This is a guest post by CYH Volunteer Brianne Nettelfield
Recently I had the privilege of attending the annual fundraising gala for the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives (CCPA). I use the word privilege because it felt truly special to be in the same room with so many inspiring people working individually and collectively to effect positive change across a multitude of platforms.
The CCPA gala saw over 600 supporters including representatives from a variety of local non-profits, unions, businesses, secondary schools, universities and government. In addition to a delicious Indian Food buffet and two bars, the CCPA had lined up an amazing list of speakers. MC, comedian Charlie Demers, ushered the evening along with some comic relief in the form of jokes about government, the new pope, and chickpeas.
Seth Klein, Executive Director of the CCPA, detailed the highs of the annual report, citing that downloads of reports and articles from the website were up by 1 million in comparison to last year. Klein connected their work to their commitment to community, expressing that the CCPA is “not content to merely publish” and also focuses on alliance building and combatting “the two great inconvenient truths, climate change and inequality” by (among other things) bringing government legislature into public views. Klein’s words were reinforced by those of Cecilia Point of the Musqueam nation, who opened the program and thanked the CCPA for their work in providing people the information they need to defend themselves.
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Power of Youth Leadership Awards which recognizes young progressive leaders in the areas of Social Movement building and Research Analysis and Solutions. Sonja Ostertag from Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance won in the Research Analysis and Solutions category. Harsha Walia from No One Is Illegal and Jaime Biggar from Lead Now received awards for their work in social movement building. Almost just as inspiring as the work these young people do was the standing ovation they received, greeted by a raised fist in solidarity by Walia.
The finale of the program brought UBC Law professor and author of The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, Joel Bakan; with a talk aptly titled, “What’s Left? Reclaiming The Public Sphere”. Bakan opened his talk by asking, does the left have any meaning anymore? And responded by reminding us of the values of the left as being a group profoundly shaped by community relationships and valuing a collective existence that “…obliges us to help others and realize potential equality…” referencing the Occupy movement, he insisted that we must help to create institutions that are, “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Bakan eloquently expanded on his dissection of the current western political climate touching on issues of the “privatization of progressives”, corporate global leadership, deregulation and the new social responsibility afforded to corporations (who simply cannot be trustworthy due to the very nature of their bottom line). He cautioned against the idea of the “good corporation” and the wares they seductively peddle. Suggesting that we are entering into a crossroads, people (from the left and the right) are turning to the streets, to NGO’s, and to corporations as a result of this distrust of the government. He calls for us to recognize, revitalize, and reconnect to the central ideas and values of the left: democratic governance and transparent institutions; calling for the public to work on creating a government we can trust.
To borrow one of Bakan’s closing remarks; we must keep occupying Wall street, occupying the streets, idling no more, occupying the government, and especially – occupying the public sphere.
And if the groups and individuals in attendance that evening is any indication of the powerful work being done provincially around equality, social and environmental justice – then the left is in luck.
Brianne is a former volunteer with CYH’s Youth and Gender Media Project. She holds a degree in Cultural Studies from UBC Okanagan and a certificate in Film Arts from Langara College. Currently, Brianne is employed at UBC as a research assistant for the Division of Health Care Communication. To keep busy, she also works on documentary projects, mentorship programs, and a variety of other things involving community and creativity.