The Southern Neighbours

A Canadians Guide To Election Night Coverage Tuesday November 6, 2012

So here we are on the eve of the 2012 Presidential Election. For those of us absolutely obsessed with the political process down south, it’s been quite a slug. At the end of the day the race is exactly where some people, including myself, felt we would be; with polling numbers pretty tight but a stable advantage to President Barrack Obama (or Bronco Bama for those of you who that just want this to be over).

A Canadians Guide To The 2012 Election

In less than 24 hour Americans and Canadians should finally know who will be in charge of the United States of America for the next four years. But with wall-to-wall coverage planned for tomorrow night by all the major American networks, Canadians are left with no other option than to just enjoy the spectacle. So to build on my post from two weeks ago and to aid you in your viewing pleasure, here’s A Canadian’s Guide to Election Night Coverage.

Keeping Yourself Entertained

Each of the major networks will have have some sort of gimmick planned for the evening. I’m pretty sure that at least one network will have a Hologram incorporated into their coverage (which may or may not involve Tupac). Others will probably have some sort of Social Media Analysis showcasing tweets such as “ROMNEY is THE BEST” or “OH MY OBAMA” and every single network will order their senior political correspondent to stand in front of a touchscreen waving his hands around like a broken marionette. While those gimmicks are all nice and dandy, what can Canadians do to kill time between the actual results information and the bi-partisan talking heads spew at each other… well I’m glad you asked.

First and foremost the New York Times has their 512 Paths To The White House interactive tool up and running.

512 Paths To The White House

This is probably the most useful and informative tool published by the media for the election. It’s a simple visual tool to show the 512 different outcomes of tomorrow night’s results based on simply tying battleground states to each candidate. For the Choose Your Own Adventure generation this is like visual crack. And even better as the results come in you can start narrowing down the options and impressing all of your online friends with your quick wit and astute observations about potential outcomes.

Twitter Political Engagement Tool

Of course, like every major event in pop culture most of us will be glued to our Twitter streams for the ritual of Election Night snark. Sure, you could Twitter search on which Americans are going to threaten to move to Canada if their candidate doesn’t win or you could check out Twitter’s own Political Engagement Map. Or even better swing on by to Foursquare and look at their interactive I VOTED Election day map and swanky ivoted badge.

Interesting Story Lines For Election Night

As mentioned, this election is packed with fascinating little tidbits and story lines. I know you’ve probably heard of the hundreds of the different storylines that will be spun by pundits to make up the fabric of this election, but to me the most interesting story line about tomorrow night will be what happens to the Republican Party (GOP) on November 7th. Regardless of the outcome, the Republican Party is on the verge of existential crisis within the American political world.

Politico has a fascinating article on the potential civil war within the party, whether Romney wins or losses tomorrow night. And yes, this story has been predicted a dozen or so times in the past, but the truth of the matter is that the demographics of America are dramatically changing. Whether it’s the massive increase in the Hispanic population in once solid red states such as New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Florida or even Texas or the shift of progressive young Americans who are no longer seeing the Republican party as a viable alternative or even disenfranchised suburban women who are constantly offended by the Republican obsession with Rape and Abortion, things are changing and the make-up of the United States will be far different in 2016 and 2020. If there isn’t a massive philosophical shift within the Republican party, this could be one of their last viable chances at the presidency.

So the interesting storyline will to be see the reaction of right leaning pundits when the results come in. If Romney loses, it’ll be interesting to see what the next steps for the party will be. If he wins, it’ll be interesting to see if moderate Romney runs the country or tea party sympathizer Romney takes the reigns.

The other interesting storyline to keep an eye on will be Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina

With how the Electoral College works out, everyone knows that Ohio will probably be the tipping point in the election and most networks won’t call the election until Ohio is officially declared. Unfortunately, for those of us who are impatient and have the attention spans of a nat, the polls in Ohio polls don’t close until 8:30 EST. Which means it’s going to take some time for those numbers to roll in. But on the other hand polls in Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina close on the east coast, so we do have some potential indicators.

