Saturday, August 29th, 2020 was an inspiring day in Toronto, as most protests and demonstrations are. Every time I go, I am inspired by at least four things. Every time.
One is how interconnected the issues are that people care about. Your typical protest has a theme or set of central issues that it’s all about (Saturday’s was technically about defunding the police). But then you get there, and you realize that there are signs representing other causes that people care about. It’s not random though. Like, it’s not like every person or organization out there with an axe to grind is like “Woohoo! A protest! Let’s go!” This is how the media portrays it, especially the more conservative media. They not infrequently make claims like the protesters don’t really seem to stand for anything in particular. There are so many different signs and messages and causes, it seems more like a big confusing mess, you know, just all the snowflakes coming out to stroke their egos and make themselves heard. Or just stir up some trouble. As though the people who become “activists” are the same people who sat at the back of the class with a chip on their shoulder towards authority and were shit-disturbers, just for the hell of it.
But no, the people who show up, the organizations who show up, are not random. Instead, you start to realize that the different causes represented in a single march are in fact deeply connected issues. That’s why at a Defund the Police march, you’ll see signs for Native rights, signs for investing $$$ in communities, signs for mental health, signs about poverty. These are all deeply interconnected issues. To work on one is, in effect, to seek solutions for all of them.
At a climate change march, you see different signs. Climate change and environmental stuff, of course. Plus anti-poverty signs and Native rights signs, again. Plus lots of vegan and animal liberation signs. Plus signs about energy investment and securing sustainable jobs in the future. Plus signs about the rights of girls and women, especially around the world rather than merely in Canada, for an education. etc. Because THOSE are all interconnected issues.
At every protest, you realize that people DON’T just think about issues in a single-perspective kind of way. The media often talks about things as though they are disconnected. But the people who educate themselves see things very differently. You’ve just gotta get involved and learn about the issues, benefiting from the expertise of the countless people in the societal-reform movements who are true experts on these issues, people who have spent their entire careers/lives fighting for justice or mental health or to alleviate poverty, etc.
I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to interview people at random at a protest and find out that some of them have a limited or poor understanding of what they’re protesting about. Sure, that’s likely. But if you do a comprehensive interview of the people there, and include some questions like, “Is this your first protest?”, “How long have you been involved?”, etc., you would find very quickly that many, many people who call themselves “activists” would put your average journalist, to shame with their deep and systemic understanding of the issues.
One gentleman I spent some time talking to on Saturday was clearly homeless. “In between jobs”, he said. And he SCHOOLED me on the links between government policy regarding mental illness, the history of Native ‘rights’ in Canada, and poverty. I was blown away. Dude would get an A+ for sure if he wrote that down and handed it in for a university assignment.
Society is actually FULL of brilliant, learned, caring and courageous people.
That’s bloody inspiring.
Two is how LOVING the protest community is. Have you ever been to a rave? You know, the all night dance parties, popular in the 90s, which operated outside the law and everybody dropped Ecstasy (or other things) and spent the night dancing, hugging, sharing? If you have never been to a rave, dude, you missed out. :’( But THAT is the closest collective vibe I ever experienced that mirrors what you find at a protest (minus the Ecstasy; protesters are overwhelmingly sober aside from some weed here and there).
I spent the day marching with a couple of Black women who appreciated the drumming and danced down the street with me (I had my drum, of course.), a bearded tall dude who didn’t say much in person but chanted passionately with the crowd, a young woman proudly holding a “Dump Your Racist Boyfriend” sign that made me laugh, and a smattering of others who were my microcosm of love and solidarity in a crowd of several thousand.
At protests, people are gentle, overwhelmingly. Their eyes are kind. Their smiles are warm. They share. They talk to strangers, without hesitation. And they respect your space, if you are having your own ‘moment’ and don’t feel like engaging. Every new encounter oozes mutual respect, starting with a smile and bright eyes. In pre-COVID times, many start with a hug.
I know some white people who feel anxious about getting involved with a Black or Native-led movement, or with groups from different cultures. Cuz, you know, aren’t White people judged, even hated? Isn’t it a minefield, where you’re always afraid of offending someone? etc.
No. The reality is, when you show up, your ally-ship is clear, and your acceptance is instantaneous. Are there moments of discomfort sometimes? Of course. And as you push through those moments, you realize how deep the practice of respect and listening can be, and how quickly people can see past your skin-based “group membership”, to the person you actually are.
That’s bloody inspiring.
Three is how diverse and broad-scale the protest community is. It is a true cross-section of society, although not of the entire political spectrum, I must admit. Saturday was mostly young people, granted. It was a little different than climate marches, which are even more diverse. But I think the recent violence against BlackLivesMatter and related movements has indeed made people wary. Although thousands showed up, there were RELATIVELY few kids in strollers (but there were a few), and elderly people (but there were a few). Understandably. This was also true for protests against government surveillance (Bill C-51, I believe it was) and other issues where it’s a little dicey as to how the police are going to respond.
But still, the people who show up ARE people like you, and me, and your neighbour, and the nice guy who works at the grocery store, and the woman in the coffeeshop, and the bus driver, and your teacher, and the person sitting in front of you at church.
That’s bloody inspiring.
Four is how much leadership, and ‘grounding’, are provided by Native people. They really are the experts in societal reform, and this is abundantly clear the more I encounter their leadership and wisdom. I grew up knowing literally ZERO about Native history in Canada, and my impressions of Native people were entirely driven by stereotypes. This ignorance disappears rapidly when you get involved, in person. Listen to their songs, their speeches, their recounting of history. Listen to their ideas, and how different they are from those of mainstream society, so steeped in hierarchy and symbols of power and control that “we” have collectively forgotten that Humans are innately kind, and sharing communally IS “human nature” far, far more than militarily organizing and subjugating each other under the delusional mentality of scarcity that seems to have infiltrated most of the world’s thinking.
Native people know that Mother Earth is abundant. There is enough for everybody. If we treat her, and each other, with love, then all of us, and all of our descendants, can live in abundance and peace.
They have been waiting for us “settlers” to come and sit with them, in community, ever since the first ships arrived from across the sea. They’ve never stopped extending their hands in generosity.
That’s bloody inspiring.
This is what it’s (usually) like to go to a protest.