Tuesday January 24, 2017

January 24, 2017 full episode transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016

The Current Transcript for January 24, 2017

Host: Connie Walker


Listen to the full episode


[Music: Theme]


A total renegotiation of NAFTA, which is a disaster for our country.

CONNIE WALKER: That was candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail. But now that he has the keys to the Oval Office, he's already unceremoniously pulled the United States out of one major trade deal: the Tran-Pacific Partnership. We start today by looking at the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and what opening it up or ripping it up could mean for Canada, for the US and for Mexico. Then, changing what it means to retire.


People are understanding that retirement is great, but it's a long time horizon and there's lots we get from the interactions in our work.

CW: New research shows that more and more Canadians aren't just hitting the golf course or taking up a new hobby after they reach their sixties. They're starting new jobs and new careers. Some because they have to but many because they simply want to. We'll hear from a few of them in half an hour. Then, words from the women's march last Saturday.


There is nothing more powerful than a group of determined sisters marching alongside with their partners, standing up for what we know is right.

CW: How can protesters keep that determination in place and translate it into action? Our panel of organizers share their thoughts in an hour. I'm Connie Walker and this is The Current.

Back To Top »

NAFTA not to blame for job loss in U.S., says trade expert

Guests: Mark Warner, Edward Alden, Judith Teichman


VOICE 1: President Bush picked an appropriately symbolic setting today to sign the North American Free Trade Agreement.

VOICE 2: Today marks the beginning of a new era on our continent, on the North American continent. This morning, the United States, Mexico and Canada are announcing the completion of negotiations for a North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.

VOICE 3: Everybody said you can't sell free trade to the Canadian people. No? You just watch and see.

CW: It was more than 24 years ago—the era of US President George HW Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney—that the North American Free Trade Agreement was forged. And now the trade pact that's governed commerce across this continent for the past two decades could be facing a major overhaul, or as US President Donald Trump has trumpeted, it could be ripped up all together. Yesterday Mr. Trump ended years of trade talks by taking the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And there's already talk of a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rework an agreement Donald Trump has characterized as the worst trade deal America ever made.


From this day forward, it's going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

CW: With Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet in Calgary again today working out a strategy for dealing with the new American administration, we're asking what's at stake for all three parties to NAFTA—Canada Mexico and the United States. Mark Warner is an American and Canadian trade lawyer with MAAW Law in Toronto and he's with me in studio this morning. Good morning.

MARK WARNER: Good morning.

CW: So Mark, how worried should Canadians be about the anti-trade sentiment in the United States right now?

MARK WARNER: I think we should be concerned. I don't think we should be worried and hysterical. Some of the commentary for the last year or so has been hysterical. Obviously the United States is our major trading partner and you know 70 per cent of our exports go to the United States. A lot of our investment comes to the United States. The bilateral relationship is strong. So we have to take care as to what's being said down there. On the other hand, I think Mr. Trump, a lot of what he says is—now he is the author of a book called The Art of the Deal, which is a lot about getting people really excited before he sits down to negotiate with them. And I think if we look too frantic, that's exactly what he'd like to see before he sits down and negotiates with someone.

CW: Well, help us understand. I mean how much do we stand to lose if NAFTA is reopened or renegotiated?

MARK WARNER: Well, I think after the last 25 years of NAFTA, essentially a quarter century, we've changed our entire supply chains to rationalize production across the border. That would require companies to basically make new location decisions. You know companies that have—would they come back to Canada if it's manufacturing? Probably not. Services, there are a lot of Canadians who took advantage of the mobility that NAFTA gives professionals to work in the United States—also Americans to work in Canada—that would be gone. Some people like to talk about going back to the previous Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Well, it didn't include services. So we’d either have to sit down and ask Mr. Trump to give us that again or we'd lose it.

CW: So it could be a lot. What do you think about how Donald Trump has blamed NAFTA for the decline in manufacturing jobs in the US?

MARK WARNER: I mean I think the best evidence of that is that NAFTA is not responsible for the loss of jobs. Automation is a major factor. Some careful studies by some think tanks in Washington suggest that maybe China coming into the WTO has had a bigger effect than Mexico itself. But you know it's fair to say that there were not a lot of adjustment assistance given to people who were losing their jobs after NAFTA and with the Chinese entering the trading system. So I think you know that's why I think people somehow associate the two things.

CW: How has Canada's manufacturing sector been affected by NAFTA?

MARK WARNER: Well again, I'm not sure that our manufacturing sector has been affected essentially by NAFTA. It's been affected I think the same sort of pressures of automation and open trade, maybe even more so from China. But there's no question that if you look at the last 60, 70 years, manufacturing as a share of our gross domestic product has been declining and the service industries have been increasing. And that was going on before NAFTA and frankly, I think would have gone on without NAFTA.

CW: This morning—I'm not sure if you saw—but President Trump tweeted that he was meeting first thing this morning with auto executives. He said that he wants new plants to be built in the United States. How could that potentially affect the Canadian auto industry?

MARK WARNER: So up until now, he's been hitting out at auto plants for their production in Mexico. He's never specifically mentioned Canada. And I guess what's not clear is does he think of Canada as some kind of 51st state? Canadians didn't used to like that but we might actually come to like that under Mr. Trump if he's including it.

CW: Do you feel like there's been an indication that that’s what he—

MARK WARNER: Well, he hasn't—so far he really hasn't focused on Canada. The only time that he answers or someone on his behalf talks about Canada is when there's a specific prompt by a hysterical Canadian saying what about us? What about us? Which is kind of my fear, if we're not on his radar and we keep saying jumping up and down, you know waving out hands, saying please, please. What about us, that we might get on his radar. The early indications.

CW: One thing he has been clear about is America first.

MARK WARNER: Exactly. I was involved for the Ontario government, as they’re heading up the legal team and we were doing the restructuring of GM and Chrysler you know in the Great Recession about eight years ago. And you know even then, it's fair to say that the auto companies didn't make a big, let’s say, the Big Three didn't make a big footprint commitment to Canada. If the issues about auto production in Canada have a lot more to do with the wage rate, other kind of benefits. And so maybe there will be a different kind of industry in Canada, more technologically based, but I'm not sure that Mr. Trump is going to be the key factor there.

CW: What about other industries? Like the dairy sector, the health care system, Canadian content rules. I mean how could those be impacted?