If Virginia is called for Obama, the chances of an Obama win are probably high. As I’ve said before, I think Obama has a very strong chance at Virginia, because of the NOVA region, the ground game and the Virgil Goode wild card (which would be amazing if he takes it away for Romney). But in that same breath Virginia isn’t a devastating loss for Obama.

Now if North Carolina is called for Obama early, then this thing is officially over. North Carolina has been considered a long shot for Obama by most of the pundits, but if the early voting flows the way it has for the past few weeks and Obama’s surgical GOTV comes through, then there is a strong chance Obama could sneak out a win. If that happens it’s over for Romney and it’s going to be a long night for the Republicans.

The thing to remember is that Obama doesn’t need North Carolina or Virginia to win, but Romney needs both to have any shot at winning. (it’s why the math is so stacked against Romney today)

On the other hand, if Pennsylvania, which is considered a strong Obama state, somehow goes Romney’s way it’s going to be a very nervous night for team Obama. Now I don’t believe that Pennsylvania is in play, I think this is more of a Hail Mary pass by the Romney team, but as an Albertan you can never be sure with polls.

So those are some tidbits to watch tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been watching this election for far too long. So with no hockey and the election over tomorrow I may need to find another vice. If anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears.

Oh yes, predictions… Well if you know me and you know my track record with this site, you know I hate making predictions. BUT if I was to make a statement, I would suggest to going to 512 paths and lock in Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin for Obama and you’ll get my prediction.

… And plus who doesn’t want to look forward to events like this.

(via. 30reasons.org)

Categories: , , The Blogosphere, The D.C. vibe

A Canadians Guide To The 2012 Election Wednesday October 24, 2012

Many Canadians (and many more Americans) woke up to the Monday morning news that The Presidential Election was at a 47% dead heat between President Barrack Obama and Governor Mittens Romney. Many of my fellow Canadians are probably looking at that information and going, what the hell is going on?

A Canadians Guide To The 2012 Election

How could this be? Mitt Romney has to be the worst candidate ever? Why is it so close?

Well, there’s a whole slew of underlying story lines going on, but the one thing to note for my fellow Canadians is that this election was always going to be a tight race – regardless of what polls noted earlier in the month.

So as a Canadian who has been incredibly obsessed with every element of this election for months now, and as an ex-pat who spent the past two and a half years in Washington D.C., I feel it’s my duty to as a Canuck to explain some of the interesting nuances of the 2012 Election.

We’ll call it A Canadian’s Guide to The 2012 Election.

National Polls Aren’t As Important As State Polls… In This Election

The Electoral College

With the election as it is, national polls aren’t as nearly important as state polls. Yes, national polls matter, as they give an overarching sense of the race, but with the race so close the key metric is who wins the Electoral College.

Many Canadians may not know this, but Presidents aren’t chosen on the popular vote, but rather who wins the Electoral College. Basically, the Electoral College is made up of Five Hundred and Thirty Eight seats, with each state allocated a certain number of seats to represent the population base. So for example the state of Montana has 3 seats in the Electoral College, while the more populous California has 55 seats. If you’re looking for a Canadian example, you can kind of see the formula working in how the seats for Members of Parliament are distributed across our nation – where highly populated regions (cities) get more seats than the rural areas. The person who is elected the President of the United States is the person who crosses the 270 Electoral Votes threshold.

If you want to see how this all works look play around with the Huffington Post’s Electoral College map.

So the National Polls do matter, but when a race is this close, what really matters is who wins the Battleground states. Nate Silver, who is a baseball statistician turned political polls guru, has gone in to great length about polls, national polls, and state polls on his blog FiveThirtyEight.com, so I won’t go into the break down of that. But the key thing to look at is the polls of Battleground States: .(Battleground States are states where there is an even proportion of Democrats and Republicans and the vote can go to either side).

