“The world is a magical place full of people just waiting to be offended by something!” – Anonymous
The Indigenous and Canadian Studies Students’ Association (ICSSA) of Ottawa University released a press release yesterday in which they announced “a new wave of sustained actions in support of Idle No More”.
Like so many announcements of its kind, especially from post-secondary student movements, it is full of grand hyperbole that borders on the self-righteous but which usually has next to nothing to do with reality other than the reality of “oh shit it, here we go again”’.
Among other things, the students are demanding “on behalf of our Indigenous members and their settler allies” (settler allies? – I love that term), the University of Ottawa administration, “to commence decolonizing and indigenizing” our campus”.
It’s difficult to see a university campus as a hotbed of colonial expansion of non-settlers no matter how many settlers it may contain. It’s even more difficult to take this kind of pretentious, self-impressed rhetoric seriously.
The press release goes on to state that the (ICSSA) is not only standing in solidarity with Idle No More, other students organizations (settler or otherwise) but also with Theresa Spence. You would have thought that people smart enough to attend university would have had been smart enough to hitch their wagon to someone with just a bit more credibility than Theresa Spence. But – apparently not.
Where the flame of sanctimonious passion burns the flame of knowledge sputters and dies out.
Along with the usual demands for ‘accessible’ education which they interpret to mean heavily subsidized education as an entitlement, there are demands that the university honour its treaty obligations but I’m not aware of any university having signed a treaty with any aboriginal group so that seems a bit bizarre at best.
Underneath it all, of course, is the demand for more cash in the form of more scholarships and other financial support. In the end, protest today always comes down to demanding more of something: more cash, more entitlement or more power and always for the group protesting; never for the society as a whole.
We are overrun by protest these days. Almost daily now, somewhere some group is protesting something.
It got so bad a couple of years back at the G8/G20 meetings in Toronto, different protest groups were literally bumping into each other and some had to move to other venues to continue being in solidarity with their ‘brothers and sisters’ in standing against whatever it was they we’re standing against.
That happened again in Ottawa last year when protesting teachers bumped into protesting federal public servants and protesting members of Occupy. In the end, they simply merged into a new protest group before going home and leaving the rest of us wondering what in the hell that was all about.
Often, as was seen frequently during the early days of the Occupy Movement, many don’t really know why they’re protesting but as one Occupier put it to the media, “It’s a great way to meet chicks.”
Coming right on the heels of the announcement by the ICSSA was an announcement from the Ontario Elementary Teachers Federation that they would be holding a one-day political action tomorrow which looks, coincidentally, like a one-day strike but isn’t even though it looks like one but isn’t even though – well, you get the picture.
Elementary school teachers will walk out of the classroom on Friday but it isn’t a strike action which would be illegal, it’s a political demonstration which is according to the union leadership, constitutionally guaranteed. I looked butI couldn’t find the clause in the constitution that guarantees anyone’s right to walk off their job without risking getting fired in order to protest.
It seems a rather convenient interpretation of Canada’s Constitution – or is it the trivialization of our constitution? It’s getting hard to tell the difference these days.
It seems that legitimate protest has been redefined to include any action that the protest group has decided is legitimate to their purposes. This has, in recent years, included torching cars, vandalizing public and private property, violating local ordinances, breaking provincial and federal laws, disrupting and sometimes endangering the public as much as possible, blockading railway lines, border crossings and the entrance to public buildings, intimidation, bullying and, of course, trying to pick up chicks.
One OWS protester showed considerable creativity by pooping on a police car and you have to believe that helped to advance the movement’s intellectual credibility.
My new favourite is the protest diet introduced by Theresa Spence; the self-professed Gandhi of Canada’s aboriginal protest movement. It is a hunger strike that allows snacking in between meals of fish broth and tea which greatly reduces the messy possibility of dying for your cause.
Canadians have always been, by and large, a very pragmatic people.
The purposes of recent protests have ranged from the serious to the trivial, from legitimate to self-serving greed.
There have been protests in Canada over the oil sands, pipelines, aboriginal issues, the G8/G20 summit in Toronto, reductions to the federal government’s work force, the 1001 grievances of the Occupy Movement, teachers’ compensation freezes, increases for college and university tuition, climate change, the Tamil Tigers, a whole series of constantly changing aboriginal demands, real estate development, Israel, abortion, pro-choice and cuts to the budget of the National Archive by a small but dedicated group of militant librarians.