MARK WARNER: Well again, if we're talking about reopening NAFTA or reopening the old Canada-US Free Trade Agreement to bring it back to life, all of the interested parties who have issues with Canada— supply management, dairy’s a big issue, softwood lumber—you know we think we wear the angel hat on that. The Americans say why don't you export your raw logs from British Columbia? All of those traditional trade irritants will be on the table. I mean we didn't give up any of that stuff in the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. We didn't give it up in NAFTA. And I expect that if it were to be raised again, this government would also draw a hard line.

CW: Yeah. Do you have any advice for the cabinet ministers who are meeting in Calgary today to discuss probably NAFTA, among other things?

MARK WARNER: Well, I think my first piece of advice is to not panic. I do think they could play a more useful role in helping to calm the fears. Right now we are reacting to every twitch and grunt coming out of the United States and I don't think that's particularly healthy for Canadians in general or for the business community that's making investment in economic decisions. And beyond that, I think we need to study what the opportunities are in terms of what NAFTA after minus Mexico might look like, what a resuscitated Canada-US Free Trade Agreement might look like. We need to do the background work. But I think it has to be done in an environment of more calm and dispassion.

CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Mark.

MARK WARNER: Thanks for having me.

CW: Mark Warner is an American and Canadian trade lawyer with MAAW Law in Toronto. Let's move from Canada to the United States now for a sense of what changes to NAFTA could mean for America. I'm joined by Edward Alden. He is the Bernard L. Schwartz senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations where he specializes in US economic competitiveness. He's also the author of Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy. He joins me from Washington. Hello.

EDWARD ALDEN: Hello, Connie. It's good to be with you.

CW: Thanks for joining me. Why has the North American Free Trade Agreement become the target of the Trump administration?

EDWARD ALDEN: Well, if you look at Donald Trump's personal history on this, trade is a core issue to him. The first time he started to flirt with the idea of running for president was back in the mid-1980s and he did it by taking out a full page ad attacking Japan for its huge trade surplus with the United States. So he has been on the protectionist side of the trade issue for 30 plus years now. I think the reason NAFTA is on the radar is one, because of the large trade deficit that the United States has with Mexico and two, because NAFTA was the first free trade agreement between the United States and a much lower wage country. So it raised and continues to raise all those fears about American jobs being outsourced to chase cheap wages in other countries. So a lot of the trade angst that's been developing in this country over the last two decades has been focused on NAFTA.

CW: Do you feel like that focus is misdirected? The focus on NAFTA?

EDWARD ALDEN: I think in a lot of cases it is. I agree with Mark that if you're looking at impacts on manufacturing, China's entry into the World Trade Organization had a much bigger effect on US manufacturing. We saw the loss of five or six million US manufacturing jobs in the 2000s. Now most of that was again, as Mark said, automation, but some significant chunk was import competition from China. The impact from Mexico has been less. On the other hand, there have been a lot of prominent American companies that have moved factory operations to Mexico. So if you're looking for case studies of outsourcing, it's easy to find them pretty close to home here.

CW: I mean he was tweeting today about the auto industry. But what specific changes do you think the Trump administration would be after in renegotiating NAFTA?

EDWARD ALDEN: Well, I mean we don't know exactly. We do know interestingly, he's kind of obsessed with the auto industry. This has been the big focus of his tweets and if you look at what he's done in his first couple of days in office, you know meetings with chief executives, meeting with the labour unions—a lot of them representing auto workers—today meeting with the auto companies. I mean he wants more investment and job creation in the United States. It’s going to be hard to rewrite NAFTA to make that happen. I mean NAFTA is about North American production. It's about privileging companies that invest in North America versus other parts of the world. To try to rework NAFTA to favour the United States over Canada and Mexico, there's certainly no way to do that within the spirit of the agreement that I don't actually know how you would do within the letter of the agreement either.

CW: I mean could it have a detrimental effect on the auto industry in the United States if it’s renegotiated?

EDWARD ALDEN: I mean again, it depends on what he's asking for. You know the auto industry is thoroughly integrated across borders. With Canada that goes back to the 1965 Auto Pact so this has been half a century. With Mexico, it's a more recent development but I mean you could tilt it a bit. You know maybe a particular investment goes to the United States rather than to Mexico because of Trump's pressure. But unless you're going to completely configure these integrated North Americans supply chains, no, there's no real way to change the structure of the auto industry simply through trade negotiations.

CW: Yeah, I don't know how much we can rely on a tweet, but his tweet said he wants new plants to be built and cars to be sold in the United States. So if that gives any indication.

EDWARD ALDEN: It does but you know again, that's not the way things are made anymore, right? I mean cars don't exactly get built in the United States. If you look at the US-Canada border, they get built in both countries. For some models, the final assembly is in Canada and the parts come from the US and Mexico. For other models, final assembly is in Michigan and parts are coming in from Canada. Stuff is going back across that border in Michigan-Ontario all the time. So things aren’t built in one country or another. We build all this stuff together.

CW: What are some of the things that give Canada leverage while negotiating with the United States?

EDWARD ALDEN: I think there are two things. One is the existence of the US-Canada FTA. So if worse comes to worst and Trump decides to pull the United States out of NAFTA, which he can do, then Canada at least has the FTA to fall back on, which is not as comprehensive as NAFTA, but certainly in the goods sector, fairly comprehensive. The second advantage Canada has is that at the moment, largely due to low oil prices, Canada is actually running a trade deficit with the United States. So the US runs a surplus with Canada. Trump is extremely focused on the trade deficit. He's angry at countries that are selling more to the United States than they are buying. China’s exhibit one here. So Canada looks quite good in that regard because at the moment, Canada is buying more from the US than it’s selling to the United States.

CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it and we'll continue to watch that.

EDWARD ALDEN: Good to be with you.

CW: Edward Alden is with the Council on Foreign Relations and he's the author of the book, Failure to Adjust: How Americans Got Left Behind in the Global Economy. He was in Washington. Finally, for a look at what reopening NAFTA could mean for Mexico, I'm joined by Judith Teichman. She's a professor of political science and international development studies at the University of Toronto and the author of a blog called Politics and Social Justice in Latin America and Beyond. We've reached Judith Teichman in Toronto. Hello.


CW: So Canadians are naturally concerned about how Trump's rhetoric may affect this country, but what could reopening and renegotiating NAFTA mean for Mexico?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, it's very worrisome, I think much more worrisome than for Canada for a whole variety of reasons. One of the most important ones is of course, is that the Mexican economy has not been doing well since NAFTA, with an average annual growth rate of about one per cent per year. Job creation has not been anything close than what was hoped for. So NAFTA is indeed very worrisome for Mexico.

