Citizen Action Monitor

Canada’s “Common Causes” NGO activist network failing to live up to its potential

Journalist and activist Nick Fillmore takes a swipe at new progressive voice

No 732 Posted by fw, April 30, 2013

“In September, 2012, Common Causes, a loosely-knit network of more than 50 groups from the non-governmental sector (NGO), labour and the Native community, was born. The idea was to have dozens of groups come together under one communications umbrella where they could work together on common-interest projects to oppose the Harper regime…. But now, even though the movement is officially only a few months old, organizers have made it clear that the full force of the movement will not be brought together in big campaigns.”Nick Fillmore

In this post, Canadian journalist and activist Nick Fillmore explains why he is disappointed in Common Causes’ performance. Click on the linked title below to read Nick’s original critique, or read the following reprint with my added subheadings.

But first, to put the piece in context, here’s how Common Causes represents itself in its mission description:

Our Mission: To unite people and communities to work in solidarity for change. Common Causes is an assembly of social movements dedicated to defending democracy, the environment, and human rights. In keeping with the values of the significant majority of Canadians, Quebecers, and Indigenous peoples, we provide alternatives to the current Conservative government’s agenda. We believe that coordinated action is needed to take a strong stand against this agenda that is changing society in critical areas such as the economy, the environment, labour rights, health care, food safety, education, social programs, culture, civil liberties, peace, and poverty.

And now, Nick’s critique…

Network formed to take on Harper not living up to its potential, by Nick Fillmore, A Different Point of View, April 30, 2013

“The creation of Common Causes gave me hope”

Ever since Stephen Harper took over in Ottawa seven years ago, Canada has needed a strong and powerful social/political movement to stop, or at least slow down, the many destructive measures being carried out by the Conservatives.

Finally, in September, 2012, Common Causes, a loosely-knit network of more than 50 groups from the non-governmental sector (NGO), labour and the Native community, was born.

The idea was to have dozens of groups come together under one communications umbrella where they could work together on common-interest projects to oppose the Harper regime.

The creation of Common Causes gave me hope. I have long felt that we desperately need a hard-nosed civil society movement that will challenge the Conservatives with massive campaigns drawing on the resources of hundreds of groups.

Nick represented his own campaign group at Common Causes’ founding meeting

A strong citizens’ movement that will stand up against the tyrannical Harper is important to all Canadians. Earlier last year I was involved in setting up a campaigning group, the Campaign to Build ‘One Big Campaign, which had similar goals, and our organization took part in the Common Causes founding meeting in Ottawa.

Maude Barlow launched the network with these words —

Common Causes was developed under the leadership of the Council of Canadians (CoC). When officially launched in January, it sounded like what we needed. CoC National Chairperson Maude Barlow wrote:

“Common Causes will work cross-sectorally . . . to create an extended network for solidarity, resistance, action and change. Through this coordination, we will shape priorities for common action and maximum impact.”

Network should have developed strong campaigns but instead it’s taking a low-key, long-term approach

I had hoped last fall that the network would quickly pick an area where Harper is vulnerable and develop a major campaign involving hundreds of groups and thousands of people.

But now, even though the movement is officially only a few months old, organizers have made it clear that the full force of the movement will not be brought together in big campaigns.

The movement is taking a low key, long-term approach to its work. Staff said priority attention is being given to discussions about how to organize more strategically in areas such as democracy building, environmental protection, and the defence of human rights. Hopefully, it will be pro-active in some of its work so we’re not always reacting to Harper.

A sure bad sign – Common Causes has failed to capture media attention

Common Causes’ may be able to build an effective forum and voice for Canada’s liberal-minded, progressive community but, as we have been in Quebec, this can take years. So far, because the network is taking such a low-key approach with its activities, it has barely been mentioned in the national media and remains unknown by the public.

Turnout at anti-Harper events has been paltry

Last week Common Causes rolled out a series of actions across the country and, unfortunately, all but one turned out to be very low key. Protests led by one partner group, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) were held at the offices of a handful of Conservative MPs in English Canada over the Harper government’s disastrous cutbacks to Employment Insurance (EI).

The turnout in communities such as Weyburn, Sask and Simcoe, Ont., were very small – with from 10 to 40 people taking part. In most places, hardly anyone noticed what was going on. There was some local media coverage.

Only in Montreal, was there a huge parade and protest – one source said tens-of-thousands people took part. However, this event was organized by Quebec’s coalition against employment insurance reform. The protest received some local and national media coverage.

Small protests are good news for Harper

I don`t see how protests of 30 or 40 people are of any help to those who have lost their Employment Insurance. Small turnouts surely reassure Harper that the country is not on the brink of revolution. The only thing accomplished is that a few protesters feel good about taking part in an event.

No immediate plans for “full-force” anti-Harper campaigns.

Common Causes says it will not bring together the full force of the movement in anti-Harper campaigns, but, hopefully, those in charge will eventually change their minds.

Movement has “awesome” but, as yet, “unrealized” potential

It was a great accomplishment when the network brought together non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Canada’s most progressive unions under one campaigning mechanism.

By combining the forces of the NGOs and unions, the movement has awesome, unrealized power. The hundreds – potentially thousands – of NGOs could provide access to millions of members who can take part in campaigning.

The unions could loan staff to the network in the same way they loan workers to the NDP during elections and, more importantly, if they wanted to, they could provide Common Causes with as much as $1-million a year.

Are we serious about challenging Harper?

However, I think organizers need to decide if they are really serious about taking on Harper. In the NGO sector, many groups are more concerned about protecting their own vested interests rather than taking real action that might benefit the general public. And in the labour movement, too often union protests are for show only – to give the impression that the leadership is doing its job.

Routine actions like demonstrations, marches, and petitions just don’t cut it anymore

To have some impact on the Harper regime, the movement would need to be creative and “think outside the box”, instead of carrying out time-worn, routine activities such as holding demonstrations, marches and sending petitions to Ottawa.

So, when it gets right down to it, are the people who head our NGOs and unions too timid?

Nick suggests a change in tactics, including…

In my opinion, we must not be afraid to use the strongest possible tactics as long as they are legal. For instance, we should campaign on key issues such as income inequality and austerity by disrupting some government activities, holding flash mobs, carrying out sit-ins, and disrupting government communications systems, etc. until the Conservatives respond.

After all, we are being destroyed by a fascist-like government, the likes of which we have never before seen in Canada.

MY TAKE

I would add this to Nick’s list of Common Causes’ shortcomings – First, I don’t believe its leadership has the requisite knowledge and skills to front an effective mass movement. Second, inadequate funding will hamstring the organization. Third, Canada simply doesn’t have enough committed progressives to support the cause.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

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This entry was posted on April 30, 2013 by in coalition counterpower, NGO counterpower, political action, social movements and tagged .
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