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Protest!

“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”.

Decolonizing?

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.

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© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://politicsnpoetry.wordpress.com berlynn

    It’s good that racists like you have a place to spew your hate. Too bad you’re so rigid that you can’t event take the time to look up what it means to decolonize. But I suppose you’re one of those who believes that Canada was never colonized…

    Such sadness for you and your circle of hate.

  • Robert Brosky

    The five demands of the ICSSA, as published in the #idlenomore resource package are not in the interest of the student body as a whole. Demand 1,2,3,and 5 will result in cost increases for all, for the benefit of a very small group. Demand 4 will serve only to obfuscate campus navigation for new and old community members alike. As a student in good standing at the University of Ottawa, I do not support these demands.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      Typically, that is the way protest goes these days. It isn’t about correcting universal injustice nor is it about issues that affect everyone. It has degenerated into demands by one special interest group or another that their particular demands be met regardless of the financial cost or the erosion of rights of others. Typically these protests today are less about unity than they are about further polarization and division.

  • Gabby in QC

    For thebear @ January 11, 2013 at 5:04 am:

    Unless I completely misunderstood your initial post, I gathered you believe civil disobedience is at times called for, albeit not in the current conflict, whereas I see little if any value in civil disobedience at any time. And that’s where our opinions differ. But hey, I’m not trying to convince you to my POV nor you to yours, so everything’s copacetic.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      When a law is unjust, civil disobedience is necessary. In Nazi Germany, for example, laws against Jews were not only unjust they were punative. If more people had engaged in civil disobedience to those laws, perhaps 6 million Jews might not have died. Likewise, denying the vote to women and to African Americans required civil disobedience to overcome unjust laws. My issue is that today, most civil disobedience is simply to get more cash or power for one group or another. It has nothing to do with justice, equality or the rights of all. If National Guardsmen had refused an illegal order to open fire on unarmed university students, there wouldn’t have been four dead at Kent State for exercising their constitutional right to vote.

      Civil disobedience is required when the law is morally reprehensible or violates the spirit of the nation’s values and constitution. There is a middle ground between protesting illegally and standing around like sheep accepting whatever government decrees regardless of whether it is right or not.

      • Gabby in QC

        I guess I was wrong … you are trying to convince me about your POV ;-)

        You cite extreme cases back in history whereas I’m talking about a democratic society (Canada) with many other avenues and recourses to solve grievances. However, as I said previously, I’m not seeking to convert you or anyone else to my POV, I was merely expressing mine. End of story.

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I am stating why I believe there are times when civil disobedience is necessary. You are free to believe what you like but I will tell you this. People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The Liberal Party suspended civil rights in the 70s during the FLQ crisis. Hundreds of innocent people were arrested in their homes and held without access to a lawyer. Habeous corpus was suspended as were all other rights. Canada was a very democratic country back then just as it is now but that is no guarantee against unjust laws. Bill 101 is an unjust law that is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and The Guebec Charter of Rights but it exists because the Quebec government invoked the not withstanding clause when the law was found to be unconstitutional. Any law that suppresses the rights of citizens for political expediency is unjust and when the system will not rectify it, civil disobedience is the only recourse left.

          People who do not defend their rights soon lose them regardless of how safe they think they are in a democratic society.

  • Peggy

    Hey Bear,

    Why do I get this popup every time I go to your blog?

    Script: http://i.po.st/share/script/post-widget.js#publisherKey=httpwwwbloggercom921:17

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I don’t know Peggy. What browser are you using?

  • Gabby in QC

    IMO, there are far too many people propagating all manner of misinformation — as was so ably pointed out by your guest blogger Peggy Tupper, exposing as she did what the actual provisions of C-45 are. Those like her who are willing to sift through reams of information to arrive at an informed opinion are the ones who deserve a hearing, not the mobs chanting slogans in the streets demanding changes to legislation they haven’t read, much less understood.

    Opponents of the current government keep saying that there was no consultation on some of the provisions included in C-45, which has been one of this particular movement’s complaint. That was repeated in a morning talk show here in my neck of the woods by political commentator (her job description) and resident Harper-hater (my assessment of her commentary) Anne Lagacé Dowson.

    I’m sure that ”esteemed” commentator has not read C-45 nor any comments such as this one made before the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Committee on Nov. 19th, 2012 by Clarence T. Jules, Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer, First Nations Tax Commission, http://openparliament.ca/committees/aboriginal-affairs/41-1/50/clarence-t-jules-1/ :
    “The proposed amendments to streamline the designation process are a step in the right direction. At the very least, the designation voting requirements should be the same as in other governments in Canada, where the majority support is sufficient. Accordingly, I support the amendments to the Indian Act as contained in Bill C-45.”