The Battleground states that will determine the election this time around are Wisconsin, Nevada/Iowa, Virginia, possibly North Carolina and more importantly Ohio. (I think Florida is pretty much a shoe-in for Romney) See the funny thing about the Electoral College make up is that Romney cannot win the election without Ohio, but in the same breath Obama has multiple paths to victory without Ohio.

Which in a first look doesn’t make sense, but that right there is the wonderful world of math and American Politics. So in regards to the Electoral College current make-up Obama continues (and has the entire race) a larger Electoral College advantage than Romney, even though the polls tend to give Romney a slight edge in national race.

And if you’re curious, yes there is the strong possibility that either Romney or Obama may win the national vote, but lose the Electoral Count. If you want evidence of this, look no further that Gore vs. Bush Jr. in 2000.

Why National Polls are All Over The Place

Over the past weekend, there was a flurry of national polls. Some showed Obama with a 6 point least, some showed a 1 point advantage, some were tied and some showed a 7 point lead. So in a race this close, why are the polls so all over the place?

Well, there are a couple of issues, the first is the discrepancy between sampling bias by region and the other is the likely vs. registered voter models.

I’ll pick on The Gallup Daily Tracking Poll, which showed Romney with a 7 point advantage, as a way to explain this issue. Nate silver, went into some interesting details about Gallup on his blog, but when you get down to it, Gallup was (and continues to) over-sample the southern states. In fact the southern states tend to represent a third of the poll’s sample size. If you dig through the crosstabs (the breakdown of the sampling), you see that Obama is ahead by 4-5 points in the North, West (with battleground states such as Nevada and Colorado), Mid-West (with battleground states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, and Ohio), while Romney was ahead by 22 points in the south (which includes states such as Florida and North Carolina, but also includes states such as Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, etc.). So anyone with common sense can understand, why this poll seams to be so out of line with the other polls. If one team has a comfortable edge in 3/4 of the survey, but it only represents 66% of the survey results and the other team has a landslide advantage in another quarter of the country, but that represents 33% of the survey, there’s going to be a large gap. Further proving that although national daily tracking polls are interesting, it’s more important to look at the national average of polls and the battleground state trends. When one looks at the national averages, Obama appears to be ahead by about 1-2 points or it’s a statistical tie or Romeny’s leading by a point or two.

The second issue with Gallup is that it’s difference between Likely Voters and Registered Voters showed a huge gap. (For example, As of today the LV was 50-47 for Romney and RV is 48-47 For Obama).

Likely Voters vs. Registered Voters

Unlike Canada, where every citizen is given a voting card by the Government, in the Untied States, citizens need to register to vote with their state government. It’s why you always hear about Voter Registration Drives and Rock The Vote, etc., etc., Basically, because each state is in charge of their own electoral process, and of course there is a massive discrepancy between how each state deals with their specific demographic issues and procedures. In addition, the transient nature of ordinary Americans makes it even more difficult to track voters, unlike in Canada where we have a smaller and less transient population and our big bad socialist government just takes care of the election process for us.

The other thing that’s different in the US over Canada is that when a citizen registers to vote, more likely than not, they will declare which of the two parties they support. So imagine, filling in your Canadian voter registration card and mailing it back, but in doing so declaring whether you’re a Conservative, Liberal, NDP’er, or Green party supporter.

Yeah, it’s a little odd. But it also plays huge into other aspects of the polling system and the strategy of the parties. All of the parties and pollsters are given this information and it has become a fundamental element of the entire process.

This brings me to the next element of all these polls, the Likely Voters vs. Registered Voters. In all of these polls you’ll see RV and LV beside two sets of numbers. Pollsters use the list of Registered Voters to determine who they contact in these polls and then will use a predetermined method for figuring out of the list of Registered Voters, who is more likely to vote. The methods that different pollsters use for this is up for debate, but the concept of splitting respondents into two groups is to better determine, who is actually going to vote on Election day.

