to exploit others. Many people who would consider themselves left-wing have dropped out of politics entirely, considering it to be evil and beyond help, and have instead focused on local and global social issues and have protested, joined various NGOs, and used the media to bring awareness of these issues to people around the world who otherwise would never have known about them or cared. I’m not arguing that this is bad, in fact it has gone a long way in expanding human consciousness and breaking down borders, but I am arguing that it is not enough. We need to go beyond this and the only way that we can go beyond this, and actually solve the problems of the world instead of just highlighting them and maybe lessening the burdens of those most affected by them, is by reconciling ourselves with the need to wield actual political power in order to achieve our aims.

I want to make it absolutely clear that by saying this, I am not advocating violence. Fortunately in a place like Canada we can peacefully change the status quo without resorting to violence; a luxury that many people in the world unfortunately do not have. I am insisting, however, that if we want to prove successful in upholding the ideal of “one love, one people, one world,” than we cannot shy away from securing political power – for it is only by securing such power that we can make the sort of radical reforms that we need in order to solve the world’s persistent problems. In other words we need to form a political organization, and it can’t just be any old political party, it has to be an actual movement where fighting elections is only one of the many things that it does. It has to engage people socially, culturally, and economically, as well as politically. The good news is that most of these four things, social action groups (like OPIRG), cultural groups and events (like One World), and even economic innovations (such as cooperatives), do exist and are increasingly common and widespread. Now imagine what could be accomplished if there existed a political force which could unite all of these entities (social, cultural, economic) into one united front.

Now some of you are no doubt asking how such a front could be established and my answer would be: organization, willpower and the conviction that our cause is just. However, others might be asking how would such an organization compete with long-established Canadian political parties (in an electoral system that implicitly favors them), how could it ever win power? Well, this is exactly the sort of assumption that intimidates a lot of people when it comes to bringing new ideas into the political arena. Well, first of all, the established political parties in Canada are not as strong as they appear. Every last one of them is reliant upon an aging electoral base – mostly on those old-timers who have voted Conservative, Liberal, or whatever, their entire lives as a tradition and see no reason to change and can be relied upon to cast their ballot for the same party every time. Most of these people are elderly, they will not be around for much longer, and the younger generations are much less likely to unconditionally throw their vote behind one party time after time. Second of all, they are not terribly inspiring, and do not arouse too much enthusiasm these days (and this is certainly reflected in voter turnout ratings). And, finally, as mass organizations they essentially become dormant once election time is over – and this provides a major opportunity for permanently active mass organizations (such as the one that I am advocating) to outflank them – appealing to the people in all spheres of life, not just in the realm of politics.

Effectively every last one of the major Canadian political parties is in a similar situation as the Communist Party in Russia. Professor Fred Eidlin of Political Science, told me recently about one notable event in the Russian Duma (Parliament) last year, when a high-ranking member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party turned to the Communist representatives and said something to the effect of “your supporters are dying out,” (incidentally he then turned to the Liberal-Democrats and said something to the effect of “and all your supporters are in Washington”) and while I can’t say that I support Putin’s methods, the statement is remarkably accurate if you look at the aging support base the Communist Party is increasingly reliant upon in Russia – young voters, for the most part, are flocking to United Russia. The difference in Canada is that the young generation really isn’t supporting any party or feeling enthusiasm for any party and this has caused a gap to emerge that a vibrant, determined, and well-organized political movement could exploit. It isn’t just the young people, but immigrants as well, who are the fastest growing element in Canadian society and could provide a solid base of support for a movement appealing to them through an inclusive, supportive, and universal ideology. If this is done correctly, such a movement could succeed even under the First Past the Post system of voting by showing the immigrants, youth and all of society that the traditional political players no longer represent the only game in town.

In terms of what a highly motivated population backed by a popular movement that has attained power can do, I would point to Cuba in the early 1960s where Fidel Castro’s government mobilized the population to combat illiteracy and within two years had basically eliminated illiteracy in Cuba (no small feat on an island where illiterate peasants traditionally had made up the majority of the population). Now compare this to a lot of Third World countries today where well-meaning NGOs have been operating for decades and have still not even come close to eliminating persistent problems such as illiteracy and extreme poverty (which Cuba also eliminated successfully in a relatively short time). The Cuban people had the organization, the motivation, and they knew the nature of the problem: they didn’t bother with awareness campaigns, they rolled up their sleeves and got the job done and they succeeded because they had the power to succeed. If Canadians attacked the ongoing problem of poverty in Canada (a First World country) with the same fervor and organization that the Cubans did forty years ago than there would likely be little poverty left to fight after only a few years – resources certainly are not a problem for us that’s for sure.

Ultimately what we need now is action, not words, and effective action can only come from two things: effective motivation, and effective organization. If we want to combat, overcome and eliminate problems such as hunger, preventable disease, crime, poverty, illiteracy, inequality, racism and all the other problems we hear about all the time in this or that awareness campaign, we need to equip ourselves with the tools we need to succeed – we will need to mobilize all of our resources toward a common end. In order to build a just society where human dignity will prevail and in order to bring together all the peoples of the world in brotherhood, we will need action, commitment and dedication to the cause of universal justice and human solidarity and not just pretty words, entertaining protest songs, and other “alternative” cultural displays. Achieving great goals always requires sacrifice and dedication.

Achieving the ideals expressed by the One World show will require people who are willing to fight, struggle and prevail in the name of humanity. All of us must come together in solidarity – socially, culturally, economically and politically – in order to make this noble dream a reality. We must wield power in order to tear down the walls that separate us from each other. Unity in diversity is the only way forward – let this be the commanding principle of a new movement and a new tomorrow for the good of all humankind.

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