CW: There seems to be a perception that Mexico has been on the winning side of NAFTA. Where do you think that perception comes from?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, I think it comes from the auto industry which has, as mentioned already, it's been a focus of Donald Trump's concerns because the auto industry is in fact one bright spot in the Mexican economy, which has been growing and generating some employment. But if you take the auto industry out of the discussion, then the trade deficit with Mexico virtually disappears and growth in other sectors of the economy that has produced employment has been quite dismal. So on balance, NAFTA has not been, I do not believe, a plus for Mexico. And as I say, the bright spot’s in the auto industry but that is currently under considerable threat.

CW: How did NAFTA affect Mexico's agricultural sector?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, it was quite devastating actually, particularly for small and communal peasant producers in south central Mexico. In the mid-1990s when NAFTA was signed, there was a provision in NAFTA for the staged implementation of trade liberalization for corn and beans. But for a whole variety of reasons, which I don't have time to go into here, that was not pursued and trade liberalization for these products occurred very rapidly. And there was a massive influx of corn from the United States which is highly subsidized and something like over a million farm jobs in Mexico were lost. And these were focused in south central Mexico where the Indigenous population is concentrated. So it has been one of the factors certainly behind increased migration to urban areas in Mexico and of course migration north into the United States.

CW: That was a consequence of the NAFTA agreement.

JUDITH TEICHMAN: It was. It was written into the NAFTA agreement that protection for corn and beans would be removed in a 15-year period. But instead, those protections were removed almost immediately.

CW: But it has created some manufacturing jobs. How many manufacturing jobs have been created in Mexico since NAFTA was signed?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, on balance—I mean I can't give you a specific number—but if you look at the proportion of the economically active population employed in manufacturing between NAFTA and today, there's been a net decline. Now that doesn't mean there weren't jobs produced because of course, there were. There were many jobs produced in export processing zones in northern Mexico and they increased rapidly right up until the early 2000s. And then many of those companies went to China because of the lower wage rates and what you saw was a very substantial decline in even those jobs. Now there has been an increase once again. But as I understand it, the jobs created in those export processing zones have not reached the levels that they had in the early 2000s. So we're still not sort of back to where we were at that point.

CW: How would you describe the future of NAFTA from Mexico's point of view?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, the Mexicans are clearly very worried about this. And I think that they're probably trying very hard to persuade the Trump administration that it would be foolish to dismantle the major components of NAFTA. As the earlier speaker mentioned, manufacturing is highly integrated between the three countries through global value chains and disrupting this is going to create problems for all of the countries involved—quite serious ones in the short term. I saw one estimate that suggested that—you see, Mexico assembles cars but they get the parts for the cars from the United States for the most part, probably also from Canada. But I read one account that suggested that about six million jobs are connected to that process of providing parts to Mexico. Now if you slap on tariffs of course and make it difficult for Mexico to sell those cars, then you're not just hurting Mexico, you're also hurting employment in the United States engaged in the production of the parts for those cars.

CW: So just one last question: but what are the consequences for all of this on Mexico's economy and society?

JUDITH TEICHMAN: Well, obviously I think if NAFTA is reopened and changes are made to the detriment of Mexico, it certainly will produce an economic crisis—a decline in growth rates. And certainly if Trump comes true on some of the other promises such as sending an increased number of Mexicans back to the United States or stopping remittance payments, you will see—in combination with the economic downturn—a dramatic rise in poverty and probably increased criminal violence because of course when poverty shoots up, people become desperate and criminal activity increases. So it's not, I think, a good scenario for Mexico. It's really quite worrisome, I believe.

CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Judith.

JUDITH TEICHMAN: You're most welcome.

CW: Judith Teichman is a professor of political science and international development studies at the University of Toronto and she was in Toronto. The CBC News is next. Then, rethinking retirement. Why so many more Canadians are choosing a redirection instead of a traditional retirement and starting their second or third careers in their fifties or sixties. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Sting]

Back To Top »

Why more Canadians are ditching retirement for new careers

Guests: Bill Medd, Heather Leavens, Suzanne Cook

CW: Hello. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

CW: Still to come, after the women's march on Saturday, people across America and the world are fired up and eager for change. But the question remains of how to turn that passion and energy into action and impact. That story in half an hour. Before that, from Freedom 55 to the freedom to start a new career. Before we get to redefining retirement, we had a lot of response to a documentary we brought you last Friday. On the day of Donald Trump's inauguration as US president, we heard The Current producer Kristin Nelson's documentary about Canadian Trump supporters. Here's Moe Bhatha, whose parents are immigrants to Canada talking about why he moved away from their liberal politics.


Donald Trump's the one that really inspired me. Over the years, I've watched politicians and media basically telling us how we should think, how we should feel. And here comes along a guy that basically says no. You matter. That's why I started supporting Trump and that's one of the reasons why I'm supporting Kellie Leitch here because she gets it. I'd like to see better screening of people coming into this country and a lot of them aren't contributing back. And I think the working class are just being hammered with more and more taxes and more and more burden to take care of people. There’s people here we can take care of.

CW: If you missed the full documentary, you can find it on our website, our podcast or listen on the CBC Radio app. We've got a range of reactions on this one. Frank Atyeo posted on Facebook: “When the Liberals are slaves to empathy, somebody's got to control the purse strings lest they give all of Canada away.” Andy Gamisou posted: “Trump supporters are tired of all the typical BS. Politicians are more interested in advancing ideologies than governing.” From the other side, Brenda McNicol of Edmonton wrote: “After listening to some of my fellow citizens talking about their reasons for supporting Donald Trump and Kellie Leitch, my head is in my hands. I'm glad you are trying to help us understand what these people think—thank you for your good work—but sheesh, it is depressing.” Barbara Vantslot posted this: “All the folks that supported Trump exhibited no ability to see long term effects of what Trump proposes to do while in power. It seems to be that much of their opinions are based on misinformation. As if all immigrants just walk into Canada without being vetted, for example.” And Darrel Mitchell from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, found the documentary eye-opening: “I don't like Trump's approach and thought I would find supporters rude and ignorant of common decency. This was not the case. I found myself agreeing with most of what they were saying. My mind has been opened to legitimate concerns.” Once again, if you missed our documentary, you can find it on our website at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent or through the CBC Radio app. It's titled, “Trump supporters in Canada speak up”.

