With revolution in the streets from the Middle East to middle America, a major power shift in Ottawa and a smattering of other events that would have stolen the headlines in any other year, 2011 will be largely remembered as the year that got the ball rolling for the future, good or bad.
In late December 2010, Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself alive instead of bribing municipal officials. That act of defiance inspired others all around the country and by February a wave of protest had engulfed much of the Arab world. Rulers who had held power for over two decades in places like Egypt fell and in the case of Kaddafi (with a little American war machine help) lost their lives.
The Arab Spring, as it was later dubbed, also demonstrated the power of the internet as a mobilizing tool, a tool that became very prominent later in the year when Tahrir Square inspired Zucotti Park (or Liberty Plaza), the home base of Occupy Wall Street for several months until Michael Bloomberg evicted the protesters in the middle of the night. What started out as a protest largely ignored by mainstream media blossomed into a full-blown phenomenon within a month when it spread to other communities in the US and many Canadian cities including Montreal and Toronto just a couple of days after Bloomberg’s first and unsuccessful attempted eviction.
With most of those encampments dismantled, some through commando-style raids (a very heavy-handed enforcement of parks regulations if you ask me), terms like “the 99%” firmly entrenched in our collective lexicon and images of pepper-spray cops and injured protesters seared into our minds, thoughts have turned to the future of the movement and what the next step or steps would be. It looks like this idea won’t be going away anytime soon.
Another thing that won’t be going away for at least four years is the Conservative Majority Government in Canada. After having lost the confidence of the House of Commons for refusing to reveal the cost of several bills, Harper’s minority government fell, sparking an April election.
The result of that election gave Harper the power to bring in his full agenda. Now we’re facing multiple pieces of legislation jammed together as the “Safe Streets and Communities Act” (also known as the Omnibus Crime Bill C10). While there are some good parts to the bill that are hard to argue against, like the stiffer sentences for child molesters, they are packaged with other regulations that sound like the same type of retribution-based policies tried out in the states a decade ago and now rejected even by Republican governors.
Canada is looking at mandatory minimum sentences, the criminalization of recreational drug use, more prisons and stiffer sentences for pot dealers than the aforementioned child molesters. And all this when our crime rate has been dropping for years. People have been fighting it, though: LeadNow.ca has created a petition and email writing campaign and (FTB project) ItCouldGetWorse.com started a complimentary video campaign to fight the proposed bill. After C10 passed the Conservative-controlled parliament, attention shifted to senators and provincial premiers.
Will a mostly internet-driven campaign work? Well, before the election, mass online mobilization helped shelve the Internet Meter and efforts by OpenMedia.ca got the majority Conservatives to remove internet and cellphone surveillance provisions from the Omnibus, so it looks like internet campaigns do work.
The election also produced the biggest political power shift in recent Canadian memory. The NDP, a party that had been all but written off in Quebec rode an Orange Wave of popularity to become the official opposition for the first time in its history, jumping from one to 58 seats in Quebec, reducing the Bloc Québécois to a mere four seats and almost wiping out the Liberals in the province as well while reducing them to third place nationally.
The new opposition started off out of the gate running, attempting to filibuster a lockout of Canada Post employees and vowing to hold the Conservatives’ feet to the fire when needed. Things seemed to be going great, until leader Jack Layton, the man who had pulled off the political upset of the decade and who had considerably high appeal, especially in Quebec, announced that he was facing a new type of cancer in late July.
When he passed away roughly a month later, he left a message that inspired Canadians. He also left a leadership vacuum not only for his party but for the political left in Canada.
The NDP is now in the process of picking a new leader and has already held its first debate. A leader that will take charge of a party that finds itself in a much different place both power-wise and organizationally than it could have possibly predicted it would be in at the beginning of the year.
There were some ups and downs locally as well. Cafe Cleopatre started off the year facing expropriation. After both the city and developer Angus dropped their plans to expropriate, Cleo finished the year facing a different kind of threat: neglect. Intentional neglect of the surrounding buildings all purchased by Angus over the past few years and now left to ruin.
Meanwhile south of the border, President Barack Obama, after getting the credit for the death of Osama Bin Laden, is gearing up to face one of the handful of Republican candidates. He also signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, despite promising to veto it. It contains provisions for warrantless detainment and execution on US soil, even of US citizens. That along with SOPA looming on the horizon mean that in 2012 we’ll only start to see the results of the restrictions that began this year.
If you consider the restrictive measures on the horizon in the US and Canada, continued global protest in the form of the Arab Spring and Occupy, a drastically changed re-alignment in government and the increased importance of the Internet, the proverbial shit is about to hit the fan everywhere. When people look back to where it started, chances are they’ll come to the conclusion that 2011 is when the spark was lit.