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Building a movement: acting local, talking global

Written By: - Date published: 12:41 pm, January 29th, 2013 - 42 comments
Categories: child welfare, class war, Environment, greens, human rights, poverty, privatisation, public transport, sustainability, trade, workers' rights - Tags:

To change the dominant political and media landscape and move away from the “neoliberal consensus”, it is necessary to apply pressure from below.  Political parties will always be channeled towards a narrow centrist position by the political, corporate and wealthy elites, and the commercialised, corporate-dominated MSM.

At the weekend, the Green Party launched an initiative to build a movement that doesn’t require party membership.  They pointed to the success of the campaign to gain signatures for a referendum on asset sales, as the way forward.

It does seem to me that Kiwis come out in reasonable numbers for demonstrations that have a concrete focus on things that matter to them personally and/or impact on their daily lives: the cost of electricity (asset sales), the importance of the outdoors (anti-Schedule Four mining protests).  They don’t usually get out on the streets in large numbers for broader campaigns that challenge the international power structures, corporate elite and political establishment (anti-TPP demonstrations).

The Occupy movement caught the imagination of many in the general population through it’s targeted slogans (1% versus 99%), and the focus on the rip-off merchants that dominate the banking system.  This touches people where they live, in struggling to survive and live a reasonable life.  While the movement continues among many who are committed, it’s slipped off the MSM agenda.

Opposition to Canada’s right wing government has has resulted in some strong grass-roots political campaigns and provide some potential guidelines.  The actions of groups like Idle No More and Common Causes.

common causes

These groups are taking on PM Harper’s “neoliberal” agenda, as reported by Archana Rampure in the article: ‘Neoliberalism no more: Making common cause to defeat The Harper agenda‘.  The article reports on Harper’s policies and approaches that support the “neoliberal” elites in a way similar to many things our NAct government is doing or planning:

Stephen Harper has an agenda and it is all about turning Canada into a resource-extraction economy. He would like to make sure that nothing and no one stands in the way of exploiting the oil and the gas, the minerals and the water.

Protests and criticism are countered with racist slurs and by labeling the critics as “radicals” and “terrorists”, while trade unions are demonised as being “big labour”.

The article argues that Harper’s agenda is most clear in his record of joining as many bi-lateral free trade agreements as possible.  And it is seen in his government’s on-going and ruthless attempts to negotiate a free trade agreement with Europe: the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).   It sounds scarily like the secretive TPP agreement that our current government is negotiating.  The Rampure article says CETA will limit the ability of Canada’s elected governments to regulate, impact on procurement processes by local governments, allow foreign corporations to by-pass Canada’s legal systems and “appeal to secretive tribunals”, and,

The EU’s demands around intellectual property translate into billions of extra dollars for brand-name pharmaceuticals.

To get Kiwis motivated, it’s necessary to  focus on local issues that have a fairly immediate impact on people’s lives.  In the course of the local actions, the global and wider political connections can be mentioned and explained.

Consequently I think the Green Party idea to focus first on Auckland’s transport is a good idea.  Bomber, in a post today, gives the background that shows why a focus on an Auckland campaign will also be good for the Green Party.  He was disappointed by the low attendance at the picnic.  He points out they only recently have acquired an Auckland MP (* update below), and lists the Auckland electorates with the telling percentage of votes the Greens go in each electorate in the last election.

Auckland isn’t the only city or region where a local campaign would be beneficial in stimulating a building a broad movement.  However, the size of the city makes it one (but not the only one) that should be at the forefront.

It remains to be seen whether a genuine flax-roots movement can be led by a political party.  However, the Greens do have a visibility wider than something like the inspiring Auckland Action and Against Poverty.  Their 3 day advocacy for beneficiaries was an imaginative and practical action that any movement could learn from. Street protests only engage the already politically aware.  So maybe any Auckland action should look at ways to draw attention to public transport use – smart mobs on peak hour trains?  Well I’m not so great on thinking up practical and innovative forms of action.

How can we best mobilise the politically disengaged in NZ, to join a movement for change?

[*Update: The Green Party has more than 1 MP residing in Auckland.  The Green Party website shows that Denise Roach,  Julie Anne Genter, and David Clendon live in Auckland.  I am also told that Kennedy Graham now lives in Auckland.

42 comments on “Building a movement: acting local, talking global ”

  1. Bill 1

    I’m a bit intrigued by the Green Party’s suggestion of building a movement. Actually, I hope their intention is to help build a movement and not attempt to lead it.

    Which kind of pre-empts my response to : –

    It remains to be seen whether a genuine flax-roots movement can be led by a political party.