[Music: Bridge]

CW: It used to be when people in their fifties and sixties were in the workforce, most were dreaming of the day they could retire—a life pursuing their interests and hobbies, maybe indulge in some travel or finally learn a second language. Well, that was then and this is now—a new study is finding more and more older working Canadians see it as an opportunity to begin a new chapter in their lives. They're seeking a second or even third career as our meaning of retirement gets redefined. Some are seeking new employment because they have to but many more are staying in or coming back to the workforce because they want to. And the number of older Canadians seeking new job opportunities is expected to increase as baby boomers age. We'll talk about this new study in a few minutes. But first, I wanted to introduce you to two people who have moved on to new careers. Bill Medd is 61 years old and a partner for leadership development at Legacy Bowes, a human resources company in Winnipeg. He is in Winnipeg. And 54-year-old Heather Leavens works as a fashion consultant at Zahara's boutique clothing store in Oakville. She's with me in Toronto. Hello to you both.

HEATHER LEAVENS: Good morning.

BILL MEDD: Good morning.

CW: So Bill, I want to get into your own personal story in a minute. But first, you work in human resources. Are you seeing more workers over 50 looking for new careers?

BILL MEDD: Every day. It's just something that more and more people, they put in 30 plus years and are taking a look at what's next. And they're realizing that they don't have to stay within the same market or the same company but they don't know exactly where to go. So yes, we see a lot more of that than just a few years ago.

CW: Tell us about your own story. You changed jobs in your mid-fifties. What happened?

HEATHER LEAVENS: I was a CEO for a mid-sized manufacturing company that through the 2000s tripled in size—about 150 employees—went through private equity buyout, the crash of 2009. And so I had 10 years of experience that then transitioned out at about 2011 and at that point, said what am I going to do with myself? I could go back and sit in the CEO chair of another company but I really sat down, I talked to people that I knew, people that were business owners, peers, and decided to hang my own shingle up and literally started within you know the old basement office saying, what am I going to do next? And quite a challenge but the end result of it is something that I just say you know I wish I had done that earlier.

CW: What were those early days like in your basement office?

BILL MEDD: When you think about it, I had no real experience in what I was doing, going into consulting. I had no certifications, no reputation. So needless to say, there were some long and lonely days, a lot of introspection. As I tell people, I got to know my dog very, very well. I am a bit of an extrovert and you can get lost if you're working on something where there’s just not of those initial results. And in my case, it took a while before I got some results.

CW: Heather Leavens, tell us your story. What was your last job?

HEATHER LEAVENS: I was in a family aviation company. My grandfather started it with his two brothers and it had been going for 87 years. So I was the vice president of service and overhaul. So I would make sure that the jobs got out on time as far as engine overhauls, propellers, starters, fuel injectors. And did that for 20 years.

CW: And then what happened?

HEATHER LEAVENS: Well, 2010, my uncle came in just before Christmas. Now he was the second generation, the last one, and he had the most voting shares and he told us that we would be closing the business.

CW: Did that come as a shock?

HEATHER LEAVENS: Yeah, it was like, for a few of my cousins and myself, it was like the rug was just pulled right from underneath our feet. We had expected either to move on to the fourth generation or at least be able to work until retirement.

CW: So what happened next for you? You had a chance encounter of some kind.

HEATHER LEAVENS: Yeah. After closing it up, I did take a year off and I was out with a girlfriend of mine, Susan Elliott, and we were at a restaurant just having lunch and sort of discussing what I would be going to do next because after a year, I was starting to get bored. And the waiter overheard us and he came over and he said I've got the best book for you to read. It's called What Color Is Your Parachute? And after that lunch, I bought the book and it changed my life.

CW: What about that book spoke to you at that time?

HEATHER LEAVENS: I think how it spoke to me was that you should take some time, find out what you're passionate about. Where before you might have been working just to pay your mortgage and stuff like that, but maybe at this point in time in your life, it might be nice to have a job that you really enjoy going to.

CW: So did you find it? Did you find out what you were passionate about?

HEATHER LEAVENS: Yeah. I found out that I was passionate about clothing and helping ladies. That I needed to be around people. And I didn't want to have the day to day stress that I had before, the responsibility. And this is the kind of job that I just go in everyday smiling and the opportunities that have come along because of it, it's just been amazing. It's the best part of my life.

CW: Bill, does any of that resonate with you and your own journey to where you are?

BILL MEDD: Well, the extrovert part does because I think you have to realize what kind of an individual you are and lots of us are extroverts and need to get out with people. And so for me, that's one of the bigger blessings that I've got, is it keeps me alive mentally by engaging with people. I do it daily. I coach people in this exact thing of transition. So yes, I understand from that point perfectly.

CW: I want to ask you both about the challenges of starting a new career at this stage. Bill, what got you out of the home office in the basement?

BILL MEDD: I talked to some people that were in the business of sort of consulting in different ways and literally just said hey, I'll come and take some office space up and see what value I can bring to your organization. It was an HR company within Winnipeg. I'm not an HR background. I brought a business perspective to it. But through that, found that I enjoyed the coaching opportunities, facilitation, leadership training and so while I had my own idea to take my own shingle and become a business adviser, I really found sort of myself with the opportunity presented through the company on the leadership development side. So it was a little bit of a point myself in the right direction and doors opened for me.

CW: Was that a smooth transition as you're describing or was there some challenge or self-doubt that came with that?

BILL MEDD: You know there's always the self-doubt—I think that's what drives you at some level—but really, I had a very strong vision of what I wanted. I wanted the autonomy. I wanted to be able to work well beyond the age of 65. I like new challenges and that kept me in the game. So it wasn't as tough as it could be.

CW: Heather, what was going through your mind as you re-entered the workforce?

HEATHER LEAVENS: Well, I think, first I opened up my own sort of business. I thought. And so that kind of got me excited—meeting interesting people as far as putting business cards together, doing a website and it was fashion consulting. So it was going in that direction, looking at people's closets and stuff like that. And with that, there was a lot of networking and I think that's an important part as well. Now with the business, I wasn't getting enough jobs to keep me satisfied so I thought well, I can sort of pair it up with something else. And just going on the Internet and seeing job postings coming up and then Zahara's came up and I knew it was a kind of clothing that I liked and got the job.

CW: So for both of you, was this motivated out of necessity or was this more of a desire to do it for your own personal fulfillment?

BILL MEDD: This is Bill here. But just realistically, it was all personal fulfillment. I understand that retirement is great and there's lots of things that you can do in retirement, but I'm not going to golf every day. I'm not a handyman.

CW: What about you, Heather?

HEATHER LEAVENS: I'm like Bill. I don't really need it for the financial. It was more that I just needed to be doing something. Most of the staff that we have at the store, this is their second or third career.

CW: But you both mentioned that it's not necessarily a financial issue. You don't have to work. Do you ever wonder if you're taking a job from someone else who might actually you know, it might be a necessity for them to establish a second or third career?

