In this morning's Times Colonist, Public Eye reported
on the infighting between the provincial Young New Democrats and senior party officials. In a letter, dated July 22, the Young New Democrat executive demanded those officials handover the money needed to print and promote the youngsters' semi-communist Youth Right Charter. The letter was drafted by executive co-chair Miriam Martin, who is said by party insiders to be allied with the New Democrat Peruvian revolutionary brigade led by once and future Vancouver-Kingsway candidate/comandate Alicia Barsallo (at this point, the humourless should take a deep breathe and look up the definition of sarcasm). The following is a copy of that letter.
July 22, 2004
Attention: YND members, Constituency Presidents, and Provincial Council Delegates.
RE: The BC Young New Democrats' Youth Rights Charter and Campaign
Dear brothers and sisters,
It has been fourteen months since the BC Young New Democrats brought a motion to Provincial Council, requesting that the party endorse the Youth Rights Charter and Campaign. Our Charter and accompanying campaign plan were met with great enthusiasm at the May 2003 Provincial Council meeting. As outlined in our original letter to Council, "the short term aim of the campaign is to politicize youth in the province and to make the BC YND a pole of attraction for young people who are feeling the brunt of the BC Liberal government's attacks." The long term goal of the current Executive has been from the start to build the BC YND into a mass organization with an active membership. We are not satisfied with running an organization whose sole purpose is to serve as a launching pad for youth interested in political careers in the party. With all due respect to those, (ourselves included), who have chosen politics as a career path, the YND's potential is much greater.
During the recent Federal Election, we watched with great frustration while the mainstream media frantically sought an answer to the question "why aren't youth active in politics?" The question is misleading. Youth are active in politics. They are active on the streets and in their schools and workplaces, organizing and participating in demonstrations and fighting tooth and nail for real improvements in their lives and the lives of their fellow human beings. They are making demands for an end to war, quality jobs, and free education; for social housing, freedom from harassment, and environmental sustainability - they are fighting for all of the demands in our charter. And it is the job of the leadership of the party and the YND to connect the day-to-day struggles and concrete demands of youth with the only party that has any interest in delivering on them - the New Democratic Party. Youth seek real change, and today's youth are especially aware of the bleak futures that we face. We need jobs; our post-secondary educations have amounted to nothing but debt; buying homes and "investing in Canada" are the last things on our minds. Our parents' jobs and social programs are being cut; what have we to look forward to? The youth will vote as soon as we give them something to vote for. And the youth will come out en masse to participate in a party that is actively fighting for real change and shamelessly advocating concrete solutions to concrete problems.
This is where the BC YND comes in. The Constitution of the BC NDP states that
There shall be a Young People's Section of the Party, as provided for in the Federal Constitution. It shall operate under its own Constitution, as provided for by the Federal Constitution (Section 4.01).
The Federal Constitution elaborates:
Each provincial Section [of the New Democratic Youth of Canada] shall be fully autonomous as to its constitution and program, provided that the constitution and program are not in conflict with those of the Federal Party or with those of the provincial Party (Section 11.3).
We would never have imagined that our constitutionally protected autonomy would be undermined by a small number of individuals in the party leadership. The Youth Rights Campaign is a campaign that will be endorsed by many groups, and of course, we wanted the BC NDP to be the first. It is in this spirit that we brought our simple motion to Provincial Council (with the Charter and a letter explaining the campaign attached). An amendment was moved to make endorsement "pending the approval of the Policy Review Committee." The Council was assured that this was only a technicality to ensure that the Charter was in line with existing Party policy. The amendment was passed without opposition. Although we were (and still are) certain that nothing in our Charter conflicts with the program of the party, we were completely willing to halt proceeding with the campaign while the PRC had a look at it. We requested only that the PRC deal with it in a timely fashion, and they assured us that it would be launched in time for back-to-school 2003, so many moons ago.
We quickly realized, after a few telephone conversations with party brass (including Maura Parte and Cheryl Hewitt), that we were waiting not for endorsement, but for approval—something that both party constitutions make clear we do not need before proceeding with a campaign. We also learned that "the PRC" is actually a number of Policy Review Committees (the YND ironically being the Policy Review Committee for youth!), many of which did not at the time have chairs and did not meet. Finally the YND co-chairs got to sit down in an impromptu meeting with three individual representatives of the PRC, although the vast majority (if not all) of the Policy Review Committees had not met to discuss the Youth Rights Charter. The three representatives explained that there wasn't a problem specifically with any of the demands, although they were slightly uncomfortable with the word "free." Stepping outside the bounds of ensuring against conflicts with party policy, they embarked on a complicated explanation of the need to reframe the Charter in a different box - a context other than a "Charter of Rights" or list of demands. They were concerned that the Charter might be mistaken for party platform (god forbid) and that we didn't want to make any promises because last time we made promises, we didn't keep them. We believe we are not alone in thinking that it makes more sense to commit to keeping our promises, than it does to draw the defeatist conclusion that promises cannot be made. It is our job as a democratic socialist workers' party to aim to improve the lives of working people, and we can only expect to win their votes and support if we make it clear that we plan to do so and then follow through. This is especially true, as explained above, of youth.