    No. It can’t be done and shouldn’t be attempted. All that happens when some group tries to ‘headline’ a movement is that they themselves become a barrier erected against attempts to increase participation rates. In this instance that would come in the form of having to implicitly accept the philosophies or whatever of the Green Party as a sort of conditional provision of involvement.

    But can the Green Party be an important and integral component of any nasceant movement? Of course they can. But they really do need to be careful about how they approach their role or they risk undermining the very thing they hope to construct.

    • karol 1.1

      Bill: But can the Green Party be an important and integral component of any nasceant movement? Of course they can. But they really do need to be careful about how they approach their role or they risk undermining the very thing they hope to construct.

      Agreed. And maybe the greens shouldn’t have called it a “movement”, which is something that would involve a network of groups and organisations, without any one of them being the leader.

      It’s interesting that Chris Trotter, in his post on the Greens’ initiative, doesn’t use the word “movement. He tends to use the words “initiative” and “engagement”, when referring to it.

      I think the Greens are really attempting to engage support, without requiring people to be part members. So it is somewhere in between a movement and a party activity.

      They should be looking to work with other groups and parties on various issues.

      • Bill 1.1.1

        Ah, bits of that post by Chris Trotter had me chuckling. But that aside, this bit caught my eye :-

        the goal of “I’m in – for the future” is to enlist activists around specific progressive issues and causes (like affordable housing) trusting that the Green Party message will be absorbed through the osmosis of engagement

        (my emph. added)

        If that’s an accurate assessment, then I have to say that the whole thing is arse about face. A political party’s interaction with a movement – if it wants the movement to flourish and make some incremental gains for itself – can only ever be one whereby the party is the one absorbing some messages of the movement by osmosis.

        It’s up to the party to take those parts of the larger movement it finds palatable and find a way to succesfully project them back into parliament.

        In other words, the party takes what is useful or usable, adapts it to its parliamentary circumstances and continues to support and celebrate the wide diversity of democratic expression and aspiration of the movement and takes care to do nothing that might hobble it.

        What Chris Trotter envisages is just more of the tired old politics of command and control and a bending or usurping of the common weal to serve narrower interests. A hobbling straight off the bat as it were. And that goes nowhere over the medium to long term – if it even manages to go anywhere in the short term.

        edit. Sorry. I meant to respond to your point about networks of groups and/or organisations. That can never constitute a movement. That’s always going to be a coalition and subject to a whole host of fucked up and destructive dynamics.

        • Colonial Weka 1.1.1.1

          “the goal of “I’m in – for the future” is to enlist activists around specific progressive issues and causes (like affordable housing) trusting that the Green Party message will be absorbed through the osmosis of engagement”

          I think that says more about Trotter than the GP. At this stage I am willing to believe that the GP intends to align itself with the new majority, rather than co-opting them to its own agenda. That the GP will get votes out of this is a beneficial side effect of doing the right thing, not the goal in and of itself.

          • Olwyn 1.1.1.1.2

            Be fair to Trotter here. For one, he says “the Green Party message” which is a message that the Green Party stand behind and presumably want people to take seriously. Hence he seems to understand that for the Greens getting the message out there takes precedence over petty politicking. However, because he is comparing the Greens favourably to Labour, he is also noting that this approach amounts to better progressive politics as well. You do not get far in politics if there is not a group of voters eager to hear what you have to say, and eager to see you implement it.

      • George D 1.1.2

        Perhaps the Greens could call them ‘affiliates’? 😉

        I think the comparison between and Labour’s labour movement is a good one. In that case, they formed a relationship with existing mass-movement organisations, rather than attempted to facilitate one. I’ll be interested to see how this works for the Greens.

        • karol 1.1.2.1

          “Affiliates” is a good term. Actually, there are green organisations, and the green movement is seen as being wider than any political party.

          Bill (@2.25pm: I think political parties are most usually expected to tread a fine line between showing leadership and listening to the people.

          However, in the Green Party’s favour is that their organisation and structure gives members quite a bit of say in the policies adopted and choice of list MPs.

          • CV - Real Labour 1.1.2.1.1

            I reckon the term “Associates” is better for the Green Party. It means a group not as tightly identified with the party in terms of agenda, or as implicated in the nuts and bolts of the party’s machinery, and which is quite free to come and go on various issues at various times.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    They don’t usually get out on the streets in large numbers for broader campaigns that challenge the international power structures, corporate elite and political establishment (anti-TPP demonstrations).