HEATHER LEAVENS: I don't think so because even the interview process with the store, she did ask, are you looking to make a lot of money? And I said no. So I don't think a younger person who's just starting out in their career—I don't think financially, this is a position that they could grow with.

CW: And Bill, your job is actually working to help people find employment, right?

BILL MEDD: Yeah. And it's one where a lot of it comes with a level of experience. So while it could be saying it might be a job somebody else could do, I’m a firm believer that there's always another job and opportunity there. So the more the merrier.

CW: No, it's very interesting. Thank you both for joining me today and sharing your journeys and your perspective.


BILL MEDD: Been a pleasure.

CW: Bill Medd is 61 years old. He works at Legacy Bowes in Winnipeg, advising people who are looking for new careers later in life. Heather Leavens is a fashion consultant in Oakville, Ontario. She is 54. Suzanne Cook is a social gerontologist and an adjunct professor at York University. Like Bill Medd, she is seeing more and more Canadians taking on new careers in their fifties and sixties. She's the author of the forthcoming study, The Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development and Suzanne Cook is in our Ottawa studio. Hello.

SUZANNE COOK: Hello, Connie.

CW: So how do Bill and Heather's stories compare to what you've been hearing from other people in your study?

SUZANNE COOK: Well, let me start by explaining why I coined the term “redirection” to describe this new stage of career that we're seeing emerge in later life. And it really does reflect the experiences that Heather and Bill described where people are transitioning into a second or third career. They want to be active and engaged. They are expanding their working life and they're using their skills, their knowledge, their experience in new pursuits, new occupation, new direction. So it is an alternative to retirement and Heather and Bill are very inspiring to all of us because we're all aging and I think that we all want to be active and engaged as we age. And so they are really role models and examples of this.

CW: So are you suggesting that we need a new definition for retirement?

SUZANNE COOK: I think that this is an emerging new trend that we're seeing in society. It is related to expanded life, longevity that we're seeing. And so people are thinking more thoughtfully. more reflectively on what they want to do, how they want to be engaged in the community, how they want to be productive and contribute and contribute to the economy and those around them. So it is very exciting to see this.

CW: How much of it is about you know being engaged and keeping busy as opposed to you know growing the economy or being in the workforce? I mean could they kind of accomplish some of those goals of being engaged in the community without necessarily entering the workforce?

SUZANNE COOK: Well, that's a great question. So let me explain how I first coined the term “redirection”. I started looking at older adults who are volunteering in the community. And when I was sharing those research results across Canada—for example in British Columbia, in Ontario, in Nova Scotia— the audience were very engaged and interested and the people came up to me after my presentation and said I love volunteer work. It gives me a lot of meaning and fulfillment. However, I have this other skill set. This other knowledge for example from a specific industry or sector, and I can see finding paid work in this area and I'm looking for paid work. I'm seeking employment and that was the genesis of the redirection project. It made me rethink things and decide to look at a study that looked explicitly at paid work and employment.

CW: So it used to be that most working people in their fifties and sixties were planning for full out retirement. Why do you think that's changing?

SUZANNE COOK: It's due to many reasons. As I mentioned before, people hope to live longer. We all hope to reach old age. And so they want to be active. They want to do things. They want to contribute. And so when the motivations of people could be described as they need to work or they want to work. So individuals explain that for financial reasons, they need to work. They have debt. They have a mortgage to pay. They might have children in post-secondary education. And so for financial reasons they need to keep working or they want to work because it's fulfilling and enjoyment, rewarding. So like Heather and Bill mentioned, that it's something that they find enjoyable—personal fulfillment.

CW: Yeah. They both mentioned that it's not a financial necessity for them. That is for personal fulfillment. But what is your research telling you? Are most people seeking out new career opportunities for that personal fulfillment or because they have to financially?

SUZANNE COOK: I'm seeing that it's a mix, about 50-50 roughly. There are individuals who need to work. There are individuals who want to work. And you know I should also say that there are individuals who don't want to redirect. They're not at all interested in redirection and exploring a second or third career in later life.

CW: We spoke to Pedro Antunes about this trend. He's the deputy chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada. Let's listen to him.


Definitely we are seeing older folks work longer. We're seeing that essentially in the average retirement age and we've seen that rise over the last decade. But the other issue around this is that of course, there are many, many more baby boomers now in those age groups where they're going to retire anyway. So even if they stayed on a little bit longer, that's only going to delay the inevitable, which is that this massive wave of baby boomers, this very large wave of people, is entering their retirement years. And we see that in a very steep spike in the retirement rate. Today in Canada, we're seeing almost 250,000 people a year retiring. And when you compare that to the number of net new jobs created, you know we're almost at a ratio of two to one. And that means that employers, for every one person they're hiring, every net new job they're putting in place, they're looking to replace two people behind them. And I think the other important piece around that is that it results in a fundamental constraint on our ability to grow the economy.

CW: So what's your reaction to that? It seems that Canada also needs more older workers to sustain and grow the economy.

SUZANNE COOK: Yes. I think that organizations and employers need to recognize that there is value and benefit to hiring older people. They bring a lot to the organization. They have skills, experience and knowledge that can be very desirable. So I think it's exciting. I think there's possibility and opportunity there and I think that in the future we're going to be seeing more people want to redirect. It's going to be anticipated and planned for and frankly expected. So we're going to continue to see this trend in our society.

CW: How are older workers perceived in the workforce now?

SUZANNE COOK: In the study that I’m going to be releasing shortly, we have we saw some ageism, some reports of ageism and age discrimination. So older adults are confronting this and it is something that our society needs to address. We need to spend more time addressing this issue because we are in an aging society with an aging workforce. And so this issue is not going to go away.

CW: So you mentioned that you think that this is only going to increase as we move forward. But how do you think that this is going to change our attitudes about age and work?

SUZANNE COOK: I think that we are seeing this shift and we need to recognize that in our society, there are intergenerational workplaces and the generations need to work together. We need to learn how to respect and accept each other's contributions, no matter what age in the workplace. And that's the position that we need to be taking. So we also need social policy that addresses this and we can make a difference with education and training policy and within mandating employers to hire older. And also with the labour force participation—we need to encourage people to participate in the labour force to stimulate the economy.

CW: Alright. Well, thank you very much, Suzanne. We really appreciate you joining us.

SUZANNE COOK: Thank you so much, Connie. It's a pleasure.

CW: Suzanne Cook is a social gerontologist and an adjunct professor at York University. Her study is called The Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development and she was in our Ottawa studio. Now it's your turn to tell us about your experiences if you are an older worker. Have you redirected or is it full-on retirement that you want? Let us know on our Facebook page, on Twitter we're @thecurrentCBC or send us an email. Visit our website at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the contact link. And while you're there, you'll find a link to Anna Maria’s conversation with other seniors who say they have to keep working because they don't have enough money to retire. We have a moment to let you know about something coming up later this week on The Current—something that could change the way you think about life. Of course, happiness is a preoccupation of our society today. But author Emily Esfahani Smith says we'd be better served by seeking out purpose instead of happiness.


There’s such a zeitgeist around happiness and so many people want to be happy and that's understandable. It seems like just such an obvious thing, that we all want to be happy, we want our children to be happy, our friends to be happy. But I think that if you push people a little bit and get them to think a little bit more deeply, that you'll see that what people actually want is to lead a meaningful life. Human beings are meaning-seeking creatures and they always have been. And we all want to know that our lives are significant in the grand scheme of things, that they made a difference in the world. And so Robert Nozick was a philosopher at Harvard and to make this point, he kind of proposed what he called a thought experiment. Basically he said to imagine that there is a machine that you could plug into that would give you all of the experiences that you could possibly want. You know if you wanted to be happy for all the days of your life, feel pleasure time after time, then you could do that. And most people if they reflect on it, they probably wouldn't plug into the machine. And the reason is because you know the happiness that you feel there is not really earned. You're just kind of experiencing feelings but you're not doing anything that's of worth and of significance. And so this was Nozick’s way of saying—and I quote—you know, “there's more to life than feeling happy.”

CW: That's Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Power of Meaning and she will be my guest on Thursday on The Current. Coming up in our next half hour—how to keep the spirit of the women's march marching on and turn it into action. We're joined by some veteran organizers in about 90 seconds. I'm Connie Walker and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Sting]

Back To Top »

How to rally Women's March spirit into action

Guests: Becky Bond, Micah White, Lucy Barber

CW: Hello. I'm Connie Walker and this is The Current.


VOICE 1: Until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past—

[Sound: Crowd chanting “We are the majority vote”]

VOICE 1: Let us march on poverty. Let us march until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat.

[Sound: Protesters chanting and singing]

VOICE 2: … the United States, as you know, who said he was getting elected to end the war, turned out to be very far from the truth.

VOICE 1: Until we send to our city councils, state legislatures and the United States Congress, men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God. Let us march on ballot boxes.

[Sound: Crowd singing and drumming]

CW: Martin Luther King fighting for civil rights. Occupy Wall Street. Anti-Vietnam War protesters. Demonstrators Idle No More here in Canada. All part of a long tradition of taking to the streets to march in protest. And this past weekend, women and men all over the world—including tens of thousands of Canadians—joined in the women's march, taking to the streets in support of women's rights and against US President Donald Trump. The photos from Washington and other cities show a sea of pink hats and punchy signs. It was a massive show of solidarity but it has left organizers grappling with the question: how do you move from a day of marching to a movement that can force real political change? My next two guests both have experience organizing movements. They know what it takes to mobilize people and what can happen if you don't. Becky Bond is a former senior adviser to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and co-author of Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything. She's in San Francisco. And Micah White is the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street and the author of The End of Protest. He's in Nehalem, Oregon. Hello.

MICAH WHITE: Hello, Connie.

BECKY BOND: Good morning.

CW: Becky, let's start with you. You helped organize Bernie Sanders’ followers into a formidable force. What tactics do you think should be used now to organize the protestors of the women's march.?

BECKY BOND: Well, the women's marches certainly show that there are not just hundreds of thousands, but millions of people who are upset about the direction of the United States. And they're just waiting to be asked to do something big. Unfortunately, the National Democratic Party is in the midst of a competency crisis, so it's really up to activists and volunteers—like the ones who organized the marches—to get out there and organize people into a fighting force that can take on Trump.

CW: You talk about community organizing—I assume that's what you're referring to now—but what is community organizing?

BECKY BOND: Well, community organizing is when people who are affected by a problem, when they come together and they use the resources that they have to move from the world as it is to the world where we've won. And for most Americans, they don't have you know Wall Street cash. They don't have tons of money to give to politicians. But what they do have is they have their time and they have their talents. And so what community organizing does, is it brings masses of people together to demand change in a large block and that can either be as consumers going to a company or it can be as voters going to a politician threatening to throw them out if they don't fight for the agenda that helps the people with the problems that they're facing in their lives. It's also increasingly becoming people becoming sand in the gears of the machine and actually resisting and refusing to participate in a government that abuses their rights.

CW: So how do you take that motivation, you know somebody who’s deciding to show up at the march and convince people to get engaged beyond the march to take the further step as you're describing?

BECKY BOND: Well, the first thing I think that we need to do is we need to recognize that if you're not being asked to do something big in this time and you feel motivated to go out make change, is that you can't just sit around and wait for a big NGO or a politician to organize you. You have to organize yourself. And that starts when people actually meet together in person. And what we're seeing across the country—and this is happening in Canada too—is we're seeing people form local groups like Indivisible, right, to come together in their community and organize themselves to fight for change. There's also an effort called KnockEveryDoor.org here in the United States that’s just getting off the ground, where people are actually organizing themselves into volunteer door to door canvassers to do the work that the National Party isn't doing. There's even something that's been announced called Justice Democrats where regular people are being called to run for Congress in primary, the people that are currently serving in Congress, to make them more responsive to what the people are doing. So people can come together or join one of these efforts for or start their own. But the most important thing is people can't wait for the national organizations, for the national party to tell them what to do. It's going to take two years of hard work to dislodge Trump from the presidency and Republicans from Congress, first starting in 2018 then in 2020, and we have to get started now.

CW: Micah White, I want to go to you. You received a call from one of the women's march organizers after Trump was elected. What did she say to you in that phone call?

MICAH WHITE: Yeah. It was one of these like really kind of amazing conversations because I think she really saw basically the future. I mean this is a person who, she heard the original idea for the march and she jumped on it. She created a Facebook page which was later then merged into the massive Facebook page. She's watching hundreds of thousands of women sign up to this Facebook page and she calls me and she says you know I'm concerned and I'm like why are you concerned? She says I'm concerned because I just feel like what if this one day march, what happens next? What happens after this? You know I just think that maybe this isn't enough. And we talked a lot and what we really agreed on is that this could be the birth of a movement that actually takes power, but only if we can imagine a kind of women's march morphing into a women's movement that becomes kind of like a women's party. You know a global women's party. And that was the kind of idea that excited both of us. And that’s I think where, I think ultimately the edge of the women's march is going to have to go is realizing that protest alone will not give us power. We have to combine protests with winning elections and that is going to take more than just—it's going to be harder, I think, than anything that we've done but I think it’s the only solution.

CW: Well, I mean your experience with Occupy Wall Street—you have firsthand experience knowing what it's like to watch a protest movement stall in that way. Like what are the concrete things that this women's march or the people who were involved in this women march need to do to avoid the same fate?

MICAH WHITE: That's a really good question. I mean I think that the most important thing to realize as an activist is that every time you protest, what you're actually doing is you're testing a theory of social change. Okay? And so when we were protesting with Occupy Wall Street, we were testing basically this theory that if you can set up Democratic assemblies in the streets and if you’re largely nonviolent and have millions of people around the world—I mean we spread to 82 countries—millions of people join you, then somehow your elected representatives will have to listen to you because you manifest some sort of higher form of democracy, a higher form of sovereignty. That's not true. So the number one thing for people to realize is that protest alone doesn't give the people power. There is no constitutional requirement that Trump has to listen to protests if they exceed a certain size, et cetera. There's only two ways to gain political power in our world right now and that's to win elections or win wars. Those are the only two ways. And protests can be used very effectively to win elections and it can be used to win wars. And I think that moving forward, the only viable option is to win elections. So we have to figure out how do we take social movements and use them to win elections? That's really what activists need to be thinking about is these questions of sovereignty and getting beyond the idea that just protesting in the streets is enough.

CW: What do you think of that, Becky, the idea that protesting in the streets is not enough? That this is not necessarily going to work to affect change?

BECKY BOND: Well, I think what Micah is saying is this is the beginning of the work to affect change. And I absolutely agree that what we have to do is we have to take all the people that raised their hand and said I want to be part of the movement for change by showing up in the streets. And we have to put them to work at winning elections because that is how we take power in this country. And when Bernie Sanders called for a political revolution, what he meant by that was millions of people have to get involved in the political process. And we have to vote the current elected representatives out and we have to put new people in who will stand up for the things that we believe in. And that's what it's going to take to dislodge, not just to get Trump out of office, but also Trump has inspired thousands of people to run for office on his platform. So it's an even bigger task than we had in the presidential election. And it all starts with people getting to work, talking to voters—especially the voters that voted for Obama in 2012 but either didn't vote in 2016 or voted for Trump. We're going to have to build a majority of people if we're going to win an election. And that's going to be hard work but it's something we can start right now. We don't have to wait.

CW: The one thing that I mean, just looking at the signs of the women's march, it was really obvious there was a lot, obviously a lot of people, a lot of diversity in terms of the different priorities and goals that people had in motivating themselves to get to go to the march. How do you organize that kind of diversity within a movement? I mean I assume that was something that you grappled with with the Occupy Wall Street protest, Micah.

MICAH WHITE: Yeah. Okay. So I think that the number one thing to realize is that one of the dominant kind of theories about why protest fails is a lot of people think well, protests fail when they lack a specific demand. And I actually really push back against that. I think it's really important to realize that we had a global—on February 15, 2003—we had a global anti-war march which was huge. It was like the women's march. I mean I don't know if it was as big, but it was basically the largest human protest that ever happened up until that day. And so it didn't work. Even though there was millions of people in the streets with one very clear demand which was no to the war, I think that the thing is it's not whether or not you have a specific demand or not. It's more about are you orienting in the correct direction? The reason why the anti-war march failed is the same reason why Occupy Wall Street failed which is there is no path to power. The anti-war protesters said no to the war. But you know it was up to the president and prime minister to decide if there was going to be a war. That's how it works. And so the thing is it’s okay to have these amorphous goals. The trick is to how to orient it towards an actually viable strategy because if we were able to actually elect a social movement into power like they're doing with Podemos in Spain, then we would actually be able to resolve all these different issues. We would actually be able to pass legislation on all the different things that protesters want on the street. So it's okay that there's multiple issues. It's more about how do we actually get into a position of power though?

CW: So let me ask you then. As a follow up, first step, the march organizers are asking people to send postcards to their senators voicing their concerns. Do you think that's an effective tactic?

MICAH WHITE: No, I’m going to be quite honest with you. I think that's garbage and I think that that totally underestimates the militancy of the people in the crowds. I mean I just wrote this article for The Guardian and it got shared almost 200,000 times and a lot of people pointed to the last paragraph where I put forward this idea that I had discussed with the co-creator of the women's march which is a woman's party. You know and I think that sending postcards and all of this kind of, any sort of behaviour that's predicated on putting pressure on our elected representatives and this kind of stuff, I just think that's really missing the boat and I think it's a wasted opportunity and it actually makes me really sad because we have to be honest. It could be quite possible that the women's march, in one month, people don't even really remember it. Okay? It sounds impossible right now because it sounds so big and it was so amazing. But power could slip through the fingers very easily and it made me really quite upset actually.

CW: Becky Bond, what do you think of that? Do you think that asking people to send postcards to their senators is a wasted opportunity?

BECKY BOND: I think it is. You know, the people, they’re waiting to be asked to do something big in order to win something big. And what we've seen in the United States’ politics, is people are less likely to do something small to win something small because it's really not worth their time. And so you know I think while it's important for people to speak out to their elected representatives, we have a huge challenge in front of us and people are ready to do everything from getting arrested to volunteering full time to run their own local group. So this is not the time to be playing small ball. This is the time to go big. And if we don't do it, this is the thing—we can't wait for our leaders to ask us to do these things. I think the people that are motivated, they have to put down their own marker and do something like someone should start a party. That's right. Someone should organize their town. But we need to be asking people to do big things. We learned on the Bernie Sanders campaign—when you do that, they step up in ways you can just never even imagine.

CW: Well, you touched on this a bit already, but what is the current state of organizing on the left?

BECKY BOND: Well, it’s clearly you know it's objectively not big enough. Right? Because we lost an election to an incredible candidate, Donald Trump, who had never held office, who is claiming that he wants to deport millions of our neighbours and is trying to put Exxon in charge of our foreign policy. And not only did we not beat this guy by a mile, we lost. Right? So the state of organizing on the left—while there's many good things happening—it's clearly not enough even to protect the status quo, let alone make the changes that we need to see in our country in terms of dismantling structural racism, fighting the climate crisis. We have a very long way to go and we need a change in order to do that.

CW: What do you think of Micah’s take that this could all be forgotten in a month? How optimistic are you that the march will actually translate into political change?

BECKY BOND: I think people could be disappointed in how far that we've gone but I think the march is going to be as an historic event and it's going to be a touchstone for people, I think, for a generation. They're going to remember when all these people turned out and if they were one of the people that stood up, they're going to remember that they made a commitment to try and work for change. And I think they're going to see this as a watershed moment where we either accepted the challenge before us and we started to turn around our country, or it was the moment where we lost everything because it's clearly possible we have enough people that are ready to make this change. And if we don't take advantage of this moment, then it's going to be on us and it’s going to be one for the history books either way.

CW: But I mean how do you—I mean you basically motivate the people who think that okay, I went to the march and I've done my part. I mean it must be a challenge to engage them moving forward.

BECKY BOND: You know it's a challenge to engage them going forward. I think it's only limited by our own imagination because you know it's not that we have to provide these people with everything that they need to go forward and make change. It's just that we have to tell them that they have the power and invite them in. And so I think we need to change how we think about this. We don't need a huge staff to engage all of these people. We just need a bold idea for people to organize behind and work behind that. We saw that with the Bernie Sanders campaign. We saw that with the Dakota Access pipeline protests at Standing Rock. And so I think actually, it should be the people that are coming to the march. They should be demanding, knocking on the door and demanding to be let into their local Democratic Party offices. They should be sitting in at their senator's office and they should be heading into the streets every week.

CW: Alright.

BECKY BOND: Until we get the change that we want to see.

CW: Alright. Thank you both very much. We'll have to leave it there. I appreciate you joining us.

BECKY BOND: Thank you, Connie.

MICAH WHITE: Thank you, Connie.

CW: Becky Bond is a former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and the co-author of Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything. She was in San Francisco. And Micah White is the co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street and the author of The End of the Protest. We reached him in Nehalem, Oregon. Of course, last weekend's women's march was the latest in a long tradition of protest in the American capital, some more successful than others. Lucy Barber is a historian and the author of Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition. She is in our Washington studio. Good morning.

LUCY BARBER: Good morning, Connie.

CW: So Lucy, is there any precedent for the women's march?

LUCY BARBER: Of course there's been a number of times that people have organized around inaugurations. They're such a national moment, so people who differ from that national moment come together to offer an alternative. I think the most notable one was the women's suffrage pageant and procession in 1913, which was similar to this march in that it was organized by women to present an alternative vision and to argue for women's equality and their right to vote.

CW: What kind of impact did that have in 1913?

LUCY BARBER: Well, in some ways, it didn't have an instant impact and I think that's something that one has to accept with protests, that they don't turn the country around in one day. But it was disrupted by the crowd and it ended up having Senate hearings. And so because of the Senate hearings, the whole message of the march got amplified and it really helped create a national movement. The big divide in the suffrage movement at that time was between arguing at the state level for suffrage or having a campaign for the national right to vote. And this really propelled what became the National Women's Party—an echo of what Micah is arguing for—a women's party now.

CW: What were some of the more successful, some other successful marches on Washington?

LUCY BARBER: I think some are really remembered for their historic role. So of course, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That one came at such a time where you had so many strands of protest for African-American civil rights, where the whole South was roiled with protests against segregation, that then you had this contrast with a beautiful, wonderful, peaceful day in the nation's capital with a huge crowd, with inspiring speeches sandwiched between meetings with the president and Congress all arguing for civil rights and for improved employment. That gave a real, I would say, central vision of a new, what the future was going to be like in the midst of the civil rights movement. There was still much to be accomplished but it was sort of a vision of what the future would be like.

CW: Just kind of contrasting that then, can you give us an example of some of the less successful marches in your view?

LUCY BARBER: Well, there was a protest in 1971 that was called the May Day protests that tried to shut down Washington and it was a huge effort to use civil disobedience all over the capital. And though it resulted in more arrests than any other day and was you know a good outpouring of radical energy at that time in 1971, it definitely drew negative press and a general reaction that what good was it doing? It just disrupted the lives of this capital and didn't seem to have a message. So I think you can—if you use this forum of the capital in a way that's not respectful enough, you end up with negative press and negative consequences. There is a ceremonial aspect of the capital that you want to respect if you're going to be using it for protest.

CW: It seems like a tricky thing to navigate. Obviously we have the benefit of hindsight looking back. But many of the marches that you're talking about were widely watched. How do you think that they changed the notion of citizenship and the political process?

LUCY BARBER: I think each time the groups that were organizing them were both trying to claim that they were already respectful citizens and members of the polity but at the same time, they were pushing the boundaries so that they were, see, we too should be included and heard. And I think you could see that in the women's march and the inclusiveness of who was being represented: from transgender women to immigrants, to all different members of the polity are now to be represented citizens, not marginalized but part of the majority. And I think that's one of the advantages of using the national platform of the capital, to have a protest and have a march, is that you have that ability to argue for a more inclusive world.

CW: You know we've talked a lot about how many people were at the women's march. Do you think that the number of people at a march correlate with how successful it ends up being in the long run or creating change?

LUCY BARBER: I think it has become increasingly the measure and that has downsides because it means that marches that don't attract as many people have a hard time getting this much discussion about it. You know. Just for example, this interview wouldn't take place if they had only attracted 100,000 people. And so you have that problem of that there can be many worthy causes that don't get the discussion that they probably deserve to have. I think that it's partly going to change a lot with social media and with more venues for news, so that a demonstration can be discussed in many different circumstances versus when there was sort of a monopoly on the ways that most news got broadcast.

CW: So just quickly, you were at the march. Do you think that it will lead to political change?

LUCY BARBER: I am somewhat confident. [laughs]

CW: You sound somewhat hesitant.

LUCY BARBER: I’m somewhat hesitant. I am a historian by nature. I'm not an organizer and so I think that this is a hard time. I mean when you compare it back to 1963 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, you had a democratically controlled Congress. You had a Democratic president who was sympathetic, if not yet converted to all of civil rights. You had more pressure points that were already there to cause change. The situation is more dire right now.

CW: Different situation. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Lucy. We appreciate your view.

LUCY BARBER: Okay. Thank you very much.

CW: Take care. Lucy Barber is a historian and the author of Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition. She was in our Washington studio. That's our program for today. Tune to Radio One for q. Tom Power and guests will be checking out this morning's Oscar nominations. And remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It lets you browse through past episodes of our show and start listening in just a few seconds. It's free from the App Store or on Google Play. After our discussion of the women's march and the history and future of protests, let's go out on some music that's more than a century-old. “The March of the Women” or “Shoulder to Shoulder” was composed by Dame Ethel Smyth in 1910 and was dedicated as an anthem for the women's suffrage movement in the UK. I'm Connie Walker. Thanks for listening to The Current.

[Music: “The March of the Women (Shoulder to Shoulder)”]

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.