Of course, American’s demographics are constantly changing and it maybe more difficult to determine who is likely to vote based on older models. I don’t want to solely pick on Gallup, but it’s become the easiest example to demonstrate how they may have some strong flaws in their Likely Voters models. See Gallup uses 7 questions to determine if you are a Likely Voter or not. If you answer no to more than 3, you’re considered not likely to vote.

So for example, the first three Gallup questions are:

  1. Thought given to election (quite a lot, some)
  2. Know where people in neighborhood go to vote (yes)
  3. Voted in election precinct before (yes)

If you answer no, or not much to all of these you won’t be counted in the Likely Voter model. Now it’s up for debate, but this model would appear to underestimate the percentage of Democratic voters (Younger, College Students, More Transient, Minority, etc.)

So when looking at Likely Voter (LV) information and Registered Voters (RV), the actual turn out will be somewhere in between. With this election, many political experts expect the turn out to be about 2% points closer to the registered voter number, than what the pollsters are estimating the likely voter turn out.

Early Voting & Declaring Your Voter Intentions

Another major difference between the US system and Canadian system is the importance of early voting.

In Canada, early voting is a nicety and a luxury. If you’re away you submit a mail-in ballot or if you think that you won’t have time you’ll go to an early voting station and get it over and done with. Some campaigns have started to push this tactic on to their supporters, but in general most Canadians will vote on election day. But in the US, early voting is a key piece of each parties’ strategy. So much so that the President Obama’s re-election team has spent millions of dollars to encourage early voting and is resting the campaign’s chances on building an insurmountable edge in early voting for Battleground States. (Interesting read by the way)

But why is it so different?

A couple of things. Remember that whole idea of Voting Intentions declaration? Yes? Well, campaigns use that information to estimate their base for a given state. They then either focus their attention on attracting people who declared themselves as independents or they focus on ensuring that their base gets out to vote. They also use that information to encourage voters to go to the polls early or to help spread the word. In Canada we don’t have that sort of knowledge going into an election, well the Conservatives do, but that’s for a different blog post.

So in the Battleground states, early voting is a huge component of the current story. If you’re interested, you can actually watch rough estimates of the voting right now online. A few bloggers and reporters are already tabulating the results based on early voting numbers, mail-in ballots and of course voter declaration. For example, Jon Ralston in Nevada, is tabulating the results of early voting to estimate team Obama’s lead in Nevada. This trend has pretty much ensured that Nevada will be an Obama stranglehold when election day rolls around. While others bloggers/reporters are showing huge leads for the Democrats in Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina.

So early voting trends, while not a big deal in Canada are a huge game changer in the US and are a fascinating thing to watch – more so than the see-saw battle of the polls.

Gary Johnston, Ron Paul, Virgil Goode… Names to Remember?

Gary Johnson 2012

Many Canadians may not realize this, but there are actually more than two parties in the US. Yes, it’s considered a two party system, but there are a handful of other parties involved in the election. The difference being that these other parties just don’t have the wherewithal to compete on a national level like the Democrats and Republicans.

But with that being said, never underestimate the power of a third party disrupting the election. Again, going back to 2000, many people blame Ralph Nader on Gore’s loss, as the third party candidate took a small percentage of voters which could have pushed Gore over the top in states such as New Hampshire or Florida.

Now my gut tells me that we won’t see something like that in this election, but don’t discount it.

You may remember Ron Paul’s legion of fans during the Republican Primaries. He had a massive grassroots campaign that constantly placed him third throughout the Republican primary season – even with the carousel of Newt, Bachmann, Santorum and that guy from Texas. His supporters constitute the Libertarian side of the Republican party and in general feel cheated, by how they were treated during the Republican Convention. There is a chance that many of these same supporters, which are at least 10-13% of the Republican party core base (based on Ron Paul’s voter base), may shift allegiances to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party in protest. Again, I’m not sure of the shift being that strong, but when votes are down to percentage points for certain states, a 1% shift to a third party candidate can be huge… which brings me to my next point.

