Last week, a website that was brilliant in its simplicity made the rounds of a ton of my facebook friends, Shit Harper Did. Next to a coal sketch of Stephen Harper smiling creepily while cradling a freaked out kitten, is a generator of summaries of news articles describing the destructive, polarizing, alienating, and anti-democratic activities of the Harper Government™. Among the terrible things that appear is Harper sabotaging international talks on carbon emission reductions and climate change, cutting funding for scientific research while muzzling the ability of government-employed scientists to speak to the media about their work independently of party-controlled public relations officials. He has also doubled annual spending on prisons in a country with falling crime rates. His handling of the G8 and G20 meetings in summer 2010 was needlessly provocative, grossly expensive in direct spending and lost revenue, and ridiculously handled.
I was glad that after I posted this site, the number of reposts among my friends skyrocketed. To see the popularity of anti-Harper propaganda like this at first made me hopeful that he would be out of power within a few weeks. Then I thought about who my friends were.
That phrase is usually trotted out to disparage a group of people, but I mean it in a more literal sense. My friends were already against Stephen Harper. They never voted Conservative in the first place, and they certainly weren’t about to now. Apart from a few exceptions, my social circles tend to involve people who are already left-leaning. We’re academics in the humanities, artists, journalists, activists for unions and marijuana legalization, young people in the technology industries. We’re people who live in the centre of cities, many of us don’t own cars unless we have to for work purposes, and few of my friends have work that requires cars. Even most of the lawyers I know are most interested in labour, criminal, entertainment, and contract, or else they went to law school and decided never to be a lawyer. We are not the demographic that votes Stephen Harper.
This idea first started making sense to me when Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto. All my friends were amazed that Ford won with the massive share of the vote that he did. But when I looked at the district-by-district breakdown, it was plain what had happened: the centre of the city, split among several diverse and dynamic candidates, went in their various directions indicated by their diverse and dynamic personalities. All the suburbs went Ford. None of my friends knew anyone in the suburbs. Neither do I, apart from some of my students, who commute to school from their suburban homes. We ask ourselves questions like "How could anyone vote for Stephen Harper?" and expect to hear only confused rage and disgust, because we only ask it around our friends who never consider voting for Stephen Harper. The most productive way to ask this question is with genuine curiosity and respect towards someone who enthusiastically votes for Stephen Harper.
There’s no way our venting anger on the alleys of facebook or in Toronto’s gay district is ever going to change a single Conservative vote. And that’s a shame, because voicing rage against the stupid and bigoted activities of the Harper Government™ and receiving adulation and praise in return feels so wonderful. What will be utterly painful and wretched is to go out to ridings that are in close contests and campaign against the Conservative party in places like Ajax, Orleans in Ottawa, or Mississauga. You’ll have doors slammed in your face, Conservative party activists hurl abuse at you, and go home feeling demoralized and dejected every day. But if you want to change minds and actually achieve political goals, a requirement is talking articulately with people who don’t already agree with you.
I, meanwhile, will just write this blog post that I’ll link on facebook and entertain my friends who hate Stephen Harper and like to complain about him.