“Aspirational Agreements”

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario  Sometimes language is not your friend, but a head fake to turn you from hard reality to some soft slush in the swamp of misunderstanding and mirage.

Over and over again during the ACORN Canada staff retreat the term, “aspirational agreement,” came up in different contexts from the organization’s engagement with various government authorities and corporate executives they had been pushing in one campaign after another, despite the fact that the very term is a contradiction in concept. An aspiration is a hope and sometimes a prayer, a wish and a wannabe, a goal rather than a plan, and something in the clouds that may never find the ground. An agreement is a commitment, a contract, and a binding glue between parties, hopefully operating in good faith, that represents a purpose, a plan, and real consequences for success or failure. An “aspirational agreement” is really nothing at all. It’s a promise on the schoolyard with fingers crossed behind the back. How does anyone in authority ever say something like this without a blush, much less find anyone listening with anything other than rage?

Listening to the reports found this falsehood cropping up over and over when the discussion involved governmental or corporate commitments to developing affordable housing or living wages for example, but nowhere did it seem to populate the conversations more densely than when “community benefits” agreements were on the agenda. Community agreements are not easy to win, but they are critical in trying to hold the feet to the fire of both governments and private, corporate developers, who, frankly, are in the business of over promising and under delivering. Developers are always self-interested and specialize in building castles-in-the-sky to get permission in the clouds and then excuse their failure to deliver based on the facts on the ground. Governments over promise on the short term to maintain support through the next election and hope to outrun the future on the long term. All of which makes the ability of community and labor organizations to win clear community benefit agreements on new projects and proposals in as clear and committed terms as possible, especially when it comes to jobs, housing, wages, social services, parks, and other amenities that are critical to people every day regardless of the profit-and-loss statements to investors later or the election returns in the by and by.

Lake Buckhorn

In Canada, and the United States and other countries are little different, everyone in power seems to be adopting the language of community benefits while running away from true commitments and signed, binding documents as fast as possible. “Aspirational agreements” are the perfect term for deception and disingenuous double-speak signifying nothing.

We’re certainly not fooled, but the effort to deceive certainly makes our work harder and the campaigns more conflicted, since now we have to spend time, energy and resources pulling the crust off before we can get anywhere close to the heart of the matter.

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