    That, IMO, is because they don’t know how the system actually works which is why we have to work on educating everyone on what actually happens in finances. People don’t believe (and don’t want to believe) that the private banks create money far faster than any government and that the reason for the governments of the world (particularly the US, UK and EU) is to try and offset that massive amount of creation.

    Stephen Harper has an agenda and it is all about turning Canada into a resource-extraction economy. He would like to make sure that nothing and no one stands in the way of exploiting the oil and the gas, the minerals and the water.

    Don’t forget the most important part of that agenda – that those resources will be taken out of public ownership and handed over to private control so that the rich can get richer.

    How can we best mobilise the politically disengaged in NZ, to join a movement for change?

    And that is the $64 million dollar question.

  3. Cayte Shepherd 3

    The Green Party is not The Leader in the petition for referendum on Asset Sales.

    It is a COMMUNITY lead initiative involving Grey Power, Labour Party, NZ First, Mana other community groups and individuals who make up community and society and the Green Party.
    The Green Party is not the only group which has contributed to the signature count.
    Placing credit where it is actually due is an option we all have.

    • CV - Real Labour 3.1

      I understand that the Green Party collected more signatures than any other single group you mention. At least in that respect of performance, they “led”, even though that is probably not the usage of the word you meant.

      • King Kong 3.1.1

        I hope the Greens got more signatures than the rest as they did use tax payer funds in order to employ proffesionals to collect names.

        Obviously too lazy to do the heavy lifting themselves these days. A couple of years with a bit of dough and a few perks on the tax payer and it’s – “lets just get a man in to do that”.

    • karol 3.2

      Nowhere did I say, nor, I think did the Greens say, that they led the asset sales petition signature gathering. They just point to the asset sales campaign as a model for ways to build a movement. In my above post, my link on it is to another post by me ont he success of the petition. The first link on that credits several organisers, including Grey Power, the Council of Trade Unions, the Green Party and Labour.

      And then my asset sales post goes to a quote from a Grey Power spokesperson.

      However, this does come back to Bill’s point above, that a political party can have a role in building a movement, but they need to be careful about how they approach it.

  4. The Greens are coming across as increasingly responsive to people.

    Although it is sensible to put a warning in re that the Greens shouldn’t lead the movement (or need to take care how they approach it), I view this move as being responsive to a line of thought and attitudes (or a “movement”) that are not being represented in NZ politically or in the media currently, rather than leading it.

    It seems like both a very empowering and positive thing to do. Empowering because it is using the financial resources and platform they have to harness the power of numbers, and positive because I noticed Metiria’s speech was picking out the best attitudes from our culture and thus emphasizing and encouraging them. Makes a very nice change from politicians bringing out the worst and most bigoted attitudes and enhancing them, ultimately, for their and their mates own advantage.

    What this appears to be is pretty much what I would hope that politicians were interested in doing; representing and empowering their constituency.

    Well done The Greens, may this be the start of a positive shift in political approaches.

  5. Shane 5

    FYI – actually there are now four Green MPs based in Auckland now – Denise Roche, David Clendon, Julie Genter (I think Julie moved when she was elected) and Kennedy Graham (who has moved up from Chch recently).

    • karol 5.1

      Thanks, Shane. I got that from Bomber’s (linked to) post. Actually, looking again he says that Denise Roach is Auckland’s first MP & that Dave Clendon doesn’t count.

      It’s not clear from the GP website bios that Genter or Kennedy Graham are now in Auckland, but it is for Clendon and Roach. I will update my post accordingly.

      • George D 5.1.1

        That’s not true either 🙂 Keith Locke, Nandor Tanzcos, and Sue Bradford were all Aucklanders for much or all (in Keith’s case) of their parliamentary careers.

        The party has had a slight geographical bias, as the MPs are selected by the membership, and the membership votes in people they know. As both the membership and voters tilt somewhat southward, this is what you get. There’s been a mild readjustment led from the party to correct for this.

  6. The Fan Club 6

    I hate to say it, but this seems doomed from the outset to be a glorified membership drive, given the simple fact that all the Greens have done is filed the serial numbers off membership. (At best; at worst it’s just going to turn into a mailing list.)

    George D’s comparison to the Affiliates is close, but shows why it’s absurd. You don’t join the EPMU to join Labour, you join the EPMU to be part of organised labour. As part of that you get invited to the Labour Party, but it’s not the driving motive. But why would you join “I’m in” unless you want to join the Greens? At which point just join the Greens!

    Good luck, though, increasing membership’s a really good strategic idea for the Greens. Especially given the top heavy, media driven nature of the current Green Party, it’ll be interesting to see how the Greens handle having on the ground activists.

