Using a tragedy to do politics
In our puritan status quo, activists are often accused of “using politcs” when tragedy strikes. Most tragedies are, of course, tied to politics and so the cry “it’s too soon to do politics” is, 95% of the time, a cynical defense of whatever status quo lead to the tragidy in the first places. But sometimes, we are handed a tragedy that we can easily use to do politics. When that happens, we should seize the moment.
So let’s talk about the Rideau Canal.
The crown jewel of Ottawa — a seasonal serpentine skating circuit that I know most Ottawans look to with pride — didn’t open this year. The ice never got thick enough. It’s not a blood and guts tragedy but I know that it makes a lot of people anxious to think about it. Anxious and, frankly, sad. It’s another example of the undeniable truth that climate change is causing tremendous harm.
Now, what I’m about to write is with the total ignorance of what’s happening right now in Ottawa. I have no idea if people have thought of this or are doing this as we speak. I very much hope they are. But I thought that regardless, this tragedy offers a useful case study for progressive people to think through how we organize. How we use tragedies to mobilize people into taking action.
The announcement that the Rideau Canal isn’t opening is a moment that climate activists should seize. How?
While nothing that the City of Ottawa does on its own will stop climate change, the announcement that the canal will not open can be used to push people to organize for policies within the city that will reduce Ottawa’s climate foot print. EMERGENCY MEETING ABOUT THE RIDEAU CANAL. HAVE WE LOST THIS FOR EVER? WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR WINTERS? And so on.
At the municipal level, even in the face of a hostile and unmovable municipal council, there are always opportunities to fight for more sustainable cities. Everything from removing roads to creating more publicly-funded gardens, from bylaw changes to incentives to reduce citizens’ reliance on fossil fuels, from small-scale organic farming to solving food deserts — these can all be packaged for the municipal government.
So how do you move from SAVE THE CANAL to talking about small-scale organic farming? You call a townhall for everyone who wants to save our winters. Save Our Winters. Save Ottawa’s Winter. Save the Rideau Canadal. And then you mobilize around the obvious culprit — climate change — in all the ways that folks present can imagine the City of Ottawa could organize.
I would have never thought of targeting the municipal level alone in climate organizing until Transition Québec. They’re a municipal party that has made just transition the heart of its policies. If you’re curious about them, you can read more here. And if ever you’re feeling like things are impossible, know that the president of TQ is an anglophone from Hamilton. Nothing is impossible.
Using today’s news as a jumping off point will bring people out who have likely never come out to climate organizing before. The canal has a visceral connection to people — it’s public transit, recreation, commuting, sport, parks, tourism and freedom. This kind of symbolism is gold for a progressive organizer because it allows us to make the connections between forces that power renders invisible. It makes the impossible more possible.
I’m using this as an example because it was in the news today but I could be talking about anywhere and I could be referring to anything. That’s the exciting thing about climate change — sure, there is a generalized understanding that it’s coming to destroy us all but misery loves company. So create that company every time you’re handed the opportunity to do so.
Fab article ! Thanks Nora! Love the #HamOnt reference in Quebec!
I mean, I applaud your optimism. Subscribed.