The Rising Tide of Active Centrism
Written by Chris Andreou
You don’t need to be a political junkie or current events expert to notice the deepening divide in Western society. Whether it be the niqab debate during the 2015 Canadian Federal election, literally the entire year of 2016, or the recent Charlottesville tragedy concerning the removal of Confederate monuments, the most casual observer now knows that media coverage of what is now being dubbed “the culture war” is unavoidable and increasingly… everywhere.
Reddit threads and Facebook statuses devolve with increasing reliability into accusations of bigotry, racism, or snowflakery. Moderates and pragmatists sit on the sidelines wondering where everything went wrong, and herein lies the problem. With no strong moderating voice, the current environment in civil discourse continues to toxify, and a media which feeds on conflict can’t help but fuel the multitude of tire-fires blazing away throughout all of our social circles.
“Moderates and pragmatists sit on the sidelines wondering where everything went wrong, and herein lies the problem.”
I’m a self-described moderate who puts great effort into being politically engaged and understanding the complexities of the issues facing us today, but I’ve been a hypocrite. While I religiously keep up-to-date on issues to have an informed opinion, I’ve sat on the sidelines. I’ve been unwilling to speak up. I’ve watched while former friends called each other “racists” for not wanting to remove Sir John A MacDonald’s name from schools, or “libtards” for supporting Canada’s welcoming stance on refugees. I’ve just watched, when ideally in these situations, I would be comfortable constructively lending my voice to the fray. When I realized this, I knew I needed to make a change.
Given that the internet is possibly the last place to find any semblance of rational discussion, I decided to begin my efforts towards making this transformation with in-person events. In April I attended an event hosted by Maclean’s that brought together conservatives from across the country to discuss how to modernize the Conservative Party of Canada, moving it away from its socially regressive history and towards a party based on solid ideas. I do not consider myself a conservative by most standards, but I was excited by the opportunity to hear what issues most concerned the attendees and to discuss them face to face. Not being one to avoid political and philosophical debates in university I knew how much speaking in-person aids the civility of opposing arguments, but this was a great refresher, being two years removed from my graduation.
“I’ve just watched, when ideally in these situations, I would be comfortable constructively lending my voice to the fray.”
The majority of human interaction post-graduation occurs in the workplace where talk of politics is limited, or with a close and vetted friend group where most share similar values. This creates an echo-chamber of ideas where often the only opposing voices heard are those coming from network TV, Facebook posts, or the dreaded comment sections. Rediscovering in-person civil discussion was not to be the only highlight of my night, however, as I was fortunate to meet some very intriguing people who were similarly looking to shift the landscape away from divisive rhetoric and polarization.
I was very pleased to meet the founder of A Strong Canada, an organization looking to promote a culture of positive political discourse based on ideas rather than ideologies, and to keeping the toxic, divisive rhetoric emanating from the U.S. and Europe from becoming fully entrenched in the Great White North. Though I wasn’t expecting to find it, this movement promoting a positive landscape where ideas from all sides are actually discussed and considered is exactly the thing needed to counter the fringes of the political spectrum that currently dominate headlines and dinner-table-talk.
One of the ways A Strong Canada plans to do this achieve its core mission is through Cross-Partisan Activism (also known as “Party-Swapping”). This entails encouraging people to get involved on the grassroots levels of political parties that they do not feel naturally aligned with. For example, under this new method, a person who normally votes NDP would join the Conservative Party, participating on the grassroots level in their local Electoral District Association (EDA). While this idea may offend the tribalistic sensibilities or deeply-invested partisans, it deserves a closer look.
“…this movement promoting a positive landscape where ideas from all sides are actually discussed and considered is exactly the thing needed to counter the fringes of the political spectrum that currently dominate headlines and dinner-table-talk.”
Cross-Partisan Activism is an incredibly valuable idea for our current time and place as it achieves two key things. First, it exposes people to a party that they otherwise would have limited experience with, thus deepening that person’s understanding of the “opposing perspective”. Second, it brings a different voice to the table of these local party organizations (EDAs) that are usually filled with party loyalists, in other words, they’re echo-chambers of the highest degree and this idea will break that wide open.
I myself am eager embark on this experiment of Cross-Partisan Activism to broaden my own perspectives and to contribute to the mission of A Strong Canada in whatever way I can, finally moving myself far, far beyond the paradox of being politically engaged but apathetic.