The Informed

Un-separating the Issues & Un-fucking the System: Protesting Bill C-51, Vancouver Style

As it goes into its third reading this coming week, it would seem that Bill C-51 will be passed through the Canadian Parliamentary system soon, and there is little else we can do to stop it. Or is there? The anatomy of a Canadian protest and why it is crucial that our mild-mannered fellow citizens speak up and fight for our way of life.

Placards awaiting protesters at the Vancouver Art Gallery, April 18th, 2015

The mood at the Vancouver Art Gallery today for the protest against Canada's controversial bill C-51 was decidedly low, at least at the start. The turnout was less than one would have hoped, and I think we all collectively wondered if the glorious spring weather was a factor in the numbers attending. Go play outside, we'll take care of this while your freedom rots. I'm sure some of us were thinking this, but those of us at the protest a month before could recall a much larger turnout then, and a much more intense energy, and since that day, millions more Canadians have opened their eyes to the tyranny of this legislature, thanks mostly to the tireless efforts of protesters and concerned citizens across the country. But today, they didn't come; it is Spring in Vancouver and patios and other indulgences beckon.

As the start time of one o-clock came and went, the protest organizers huddled and consulted one another off to the side of the Art Gallery steps and presumably decided to wait and allow more folks to arrive In these dangerous times, there are no sidelines; there is a definitive line in the sand, and those who don't know about this bill, those who don't care, are on one side of that line to fill the sparseness of the public space before proceeding. More people slowly trickled in and finally, there was a feint buzz forming in the small crowd. Why are they not packed in, shoulder to shoulder, spilling out across the street and holding up traffic? Surely there are substantially more people shopping on Robson Street in the sunshine at this very moment; do they not care, or do they think we'll just take care of everything in defense of their freedom? In these dangerous times, there are no sidelines; there is a definitive line in the sand, and those who don't know about this bill, those who don't care, and those who prefer to shop instead of fight are on one side of that line. Many of them just don't know it.

As the energy built, and our hopefulness for a successful protest rose, I wandered the crowd to find some interesting people, and hear their opinions. A group of bicycle police waited across the street and I approached them. When asked what their mandate was, they (very politely, very Canadian-like I might add) told me that they are told to observe, and escort the lawful gathering as it marched through the streets, and to explicitly not get involved unless there are acts of violence. One of the officers told me that he has worked many of these events, and they are always peaceful.

They were more than eager to share with me their opinion of the bill, and they were, obviously, in favour of it. They were quite adamant about the fact that this bill will not affect Canadians' right to peaceful protest and would not give CSIS police-like powers. They also accused me of not reading it, to which I informed them that it is because I have read it that I was there at all. They were working off of scripted responses, and they are required, by virtue of their profession, to toe the line, and I can understand that. But what was disappointing with the conversation is that the information they are told to convey is, in fact, propaganda. Most, if not all, of the speakers today spoke of abuses of police power to detain and attempt to silence them. Where there is a law, there is abuse of that law and over-step of authority. Why would this be any different? I wanted to tell them where their logic was flawed, but unfortunately they were just then called away by their supervisor to debrief before the protest began.

Joseph Lawson, 1st Nations Cree from Saskatchewan
Finally, as the ceremonies began, a gentleman named Shea called forth the first speaker, a Canadian musician named Zachary Gray from the band The Zolas. His beautiful songs of protest started to build the crowd and, as music often does, united the eclectic crowd and served to create a sort of sacred space for all of us. And more people came and filled the public space. He paused between songs to occasionally speak, and told us that because there is so much information out there these days, there is a grey area, a confusion around issues like this. He went on to say that everyone he talks to these days is opposed to the bill, and yes, we all are indeed opposed. But what about them? What about the politicians, the economic elite, and the media elite? I know lots of liberals and socialists too, and while we appreciate his music and message, we need to heed that as a warning - when an individual is surrounded by only like-minded people, that is a sign that it is time to reach out and expand your circle of influence, and inject truth into the story that is being told, our cultural dialogue.

After the music ended and the first speaker took the stage, we had finally amounted to the size of a respectable protest - not revolutionary mind you, but respectable. Audrey Siegl took the mic, a Musqueam First Nations activist and a great speaker that any Vancouver activist has crossed paths with before. She never fails to make me feel proud to be Canadian and it was mid-way through her speech that I realized that she was laying it down. She mentioned, as she and so many protesters always do, that this action was being held on the occupied land of the Coast Salish First Nations, and she spoke of the bill, her own fear as an activist, and about the world as a wholeThis protest was as much about fracking, as much about human rights, about the environment and democracy as it was about Bill C-51. It was about un-fucking the system, saying that in order to value the Earth, we need to also value all of the people that inhabit it, and rise above the tyranny that is in place. If you have ever been to a Canadian protest, you will know that these fights are very much led and championed by our First Nations, and they are not afraid to speak out. She made what was, for me, the most sense - that we can no longer look at separate issues, that there are no separate issues anymore, and that we are fighting tyranny, inequality and injustice alike. This protest was as much about fracking, as much about human rights, about the environment and democracy as it was about Bill C-51. It was about unfucking the system, and her words resonated with me. The wealth of backgrounds, races, life-styles and economics of the varied crowd this afternoon could only make one consider, why do we hold onto specific ideologies in this day and age? Why do we not just unite in our collective need to unfuck the system? This is clearly what we all want, isn't it?

Then there was the first of two performances by The Raging Grannies, a bunch of sweet little grandmothers who are not only badass, but on the CSIS watch list for their attempts at raising our consciousness.

The Raging Grannies, on the CSIS watch list
But then, something unexpected happened. A man who calls himself Rainbow John took to the stage and grabbed the microphone and said his peace, saying, in his very elderly way, that this might be his last stand. The MC, Shea, gave the signal for Rainbow John's mic to be cut off. When the crowd booed and began chanting "let him speak!" the Master of Ceremonies graciously relented and the crowd cheered as he went on about spirituality, fascism, the universe and physics. He was awesome. When Shea had control of the mic once again, he was sure to point out that this protest held no opinion of other matters; the truth of 9/11 (note the giant blue banner behind the Grannies), the pipeline or any other issue, to cover his ass. While I can appreciate his position to make this protest about this sole issue and not be so-called partisan, this author thinks he was wrong in his judgement to not only silence one of our elders, but to follow up with an almost corporate propaganda and rhetoric.

Rainbow John
And that, my dear readers, is the crux of this issue, in that it is an every-issue for the every-man. Our world has become so tyrannical and unequal that the time for cautious separation of issues is no longer what activism or protest is all about; that was the last wave. The system needs to be un-fucked, and the issues are all oneThe cautious separation of issues is no longer what activism or protest is all about, all are symptoms of this broken society, all are cries for help in the darkness of our modern world. When Martin Luther King, Jr. summoned the troops, in the days preceeding instant communication, shit got done. The people came, and they came en masse. We need to organize as people did in those times, we need to un-separate the issues and unite in our understanding that the system has failed. There were 9/11 truthers with banners, there were animal liberationists against C-51, there were those raising awareness about xenophobia in our society, anti-fracking activists, Anonymous, you name it - we were all there because this is about our freedom, about what our society has become, and about how we need to fix it. While we felt the energy of the afternoon's speeches, we needed all the people to come today, not just the passionate ones. We need people to understand that Bill C-51 is what is dangerous to Canadians. We need people to get on this side of the line, because it's just too crowded on the other side. Although all of those placards were eventually carried by someone, the truth is, if everyone came today, in all of the protests across the country, this bill, this violation of our humanity, would have died, today.

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