Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On protesting

On Valentines Day, 2,000 to 4,000 people marched through Vancouver's Downtown Eastside in the annual Women’s March for Missing and Murdered Women. A memorial march not a protest, it is organized and led by women of the DTES to remember the hundreds of aboriginal women who have gone missing or been murdered in the past two decades. With no other competing agendas represented, it is the very essence of a respectful and focused peaceful grassroots march and only by chance coincides with the other daily Olympic protests here.
CBC's coverage of it on The National notwithstanding, doubtless this is the first time many people outside of Vancouver have even heard of it.
The previous day, a few hundred people took to the streets to protest an interwoven range of complaints highlighted by the Olympics - stolen aboriginal land, environmental destruction, tarsands, corporate greed, Gordon "Red Mittens" Campbell, Harper, poverty, homelessness, etc .
A couple of idiots threw a Province box through a window of Olympics sponsor Hudson's Bay Co., while others threw paint, overturned trashcans and traffic pylons, spat on police - who showed admirable restraint throughout - and insulted onlookers. 13 were arrested and four charged.
The media here and around the world immediately ate it up of course, and thousands hit the "agree" button next to the comments suggesting they be strung up under the CBC article about it.
Many progressive bloggers - my co-blogger here Rev, backed up by Dave in comments, Dr. Dawg, Cathie, Scott, Prole, JJ, Jim Bobby, and many other bloggers I like and respect - were swift to distance themselves from the vandals. They pointed out that such violence only serves to alienate potential supporters of the very genuine problems that all of them have supported and written to. The notoriety that comes with being a self-aggrandizing asshole will only hurt the given cause, they said.
And yet something about all this outrage directed at a few brats has been bothering me ever since.
We're talking rudeness and minor property damage here, right? They spat and broke stuff. When I walked past the broken window a few hours later, it had already been replaced.
Compare this with when Robert Dziekanski, in sheer frustration at his own helplessness, broke up furniture at YVR - it did not stop us from identifying with his plight. When the very few and vastly over-reported stories of property damage in Haiti came to light, we did not condemn the frustrated perpetrators for their actions. Indeed we thought it remarkable in the face of being denied the basic necessities of life displayed but refused them, that such incidents were so few and far between. So why the double standard for Saturday's vandals?
It takes hope and solidarity and strength of purpose to witness non-violently year after year as the Sisters in Spirit marchers at top do. Twenty years now the core of them have been waiting for action on their missing sisters. They march while waiting for the rest of us to catch up and claim their cause - which includes continuing murders and disappearances - as our own.
I think the angry hooligans from Saturday's protest just don't think they have the luxury of that kind of time to protest peacefully while waiting patiently for the rest of us to catch up to their sense of urgency about the world. I worry that our rush to condemn them means that we imagine we do enjoy that luxury.


West End Bob said...

My Dear Lady, you really got 'em goin' over at the Beav, didn't ya?

Got that pot stirred up pretty well, you rabble-rouser, you . . . .

chris said...

Wish I could read the comments at TGB. Oh well...

Well done, Alison!

There is so much that could be said here I almost feel like starting a blog.

All the people mentioned in the post believe that the world needs to change. So do I. The only difference is that the rioters want change now. I think they are right but I don't think it's going to happen.

Change won't happen without some catalysing catastrophic event that forces people off the couch and out the door. Sadly, by the time they go out the door it will be to forage for supplies because global warming, peak oil, and economic collapse happened while they were updating their Facebook pages and democracy died unnoticed during the finale of Lost.

Too apocalyptic? Maybe. We are after all serious and reasonable people. Some 50+% of us elected other serious and reasonable people to manage things for us and that seems to be working well. Don't forget the eleventy million folks worldwide who marched against the Iraq war with hardly any property damage at all and...oh...shit.

I think that anyone who isn't afraid of the near future doesn't understand the situation. Those who do understand have either opted out like me or they are marching and beginning to riot. Soon a few broken windows are going to seem quite tame.

chris said...

The notoriety that comes with being a self-aggrandizing asshole will only hurt the given cause, they said.

I dunno, seems to get the Cons and Republicans on serious and reasonable TV all the time.

Anonymous said...

I've read your post 3 times now.
I like how you think through the internal dialogue of what this means. Few take the time to do so, but many, including the international press, try to.

I believe that every protester made an indelible mark.

At the large opening ceremony protest I saw an old lady, maybe 80, with a sign that said 'Save Our Water". She walked past me, backgrounded by the the 30 or so Black Bloc Anarchists (half of whom were probably cops). I didn't take a picture, but that picture is in my mind.

The march stopped on Georgia Street, at Homer, where all the international TV cameras were set up, China, Russia, and USA TV, and a chant started up, always my favourite one at protest marches in Vancouver.


That's a f***ing good feeling to say that. We are pissed off. Me and the Bangers and the little old lady.

It all counts. Big time.

Anonymous said...

If activists helped the cops, and added barbed wire to protect the Owelympic Cauldron, could they be arrested?
Or would that be Trademark infringement?

Alison said...

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments here and at the Beav, where they were maddeningly eaten by Haloscan in the middle of the night.
Just a reminder that dialogue on this and related issues continues at CAPP on Facebook where the content is open to all.

laura k said...

Great post, Alison. Really tremendous. I was more disturbed by the outrage over property damage than I was by the brats' little rampage.

There's an excellent article in this month's Harpers magazine about sinister methods of crowd control. Most interesting about the story (to me) was an analysis of how rioting helped move both the peace movement in the Vietnam era and the US Civil Rights movement forward - how necessary it was. Not a perspective you see very often right now.

Anyway, thanks for the great post.

Alison said...

Thanks, Laura.
Truth is you got there first. I read your own very good take on this : Save a little outrage for the real criminals
before I wrote mine. Was going to link to it but then thought you might not appreciate being lumped into a blogpost which was bound to be roundly condemned elsewhere- which it was.

Looking forward to the Harpers piece, thanks.

laura k said...

Thank you, I'm honoured!

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