Avi Lewis: The 'Leap' from Movements Into Party Politics
There is a necessary and potentially productive tension between progressive movements and political parties. When they lack leadership or vision; when they fail to make alliances with established groups or people such as unions, church groups, justice organizations, public officials; when they do not express clear objectives or make concrete demands, progressive movements will typically be ignored by political parties and quickly fizzle out. Likewise, when political parties completely marginalize or fail to listen to progressive movements they will appear indifferent to genuine social justice and environmental concerns and lose a vital support base.
By contrast when they are invited to the table and can get their message across social movements can greatly influence electoral politics and enrich political party’s policy agenda. Election campaigns can then provide umbrellas under which progressive movements can mobilize and frame election issues. When they are robust progressive movements can profoundly challenge centrist or establishment politics. At the same time, when political insiders are willing to listen to and be challenged by the progressive ideas of social movements they can greatly enhance their connection to the voting public.
Demonstrating that there can indeed be productive relationship between environmental/justice movements and party politics is what Avi Lewis is up to in his recent decision to move from activist to politician and run in the next federal election as the NDP candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country. He is well positioned to do so as the son of politician Stephen Lewis and grandson of David Lewis, who also happens to be married to Naomi Klein, a world class political thinker and justice and environmental activist.
Together Avi and Naomi gave us the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal which Lewis believes are situated at the intersection of electoral politics and mass movements. The goal of both of these movements was to bring together a broad coalition of activists, artists, organizers, and leaders unions environmental, Indigenous rights and social/economic justice groups in order to help elect a new breed of politician and make them accountable to movement demands once they were in office.
In a recent email Avi Lewis remarked that “after spending so much time pushing politicians from the outside, I want to see what I can get done pulling for all of us from the inside. I want to be a people’s accomplice - to see if I can get to Ottawa and hold the door open to the brilliance, ingenuity and radicalism of the movements that have been part of our amazing coalition here at The Leap.”
He will have his work cut out for him. In the last 20 years the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding hasn’t been at all kind to the NDP, electing either Liberals or Conservatives. The voters in this riding will not easily warm to the Leap Manifesto’s call for a radical transition away from carbon capitalism and the Green New Deals call for robust climate action policies—and you can be certain that he will receive little support from John Horgan and absolutely none from Rachel Notley. Moreover, whether he will actually be able to consolidate support from left-leaning Greens and pose a real challenge to the incumbent liberal Patrick Weiler is an open question.
Notwithstanding these challenges, I wholly support Lewis’s ‘leap’ into party politics. The NDP needs truly progressive people, and if anyone can bring an activist spirit to party politics and ‘change the game’ it is Avi Lewis.