    Nor have critics of C-45 like the aforementioned commentator read a similar opinion expressed before the same committee by Chief Sharon Stinson Henry, Member, National Aboriginal Economic Development Board:
    “In conclusion, the national board is supportive of the overall direction taken in Bill C-45, to this extent: first, we agree to the proposed amendment to Bill C-45 to reduce the voting threshold to a simple majority, as has been mentioned. However, the board is of the opinion that the bill should go further and eliminate the need for a second designation vote when changes to the lease or the use of the land are required.”

    Another aboriginal representative before the same committee, Leona Irons, Executive Director, National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association, said:
    “In conclusion, as stewards of the land we have the foremost responsibility of ensuring quality land management to promote sustainable growth and prosperity within our communities. We also have the responsibility to provide technical advice and guidance to support improvement on matters related to first nations land management. Therefore, the National Aboriginal Lands Managers Association recognizes that the proposed amendments to the act outlined in division 8, clauses 206 to 209 of Bill C-45 have the potential to improve the designation process.”

    So, as is often the case, people stomp their feet and yell and scream without knowing all the facts.

    Although this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhblsFPVRys&feature=player_embedded#! deals with US politics leading up to last year’s election and not with protests, it nevertheless illustrates how some demonstrators actually fail to grasp the issues, lacking relevant facts.

  • Pingback: A Bear’s Rant | Grumpy Opinions

  • Jennifer

    I highly recommend the movie PCU to anyone who agrees with this blog entry. It is an extremely funny take on the stupidity of the Political Correctness movement and protests in general.

  • Gabby in QC

    I was reading a Maclean’s article about Chief Spence and came across this link http://www.change.org/petitions/petition-to-abolish-the-indian-act-of-canada
    which is a petition addressed to PM Harper to abolish the Indian Act.

    Please note I’m not expressing support nor oppposition to the petition. I simply post the link here because I believe it to be pertinent to your topic, i.e. forms of protest.

    My own POV re: protests generally is that they only serve to create confusion, if not downright chaos, among the population, as well as distrust of all our reasonably functioning though imperfect institutions. Writing directly to the politicians involved, commenting on the various comment forums available, joining a political party or an legitimately recognized organization that espouses one’s POV, signing petitions: all of those can be viable means of addressing grievances. But sit-ins, flash mobs, blockades and other forms of street protests? Nothing but mob mentality with potentially dangerous consequences.

    • http://abearsrant.com thebear

      I have no problem with people protesting; I’ve done it myself and so has my daughter. My issue is with how and why people protest these days. It has gotten so out of hand that OWS protesters in the States actually started a violent action with small school children between them and the police. They have also used their own children as human shields. At that point, it isn’t protest, it’s child abuse. If people wish to protest by all means do so but do so within the law and without trampling the safety and the rights of others. The Constitution does not bestow that right on anyone regardless of how righteous they believe their cause to be.

      I’ll let people draw their own conclusions from the link you provided to the petition but my own opinion is that petitions are neither protest nor effective. It’s a very lazy way for people to feel like they’ve done something so they can get back to their smart phones and Twitter.

      • http://abearsrant.com thebear

        Thank you for your comment and your support. Feel free to share a link to this site with your friends and followers. We need all the support we can gather if we are going to change things.

      • Gabby in QC

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on the “methodology” of protests and demonstrations.

        Even the demonstrations and protests that you cited in your post as being valid and effective (Vietnam & civil rights) involved destruction of life and property — and that happened when there was generally more respect for life, property, and institutions. So, if people want to march, let them join the armed forces or a marching band — of the musical variety!)

        • http://abearsrant.com thebear

          I stand by what I wrote. There is no question that some of the protest in the 60s became aggressive but only after black protesters were murdered and the state government did nothing, only after four students were gunned down by the National Guard at Kent State and only after protesters marching during the Democratic Convention in Chicago were suddenly attacked by police in ways this generation has never seen. Even then, however, almost all of the violence was attributable to anarchist groups like the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, the Chicago 7 and the Yippies Buildings weren’t vandalized, cars weren’t torched and protesters didn’t use children as human shields or burst into classrooms to intimidate fellow students trying to attend class.

          They weren’t always quiet but they were nothing compared to the self-indulgent hissy-fits we see today.

          • Gabby in QC

            Please understand … I’m not trying to undermine your argument re: the validity of protest to effect change.

            I’m simply putting forward my general observations about protests & demonstrations and the unforeseen consequences they may have. Even in the most well-intentioned peaceful demonstrations some unexpected action can spark a violent reaction — and that is what I would like our society to avoid.

            I suppose I’m too much of a law & order person to countenance civil disobedience of any kind, regardless of how noble the cause.

            As I said before … we’ll have to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

          • http://abearsrant.com thebear

            I’m having difficulty understanding what it is you think we disagree about.

  • Stan

    Life Of Brian was not supposed to be a how to manual:

  • Garrett Smith

    Well done!

  • Cheryl

    “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.”

    Well said! As a nation, we’ve become desensitized to protests because, lately, it seems to be in vogue. Everyone does it. Got a beef? Protest. It doesn’t matter if it makes a lick of sense.