Nevertheless, at the YND executive meeting immediately following this discussion with PRC representatives, we struck a committee to discuss the re-writing of the Youth Rights Charter to make it, as requested, "a statement of belief rather than a charter of rights." We came up with several mediocre suggestions that did not satisfy the committee or the YND executive. The party and the YND have many "statement of belief" pamphlets. We get them in the mail, glance at them, and throw them away. The vast majority in fact, collect dust on the shelves of Provincial office. We do not need another statement of belief pamphlet; we need a campaign - an active campaign for youth to join. It is a statement not just of "our beliefs," but of our goals for which we in the NDP are fighting. We would like for the Youth Rights Charter, as the brainchild of the BC YND, to take on its own campaign. We will ask organizations and individuals to endorse the campaign and to take on the organizing of public meetings, regional clubs, and lobbying. Youth will be encouraged to meet with local, provincial and federal government representatives to discuss the implementing of the Youth Rights Charter. We would like to host a launch party in the near future and eventually a province wide YRC conference.
We feel that the party's lack of success in attracting youth is due to a completely false assumption that all we have to do is say "We're the NDP, this is where we stand, join us," and people will join us. In fact, there are some in the party who believe we don’t even need to say "this is where we stand," that we can be vague about our beliefs. The current executive of the BC YND believes that we cannot be vague about where we stand, and we cannot assume that anyone will join us unless we give them a campaign worth joining, a program worth fighting for, a goal worth striving for. In the words of Tommy Douglas:
In a movement like ours, as socialist movements around the world have demonstrated, we're not just interested in getting votes. We are seeking to get people who are willing to dedicate their lives to build a different kind of society, a society founded on the principles of concern for human well-being and human welfare.
If we want youth to vote NDP and if we want youth in the party, we have to start listening to youth. There is no secret "youth lingo" that needs to be adopted - no fancy young colours or logos that will appeal to youth. We are not "uneducated on the issues." Just like anybody, we put our time and energies into the efforts and organizations that we see making a difference in our lives. We challenge any member to find a right in our charter that conflicts with policy the convention or council has at some time passed. If we did not believe that these are rights the NDP holds dear, we would not be members.
We have spent fourteen months "in consultation." Recently, individuals in the leadership of the party have complained that we have not properly consulted. We beg to differ. We have had extensive discussions with Maura Parte, Gerry Scott, Cheryl Hewitt, Kelly Quinn, Sandi MacLean, and Jeff Fox. Twice, we brought the YRC to our own membership to discuss the content as well as to seek direction. Our report to BC NDP Convention in November 2003 clearly explained our situation and our concerns with the requested changes. This report was accepted by the Convention. In June, we brought the Youth Rights Charter to our General Membership meeting in Cumberland. A motion was passed directing us to proceed with the Youth Rights Campaign, as the school year is again fast approaching and we have delayed long enough. The time for consultation is over; we cannot wait any longer. In the past year, we have tripled the membership of the BC Young New Democrats. It is time to give these members something to do and watch our section grow into a mass organization that will play a major role in defeating Gordon Campbell.
This is why we are bringing the Youth Rights Campaign back to Provincial Council, and we ask that you reaffirm the BC NDP's commitment to the constitutionally-protected autonomy of the BC YND, and direct the BC NDP Executive to release the funds from our budget to go ahead with this campaign.
Many of us are not willing to sit on the executive of an organization that is autonomous only in word, but in reality kept on a short leash. And we don't think New Democrats should be satisfied with a token youth wing that is not empowered to do the work that needs to be done in order to attract youth to the party.
We fully expect that individual members of the party Executive will stand up at the September Provincial Council meeting to say "this motion is out of order," "the facts are incorrect." We have had fourteen months to gather the facts, consult the constitution, and research the legality surrounding constitutions in general. We assure you the explanation and facts that we give are correct. Whether the motion is in order is up to you - the Provincial Council. We believe it is in order and urge you to vote in favour.
The BC Young New Democrats
The motion that we will bring to Provincial Council in September:
Whereas the BC Young New Democrats (BC YND) is an autonomous section of the party, as outlined in article IX of the BC NDP Constitution and Article XI of the Federal NDP Constitution; and,
Whereas the BC YND are free to run any campaign provided that it does not conflict with the constitution and program of the provincial or Federal Party; and,
Whereas the BC YND is free to spend their budget as the BC YND's elected executive sees fit, in order to carry out the BC YND's campaigns; and,
Whereas the BC YND's autonomy has been undermined by Jeff Fox's refusal to issue payment for the printing of the Youth Rights Charter, which does not conflict with the constitution, program, or policy of the provincial or federal NDP; and,
Whereas the BC YND has been in consultation with representatives of the provincial Executive and the Policy Review Committee for 14 months, and it is time to get on with the Youth Rights Campaign;
Therefore be it resolved that the BC NDP reaffirm its commitment to the autonomy of the BC Young New Democrats in action as well as in word, by directing the BC NDP Executive to issue funds for the carrying out of the constitutionally legal Youth Rights Campaign of the BC YND.