    [Also I think that describing Idle No More as “anti-neoliberal” is facile and improper, given that the rights they seek have been trampled by every kind of government.]

    • karol 6.1

      Missing the point, TFC. Joining the “I’m in” is about being part of a network willing to engage on specific issues. Everything doesn’t need to be done in the same way the Labour Party has done it. and it. “Affiliates” is not a word coined by, and only applied to its specific use by the Labour Party

      Currently the Canadian Idle No More is focused on opposing the Harper “neoliberal” agenda. It’s not a nonsense. Certainly recent governments of all persuasions in Canada, as here, have adopted many neoliberal policies. But Canada was more progressive than most prior to the Harper government. It has gone aggressively for new Right policies.

  7. The Fan Club 7

    How is it a network? Where does the networky-ness reside?

    And what’s the difference between joining a “network willing to engage on specific issues” and just, you know, joining the Greens?

    Yes clearly everything doesn’t need to be done the same way Labour does, which is kinda my point. The Greens are a disciplined, homogenised, and unitary party, that tends towards democratic centralism. Labour, on the other hand, is a broad-church, federalist, and poly-centric party designed to allow for many ways to be Labour.

    One of the ways to be Labour is in-addition as it were — that’s the affiliates. But there’s no reason to apply that analogy to this “I’m in” thing. What are you joining that means you join this in-addition to? Nothing; that’s why the affiliates analogy breaks down and is misleading.

    • karol 7.1

      It’s a network focusing on various bits of action, and not involving any commitment to attending party events, and participating in formulating policy etc. There’s no commitment to help with campaigning for the Greens.

      The current parliamentary wing of the Labour Party looks like its very much into autocratic centralism, while the membership is aiming for democratic participation. The Green Party is very much into democratic participation. Green activism can take many forms. Your comparison doesn’t hold up.

      • The Fan Club 7.1.1

        So again, how is it a network i.e. possessing side to side communication? Would it be possible, in principle, for this movement to act without reference to the Green centre? And how does a network that can not participate in policy setting and strategy have any power or value to an activist?

        How is “join in on our demos but don’t have any say in policy or strategy” any different from the classic dem cen treatment of rank & file members? (In fact worse, because after all the dem cen party at least theoretically allows for changes at the centre.)

        I’m not making a comparison, Karol. I’m pointing out that you can’t make one between the affiliates and this, as George did.

        • bad12 7.1.1.1

          Simplified, the Green Party is simply saying that while you may not want anything to do with the Green Party, x individual, even a National voter might want to join an organization opposed to asset sales, for food in schools, or against mining the DOC estate…

          • The Fan Club 7.1.1.1.1

            But, uh, that’s pretty problematic. Because if you don’t want anything to do with the Green Party, why would you join a Green-led organisation?

            My guess is the key demographic here is someone who doesn’t quite want to be a party hack, but would like to be part of an organised political movement (i.e. member of a party). And this is a way to do that, and hopefully it works for the Greens.

            • bad12 7.1.1.1.1.1

              The Green Movement tho is far larger and of greater numbers than just the Green Party, i am pretty sure the Green Party would happily admit such,

              Parts of that Green Movement even view the Green Party as philistines,( you only need read jenny’s comments to see that), in such a movement the Green Party simply acts as a facilitator,participant, and of course a researcher on behalf of future political actions/directions working from the front foot if you will,

              It’s damn clever politics from the Green Party that for it’s size in Parliament has as a first admission that they are not the be all and end all of community concerns but will sure as hell be at the head of the queue when such community concerns are raised and require a political solution,

              But then that’s the Green Party, an eagle among dinosaurs, damn smart when it comes to evidenced based opposition, and, more so when it comes to proposed solutions…

              • The Fan Club

                But again, if I’m in the broad Green movement & suspicious of the Green Party, why do I sign on to this front group (because that’s what I’ll see it as). Especially, if I am suspicious of the Green Party why would I go on demos when I have no control over the strategy, the position, and the demands, given that those will all stay controlled by the Green Party?

        • karol 7.1.1.2

          They are trying a new strategy in keeping with current context where people are often into social networking, will join in a particular campaign that they favour, but don’t want to commit to a party membership.

          The new context is something that Judy McGregor talked about at the 2012 NZLP conference – that these days many people will support individual actions, but don’t have the commitment to join a party.
          She saw it as a problem that has impacted on the NZLP in terms of declining membership. The Green Party MPs are well into using social networks like twitter, and are seeing the positive in the networking approach – rather than seeing it as a problem to be worked around.