Good ol’ Virgil Goode.

Virgil Goode For President

Virgil Goode, is a third party conservative from Virginia. He’s a Congressman from rural Virginia, but is now running for president under the banner of the Constitution party. While he may not be a big name anywhere across the country, he is a pretty popular politician in the mountainous regions of south-west Virginia. And Virginia as we know from before is a highly contested Battleground state. There is a chance that votes towards Virgil may come at the expense of Romney when it’s all said and done in Virginia.

So What’s Next

As I mentioned, for almost a year now I’ve had a feeling that this would be a tight, tight race. The United States is just a polarized as Canada is and this is a hotly contested race.

The irony of looking at the race is that there are so many variables involved, but in the end I have a feeling that things will continue the way the have for months now. Yes, there are other factors that I haven’t even touched upon such as the Gender Gap (Women favour Obama over Romney, while Men favour Romney over Obama) or the underestimated Latino population or even the Voter Fraud/Voter Suppression tactics, but all that leans towards a close race. In general, the polls will fluctuate on a daily basis and everyone will overreact, but take them with a grain of salt and remember it’s better to look at the trendlines.

So as a Canadian enjoy the next 13 or so days and we’ll see what happens next. If you’re really curious as to the state of the race, I’d strongly suggest spending sometime at FiveThirtyEight.com and learning about the different elements of the race – it really is fascinating. Now, if you really want a prediction, go back to FiveThirtyEight.com take a ruler and draw a figurative straight-line on of the charts on the right – draw from one end of the screen to the other and you’ll probably get a gist of where the race is heading.

Chances of Obama Winning

Enjoy.

Categories: , , The D.C. vibe

#occupyendgame Tuesday November 15, 2011

Update: Well it looks like Zuccotti Park isn’t officially shut down, that being said I think these takes are still applicable for the next couple of weeks.

It was inevitable, but as many now know NYPD was shut down Occupy Wall Street late last night. This of course shouldn’t surprise anyone. Even as a casual observer, it was pretty clear that the physical occupations would eventually end, either voluntarily or by physical removal.

So with the slow end of the physical manifestations of the movement, one of the overwhelming questions of the Occupy Wall Street movement comes back to the forefront of the discussion.

What Is The End Game of Occupy Wall Street?

With the symbolic epi-center now closed, the simplest talking point is that without the camps, the movement is dead.

I’m sure that will be the overwhelming stance taken by the whole movement’s critics, but anyone who has even remotely followed the events over the past two months will be able to see the holes in that argument. I’ve had the privilege of observing the movement as Canadian living in the US and I can safely say that the Occupy Wall Street movement has laid the ground work for some interesting change in the next few months.

What Changed?

By taking the smallest step back and looking at the events in a holistic view, it’s clear that conversations in America have changed. In early September, the average American wasn’t dissecting The 99% vs 1% , nobody was discussing The 53% vs 47% and they certainly weren’t making closing accounts at major banks. The average citizen wasn’t discussing Income Inequality, crippling student loan debt, the hardships fallen on the unemployed veterans and pushing for the rich and elite to pay their fair share. There were no calls for a General Strike in Oakland and there certainitly wasn’t any disruptions to the daily routine of Washington Politicians. So it goes without saying that the Occupy Movement has at least changed the political debate.

While messages are only a small element of the entire storyline, also don’t discount some of the most recent policy initiatives from The White House. Reforms pushed through to help relieve student loan debt and a push to encourage businesses to hire more veterans, were likely influenced by the hundreds of students and marines standing with the Occupy encampments. It wasn’t by chance that these announcements were made at the same time as the occupy movement gained stregthen – everyone knows that coincidences in politics are very rare.

