There is not a lot of good feeling between the NDP and the Greens these days in the Kootenay-Columbia riding heading into the next federal election. Supporters of the two parties each tend to lecture us on why a vote for the other is a wasted vote.
They both want to defeat the Conservatives, but that could fail because of a split vote, so from the point of view of both the Greens and the NDP there is a lot at stake.
Recently one person from each party and a third non-partisan held a unique event that got 90 Kootenay Greens and NDP candidates and supporters in the same room for a social evening just a few hours before the lecture by Naomi Klein in Castlegar on April 11.
Nicole Charlwood, Kiara Lynch, and Steve Thompson decided to try for some “radical cooperation,” a term used often by Klein. Their intention was not to form a coalition between the Greens and the NDP, but just to get members of the two groups talking about their commonalities.
Charlwood and Thompson are long-time campaign workers for the Greens and the NDP respectively, and Lynch came to it through her affiliation with the “Anything but the Conservatives” movement. Charlwood and Thomson, despite their current political differences, are long-time friends, having worked in a variety of social movements together.
“If two people, like us, from different parties, can be in a room and respect each other and have fun together,” says Charlwood, “then wouldn’t it be interesting if we can do it in a broader way?”
“And if a small group can do it why can’t a community do the same thing,” adds Lynch. “And then if a community can do it, why not a province, country, world.”
“This thing came from me, Nicole and Kiara,” says Thompson. “There was no official party sanction or brand laid on it. And so it really was us going to our own parties and saying, ‘OK, think about it, we are doing this whether you like it or not.’”
So they invited 90 people and booked the Lions Head Pub in Robson.
Then they had to figure out what the get-together was going to look like.
“I was a very organic thing,” says Thompson. “Initially there was no programmed structure.”
“Other than we are all going to see Naomi Klein,” says Lynch, “and she is going to offer some new perspectives, and we should all be listening.”
But there was disagreement over who the speakers would be, says Lynch. “We had to decide who was going to speak and why other people would not be speaking.”
The issue was that the make-up of the speakers list, and the ideas presented by the speakers, could easily suggest Green or NDP partisanship, and then the event would automatically become a contest or a debate.
They eventually decided none of the speakers could be elected politicians or candidates, and that the speakers could not tell people how to vote. They also decided to ban the media so the attending politicians and candidates would be more willing to speak freely.
So the Star was not there, and this account of the evening is based on a group interview last week with the three organizers.
All of the invited people came, including many elected municipal, regional, and provincial politicians from Kootenay-Columbia and the new riding of South Okanagan–West Kootenay, as well as the Green and NDP candidates from both ridings, along with Victoria MLA Andrew Weaver of the Green Party.
At the beginning of the evening, the NDP and Green camps hung out in different parts of the room. But the organizers were having none of that.
“Our goal was to say, don’t sit with only your party,” says Charlwood. “Don’t just sit with your friends, go around and ask people some questions. If they didn’t, we took them and introduced them to people.”
“It was our intention as organizers that people would mingle,” says Lynch. “We called on people to use this opportunity to speak together. There was no media in the room so politicians and candidates could speak off the record, unscripted, and I think they really did that. People were approaching politicians with questions and getting to the meat of their concerns.
“We as organizers very much set the goals as climate change and the removal of the Conservatives from office as the key subjects that were bringing us together. It was a fun party, get a beer, mingle.”
“There was a whole lot of mingling,” says Thompson. “I saw Andrew Weaver talking to Corky Evans. It was fun seeing politicians mingling with other politicians.”
There were two 20-minute speeches.
Former Nelson-Creston MLA Corky Evans talked about the need to get out the vote, and eminent limnologist David Schindler talked about how the Conservative government is destroying much of his life’s work as a scientist. (Schindler was a pioneer in the science of acid rain and phosphate contamination of water, and is active in ecosystem science across the country.)
Charlwood says getting out the vote was a “place of common ground—lets not fight over the same old things, like which party should you vote for. We are not having that discussion. Get out and vote, take them to the polls, this is what we have got to do.”
At the end of the event, with everyone then heading to the Brilliant Cultural Centre to hear Naomi Klein, the three say they were pleased with the feedback they got as people were leaving.
Charlwood: “Some people said it was very refreshing to be able to come into a room knowing there are Greens and NDP and nobody is telling them their vote is a wasted vote. That conversation is a deterrent to voters. How are we, as parties, going to work to get more people to vote. That seems more important to us than trying to deter people from voting a particular way.”
Thompson: “Positive feedback is all I’ve had.”
Lynch: “These issues, climate change and our common passion for getting rid of Harper, are an opportunity, a catalyst for creating this cooperative, passionate, collaborative momentum—both of those things which are very negative bringing about something very positive.”
Charlwood: ‘We were demonstrating to the politicians how to be in a room with people with differing opinions, and we can be civil.”
Lynch: “And not just be civil, but enjoy it.”
Collaborating with another party created some anxiety, particularly for Thompson, who said there were conflicting opinions within the NDP about the wisdom of holding the event.
“I had a lot of anxiety about, ‘Am I promoting the Green Party?’ That was a concern I had, and I think I reconciled it for myself with the higher goal and getting out the vote and working on defeating Harper.”
Naomi Klein, whose latest best-selling book is This Changes Everything, sold out the Brilliant Cultural Centre in Castlegar on April 11. Photo by Bob Hall.
What’s next for radical cooperation between Charlwood, Thompson, and Lynch? They say they don’t know yet, but that we will probably hear from them again before the election. There is eagerness and a sense of momentum in the way they talk about it.
It has been reported that Naomi Klein, in her speech in Castlegar, said she was glad to hear there was local movement toward a coalition between the Greens and NDP. But Charlwood, Lynch, and Thompson say Klein got that wrong.
“Coalition is a powerful word,” says Thompson.
“Coalition is the parties agreeing to do something,” says Charlwood, “and that is not what is happening.”
“We may in the future want to get some sort of higher level of collaboration in the parties,” said Thompson, “but at this point this was really just the three of us.”
They agreed to end the interview with a quote from Naomi Klein: “The only way to win against forces that have a lot to lose is to build a movement of many more people who have a lot to gain.”
Corky Evans, contacted after the event for his impressions of it, told the Star, “It was wonderful. It was brave of them. This is not normal behaviour. Political parties become institutions and their internal decision-making priority becomes the survival of the institution.
“It is ridiculous,” he added, “that people of the same social milieu and sort of the same values claim to have reasons to not like each other or not share objectives.
“I am still a partisan. I am rooting for my team. But I don’t see any reason not to talk, share, work together, and care for each other.”