99) From the River to the Sea

The tears didn’t come until I was walking home. I guess in order for the feelings to really surface, I had to get out of the noise and drumming, chanting and dancing, smiling faces, haunted but friendly eyes, and children, lots of children, more children (proportionally) than I have EVER seen at any protest or demonstration, by far, including the big Greta-inspired climate change march a few years back.

Once it was just me & my djembe, walking down the street in the dark, it hit me.  Right in the heart.  Such a complex mix of emotions I cannot possibly describe them adequately.  So much gratitude and love from the people who were there.  For me.  Me?  Some white dude with an African drum, attending a protest in support of Palestine?

Yes.  Love.  Not “for me”.  For everybody.  It was so obvious.  Let me tell you, I’ve been in some warm & fuzzy crowds before, because honestly, the anti-oppression, humanitarian and environmental protest communities tend to be pretty warm and fuzzy a lot of the time (regardless of what *some* people believe about “social justice warriors” and the “radical Left”).  The vast, vast majority of people at these types of demonstrations and protests are deeply kind, and it’s so clear when you are there on the ground.

That’s one of my very favourite things about the whole act of attending protests for a more peaceful and just world.  For the most part, it brings out the best in humanity.  At least, the chunk of humanity not wearing uniforms and riot gear.  

But this!  This was different, even compared to that very high comparison standard.  I felt Loved.  Literally.  By old men, young men, old women, young women.  Even the kids, peering up at me through eyes filled with a heart-rending mixture of fear, shyness, and shining hope.  I’d catch their eye and give them a smile and the sun would rise in their faces like it was the first dawn after Noah’s flood and they just got the news that land was discovered. I’m not saying this was “for me” or had anything to do with ME, specifically. It was for anyone, I believe. Their hearts are so open, you just have to be there, Connect, and the love flows spontaneously.  

I laughed with so many people.  Sang.  Danced.  Drummed like there was no tomorrow.  (Owwwwww, my hands…..)  Talked about resistance, history, and the fact that the tide DOES seem to be turning (excruciatingly slowly, but still…), not only in world opinion (cuz it’s always been pretty solidly against hardcore Zionism, with the notable exception of the USA and those who suck up to it, like Canada), but even here, in Canada, in the Western media even (a tiny, tiny bit anyway).  Sure, there is still LOTS of bias and TERRIBLE reporting and rampant prejudice.  I’m no head-in-the-clouds Pollyanna when it comes to how the colonial powers, and their populations, view the oppressed.  

But still, things ARE changing.  People here in Canada ARE more aware of what’s really going on. There’s much more open discussion about the brutal imbalance of power and use of force by “both sides” (as the media spins it), than there was a decade or so ago when “Operation Cast Lead” was brutalizing the imprisoned population of Palestine in the transparent language of “self defence” propaganda. Yes, things are changing. Bloody slowly, but maybe THIS, NOW is the tipping point that’s been prayed for, for 73 years. 

People gave me their phone numbers.  One guy offered to teach me their cultural rhythms on my drum, and I’m going to call him this week and set up a lesson.  At most protests, a couple of people will, usually with my encouragement, give the old drum skin a few good slaps and delight in embarrassment and excitement as they hear its resounding bass respond.  But this time, I can barely remember the number of people who gave the drum a complete workout, far more skilled than I am.  Mostly, they were men, but one older woman (older than me, that is), several younger women, and one absolutely adorable little boy, about 7, who snuck in a good whack when I wasn’t looking, and then immediately withdrew to hide behind a woman I assumed was his mom.  But he peeked out, and I smiled at him and we Connected.  It was beautiful.  


I have three kids, three nieces, and two sisters.  We’re a close group.  I love them dearly and they know me, right to my soul.  We’re Family.

I have a lifelong best friend, and a lifelong mentor/other-best-friend, who I’ve known for 40+ years.  I’ve shared everything with them and I feel completely SAFE and SEEN in their presence.  We’re Family.

When I was in high school, I had a close-knit group of friends, four of us especially.  We did everything together, grew up together, got in lots of trouble together, and knew we’d have each other’s backs, no matter what.  We’re Family.  

When I was in grad school, I had a roommate for several years, and we established a wonderful, chills vibe in our home together, saw each other at our very best and very worst, and accepted each other across the whole spectrum of our experiences.  He’s Family. 

And tonight, in a crowd of strangers, of different skin tones, language, religion, and basically every single possible demographic difference from me (except gender, I suppose, for half or so of them), I felt once again, that I was Family.  That is a rare and beautiful thing, and never, literally never once in my entire life, have I felt that feeling with people I don’t even know.  That feeling takes, for me, YEARS to germinate and blossom.  But tonight, it took minutes.  

