Taking it to the streets

Alex Himelfarb considers democracy, income inequality, consumerism and citizenship.

The result: a marketized politics of propaganda and pandering. It’s understandable then that, increasingly, those who want something better are looking outside of conventional politics: to their communities or global causes or to the streets. It was striking how many of the participants in the Quebec student protests found a new solidarity — and expressed a new sense of the common good — in their activism. Clearly some do care about our democracy, but many, especially young Canadians, have given up on the impoverished version offered up by our politics. That is both understandable and dangerous. The new activism and rebuilding of an independent civil society are essential but not enough.

Student leaders from Quebec have launched a cross-Canada tour to promote activism and the creation of social movements that provide a richer democratic experience than offered by contemporary politics, but also to explain to those who feel disenfranchised why voting and political participation still matter. They understand the dangers of leaving any government to its own devices, unconstrained by a vigilant citizenry. But they are also looking for a new politics, tuned into community and the streets, which at least begins to offer real engagement on the issues that matter — inequality and poverty, jobs and youth unemployment, climate change and environmental degradation. They seem to have found some hope that a renewed democracy could allow us to take back our future. It is now up to our political leadership to take up the challenge.

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