Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sometimes We Have to Take Matters Into Our Own Hands and Out of the Hands of Failed Leaders

Given that all of Canada's mainstream parties embrace the petro-state, it's pretty obvious that change is going to have to be driven from without, not within.  All this bullshit - get involved with the party, change it from inside - is really just bullshit.  C'mon in, vent a little, then sit down and shut up.

The opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and the Kitimat supertanker port didn't come from within the "anything but" Liberal party of Christy Clark.  It came from ordinary residents of British Columbia who were fed up and had simply had enough.  Suddenly we had Crusty and Justin and the rest of the Pack of Fools muttering about "social licence."

I was reminded of this when I read an opinion piece in today's Guardian by the paper's new 'social media' writer, Ellie Mae O'Hagen (yeah, I know. "Ellie Mae"? Really?) about how she came to join the social activist group, UK Uncut, and the remarkable things it accomplished just by trying.

...I was idly scrolling through Twitter (some things don’t change) and I noticed something stirring. A group of activists hadoccupied Vodafone’s flagship store in protest against the company’s alleged tax avoidance. .They shut Vodafone down. It was amazing: new, young, immediate, exciting – and totally different from the A-to-B marches I’d taken part in beforethe UK invaded Iraq in 2003.

I emailed the activists: “That was amazing! Is there anything going in Liverpool?” A man, now one of my best friends, emailed me back. And that was the moment that changed me.

To this day, I don’t know what spurred me on to take up the challenge and organise a protest in Liverpool, but a few days later I had gathered a ragtag bunch of activists I’d never met before. And the mere suggestion that we might take direct action caused Vodafone to shut down both its Liverpool stores in advance.

Those London-based activists, of which I was now one, were the beginning of the direct action network UK Uncut. Since its inception it has inspired more than 800 protests across the country; it’s been derided by establishment institutions from parliament to Fox News; it was one of the reasons Starbucks felt compelled to pay £20m in tax to the Treasury; it propelled tax avoidance up the political agenda; and it introduced me to some of my now closest friends, changing my life irreversibly.

The events flowing from that email led me to a realisation that I have never forgotten: change is possible. Since my time with UK Uncut, I have spent a lot of time talking to people about activism, and the most common sentiment I hear is that it’s pointless: “They won’t listen anyway.” It’s the same inertia I fell into after the Iraq war, but it couldn’t be more wrong.

People in power aren’t ambivalent about protest; they’re terrified of it. Social progress plods along like a tortoise, and protest is the jet pack you attach to its back. It’s not true to say protest doesn’t work: in fact, it’s the only thing that does work. That’s why we’re constantly encouraged not to do it.

I’ve seen how people’s lives can be changed through taking action, sometimes at enormous cost (as with many activists I’ve met in Colombia) – sometimes with enormous rewards, and often both at the same time. I’ve seen how activism can be a transformative process for activists themselves, as well as for the society they wish to change.

I took in my little town's Tuesday evening summer market this week.  Local artisans set up booths and sell their wares mainly to the tourists who come to our resorts.  Some were a lot more successful than others and I noticed one with a line up of customers.  As I got closer it was a "Save Our Coast" kiosk dedicated to opposing the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway dilbit initiatives.  People were lining up to buy T-shirts and hats and stickers emblazened with the "Save Our Coast" slogan.  The merch seemed to be flying off their tables.  The message was so simple but it was also so connective "our coast." Yes, it's ours. It belongs to all of us. It's ours to save, to defend. That's a powerful thought to convey and the visitors who bought that stuff will be spreading that message even further when they get home.  And, eventually, the message filters up until the people who most need to hear it can't avoid it any longer.


Lorne said...

This is a powerful story, Mound. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. So many of us, I think, have fallen prey to the notion that protests accomplish little or nothing. We need more success stories like this to restore our faith!

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Lorne. As this week's Vancouver Observer poll of four Lower Mainland ridings, one new and three of them generally safe for the Tories, showed three of those seats are trending to Trudeau and the new one up the Fraser Valley is going heavily Mulcair. And why are these Tory strongholds collapsing? Supertankers. Even Conservative-leaning voters won't support Harper because of the very real risk those tankers would pose to "our coast."

There was a reason Save Our Coast was moving so much merchandise. People want to be seen wearing it. They want to make a statement when they get back home. Inconsequential as it may seem, it's not. They're taking a stand and everyone who sees their hats or shirts will know it.