Not long ago comedian Russell Brand took a crack at guest editing the New Statesman, a UK-based political magazine. His subsequent interview with BBC’s Jeremy Paxman saturated my social media feed. He definitely struck a chord with people under thirty – a generation experiencing the widest income inequalities in decades. His message, dripping with self-deprecating honesty, is revolution.
There’s a lot we could dismiss in his article: his lack of a clear alternative, the disparity between what he preaches, his fat Hollywood bank account and refusal to vote but insistence on complaining about politicians. I think focusing on these would be a mistake.
At its core, Brand is articulating the visceral experience of inequality, oppression and poverty familiar to young people all over the world. He is describing a set of intolerable circumstances that a majority of people feel in our bones. The only way forward for us is change. There are no other options.
Listening to and reading Brand’s words reminded me of another young man, Chris Naismith. While Brand is shouting at cameras and vinegary BBC hosts (admittedly an important role to play), Chris Naismith is humbly, quietly building a different system.
Chris is an organizer. He is a young father of two with a full-time job, yet has been working with me since April to protect the coast from oil spills.
Wait, what exactly is an organizer you ask? And what role will organizing play in the revolution? I talked with Chris the other day to get his take on the Brand story and his role in the big picture.
How did you react to Russell Brand’s editorial in The New Statesman?
I immediately identified with his disenchantment with politics. At a time when Canadian federal politics are, quite literally, scandalous and blatantly in service of “economic elites” it is easy to feel disenchanted, apathetic or angry. I think the latter is the most useful. Anger is a motivator, whereas apathy and disenchantment immobilize. They lead to things like non-participation which is something that Russell seems to advocate. I’m not sure I agree with him there.
I think the fault in his logic is that his blame seems to end at the politicians. In my view, politicians are naive, vulnerable creatures just waiting for an opinion. They want to get into and stay in office and will do just about anything to do so. As such, they are swayed heavily by public opinion and voter participation, just as they are swayed (often in the opposite direction) by industry and elites. If this is the case, then apathy is actually the enemy of those seeking change, as it tends to tip the scale towards the status quo. History tells us that a higher voter turnout leads to more progressive elected officials.
Even if you don’t have faith in change through traditional means, voting takes about five minutes. This leaves a lot of time to continue plotting the revolution.
Why do you organize?
Community organizing is a way for me to maximize the power of opinion. If I feel one way about an issue, it is probable that a lot of other people feel the same. If I can connect these people together and give them an outlet for their concern, I get a lot more bang for my buck. This is self-serving by it’s very nature. I’ve come to terms with it.
The HST referendum was a precedent setting political movement in B.C. No matter how you felt about it, it set the stage for the ability of British Columbians to make the change they wanted to see.
What is organizing?
Organizing, as I have experienced it, is helping a community to achieve the change that it wants to see. Individually we can often feel isolated and powerless, but when we have some way to network and share our resources, we become powerful. This is what all positive social change movements have done. And we’ve come a long way in the last 50 years.
Organizing is also a way to turn the community’s attention inward. By forming relationships between others in the community we form commitment to social justice and foster creativity. This attention on one another is a big part of the “total revolution of consciousness” that Brand talks about.
What’s the most challenging part of what we’re doing?
What I encounter most is the “whoa, this is big” challenge. Sometimes the scale of the issue seems overwhelming, particularly when it comes to the environment. Through the help of many other fantastic organizers I’ve learned to outline and tackle one achievable goal at a time.
What’s the most rewarding?
Seeing change happen. By creating a bunch of achievable goals as part of a larger strategy we can see change happen in real time.
The HST referendum was a precedent setting political movement in B.C. No matter how you felt about it, it set the stage for the ability of British Columbians to make the change they wanted to see. This happened through the involvement of committed volunteers working together for the sake of the community at large.
The oil industry talks about British Columbia being the “gateway to Asia” and the present being our “window of opportunity” for exports. I find inspiration in these phrases, because both gates and windows open and close. Being that the oil sands is one of the biggest oil reserves on the planet, we as British Columbians who want change have an unprecedented leverage point to bring about that change on a global scale.
How will it address the challenges that we face?
In the next year we will be organizing to stop the expansion of tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast. This measure, once put in place, will make oil sands operations more expensive and investments increasingly risky.
Climate specialists estimate that we can put about 500 megatons of carbon into the atmosphere to avoid irreversible climate change. The oil industry has sold stocks on 2,500 megatons of carbon reserves. This means oil stocks are overvalued by 500 per cent. I’m no economist, but it seems to me that it’s not going to take much to make the house of cards fall.
In fact, it’s going to take 500 volunteers across the province. We are on our way there.
Do you have advice for people who want to make a difference?
Look inward in your community. What issues are people interested in? What initiatives are getting traction? If you can identify shared interests and capitalize on momentum, do it. In doing so, be sure to take on things that genuinely motivate you and serve your interests. I personally have never been able to sustain interest in things that don’t meet that criteria.
If you find yourself working with a group of people advocating for First Nations rights, environment, clean energy or anything that might be negatively affected by oil resource development, please hit me up. We are going to get there through collaboration:
In Victoria: chris.naismith [at ] gmail.com
Dogwood Initiative has always been committed to brave and innovative tactics in the face of uncertainty.
We know that simply buying energy efficient light bulbs, while a great thing to do, isn’t enough. Just showing up to vote once in a while isn’t enough. Even working to elect someone whose values reflect your values often isn’t enough because our political system is not currently functioning to advance community interests, but rather party, political and financial interests.
Organizing is a powerful way to find solutions to these enormous problems – not just in our silos of academia, media, or politics
– but together, as citizens and community members of all types. Chris is part of a team made up of retirees, students, recent immigrants, parents and professionals. They come from various religious and non-religious backgrounds. They are diverse but share a purpose. Their nightmare is the same and their commitment to change is the strongest I’ve ever seen. They will do the hard, unglamorous work that changes the world.
In British Columbia, our biggest and best opportunity to give this a shot – and win – is to organize and mobilize the hundreds of thousands of people who cherish our coastline. We know that the solutions exist. It’s our job to organize the will – politically and socially – to commit to them. If you feel the urgency like we do and you have the time and energy, please join us: