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Leftie Overs

by Stephen Lautens

June 11, 1999

On Monday 60 members and supporters of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women met with federal MPs to get more funding.

Funding rules were changed for the NAC last year, and they were there to try to get it back. It was not a friendly meeting.

They booed. They hissed. And then they sang.

Why, oh why, do social activists and people involved in left-wing politics feel they have to sing?

My best friend Rob is an unrepentant leftie. Every week he seems to come from some NDP fundraising event or other that involves some guy with a guitar and a selection of Guatemalan protest songs.

Rob and I made up songs and sang together in our college revue. We thought it was clever. But that was 20 years ago and the audience was mostly drunk. They paid two bucks and weren't expecting Cats, or even something musical.

For political song parodies to work they have to be (a) funny, and (b) sung well. There hasn't been a funny socialist since Karl left the rest of the Marx brothers. The Struggle is much too important for levity.

That's why the NDP can, in all seriousness, put on a one man play where the central character is the Multilateral Investment Agreement.

I am not making this up. Have a look at the community events section of the NDP website.

Maybe it's because the Left can't say "no" to anyone. They are all brothers and sisters in the struggle, after all.

So when these things are suggested no one says: "That's a dumb idea. No one wants to see a three hour version of the Sound of Music where the German invaders are played by four foot papier-mâché puppets of Ralph Klein and Mike Harris".

The Canadian Left has cornered the market on seriousness, and nowhere is it more evident than when they're being funny.

There's an old saying in politics that I just made up: "Tories go to political conventions to drink. Liberals go to political conventions to get lucky. And NDPers go to political conventions to get pamphlets."

Recently the NDP has been taking a beating. They're down to 9 seats in Ontario and lost party status. In New Brunswick's provincial election on Monday the NDP was reduced to a single seat. They only sent 20 MPs to Ottawa, and a handful to the Alberta legislature.

Of course, they consider each one of these set-backs at the polls to be a moral victory, which is the next best thing to an actual victory.

Political scientists are divided about why the NDP's fortunes seem to be on the decline. Some say it's the disillusionment of the aging flower children of the 60s. Others point to the gradual shift in politics to the centre ­right of the spectrum.

Personally, I think it's the singing.

Think of how much better the NDP could do if they spent more time organizing and less time singing. Or trying to think up lyrics that rhyme with "oppression". Or the fingering to that tricky cord progression at the end of "We Shall Overcome".

Well, they say music is a gift from God. Unless of course Svend Robinson has his way.


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