A regular reader of Sketches and occasional respondent has raised this question: “How does civil society become politically active – safely – to complement elections and parliament?”
He invites other friends of Sketches to respond.
It is evident that the reader has in mind political actions to oppose the anti-progressive measures of Canada’s federal government and he cites, as a starting point, the oppositional, though non-partisan views, gathered by Voices-voix. He also mentions a more partisan article by a graduate student who sees the Quebec student strikes as part of a larger coalescence and believes that for some it is a shift from dissent to resistance.
So, clearly, what progressives can do is publish critical articles and engage in traditional forms of protest whenever there is a specific target.
But no doubt our respondent already knows a good deal about the subterranean community activities that take place across the country outside the parliamentary process. Democracy takes many forms. Before they were elected, many representatives had engaged in non-parliamentary community affairs underground. Many of them as volunteers. That is the area where civil society first becomes engaged.
Too bad it is too late for our respondent to attend last summer’s Couchiching Conference: “From the Ground Up: Civic Engagement in Our Time.”
Our contemporary world is experiencing anew what it means to be an engaged citizen, both collectively and individually. Over the past few months, the world has borne witness to revolutionary changes sweeping the Arab world, spread using new media tools enabling populations to connect on issues of common concern.
Similarly, in Canada, these new technologies are enabling new forms of engagement building on the changes we have seen over the past 20 years, including the development of social entrepreneurship, the establishment of corporate social responsibility principles, and the renewal of mega-philanthropy as demonstrated by Warren Buffet’s “Giving Pledge”. These have emerged with the hope that we can more effectively address the seemingly intractable challenges facing Canada and the world such as: environmental degradation, meeting the needs of those affected by wars and disasters, and social inequity. The essential question for the 2011 Couchiching Conference then was, does the early 21st century brand of engagement meet the challenges of our time?
Starting from that question, the 80th Anniversary Couchiching Conference examined the roots, meaning and forms of engagement. Wherever we look in Canada and across the globe, new forms of civic engagement – on the ground, in the street and the virtual world – appear to be reconfiguring the role of representative democracy and organized social life. Is the change simply one of form rather than substance or is it more lasting and fundamental? If the latter, have we sufficiently grasped the implications of this shift? With the proliferation of causes, is this change taking place in the absence of meaningful conversations about common societal goals?
Eighty years from its inception, as the forum for engagement for Canadians from all walks of life, the 2011 Couchiching Conference sought to probe the spirit of engagement in our time.
More on this, and other conferences, at www.couchichinginstitute.ca.