So while no dictators were toppled as in the Arab Spring of 2011 and the fringe anti-capitalists didn’t get their dream anarchist society; the Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a nerve with the average American citizen.

So What is Next?

In my gut, I’ve always thought that most of the camps would close down in the next two-three weeks. Anyone who has slept in a tent for more than two days, will tell you how unfaltering of an experience it is. And as the holiday season approaches, the audience for political discourse will inevitably shift focus towards Christmas shopping and Turkey dinners. That of course is just human nature.

And while that was only my gut feeling, it appears I wasn’t alone in this thought. In an interview yesterday, Adbusters founder, Kalle Lasn called for the tents to close down. (BTW, Adbusters is the Canadian magazine that initiated the whole concept).

… hours before the Occupy Wall Street camp was raided by the police, the editors of Adbusters, the Canadian, anti-consumerist magazine that dreamed up the movement, suggested that it might be time for the protesters to “declare ‘victory’ ” and scale back the camps before winter sets in.

So with the camps closing, what is really next?

In my opinion, it’s far too early to discount what Occupy will do to the political rhetoric in the US. In a similar manner to how the Tea Party movement didn’t just end after people left the National Mall after Beck-a-pooloza in 2010, the real effect of Occupy Wall Street will be seen in the next set of American elections. If the conversation surrounding the 2012 presidential elections revolves around income inequality, the fair share of the rich and the lack of social mobility in the US, then the occupy movement will have become a success.

But in the meantime, my feeling is that you’ll see many academics, bloggers and pundits picking up the mantel from where the occupy camps left off. Eventually you’ll see politicians incorporating some of the concepts into their platforms. I’ve alluded to some of the changes in the current administrations policies, and I have a feeling those types of changes will trickle down. In an interesting opinion piece for the New York Times, Jeffrey D. Sachs discusses the possible next steps for the average citizen and I think there is some validity in sentiments of a potential third Progress Movement (albeit some of them are quite Utopian).

The young people in Zuccotti Park and more than 1,000 cities have started America on a path to renewal. The movement, still in its first days, will have to expand in several strategic ways. Activists are needed among shareholders, consumers and students to hold corporations and politicians to account. Shareholders, for example, should pressure companies to get out of politics. Consumers should take their money and purchasing power away from companies that confuse business and political power. The whole range of other actions — shareholder and consumer activism, policy formulation, and running of candidates — will not happen in the park.

So is the closing of the symbolic Zuccotti Park camp the end game? I don’t think so. It actually seams more like the inevitable next step in it’s evolution. Sure the physical manifestations of this spontaneous movement may have ended, but there are too many potential outcomes, and really only time will tell… and for me, that really is the most intriguing part of this whole exercise.

With that I’ll leave you with an interesting comment from the Occupy Wall Street PR team as they were being evicted from Zuccotti Park. Yes, it’s a bit fluffy and philosophical, but it is an interesting last volley.

Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces – our spaces – and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people – all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe this idea resonates with so many of us because Congress, beholden to Wall Street, has ignored the powerful stories pouring out from the homes and hearts of our neighbors, stories of unrelenting economic suffering. Our dream for a democracy in which we matter is why so many people have come to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.

Categories: , ,

#occupyCalgary Thursday October 20, 2011

I’ll start this post by stating a bit of a disclaimer. The freedom of assembly and to protest is a fantastic right. One that we should always value. I also want to give kudos to anyone who stands up for what they believe in. Political apathy is easily one of the worst elements about society and as long as a protest doesn’t revolve around hatred or violence, I’m all for people exercising their right to assemble.

But with that being said, it is time for the OccupyCalgary group to just stop.

I don’t know how to say it, so I’ll just be blunt – this is just embarrassing. Frankly, OccupyCalgary is probably doing more harm than good and only diluting the actual issues which are coming from the US Occupy movement. Let’s be frank and honest with ourselves, Canadians (and particularly Calgarians) aren’t dealing with the economic uncertainty of our southern counterparts. The average Calgarian isn’t really ready to get involved in the OccupyWallstreet or OccupyKStreet movement, because the frames of reference are just too different. Comparing the Canadian and American situations is really like comparing Apples to Oranges.

