How did The LEAP Manifesto make it to the floor of the NDP Convention?

naomi-klein-vogue-september-2014

Naomi Klein Vogue September-2014

When Newt Gingrich joined the 2012 Republican presidential primary, some pundits declared that, for him, it was more like extended book tour than a serious bid to be president.

That’s because in the summer of 2011, the prolific writer and veteran conservative politician had published a book called A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. The same year he produced a film called A City Upon a Hill. The title of the film was taken from a phrase in the New Testament where Jesus tells an assembled crowd, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Puritan colonists had called their new country the city on the hill and the phrase became a calling card to American conservatives. (Sounds perfectly quaint a mere four years later, non?)

Extended book tour or not, Gingrich used the presidential primaries as a means to build momentum for an exceptionalism movement based on the idea that America’s birth as a nation, and its ideals of democracy, is unique in the world. He talked of little else during his stump speeches but, as these things go, the political winds were at someone else’s back.

After beating primary candidates including Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, Gingrich suspended his campaign in May 2012 and threw his support behind Mitt Romney, content in the knowledge he’d done the job he set out to do—sell books and build a movement.

At the very least Mr. Gingrich, in that instance anyway, had the decency to run for election, where people could debate him openly, challenge his ideals or cheer him on. He was not doing the devil’s work in the back rooms of a political convention where he could stir up trouble and walk away without any accountability.

I’m afraid the same cannot be said for Team Leap Manifesto.

Team spokesperson and filmmaker, Avi Lewis, husband of Naomi Klein, author of both the climate change bestseller, This Changes Everything, and the Leap Manifesto itself, together with NDP godfather and Avi Lewis’s dad, Stephen Lewis, left their mark at the NDP Leadership Convention in Edmonton on the weekend. The dust from the rubble is still billowing around us like Pig Pen on a play date.

On Saturday, NDP Premier Rachel Notley, spoke against adapting The Leap Manifesto as a guide to NDP climate change policy and pleaded with delegates to understand that the climate measures the provincial NDP were able to enact in the oil producing province of Alberta “were what you get to do when you move up from manifestos, to the detailed, principled, practical plans you can really implement by winning an election.”

She asked that empathy be shown to Alberta’s workers and citizens. “It’s time to think more charitably about Alberta and the 4.4 million fellow Canadians who live here.”

No dice.

On Sunday morning, after a factually weak but blisteringly partisan takedown of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Stephen Lewis’s contribution to his oratorical canon provided an influential endorsement of the resolution, allowing that while The Leap Manifesto caused distress to the Premier of Alberta, it was “a document worthy of discussion.”

In his own words:

“Now I readily admit to a conflict of interest. Not only was I at the launch of the Manifesto, but I am reasonably friendly with its authors. (Chuckle, chuckle.) Nonetheless, I’m taking my courage in my hands to address what has become a hot issue for this Convention. But I want to do it in a somewhat unorthodox way.

“The Leap Manifesto is a radical document; of that there’s no dispute. It contains propositions that cause profound offence in the oil patch. It clearly causes distress to the Premier of Alberta. And I readily concede that amongst many social democrats at this Convention there are levels of intellectual consternation and skepticism.

“But that, I would argue, shouldn’t dispatch the Manifesto to obscurity. I’m attracted to the idea that it could become a centerpiece of constituency debate over the next couple of years.”

Indeed. Why build a movement with facts, reason and possibility when you are in a position to force riding associations to debate it?

Klein-Lewis-Pamela-Anderson-2015-Toronto-International

Klein, Lewis with Pamela Anderson and Alfonso Cuaron, 2015 Toronto International Film Festival

Stephen Lewis went on to say the NDP should use The Leap Manifesto to attach itself to the momentum created by grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter, which sprang out of the police killings of black people in the U.S. and Idle No More, a movement started by four women to respond to the polyphony of issues facing Indigenous people:

There’s no reason to believe that progressive and principled stands will consign us to the waste bin of history. Indeed, the politics of other countries — the most fascinating being the United States — suggest a tremendous surge of support for those, like Bernie, fighting inequality head-on. And when you consider the social movements in this country … Idle No More, Occupy, Black Lives Matter … there is a ground swell with which we can amalgamate to make our presence dramatically felt in the next campaign.

With all due respect, and in the spirit of Brian Mulroney, there’s no politician like an old politician. If Stephen Lewis felt so strongly about the agendas of the grassroots movements he mentions here, he surely would have had the party brass invite Black Lives Matter and Idle No More to the convention and organize resolutions to make their aims “a centerpiece of constituency debate over the next couple of years?”

