Sunday, February 23, 2020

In Praise of Protest

One thing the Wet'suet'en protests have done is to make people take a side. That can be quite instructive as people, perhaps uncomfortable with their choice, go to some lengths to explain themselves, to justify their stance to others they must feel could judge them harshly.

There is a lot of frustration and anger that surfaces among us. Many of us, it seems, have lost sight of the often curative role protest plays in democratic society. David Moscrop offers some helpful insights on why we need protest, including this one.
As acts of protest and civil disobedience in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en land defenders cascade throughout Canada, the nation’s fainting couches are straining under the weight of so many concerned citizens and commentators who see these actions as unconscionable and dangerous threats to the rule of law. Responses critical of the resistance express worry about disruption: to the market, to order, to the smooth and privileged and unencumbered day-to-day lives we expect to live. Protest is meant to disrupt
Protest is meant to bring a reality that lurks beyond the sight lines of most people crashing down in front of them. The Wet’suwet’en protests are doing just that. The Wet’suwet’en protests are working. And three cheers for that. 
Liberal democracy asks next to nothing of those governed by its light touch. Citizens are asked to pay their taxes. They do so, more or less, griping as they remit them, unless they can weasel out as corporations routinely do. Citizens are asked to present themselves for jury duty, if summoned. But most people will never have to do so. Citizens are asked to take a little time to cast a ballot every few years. Two-thirds or so do that. Beyond these boundaries, individuals are free to give back as much or as little as they please to their community and they are left alone to ignore the imperatives of self-government.
When resistance to the current order arises, citizens are put to the test. We are forced to reveal where our allegiances lie. What are we willing to support, or do, in the pursuit of rightness and justice? In the case of the Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Coastal Gaslink project, those who are blockading road and rail, preventing politicians from entering the B.C. legislature and other buildings, and those supporting them on air and online are calling public attention to the tensions, disjunctures, contradictions and injustices of a colonial system of governance. That system has been thrust upon Indigenous peoples; so too has the violence of a market and political orthodoxy that says energy projects will only go through with consent, while implicitly assuming and expecting that consent—even through unceded land, so much of which covers B.C.—from hereditary chiefs. It’s a put-up job.
...In 1963, Americans were asked what they thought of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. Sixty percent of them “had an unfavourable view of the march, stating that they felt it would cause violence and would not accomplish anything.” In Canada, the public has long had mixed feelings about—and, at times, thuggish and violent counter-reaction to—acts of resistance: the Red River Rebellion; the Winnipeg general strike; the Oka Crisis; Idle No More; even last summer’s climate marches. Looking back, opinions can and do shift, just as acts of resistance can—and do—lead to change. Meanwhile, history judges us.
... Justice and law are not the same thing. That which is legal is not necessarily just. And illegal actions can be done in the name of justice. Sometimes, change must happen through people throwing themselves against and beyond the boundaries of the law, pushing those limits beyond what is legal towards what they believe is just. That process will be discomfiting and disruptive. So be it. 
Democracy itself wouldn’t exist without those who put themselves on the line for what they believed to be just and necessary—even against the constraints of elite orthodoxy and the common popular imagination. Today, once more, we need those who ask us to be and do better. Whether Canadians support them in the moment is beside the point; someday, others will. In the meantime, the avenue of change for those who walk with the Wet’suwet’en must pass through the roads and rails and anger of those unconvinced by the struggle for justice. But eventually, one way or another, they will get to where they’re headed.
So, if you're one of these weak-kneed Liberals angered at what they see as a rebuke of their darling prime minister, tough. If you believe protest is fine as long as it doesn't inconvenience anyone, tough again.


Anonymous said...

Exactly, Mound. As Frederick Douglass put it:

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Anonymous said...


The Disaffected Lib said...

Frederick Douglass spoke of a wisdom that we must learn, generation after generation. I was struck by Moscrop's observation that "democracy asks next to nothing of those governed by its light touch."

My dad was a horribly wounded WWII vet. Infantry. He was never a profound sort of guy but he did tell me to have a firm grip on democracy and our rights. He said we had not a single right that hadn't been paid for, often in blood, more than once. Not one that wouldn't be stripped from us through our indifference. He said that every right has enormous value to those who would take it from us, especially if they could take it without a struggle.

I'm afraid we're neck deep into that predicament today. There's a reason that democracy is in retreat/decline. It marks the unearned, even covert, transfer of power - economic, political and cultural - from the many to the few.

As we saw in Germany in the 30s, at some point the restorative power of the ballot box fails.

the salamander said...

.. My takeaway .. The 'Law of the Land' is clearly sounding & acting like there are spun bearings on the crankshaft of Canada.. Why ? The explanation & causes are always the same. Owner or operator error over sustained period.. ie the 'life of the engine'

I could expand that analogy easily. Indolent maintenance, unreasonable expectation and engine abuse.. like driving with a flashing red light on the dashboard. Canada owns the engine.. who is operating it ? Look there first.

Cap... got it right

Northern PoV said...

"It is in the nature of a demonstration to provoke violence upon itself. Its provocation may also be violent. But in the end it is bound to suffer more than it inflicts. This is a tactical truth and an historical one. The historical role of demonstrations is to show the injustice, cruelty, irrationality of the existing State authority. Demonstrations are protests of innocence."

John Berger