In French the word for "activist" is "militant".
And time and time again here at the NDP convention the words are used interchangeably, particularly by the plethora of anglophones who has taken suddenly to making addresses riddled with French phrases.
But, a clear distinction of the words is required.
Sitting here for the better part of three days at the convention, it is abundantly clear that on a spectrum of moderation and militancy, the party overwhelmingly favours moderation. Policies are watered down, controversial items are censored from public discussion and party elections are pre-ordained.
Time and time again, speakers approach the mikes on the convention floor during the policy debates and state: "Mr. / Madame speaker, I support this policy but it doesn't go far enough." Yet the convention grinds along self-congratulatory, adopting vacuous "progressive" policy.
Illustrative of but one example was a policy motion on Youth Right's proposed by a young lady from Vancouver East that I met on the bus on the last morning of the convention. She explained that she had spend considerable time crafting the policy consulting with the National Youth-in-Care Network, First Call and other such relevant organizations all of whom emphasized to her the need to adopt meaningful policy that leads to concrete outcomes. Accordingly, she drafted a smartly worded three part resolution ("Resolution Reaffirming our Commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child") calling for the NDP to initiate an educational campaign and to work towards establishing a National independent children's commissioner. Her policy acumen was for naught as the resolution was prioritized at number 25 (of 26 followed only by a resolution rejecting the NDP's participation in the one-sided lobbying efforts of the "Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism"). This young lady expressed some disappointment that another resolution pertaining to children's rights ("Resolution on Children's Rights") was seen as a more appropriate motion to table and prioritized well over hers. The "replacement" motion is generic calling upon the convention to support a conceptual idea (Children's Rights) that is simple, ineffectual and self-evident.
More sinister is the overt and deliberate movement to prevent a resolution supporting the Canadian boat to Gaza from so much as hitting the convention floor. In the plenary session proceeding the convention, grassroots organizers arrived in droves to support the reprioritization of the motion from the bottom of the heap where party staff had relegated it to the top of the pile so that it could be debated by the full assembly. The resolution had overwhelming support in the room until moments before the vote. NDP staffers arrived in droves ( multiple first-hand sources claim that at least 50 MP's and staffers were involved) standing at the back of the room exclusively to vote down the resolution. And with this deft manipulation of democratic procedure, the convention ensured that the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people would receive no visibility at the convention. Indeed, the only visibility that the enitre Palestine-Israeli question received in the entire convention was a full-page ad in the official convention guide which proclaims that, "The NDP and the . . . Jewish community, together in our commitment to the state of Israel."
And so the NDP is indeed an activist party, in the same way that any political movement builds a base of loyal functionaries who work to the interest of the cause. And here the cause is abundantly clear - to make Jack Layton Canada's next prime minister. This ambition is clearly the focus of this convention and when Jack talks about "having big dreams", he is talking about a stint in 24 Sussex Drive. The crowd response is euphoric.
At my table a delegate from Humbold Saskatchewan is the self-appointed whip. She urges me to stand cheering Jack on. The uniformity of his support is critical and, according to the party activists, well worth a few compromises on fringe issues and some moderation on policy declarations.
And while I cannot fault the logic of party organizers in their efforts to appeal to a broad and conservative audience I do note that a significant wedge is being driven within the party.
On the one side are the party activists who are working tirelessly to build a well organized, well funded, political machine and on the other are those that remain stoic to their values of social justice, the need for structural change and the importance of clear direct actions to confront the growing threats that face the most marginalized in our society.
The chasm only promises to grow as deteriorating economic conditions and Harper's ruthless domestic and international agenda take hold. Surely under these conditions, the need and desire for more militant tactics will accelerate.
Over and over again, throughout the convention, we are told that the party's breakthrough on the May 2nd election was the result of fore-sight, of looking ahead and anticipating changes in voter sentiment.
However, over the course of this convention, it has become clear to me that its enthusiasm and excitement at its electoral breakthrough has blinded it to the great challenges that will befall many Canadians in the coming years. While party activists believe their prospects are bright, grassroots organizers know that a down and dirty struggle will be unfolding at street level.
And so the question now remains: Will the NDP continue to disassociate itself from the bevy of grassroots organizations and organizers, undermining their efforts through denouncements and the straggling of their funding sources or, will party activists overcome their obsession with moderation and their pursuit of power to be a part of a renaissance in radical activity.