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Bringing social movement priorities into party politics

Courage: Bringing social movements intro party politics

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh interviews Samantha (who asked that her surname not be used in this article.)  Samantha represents the organization Courage. In recent years, the combining of movement and party politics have had a profound impact on the electoral landscapes in the U.S. and the U.K., and Courage is working to similarly push mainstream party politics to the left in Canada.

Samantha is a woman of colour of Azorean and Filipino background. She comes from an activist family. Much of her own political work has revolved around the intersection of race and gender. She has worked with queer and trans youth living in poverty, and she is very involved in work related to racial equity in the workplace, particularly in the tech sector. She is an active member of Courage, and she speaks about the organization, its work, and why it gives her hope in these politically depressing times.

In social movements and communities-in-struggle, there is often an ongoing debate about how to relate to political parties, which party or parties to relate to, and in fact whether to put energy into relating to political parties at all. And among left-leaning people involved in nominally social democratic political parties that have been swept to the political centre by the decades-long tidal swell that goes under the banner of "neoliberalism," there is another debate, this one about how to move their parties back to the left.

These debates often feature a wide range of passionately held and wildly diverging opinions, and it seems unlikely that either will reach a consensus in the forseeable future. However, there is one strand of politics that has grown substantially in popularity in recent years that attempts to answer both questions at once. In the United States and the United Kingdom in the last few years, initiatives that combine movement-building with party politics have managed to introduce anti-neoliberal grassroots demands into electoral politics in a way that has not been true in decades, and have pushed the parties in question a little and quite a bit to the left, respectively.

In Canada, the NDP has seen no comparable movement-type insurgency pushing it leftwards. Of course, there is a history of such efforts here, just as there are in other countries – the Waffle in the 1970s, the New Politics Initiative in the early 2000s, various ongoing projects by socialist grouplets of various stripes. But even in the context of this past year's leadership contest in the federal party, nothing coalesced that was comparable to Bernie Sanders' campaign in the US or Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the UK.

Just because it hasn't reached a critical mass yet, though, doesn't mean that there aren't people working on it. Courage is an independent political organization comprised mostly of people whose primary political identification is with grassroots work of one kind or another who are also mostly either current or former members of the NDP. The group originally formed to try to push the Leap Manifesto within the federal NDP. It participated in the organizing that defeated Tom Mulcair's effort in 2016 to retain the party leadership. And since then they have been working on building their organization, formulating policy, and figuring out an approach to working both inside and outside the party, in relation with the movements in which many Courage members are active participants, to bring movement priorities around economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, and solidarity with Indigenous struggles -- all understood in ways that go beyond the striaghtjacket of neoliberalism -- into the NDP and therefore onto the mainstream political map. They envision pulling the NDP away from the centre and in a more genuinely progressive direction.

Image: Modified from an image used with permission of Courage.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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