An interview with Aminah Sheikh and Peter Driftmier
What is it about the Niki Ashton campaign – from policies and organizing style to the candidate herself – that you believe merits the support of left-wing activists?
To us, Niki Ashton is the only real left-wing candidate in the race. She is for free tuition, universal healthcare, taxing the rich, and taking back ownership of essential services. She is popular among non-party members, and is drawing in new and young membership to the party.
Many party members including myself have become more and more disenfranchised with the party. We’ve seen the party move to the centre, squeezing the space for those of us with traditionally left views.
Niki Ashton is attractive to us on the left because she doesn’t compromise her principled stances, win-or-lose, she will stick to the values we believe in, a quality rare in politics, where candidates are too eager to chase polls.
She poses a danger to the party establishment as she refuses to pander to the old centrist base that still occupies high places within the party.
Niki Ashton has always been an activist. She has an incredible propensity for work in the labour movement, Indigenous community, and various grassroots movements.
We believe her apology to BLM was the right thing to do as it shows she is human and sincere. People make mistakes and she was humble enough to acknowledge her mistake.
Her platform is built off the demands of social movements, rather than the traditional NDP practice of placating those movements. This has historically led to the NDP using social movement energy, and then weakening them by undermining their political demands. Shifting the electoral Left in Canada to be an electoral wing of the movements can happen through Niki as leader.
What do you say to those critics who argue that the NDP cannot be transformed and will always be a party that accepts capitalism with small tinkering at the margins?
We think change in the party is possible. It is happening in front of our eyes, just look at the grassroots support emerging for Niki, which is fighting the party establishment and trying to transform it. I believe we need to be disruptive and continue to make our voices heard.
Look at the recent grassroots uprising in Ontario. We were a small group of activists from various civil society organisations like: Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Palestine Aid Society, Kurdish Federation of Canada, anti-poverty activists, rent control activists, food security activists, and various unions. We see Niki as a fighter. We set up camp and organized. We threw events with no money. We engaged with Niki and started an unofficial fan page. We saw memes emerge in support of Niki. The Palestinian community raised about $22,000 for her in London, Ontario. We have been successful in organizing a grassroots movement here in Ontario without money or a campaign office. That in itself says a lot, all of our organizing was unofficial, and outside of the traditional party establishment. I think it shocked Jagmeet Singh’s team, who had raised a lot of money from his social networks.
We believe Niki’s campaign can be viewed as part of a larger global desire for a different kind of leadership, a leadership that bolsters the middle class, while looking after the worst-off among us. One has seen the incredible success of traditionally left candidates in the US in Bernie Sanders and in Britain in Jeremy Corbyn. There is a demand for left-leaning socialists who use state money to improve our systems of education, healthcare, and infrastructure. We believe Niki is responding to this demand.
What do you say to other critics who suggest that, whatever the merits of the Ashton campaign, leftist energies are better spent building union and social movement struggles?
We don’t believe Niki’s campaign and the building of unions and social movements are mutually exclusive. The campaign is attracting unions and those committed to progressive social moments because these activists see Niki as better positioned to look after their interests.
As community and labour organizers, we rarely get a chance to build electoral power in direct support of our organizing work. When a candidate puts themselves out there to fight for real socialism, it would be irresponsible of the Left to abandon the responsibility to build socialism wherever is most strategic. This is a rare moment. The current times call for populism and radicalism, but this is being answered by the electoral Right. The Left needs to seize this moment of popular hunger for an alternative to the status quo. Further, building support for Niki will reap rewards in our future organizing work, just as the new crop of activists generated through the Bernie campaign are now activated to participate in struggle through diverse channels.
Are you optimistic about the campaign and its capacity to transform the NDP into something more radical?
We are optimistic about Niki Ashton. We haven’t seen a candidate that pushes back at the party establishment like Niki does. A party establishment that, we believe, has become too beholden to neoliberal economic policies. A party establishment that has become too comfortable with growing inequality. The party needs a total transformation. We believe Niki is the candidate to bring about that transformation.
Aminah Sheikh is a Toronto-based community and labour organizer. Peter Driftmier is community organizer based in Calgary. He is active in Alberta’s Renters Action Movement.
Photo Credit: guelptoday.com