          In spite of your claims, TFC, that it means centralising, in fact it means decentralising, encouragement rather than dictating to people, and leaving then the choice as to the events/actions they engage with.

          I’ll be interested to see how this initiative goes. I hope it also involves linking/networking with other groups, like Auckland Action Against Poverty, green organisations, Unions, Auckland Transport Blog, Global Peace and Justice, etc, as relevant to the specific actions.

          I recall some people commenting that part of the reason for the large turn out to the Auckland demo against Schedule Four mining, was that Green Peace had extensive networks through which they notified people of the demo in advance.

          We are in need of a left broad left wing movement, made of loose networks. In my time in London, especially in the late 70s, early 80s, that was the nature of the Women’s Movement. There was no umbrella organisation, just various groups and initiatives that arose when people saw the need and had the time. Some were directly affiliated to other organisations (especially left wing ones like the Labour Party, & the Socialist Workers’ Women’s branch).

          However, in NZ right now, I also would like to see more flax roots, non-Party groups building some momentum, like the Canadian Common Causes.

          • The Fan Club 7.1.1.2.1

            But if you’re into a specific campaign, why would you join this amorphous “I’m in for the future” thing? (Or rather, if it is conceptualised as being for specific campaigns why launch in this amorphous way?) Surely specific campaigns would have specific targeted memberships, the way that the MMP, or the marriage equality, or S4 mining, for example, did.

            My read is that it’s not targeted at single issue people (as you seem to be suggesting.) My read is that it’s an attempt to rebrand Green membership. If I was being really really catty I’d say it’s a front organisation.

            I think your desire for this to be something it’s not is tainting your analysis here karol. I’d love to see more broad left activism; I just don’t think that a Green Party strategy to engage with a segment of society skittish of formalised party membership is that. Because, again, how is “come on our demo but have no say over our strategy or our policy” particularly empowering? I mean, it’s not like the Labour or Greens force anyone to participate in anything at the moment. That stuff’s all optional. (I dunno, maybe you’re an ex-swappy burned out on paper sales :p ?)

            • karol 7.1.1.2.1.1

              Welcome to the 21st century, TFC. Social networking works a lot for many people, anf=d many do get involved with actions and activities of their choice as a result of the networks they connect with.

              New kinds of things happening. Actually, I should imagine it’s a bit like the Global Peace and Justice emails I used to get. They were very useful for seeing what’s happening locally, re talks, actions etc. I especially found it useful when I was very busy.

              But, I don’t expect a Labour Party fan boy to welcome any new idea from the Green Party.

              • The Fan Club

                Hey I think this is a great idea, if the Greens can get some more “members” that’s awesome. And if there’s some fancy social networking stuff going on (though I doubt there is) that’s pretty cool.

                I just don’t think “here’s a mailing list, we’ll tell you when we’ve organised some stuff” is anything to write home about from the point of view of empowering people.

                I’m quite interested in this, and I do hope it works out. I just don’t think it’s the thing you want it to be.

                (PS Labour fanboy hahahaha are you actually a Swappy? Did that cut too close to home or something?)

                • karol

                  Actually, I don’t know what a “swappy” is. Went over my head, and didn’t really register.

                  Anyway, I am one of the people more likely to join this Green initiative than become a member of a party. Towards the end of Judy McGregor’s NZLP conference speech (that I linked to above), she described the kind of political approach of the “young” social networking generation: less likely to join a party etc., more likely to respond to specific issues. Even though I’m no longer young, I felt I was kind of like that.

                  I’ve never been interested in committing to a political party by becoming a member. I feel it would obligate me to vote for them. I decide on an election-by-election basis which party to vote for – depending on their policies, the current issues and how well each party aligns with my left wing values.

                  I do however, have a long history of joining in to support particular political actions. Currently, the Green and Mana Parties are the ones I most favour. I will join single campaigns led or supported by these parties. Time will tell if this initiative works, but if not, I hope we learn valuable lessons from it of new ways to approach politics.

                  • The Fan Club

                    Swappy is a (UK) nickname for Socialist Worker’s Party member.

                    I do hope this works — apart from anything else, if it does, it would be good to steal it for the NZLP.

            • bad12 7.1.1.2.1.2

              The Auckland march against mining, all Green Party members, nope, Green Movement based, supported by the Green Party yep, but Movement and Party two different birds entirely…

            • bad12 7.1.1.2.1.3

              If i was being really catty i would say that your being a smart arse wanker trying to promote a schism between Labour and the Greens or suggesting that the Green Party membership has collapsed when it’s obviously doing the opposite…

  8. The Fan Club 8

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