I have also never seen such ENERGY at a protest.  And I’ve been to a lot of protests.  From climate change to the G20, anti-government-surveillance to anti-poverty, indigenous self-determination to protesting outside the US consulate over Iraq.  I’ve been to the largest protest in Canadian history, and I was one of the 1000 or so people arrested in the largest mass-arrest in Canadian history.  

But never have I seen passion and commitment and true, to-the-bone solidarity as I did tonight.  And joy. 

Yes.  Joy.  

These are people whose families and communities are, right now, experiencing practically unimaginable terror and violence.  Their future is a question mark.  And their people have lived as literal prisoners, for 3/4 of a century.  That’s three generations, an entire human lifetime, birth to old age, imprisoned.  

And they feel joy.  Along with rage, fear, and no doubt often hopelessness.

I don’t have words to describe what that feels like, to encounter that depth of love, community, sharing and openness.  It’s….Well, straight-up, it’s one of the most absolutely beautiful experiences I have had in my 49 years on this planet as my current incarnation.  

So, to my brothers and sisters, thank you. You collectively inspired me and touched my heart tonight. I will raise my voice with you, anytime, “From the river to the sea…”

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P.S. I have to talk about COVID for a second, because I’m sure that some people reading this (or seeing it on the news) will, quite likely, think something like “Covidiots, how dare you get together in large numbers in the middle of a pandemic!  How disrespectful.  How counterproductive.  Don’t you know you’re risking people’s lives?  People who weren’t even there, who are just at home minding their own business?”

I thought about this, a lot, before making the decision to go.  It wasn’t a small decision for me.  I have extremely high blood pressure and am in a “high risk group” for COVID.  I have three children.  Wasn’t this irresponsible?  For me?  My kids?  And everyone else following COVID protocols in the hopes of finally ending this damn pandemic and getting our freedoms back?

Two key things guided my decision to go:

First, I did look at the existing research on COVID transmission in outdoor gatherings.  Turns out, there is some, especially after the protests against police violence that were sparked by George Floyd’s murder.  The conclusion was, these events are basically safe.  They are NOT “super-spreader” events.  

There are two key differences between a protest and other outdoor events like golfing or going to the beach.  First, virtually everyone at protests like this wears masks.  This is why Black Lives Matter protests are not super-spreader events, but anti-masker protests and especially, Trump rallies, are.  (Yes, there is clear evidence for this.)

Second, at protests, you just go to the protest, outside, and then you leave and go home.  At the golf club or beach, you go inside, use the bathroom, get drinks, buy ice cream, etc., and this is where most transmission occurs.  So, the available evidence indicates that protests-when-masked are about as safe as walking down the street to buy apples. 

Second, I thought about the ethics.  Let’s say going to the protest IS a bit of a risk.  IF that’s true, then you WOULD be increasing the risk to other people, somewhat.  That’s a real issue, and a real ethical concern.

But, the bombing and killing of Palestinian civilians and children especially, is a greater ethical concern.  Period. 

And that’s enough for me.  The Palestinian children who have been killed this week did not choose this.  Nobody in power seems willing to put a stop to state violence “just because it’s a pandemic.”  In fact, it’s VERY WELL KNOWN that Israel, while leading the world in vaccination rates for its own citizens, has done an absolutely abysmal job of ensuring “their neighbours” (as Gal Gadot so vaguely referred to the millions of Palestinian people living in Gaza and the West Bank) also have access to these life-saving, pandemic-stopping vaccines.  

So, I went.  And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Okay, that’s enough words.  I have enormous feelings welling up in my guts, my heart, my eyes.  I think the best thing to do right now is to honour those feelings, to remember the people I met tonight and danced, sang, chanted and drummed with, the children who smiled at me, and the love that was everywhere, as palpable as the wind that blows around the whole world, and ruffles our hair.

  5 comments for “99) From the River to the Sea

  1. Anonymous
    May 16, 2021 at 8:38 pm

    Awesome Dan ❤️

    • dandolderman
      May 17, 2021 at 4:30 am

      Thanks so much, Anonymous! ❤️

    • Nima
      August 5, 2021 at 8:05 am

      Hello sir! I saw that you’re an environmental psychologist. I want to go onto the same path but feeling lost in some way. It would be a huge help for me if I could connect to you in some way.
      Hoping for a positive reply soon. Thank you!

  2. Marlys
    May 17, 2021 at 3:32 am

    Thank you, Dan! I take much hope from your words.

    • dandolderman
      May 17, 2021 at 5:04 am

      Thank you for your comment, Marlys! I appreciate you letting me know that you got hope from these words. I know they’re just words, but communication IS what we are, at least psychologically speaking. I found the demonstration very hope-inspiring as well. I mean….I have to make sure that’s not misinterpreted, because by no means am I naive as to how dire the situation is for Palestinians, how bloody long this has gone on for, and the decades of US-Israel refusal to broker a reasonable deal, and then to have the gall to frame it as though it’s been the Palestinians all along who are refusing to accept “reasonable terms”.

