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Why Brigette DePape is more thoughtful than David Akin

If you don’t know the name, Brigette DePape, you should. She risked, and lost, her job to say what most Canadians believe. Maude Barlow thinks she is “courageous and committed.” Elizabeth May thought that she undertook an act of personal courage. And, importantly, DePape’s press release and other publications are thoughtful and articulate.

But my intent is not to extoll the virtues of DePape or her act of protest. Instead, I want to say why David Akin,1 of Sun Media, has written so poorly on the topic.

The only reason I even read the posting by Akin, is that Mike Moffatt tweeted a link to it calling it brilliant. Looking back now, I wonder if Moffatt actually read it.2

I find two glaring problems with Akin’s analysis. He thinks acts of protest are too often shortcuts that lack impulse control and that DePape is not committed to making long term social change. Most importantly, he doesn’t understand what democracy is.

Akin fails to understand the concept of democracy

Democracy is not simply about having national elections. Many countries have elections, but fail to meet a basic threshold of democracy. Democracy is not simply yes or no, on or off, black or white. It doesn’t work that way.

Democracy is a matter of degree. Most people get this intuitively. When more people vote, we have more democracy. When the electorate is better educated on issues, we have more democracy. When people’s human rights are protected, we have more democracy. When the power of corporations and rich people to spend money on elections and lobby government is curtailed by regulation, then we have more democracy. When people who wield power are expected to account for and justify their power, then we have more democracy. When citizens are able to elect representatives that reflect their values and interests, then we have more democracy.3

Seriously, Akin, are your following this? It’s not brain surgery.

When DePape called for a “Canadian version of an Arab spring,”4 she was calling for democratic renewal. She was saying that we need more democracy.

She thinks this, and I think this, and most Canadians think this. And in part, we think this because Stephen Harper wants less democracy. The Conservative Party of Canada wants less democracy because it is bad for some businesses. Democracy is bad for Big Tobacco. Democracy is bad for Big Oil. Democracy is bad for any business that knows that the community wants to make them accountable. Part of democracy is regulatory oversight on behalf of community interests. But regulatory oversight is bad for many business interests; notably, interests from Alberta that pay for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the business media that cheerlead for them. The speech from the throne didn’t even mention climate change.5

Akin pretends to not to understand this. It is, after all, his job to not understand this.

Akin’s article gives no evidence and yet frames DePape as being not interested in hard work or commitment

Akin’s entire article works to frame Brigette DePape as someone who prefers shortcuts. But a protest is not, as a rule, a shortcut. To say so reveals just how out of touch Akin is with the challenges of making social change. A protest, is the symbolic nub of a larger analysis and commitment to progressive social change. This larger analysis and commitment to social change, Brigette DePape has in spades.

That said, some protests fail to be effective. This one has not failed in it’s symbolic power. Akin certainly has not provided any evidence that it failed. He has written at length about the virtues of diligence and perseverance and the value of taking the long view. Great. DePape probably, and I certainly, agree with these virtues. By simply asserting otherwise, without evidence is inappropriate.

If Akin simply disagrees with her claims, just say so. If Akin simply thinks she shouldn’t have stood up to Harper this way, just say so. Akin is, I believe, a Libertarian. He probably doesn’t believe in climate change. And, like other rich people, he probably hates paying progressive taxes. But if this is his problem with DePape he should just say so.

Instead, Akin employs rhetorical devices to make DePape out to be less courageous and less hard working than she is. He even refers to DePape by her first name. This is a patronizing move that coheres with his overall undermining tone. Yes you have a better paying job and you are an older, taller, white, right wing, middle age man with Big Oil cheering for you and lots of privilege. And yes DePape is a younger, less well paid, woman that is standing up to, among other things, Big Oil.

But more than that, he argues that DePape and her supporters think that symbolic protest is the only way to make change:

“Brigette DePape may despise Stephen Harper’s politics but showing up in the Senate — or anywhere else in Canada — with a sign that says “Stop Harper” and issuing a press release after the fact is so not going to change things, one feels pity for her and her supporters for, if this is how they believe change will happen, they will never know it.”

I see no evidence that DePape has not considered that there are other ways to make progressive social change. She votes. She no doubt has canvassed. She no doubt participates in committees and other democratic forums. So do I and I’m a DePape supporter.

Did I already mention that the throne speech didn’t even mention climate change? Harper has committed to a balanced budget in 2015. Good one.

  1. You can find his post at /_archives/2011/6/5/4832170.html
  2. I have Twitter confirmation that Moffatt did actually read it. For the record, Moffatt recommends that I remove the speculative references to David Akin’s beliefs about climate change and libertarianism.
  3. I include this because a first past the post system is less democratic than a system of proportional representation. Obviously.
  4. I believe this is actually the phrase she used. David Akin didn’t link to the press release. Although, to be fair, no one did. This is a huge oversight. Journalist and newspapers and serious bloggers should have to always link to an online version of the press release.

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  1. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention, Sherwin! There’s a lot to chew on here. I have my own positive and negative views of DePape’s actions, and I think the onus is definitely on her and her supporters to follow through, but I certainly don’t think her message should be dismissed outright.

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