How will we know when we've won?
I read Mark Steyn's thoughtful discussion of some of the recent events he's been to, especially his book-signing at the Chapters-Indigo flagship store, hosted by Heather Reisman, and his appearance on CBC's The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. Reisman can be fairly described as liberal (she was, in fact, once the VP of the federal Liberal Party) and Stroumboulopoulos is further left, especially on Steyn's issues of the war on terror and the role of the United States. Here are some of Steyn's key points:
Let's take Strombo first... I doubt anyone in the studio audience had a clue who I was before I walked out but they were a friendly crowd and, more to the point, they're part of that big uncommitted general population you need to reach if you're going to make a craven political class think the restoration of free speech is an issue worth picking up on. ...He certainly didn't have to have me as his guest, and I was very glad he did.
As for Heather Reisman, she's the president of Canada's biggest bookstore chain. There are gazillions of books released every week, and she selects a mere handful of the authors to be that month's selected interviewees...
Yes, back when the hardback of America Alone came out, her buyer bungled the initial order. But, as soon as Heather herself found out, she called me personally from overseas and then called my publisher. By then, of course, I was having too much fun mocking her in Maclean's, The National Post, SteynOnline and sundry other places, to the point where my own publisher told me I ought to ease up on her. She never took it personally, and the clearest evidence of that was her willingness to host Wednesday's event.
...as to the tone of the questions, get used to it. This is where mainstream influential Canadians are. Heather's beliefs are no different from those of most other corporate players. ...I didn't take Heather's questions as idiotic: I thought they were an understandable attempt by a mainstream figure to square my argument with liberal values. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Bottom line: She did me a good turn in hosting me. So did Strombo. To have someone making the case against the "human rights" enforcers and for freedom of speech in these venues helps "normalize" (Ezra Levant again) what to many Canadians are dissident ideas. On these issues, there are enough real enemies out there, not to mention innumerable hyperpartisan halfwits. Don't unnecessarily conscript others to the list.
Steyn's post is a good opportunity to ask: what will victory look like? How will we know when we've won?
There is a very concrete measurement that we can look to: the abolition of the section 13 thought crimes provision of the Canadan Human Rights Act, and its provincial analogs, such as the one I've been charged under in Alberta. Optimists might say that the true measure of success would be the abolition of human rights commissions altogether, to remove these rogue, kangaroo courts not just from political censorship, but all of their other mucking about, from McDonald's to the Mounties.
But you can't get from zero to a hundred miles an hour immediately. As I've said before (and as Steyn was kind enough to reference), to achieve an environment that is propitious for legislative reforms, one must first build a public demand for change. And that starts with introducing the mass of Canadian voters to human rights commissions, and introducing them in a manner that demonstrates the abnormalcy of these commissions -- how they fly in the face of our instinctive Canadian notions of justice, fair play, freedoms, pluralism, etc.
It's one thing to build "momentum" in the conservative blogosphere -- and I'm not for a moment minimizing that. It was the conservative blogosphere that did the spadework on this issue, and that kept the story alive for months until the mainstream media (and a few farsighted politicians) picked it up. And -- as Kathy, Kate, Connie & Mark and I can tell you, it's been the blogosphere that has paid our mounting legal bills as we fend off these human rights SLAPP suits.
But the conservative blogosphere, and even the blogosphere as a whole, is not yet politically large enough to move politicians to act. We are the people with our volume knobs turned up to ten on political matters, especially those relating to freedom of speech. Most "severely normal" people don't follow politics as closely as we do. Steyn is a hero to all of us, but even he is not known to the average Canadian. As I've noted before, more Canadians get their politics from Rick Mercer than from any newspaper in Canada.
Which goes to Steyn's main point. We can have quarrels with the Reismans and Stroumboulopouloses of the world (I still remember, with great frustration, how Chapter-Indigo pulled the Western Standard's cartoon issue off of their shelves -- and during Freedom to Read Week, no less.) But a 10% enemy is still a 90% friend. If that's being too generous, then: a 49% enemy is still a 51% friend, when it comes to building a coalition for reform. If we're ever going to persuade politicians that this is a worthwhile issue for them to spend their political capital on, we need to reach out to the folks who watch The Hour, not just the folks who watch Glenn Beck.
This is what coalition building is about. It's different than the business of writing opinion editorials. Op-Ed writers can afford to be purists, because they're not trying to win any votes. And we need purists, to keep pushing the boundaries, to move the goalposts. Free speech purists -- and I'm pretty close to one myself -- have an important role to play. Ideas matter.
But translating ideas into political action is a different art. Conservatives may disagree with Stroumboulopoulos on almost everything he says or does -- I sure do. And I'm not quite sure that he's fully on side with the freedom of speech/human rights commission issues here (though, like most Canadians, I don't think he's even delved too deeply into them). But so what: he put Steyn, the turbo-conservative, in front of a huge audience of normal people, and let him have his say. As Steyn noted, Strouboulopoulos helped "normalize" what has been an outlying opinion for a long time.
Philosophical purists will always be disappointed with politicians. But we've already won the philosophical argument. Now let's do our best to build public demand for change -- as much change as we can muster.
That process started in the conservative blogosphere, God bless it. And it moved into mainstream political punditry. Now Steyn is starting to move it where it has never gone before -- into liberal and left-wing forums. That's amazing; it's a milestone of success in itself; and it's part of the journey on the road to legislative changes.
We need to make a coalition if we're going to win, especially in a country that tilts to the left, as Canada does. We need not agree with our new allies on every issue. But we'd be politically foolish to turn down the friendly access of Reisman and Stroumboulopoulos -- or the outright support of traditional liberals like PEN Canada or even EGALE.