Two weeks ago we posted quotes from Democracy Talks participants at the University of Saskatoon about their dislike of political parties. A number of people responded to that post, telling us they had very positive experiences with political parties they wanted to share. So, we asked members of all the major parties to tell us why being a party member matters to them. We'll be posting their responses over the next month.
Today's post comes from Steven Lee, a Samara volunteer and executive member of the NDP's Brampton West Riding Association.
I joined the New Democratic Party in the spring of 2011. The timing was significant; the incredible gains by the federal NDP were deeply inspiring and a provincial election was only a few months away. I felt a deep desire to do more, not merely observe and criticize events, but to influence them. I had voted for different political parties, but I decided that the NDP was the party for me.
Given our system of local representation I think the most important work I do as a member of the NDP is with the riding association. Riding associations, or electoral district associations, are organizations that form the basis for political parties. The most important job of a riding association is to search for and nominate candidates on behalf of the party. They represent that party to the community, and the community to the party. Ideally the local members select candidates that represent both the party and the community’s issues. Riding associations preserve institutional memory for activists. Candidates and MPs come and go, but the organization (hopefully) endures.
Political parties play a critical role in our democracy, but they depend on the dedication and support of countless volunteers. It is easy to criticize, but change comes from within.
Since I joined the NDP I have become involved in my local riding association, Brampton West, and currently sit on its executive overseeing its social media platforms. It is a tremendous responsibility as those platforms might be the first way a potential supporter discovers us. Perhaps more importantly, I’m now connected to a network of engaged citizens in my community that has taught me more about municipal issues and non-partisan groups active in my area.
What being a member of a political party means is entirely dependent upon the individual. It could mean simply paying a membership fee, receiving correspondence from the central office and occasionally the local riding association, or it could mean sitting on the executive, helping to organize events and town halls, and even standing for election as a candidate.
I have found it very rewarding because I know I am making a difference and shaping my party. However, there are issues that can make party membership frustrating. Participation often means financial and personal costs, which can make political engagement feel like a luxury. Parties are bureaucratic organizations and things can get tied up in red tape or lost in the shuffle. For the NDP, we are the least well-financed of the three major parties, which means we often do not have the staff or resources to handle the load or be competitive. As many activists at the local level, I would like to see riding associations have greater say as I think it would encourage participation. I would appreciate clearer communications and more transparency, but I understand the limitations.
Political parties play a critical role in our democracy, but they depend on the dedication and support of countless volunteers. It is easy to criticize, but change comes from within. The solution to the problems of political parties is not to abolish parties, but to engage more citizens and political parties are the best vehicles to do that.