Lewis and Landsberg praise Occupy movement’s ability to focus the world on equality

One sensed a subtle difference between Stephen Lewis and Michele Landsberg when it came to the Occupy Movement.

Speaking at last night’s Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) David Lewis Lecture, Landsberg was unreserved about her support.

The former Toronto Star columnist said she visited the Wall Street protest site and came away impressed by the diversity of those involved and the manner in which they were working.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I love the people there and how they were working.”

Landsberg found the consensus building process to be familiar – values she said have long been part of the women’s movement.

She rejected the media criticism that there were no proper demands from the Occupy movement.

“They have a demand – an end to this inequality and hopelessness.”

Landsberg said the protesters were using their camp as a model of the kind of society they wanted, and they were wise not to make a specific list of demands.

While right-wing columnists like Margaret Wente argue the movement is irrelevant, Landsberg said it is changing the conversation at the highest level, “where bankers and presidents have to talk about equality.”

“To see young people springing up gives me hope for change,” Landsberg said, “I’ve been politically despairing for such a long time.”

Landsberg spoke at Occupy Toronto on Saturday, noting that there were more homeless and street people here compared to New York, but that each of the Occupy Movements had their own character.

While Landsberg said Lewis was initially reserved about the Occupy movement, he has come to see its importance.

Lewis said the Occupy Movement is an extension of the current political struggle, that what happens on the outside influences the inside. He gave the anti-Vietnam war movement as an example of a political struggle that began outside of Congress.

While he says there is no such thing as a democratic left in the U.S. party politics, Canada has a wider political spectrum, implying there was still relevance to the debates within our Parliaments.

Lewis said the present Canadian government has an agenda that is not hidden – “it’s completely explicit.”

Lewis believes the Harper government genuinely believes it has a mission to change the values of Canadians – a danger that could be a reality if they can get two back-to-back majorities.

Landsberg said the politics of the right “appeal to primitive angers” and tap into a “deep well of entitlement, greed and narcissism. “

When asked by a speaker about whether there was still room for a Liberal Party, Lewis said “no, their time is gone.” 

He argued that the Liberals were opportunists who did considerable damage to Canada, whether it was through Japanese internment in World War II, Pierre Trudeau’s suspension of civil rights during the War Measures Act, or Paul Martin’s slashing of social security and foreign aid – cuts the country has yet to recover from.

Lewis said that since the Reagan years political dialogue has been in decline. While his father, David Lewis, often participated in passionate Parliamentary debates, there was a civility between Trudeau, Lewis and Stanfield that is missing in today’s political landscape.

For much of the evening Lewis spoke about his father’s legacy, and how often David Lewis is forgotten in the gap between Tommy Douglas and Ed Broadbent.

While Stephen was leader of the Ontario New Democrats in the 1970s, he said he was privileged to have counsel from his father, who at the time was the leader of the Federal New Democrats.

Landsberg spoke about the growing feminist movement, including the struggles within he NDP and its predecessor CCF for feminists to be seen as more than a splinter group.

While writing a column for the Toronto Star, Landsberg said she tapped into a feminist movement that had been coming to a slow boil. She said she received about 200 letters a week in a time before e-mail, many of the writers “ecstatic I was tackling these topics.”

She said the Harper government is now taking apart much of the feminist infrastructure, including dismantling the long gun registry that was set up in response to the Montreal Massacre.

“The worse it gets, the better it is for feminism,” Landsberg said. “Young women are rising up again.”

Lewis spoke about sexual violence directed towards women and its impact on the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, noting that if it was happening to men there would be more of an impetus to stop it.

He noted that sexual reproductive health was left off of the UN’s millennium goals, although is optimistic about the creation earlier this year of UN Women, an “entity” created to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women worldwide..

He praised former Chilean President Michele Bachelet, UN Women’s first Executive Director. “She is so charismatic,” he said. “One gets a sense that if we got a billion (dollars) in their hands, they would give women a real voice.”

Landsberg surprised the audience with a personal revelation – that she married Stephen Lewis six weeks after they met. “I thought I’d never find another one of these,” she said with a smile.

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