I ask this as someone at the tail-end of the generation of Canadians within their 20s-30s, but can anyone tied to the Calgary version really state that there are any real barriers to success in Canada, let alone Calgary? What are the economic barriers that are crippling an entire generation of youth? Is it our relatively affordable post-secondary education costs? Is it Universal Health Care? Is it strong foundation of workers rights (i.e. no incestuous intern culture)? Or is it a relatively stable economy?

See, trying to impose what’s going on in the States on to the Canadian system is a bit disingenuous. As I’ve said in my previous post, the underlying message of Occupy is that the American system of opportunity is slowly deteriorating. This isn’t an anti-capitalism revolt or an anarchist movement, it’s let’s pull back what’s going and get back to a fair system with opportunity and a voice for all.

I’ll say it again, but as a Canadian (and more importantly as a Calgarian) I never once felt at a disadvantage or that there was never an opportunity to advance myself. And I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that. I went to a great local University that I was able to pay for with a reasonable amount of Student Loan Debt and help from the government. I got a great job in the Oil & Gas Industry, which gave me the wherewithal to start my own business. I was never crippled with Health Insurance debt. My student loans were always incredibly manageable. There was always an opportunity to purchase some sort of property. Canada is a fantastic country live in right now. Sure it does have some minor faults and there are definitely things that need to be addressed, but overall it’s an exceptional place to be young and hungry for opportunity. Overall, the opinion you’ll find from the average citizen is that the playing field is relatively level. Which in itself is nothing to be ashamed of.

The US on the other-hand. Not nearly as fun. (well for this generation at least)

The movement in the US is spreading, not because it’s a bunch of free loaders playing bongo drums in a park, like elements of the media want to portray, but because the message of a level playing field is starting to resonate with the real stakeholders – this generation of Americans. They are the ones being handcuffed by student loan debt, zero job prospects and increasing health insurance premiums. It’s a situation that doesn’t resonate with the average Canadian, especially not Calgarians. Not because Canadians don’t care, but because there isn’t a similar reference point to really get a core feeling for what is happening in the US.

One of the biggest criticisms of the movement is that the message isn’t really as clear as it should be. From what I’ve seen recently, the message is slowly becoming clear to the general public in the US. People are rallying and starting to support the ideas. But for ever ten steps forward, one stupid move (see Jon Stewart’s October 17th show as an example) pushes them back in the eyes of the public. So when you see a tiny fringe faction, in a city where the circumstances are completely different, appear to be acting in an amateur way at best, it inevitably detracts from the overall concept.

In essence my point is; OccupyCalgary please stop. Stop requesting Condoms. Stop with the disorganized spectacle that makes it easy cannon fodder to opponents. Stop degrading a movement which isn’t applicable to the vast majority of your local audience. Stop taking away from a cause that’s actually important to a lot of people.

I’ve probably ruffled some feathers with people in Calgary and I accept that. I do understand that I sound very cranky with this post. But I wrote this because I’m incredibly empathetic to the concerns of our friends here in the Washington DC area. So for them, I want to see success for this cause and issues addressed.

If you want to stand with solidarity with people in the US – kudos and good on you. If you are hell bent on making a statement, wouldn’t it be better to donate some money to buy an evenings worth of food or help out with supplies at one of the local US movements. I understand everyone’s love of awareness, but your time would be better spent engaging your own colleges and friends in a discussion of the key issues. But please stop occupyCalgary and stop diluting a message that is actually important for a generation of Americans.

Categories: , , The Political World, The Social Media, The World

#occupyDC Saturday October 15, 2011

Never one to miss a chance to see a good DC protest, my wife and I took the opportunity to check out one of the #occupyDC camps on Monday night. We spent a good two hours with a close friend walking around, listening, observing and getting a first hand feel for the occupy movement in America’s Capital.

