Friday, 3 June 2016

Three Cheers for the Grassroots

Three Cheers for the Grassroots

By: Ryan Young

Yesterday we marked the seven week anniversary of arguably the worst budget in provincial history. A small but boisterous crowd turned out to a march and rally at Confederation Building, organized by the grassroots group, Coordinated Approach, to “Scrap the Gas Tax.” It is no surprise that the numbers were small as there is a bit of a feeling of a lull in the air. People are getting rallied out and are ready to turn their attention to summer. Over the last seven weeks we have witnessed dozens of protests and rallies all across the province, with no less than 5 major events at Confederation Building. The people have been eager to bring the anger and disappointment straight to the doorstep of those who created it. They have taken to social media in a way that has never been seen before in this province, and the open line shows have been flooded with pissed off citizens who want better from the crowd up on the hill.

It has been a wild ride for sure. I remember hearing more than one commentator expressing the opinion that these protests would be short lived and would fizzle quickly. We can’t blame them for expecting as much. Traditionally we are a very docile and forgiving people when it comes to politics. I know from experience that mobilizing people in direct action is often a near impossible task. To expect more of the usual was only to be expected. That is probably why the media has been so quick to jump behind the protests when it became apparent that the people were not going away.  That too was a pleasant surprise, as too often they give our elected officials a free pass. It has been nice to see some hard-hitting journalism gracing our news pages again.

Certainly the unions did a good job of mobilizing and being outspoken. I know some will criticize the unions and their place in our current fiscal situation. This blogger himself has commented on more than one occasion about the need for reform in our public sector. But the simple fact that we need to remember is that the union members that are showing up at the marches and rallies across the province are hard-working rank and file members that will be affected by this budget as much as anybody else. They deserve a lot of credit for organizing and uniting around the cause.

The real stars of the show, however, were the people. It was the average Newfoundlander’s that marched in the street, bombarded their MHA’s with emails and phone calls, and were active on social media to spread the information around that the public needed and wanted to know. They deserve the real credit for the major shift in political thinking that has occurred over the past seven weeks.  It was because of their actions that we saw Paul Lane soul search himself right out of the governing party because he heard the call of the people. It was their actions that forced the governments hand at scrapping most of the levy. And it was the grassroots action of the people that has managed to awaken the beast in so many people that were previously in a deep slumber when it came to the state of politics in this province. This might be the most important victory of all as it may finally open the door for a real discussion about change in our political system.

So where so we go from here? Several groups and movements, from direct action groups to those aspiring for new political parties, have been popping up almost daily. It has become apparent that Newfoundland and Labrador is ready to finally start a real conversation about change. It will be up to the grassroots to keep that conversation going and to steer it in a meaningful direction. I have heard rumors about a new grassroots group that is being formed with plans to visit every nook and cranny in the province to develop a true platform of the people. I think this is exactly the type of step we need to take to rebuild this province that we all love so much. People are no longer willing to sit idly by and watch our government sell us out. They are ready for action and they need a direction. The grassroots will continue to provide that direction and to give the people the voice that they have never had before. It turns out many people like having a voice in democracy! If I was an MHA that wasn't Paul Lane, I would enjoy my summer because more pain is coming in the fall and not just on the budget sheet.  The movement of the people has only just begun. Consider yourselves warned. 

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