You know things are serious when librarians march.
Almost all of these protests have been noisy, highly disruptive and quite often significantly expensive in terms of policing, disruption of business and vandalism but the real question isn’t how much has it cost. The real question is what has all this noise achieved?
In a word – nothing!
Not one blessed thing beyond a fleeting sense of empowerment for those carrying signs and stomping around our streets and rail lines has been achieved. Teacher’s and public sector wages remain frozen, the Canadian government’s positions on Israel, The Tamil Tigers, the oil sands, pipelines and environmental policy remains pretty much unchanged. Tuition increases were reversed only to be reintroduced in a different form and even cuts to the budget of the National Archives weren’t prevented.
At what point do people with an axe to grind stop and ask themselves whether or not they should reconsider their options? Clearly all this activism is not really all that effective. In fact, it is becoming an impediment to actually advancing causes as increasingly the public, weary of always being the target of some group or other and their protest, are turning to their governments to put an end to the nonsense in their streets.
I believe it is because so much of what is being protested today is poorly thought through and self-serving at best or simply hypocritical at worst. It is difficult to get behind environmental protests led by people who jet around the world to attend climate change conferences or, as in the case of some who protest against the oil sands, actually invest in the companies developing the oil sands. It is equally difficult to support those protesting for continuing increases to their salaries during a period of economic restraint.
Too often protest demonstrations become more about legitimizing the protest than about drawing attention to a cause.
Occupy, for example, ended up fighting to continue occupying rather than demonstrating for a specific issue although it’s not hard to understand why. Their issues changed so often even they had difficulty keeping up with whatever it was they were protesting about.
Protesting has a rich and honourable history.
Henry David Thoreau was a protester although his movement tended to be a movement of one. He initiated actions against paying the school tax for example and was ready to accept the consequences of his action. He wrote a great essay called, Civil Disobedience, that I think many of today’s protesters should read and consider before donning their masks and hitting the streets.
The protest movements of the 60s were very effective but then, they had two things going for them that today’s protest movements don’t. They were focused on singular and serious issues that included the Civil Rights Movement that protested for years to end the injustice against African Americans. The other great cause was to end the war in Viet Nam.
In both cases, their targets were government not the general public. Both movements had real leaders of conscience who spoke eloquently and there were clear and well-defined objectives based on justice and ending war. It was a commitment to ideals that made them successful, not simply the spleen-venting that passes for protest today.
Protest is a legitimate exercise in a free society and sometimes necessary to cause government to change course when it otherwise refuses to listen to the voice of the people but today, it has been trivialized to becoming little more than a major disruption in the lives of many.
Terrorists attack the innocent in order to instill terror. The objective is to cause fear which they believe will motivate people to turn to their governments and demand concessions be made to meet the objectives of the terrorists. Modern protesters, while not terrorists, have taken the same approach.
They seem to believe that the more they inconvenience and disrupt the lives of every day citizens, the more it will cause them to turn to their governments and demand they meet the demands of the protest group.
It ain’t working.
Canadians, like people in most democratic nations today, are become weary of the same old hyperbole, sanctimonious rhetoric and all of the disruption, sometimes violence and vandalism that has become pretty much standard fair with too many demonstrations.
This has a tendency to undermine the validity of the issue as people link the lack of credibility of the protest group to their issue. We’re seeing that these days with a declining respect for Idle No More and its issues thanks to their link to Theresa Spence’s and her rapidly declining credibility.
In the end, that may actually be the single greatest failure of today’s protest movements. They have failed to realize that aside from the inconvenience they inject into our days at times, they are becoming increasingly irrelevant to the discussion of the serious issues we face because they don’t know how to build credibility or support for their issues. They only now how to disrupt and make noise.
It is difficult to take seriously those who parade around yelling and screaming rather than putting forward real and considered policy issues or even just clearly defined objectives to be met.
When the purpose of a protest is little more than a demand for more entitlement or a confused mish mash of conflicted ideas; when it a constantly changing agenda of issues that is more like a undefined wish list than legitimate concerns, it lacks the ability to draw the broader public to its cause.
When it takes the form of an adolescent and often violent hissy-fit, it lacks the ability to gain credibility and, in the end, that is the kiss of death for any protest movement.
Just ask Occupy how well that worked for them.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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