If you’re not aware of #idlenomore (e.g., you’re not from Canada), go lurk on the Twitter hashtag for a bit or search Facebook. Put simply, it’s an activist response to an omnibus bill (C-45) that, in part, proposes massive and disturbing changes to the way that corporations interact with First Nations’ land. That said, the online presence and real-world protests are now extending well beyond Canadian First Nations.
It’s unlikely that these protests will seriously derail the Harper Government’s bill, but it does have the potential to change the political and activist landscape of Canada in very positive ways. Here are a few reasons why:
1) Engagement. By and large, the people involved in #idlenomore are under-represented as voters and politicians in Canada. If the engagement we’re seeing right now can be sustained in any meaningful way, it has the potential to change the voter demographics as much as did Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns. For Canada, this would be a huge advantage, bringing a large number of disaffected citizens (although that’s a charged word in this context) into a context where they could change governments, providing new and important viewpoints, and likely arriving as socially progressive voters (which I happen to consider an advantage).
2) Control. This is an empowering moment for a lot of young people. For many of them, patterns of interaction with government and policy are being changed for life. A large part of this is an understanding that many of the policies and rules that have worked to their detriment are within their power to change, provided they respond in a context understandable to the infrastructure in place. The idea of working from the inside might not be popular or growing in popularity, but moving from roadblocks to flashmobs is a critical step in legitimacy with respect to a large portion of the population and most of the government and bureaucracy. This kind of movement will shape the context of negotiations and the development of policy for quite some time.
3) Legitimacy. The grievances of the First Nations people of Canada have been legitimate since their inception, but rarely recognized as such. Reactionary, conservative cultures have dismissed them as land grabs, begging, and worse. The context of this engagement (bottom-up, socially networked, positive protest) as opposed to previous ones (litigation, blockade, grievance by committee) has the potential to resonate much more strongly with a wider set of the non-aboriginal Canadian population. This is what is needed to re-frame these concerns from “us against them” to “a problem we all need to solve”. I’m hugely excited about this, because it could make a big difference for the country as we move into the new century.
It’s hard to know where #idlenomore will go, but I think it’s fair to say that it will have a large benefit to Canada in terms of a more engaged and aware population of voters and the de-marginalization of our First Nations from day-to-day political landscape.