The politics of the latter half of the 20th century were shaped by the Cold War. Communism and free-market capitalism were the tidal waves that splashed everywhere and pooled into hundreds of mini-ideologies across the world (in Alberta, this included formation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the United Farmers of Alberta, and Social Credit). We tend to forget our history, or accept modern day revisionism, and ignore how much our history has shaped modern day politics. Even as they gravitate their policies towards the ‘centre’ of the political spectrum, the traditional political parties in our Legislative Assembly continue to frame their debates, their ideas, and their opponents in a similar left-right context.
After attending the recent annual conventions of both the Liberal Party and New Democratic Party, I have not seen convincing evidence that the membership of either party are willing to step out of their traditionally defined comfort zones. A participant at the recent Reboot Alberta gathering in Red Deer framed it well by suggesting that when the party logos are removed from their campaign material, it becomes difficult to tell which motherhood and apple pie statement belongs to who. I see Reboot Alberta as an incubator of new progressive ideas, something that is easier to do when liberated from traditional party loyalties.
I have talked with a lot of people who have had a difficult time understanding why I have become involved in a non-party progressive group like Reboot Alberta. “Join the Liberals or NDP, Dave. Pick your side,” is a phrase I have heard a lot over the past two weeks. “Politics aren’t going to change, so join what exists” is another common response. What exists is not good enough. Unlike the delegates at the recent Liberal and NDP conventions, many of the participants at Reboot Alberta have made a commitment to contribute to the reshaping of political ideas in Alberta beyond what already exists.
When asked to define “progressive,” the three words I heard that resonated strongly with me were: adaptability, understanding, and interconnectivity. I am not sure that these ideas fit in a left-right spectrum and I know many people who have had a difficult time understanding that.
Does a political generation gap exist in a constructivist versus structuralist context?
Another new (and similarly named) group, Renew Alberta, is collecting signatures to start a new political party. I am not at the point of jumping on any bandwagon, but I am supportive of the people involved in this group. Political warhorses, like David Climenhaga, are understandably skeptical, but are relying on traditional partisan labels to frame the yet to be registered political party. An honest dose skepticism is healthy, but when it is mixed with undertones of negativity and mistrust it quickly becomes toxic.
With countless election results (and recent polls) showing that the traditional opposition parties are not resonating with Albertans, there are many people who are feeling vulnerability in this volatile political environment. I remain open-minded to any group of people who are willing to put in the personal commitment to contribute something new to the politics of our province. A successful new political party cannot be a mirror of the current unsuccessful political parties, it must be different or it will fail.
Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed. A generation of 20 to 30 year-olds now exist whose only exposure to this time period is through reading about the Soviet Union and Bert the Turtle alongside Rome and the Renaissance in their social studies textbooks. If the political waves that shaped my parents and grandparents politics are now in the history books, what are the waves that will shape the politics of the 21st century?
Social media like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are connecting citizens with new communities and instant information in incredible ways. Groups of citizens have begun gathering organically in movements like ChangeCamp and CivicCamp, but what is next? Does the interconnectivity built through the online social networks need to translate to change on the street level?
It is an exciting time to be involved in politics in Alberta! As a next step for Reboot Alberta, I have joined a group of participants in generating idea papers that will be used to stimulate more positive debate and discussion when we gather again in February 2010. Questions I plan to raise include: What does the word ‘ progressive’ mean in the 21st century? What does progressive change mean in the 21st century? Will the change be technological? Will it be environmental? Will the next generational waves even be ‘political’ in the traditional sense of the term?