It started as a single issue campaign, garnered over 220,000 Facebook friends and quickly moved from an online protest to on-the-streets demonstrations. Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament successfully tapped into national anger over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament on December 30th 2009, and solely utilized online social media (namely Facebook) to organize volunteer chapters across Canada, resulting in tens of thousands attending rallies and demonstrations on January 23rd, 2010. The Victoria BC rally attracted over 1500.
Of course, now that Parliament is once again sitting, what to do with an ad hoc organization that no longer has an issue. Can the disparate rally organizers across the nation continue to work in a new direction? Can the energy of thousands be harnessed in a different cause?
CAPP thinks it is a real possibility. The name is changing from Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament to Canadians Advocating Political Participation – with an altruistic goal of fighting political apathy. On March 2nd, they launched a new website. At the national level fewer than 60% vote; and that goes down locally. Here in Victoria BC, less than 30% vote in municipal elections. Justin Arjoon – CAPP’s coordinator thinks now is the time to change that trend.
“We want Canadians to participate in democracy,” said Mr. Arjoon. “We want to reverse this trend of apathy that Canadians seem to be feeling towards our system of government by holding our government accountable and also be educating Canadians and encouraging them to get involved at a local level.”
“It’s getting Canadians to understand what’s going on and to try to get them engaged in things other than voting. Like going to town halls or holding events about issues that concern them, talking to politicians.” Globe & Mail
What is happening, finally, is a real awareness that online social media tools and platforms are a powerful political force. By their very nature they connect people – a small group can quickly garner attention, supporters and create action around issues. In Victoria, johnsonstreetbridge.ORG successfully ran a counter-petition campaign; ARESST.ca is gaining ground on local sewage plans. These are ‘grass roots’ campaigns that bring together participants from a wide spectrum of political affiliations, and by their nature, encourage political engagement.
While online groups are creating new levels of interaction, the question is open to how quickly politicians and political parties will acknowledge the power of inter-connection. Riding associations, from all mainstream political parties, tend to consist of older members more comfortable with traditional media messaging. It is certainly true that online social media is used by all ages, all walks of life – the fastest growing user group on Facebook still is, and has been for over a year – new members over 50. While that is encouraging for advocates of social media and web conversations, what is not recognized is the perception of politics among younger potential voters. In fact, this is not just about voting – it is about engaging citizens on issues that concern them; recognizing the nature of activism is changing, and soon, maybe even the political structure itself.
As online social media becomes a major force in the political process the outcomes cannot be predicted. One result might be an increase in elected independents. National political parties may find their candidates moving away from national level policies as local issues gain primacy. Municipal candidates may find they need a position on a national policy as they are ranked and profiled by online groups on all sorts of issues.
What are your thoughts? Will CAPP become a political force in its own right?