      If anyone is reading this comment, and you wonder about this, then I would strongly encourage you to read any of the many different analyses Noam Chomsky has done on Israel-Palestine over the years. Most succinctly, he summarizes it in a recent book, “Who Rules the World?”, and it’s very short and readable. Not that it gives you all the details, but it’s a good overview, and a good framework for then learning more deeply.

      In my opinion, the historical record is very clear, but you have to look at the actual DETAILS of the “peace agreements” and such that have been brokered by the USA over the years. AND think about the sheer lunacy that the USA absolutely insists on being the overseer (and Israel, of course, agrees). In fact, that’s been one of their key criterion all along. Can you imagine? It’s like getting a divorce, but then your ex’s father gets to oversee and largely control all of your negotiations and agreements. It’s like getting fired from your job, and then your old boss insists that he/she gets to oversee and manage your negotiations with your next employer. I mean, those aren’t perfect analogies, but hopefully they make the point. It’s crazy. That’s why it’s so FRUSTRATING to hear the same Western-media, US-Israel talking points, which are basically that, multiple times in the past, Israel (and the USA) have offered the Palestinians “almost everything they wanted”, but then the PLO, or Hamas, depending on who has been at the table at a particular time, rejects the deals, because, apparently “Palestinians don’t want peace.” It’s insane. The truth is, the deals that have been brokered have consistently been unfair to Palestine, have yoked them to the US (inarguably the biggest war-mongering nation on the planet, and by far the most disruptive to other countries’ democratic processes), and have refused to curtail (let alone reverse) Israel’s continuing expansionist program. Which, people should know, is in violation of international law and the UN’s resolutions at various points.

      So, I point all this out here to put “hope” in proper context. This is not pie-in-the-sky naive hope, nor is it “thoughts and prayers” kind of hope. The truth is, right now, the world, the vast majority of the world outside of the narrow slice of the USA and those countries who still feel they have to suck up to it, wants a free Palestine, and a peace deal that would adhere to the land settlement agreements that have, by now, been gone over so many times it should be common knowledge. I don’t believe Palestinians, for the most part, even want mere “peace” at this point, as though “peace” means that everything goes back to normal and is hunky-dorey. No, “normal” is absolutely inhumane and criminal, and so, at this point, “peace” is also inhumane and criminal, if it merely preserves the status quo, which is the continuing whittling down of Palestinian lands through settler expansion and continued military control over an imprisoned population.

      People want CHANGE. And this, for perhaps the first time in a very long time, is a real possibility. But ONLY if the people of the world stand in solidarity with Palestine, against Israeli Apartheid, and against the USA’s military hegemony. This is a very tall order, and seems hopeless so much of the time. But, the world IS taking notice, and even here in Canada, the voices supporting Palestine are so much louder than I’ve ever experienced before.

      Furthermore, you cannot discount the interconnected nature of resistance movements. The Native resistance movements like Idle No More are FAR more organized and powerful than they have been, in my lifetime. The Black Lives Matter and related movements are also changing the public narrative in a big way. South American countries are, finally, starting to throw off the yoke of United States military dominance and the neo-liberal economic policies that ruined their economies over the past half century. Etc. And even though all of this progress IS met with a backlash of right-wing ethnic nationalism, which is also happening all over the world, I firmly believe that the ‘powers of compassion’ are going to win this awful tug-of-war over the ‘powers of greed and hatred.’

      The USA is not the world power it once was, and not just because of China rising. No, global power is becoming increasingly shared, decentralized, and THAT is a good thing, especially for the peoples who have been the most oppressed by American Empire and its corollary operations.

      So, THIS does give me hope. We now understand that these different conflicts are not isolated ones, to be understood solely in terms of their own unique characteristics. No, they are all THE SAME PATTERN, which is Settler Colonialism. Of course, Palestine-Israel have their own unique characteristics. But the broader pattern of settler colonialism, is extremely clear and consistent around the world in many situations in which a native population is forcibly removed from the lands they inhabit. I think more people understand this now, and I think the interconnectedness of different resistance movements IS powerful, and WILL turn the tide, if enough people continue agitating, educating, speaking up, boycotting, divesting, and pressuring governments to impose sanctions on colonial powers until they change.
      It’s possible. And it just has to happen. It has to.

      Anyway, Marlys, I’m sure you already know this, so forgive me please for the rant here in my response to your comment. But, maybe it’ll be useful for people who may read this. And yes, I am very, very glad that you feel some hope. I do too. Hope, mixed with horror, determination, and love.


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