I’m just going to assume that everyone has basic understanding of what’s going on and has a general idea how the the occupy wall street movement in New York has spread across the US. I’m sure everyone has already formulated some opinions on what’s going on. But I just wanted to post with some first hand insights and my own two cents.

For those unfamiliar with the movement in DC; there are actually two separate occupy factions in the city. The one we walked around is centered in MacPherson Square on K Street, which is of course right in the heart of the lobbyist row. This group is a far more subdued version of the more active and confrontational group situation in Freedom Plaza. The Freedom Plaza occupy movement has been the one corralling the headlines with daily protests and alignment with other movements. If you’ve heard of arrests in DC at various protests, it’s coming from the Freedom Plaza group rather than the MacPherson group.

As mentioned, our little group spent the evening watching the MacPherson Square General Assembly. We also spent time walking around and listening to the protestors.

Contrary to what the media spin is, it was pretty clear that the occupyKst group was made up of a pretty diverse mixture of people. Of course, there was a handful of anarchists and what I would call professional protestors. You also had a few homeless people hanging around for a bit of free food. But on the most part, of the 200 or so people there that evening, most were made up of disenfranchised youth. And when I use the term youth, I mean educated and working professionals between the 24-33 year old range. Yes, this isn’t just a bunch of squeegee kids. The people hard at work, trying to build some sort of open organizational structure and to help craft a specific message were from a big swatch of very professional minded people. They were all working within the organize and group structure to establish a direction. (By the way, massive kudos to the amazing IT brigade of 5 dedicate nerds live streaming the entire process).

One of the biggest criticisms of the whole occupy movement is that there is no clear message and doesn’t seam to be an end goal. And from watching the Occupy K street General assembly trying to forge a structure and hierarchy, there are some issues. It’s clear that there are some leadership holes in the structure, but for the most part they were really trying to establish a collective direction. Which in the context of the who event is a pretty difficult task given the diversity of the stakeholders.

And while I’ll agree with many pundits, that the most glaring criticism of the protests is that they don’t necessarily have a concrete objective or even an end goal; it is easy to see why people are heading there and becoming involved.

Coming from Calgary and being a professional within the 25-30 year old range, I never felt like I was behind the eightball in career options. I also personally don’t have patience for people who believe that just by getting an education, whether it’s high school or university, they are instantly entitled to a 50k salary, the big house, five cars and the ability to live large.

But at the same time, I honestly never felt like I was ever going to be pinned behind crushing health insurance debt, student loans or a lack of job opportunities – in Calgary at least these issues were never something that crossed my mind. The tables never felt slanted against my ability for upward movement in society. As long as I worked hard and made connections, things will eventually work out.

But in DC, when I chat with my wife’s cohorts, there is an underlying sense that this generation of Americans are not getting that same sort of opportunity. The playing field isn’t even remotely level. Either crippled by the insane costs of health insurance, crushing student debt (3-4 times what the average Canadian takes on), stuck in the cycle of the unpaid intern culture, running two jobs (a professional job during the day and service job at night), or not being able to purchase property. There seams to be a disconnect with the potential for success that was available to previous generations. The question becomes, is the playing field really level anymore or is it stuck in an upward slant. In America, at the current moment, I’m inclined to say that things aren’t remotely level – and that in my opinion is the essence of these movements.

From the time I spent watching and observing the #occupyDC group last week, it’s pretty clear that their biggest challenge is changing the public opinion of their movement. To switch it from what seams like a disorganized bunch of radical left-wing hippies to a focused generational movement against what seams like a hopeless and daunting system. But until these groups are able to specifically channel that idea, they’re going to continue to face an uphill PR battle.

Categories: , , The Humourous, The Past, The Political World, The Southern Neighbours

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