But no. Instead he used his considerable influence to advocate for a manifesto, no matter its usefulness, written by his daughter-in-law, revised by national nonprofit executives and advocated by his son, be sent down to the riding associations to “become a centerpiece of constituency debate over the next couple of years.”

Do the constituency offices have nothing to report on their own? Is so little climate change work happening in communities across this country that they have to be dictated to by a political convention? Clearly Team Leap Manifesto hasn’t looked very hard.

We need to get this straight. For the sake of community organizing and grassroots movements everywhere, The Leap Manifesto is not a grassroots movement. It is a notional document, undeservedly taking up a huge amount of oxygen in discussions of climate change mitigation, that was written by Naomi Klein and presented at an invitation only two-day Toronto meeting convened by the so-called This Changes Everything Team in the spring of 2015.

About 60 nonprofit executives representing social and food justice, environmental, faith-based, labour and Indigenous organizations, were in attendance and received the draft. Revisions were suggested by “dozens of people” according to the Leap website.

The Manifesto was formally launched at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival in the presence of many celebrities but without the benefit of any climatologists, or scientists of any description, in attendance.

But because the Naomi Klein’s book tour gets coverage in fashion magazines and newspapers like the Guardian, her star power has ascended into the heavens and she—with Team Leap Manifesto—gets what she wants. And as far as Klein is concerned, she’s in charge of climate change mitigation policy now. She doesn’t have to make sense, knock on doors, win votes or have respect for elected politicians. Because she’s a star. And she and Team This Changes Everything is entitled to be heard.

The Leap Manifesto needs to be called what it is—a personality driven and opaquely financed effort at using celebrity to influence public policy. It’s not a new idea, but it’s pretty cheeky to pull out all the stops and thoroughly hijack a political convention with it.

Where does their funding come from? A nice looking website like The Leap’s website doesn’t just design and power itself. Who paid for Avi Lewis to go to Edmonton? His film’s marketing budget? Is 350.0rg involved, where Klein sits on the board? Is Klein using her own money? Who is donating? Are all the movie stars on the Leap roster making a contribution? Meanwhile largely volunteer community groups doing climate change mitigation work are starving, simply starving, for resources.

(Klein was curiously absent from the festivities in Edmonton. The strategy, if there is one, is unknowable.)

The Leap Manifesto isn’t a threat but a gift to any of the political parties who are courageous enough to run with the ideas,” The Leap Manifesto website declares.

I hope those delegates at the convention on the weekend appreciate the gift they were given.

The NDP is in tatters, riven by Team Leap Manifesto who used their considerable personal influence to commandeer the convention. Now, havoc has been wreaked, a leader has been turfed and, not to put too fine a point on it, the federal party’s relationship with the Alberta NDP government has been flushed down the crapper.

And NDP riding associations, the party’s community representation, are about to have their climate mitigation work framed by The Leap Manifesto.

Congratulations Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis and Naomi Klein. The NDP has officially become a party governed by its celebrity caucus. Which, I suppose, is the fault of the party itself, when it comes right down to it.

But please, you people must stop using words like progressive, grassroots, inclusive and democracy to describe your work.

Those words don’t belong to you. They belong to the people who are doing the tough slogging of the climate change mitigation work on the ground. Whatever game you are playing, that’s not it.

It’s best you stay at home and wait for a thank-you note.

 

Author Photo 01 Sandy Tam Photography

Gail Picco is a strategist and nonprofit executive who has worked in the charity sector for 25 years, most of which as President of Gail Picco Associates. Prior to establishing Gail Picco Associates, she spent eight years working in a shelter for assaulted women and children. She is the author of What the Enemy Thinks, a recent novel set in the nonprofit sector, of Your Working Girl, a blog of memoir and commentary on politics, charity and popular culture, and writes a regular column for Hilborn Charity News. She is a Principal with The Osborne Group in Toronto and Chair of the Regent Park Film Festival.

 

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Trackbacks

  1. […] Stephen Lewis (father of Avi Lewis) has suggested that the Canadian New Democrat Party (NDP) could gain support (votes) by using The Leap Manifesto as a means of embedding itself and utilizing momentum created by popular movements (which time and again have become quickly co-opted): “And when you consider the social movements in this country … Idle No More, Occupy, Black Lives Matter … there is a ground swell with which we can amalgamate to make our presence dramatically felt in the next campaign.” [Source] […]

  2. […] Stephen Lewis (father of Avi Lewis) has suggested that the Canadian New Democrat Party (NDP) could gain support (votes) by using The Leap Manifesto as a means of embedding itself and utilizing momentum created by popular movements (which time and again have become quickly co-opted): “And when you consider the social movements in this country … Idle No More, Occupy, Black Lives Matter … there is a ground swell with which we can amalgamate to make our presence dramatically felt in the next campaign.” [Source] […]

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