The agents working for the security of our capital city – the OPP and RCMP – are claiming a victory. The organizers of the Ottawa-based protest against the G8 meeting in Kananaskis, called “Take the Capital” are claiming a victory.
Can they both be right?
No. I think the security forces should claim “victory.”
If you recall, I wrote last week’s column about “Take the Capital: Actions against the G8.” And like many of you, I was totally discouraged by organizers who were interviewed on CBC and quoted in The Ottawa Citizen. Why?
As far as I heard, to a person, they refused to oppose violence and vandalism during the two-day “action” they lead. Indeed, as I wrote last week, “Even the title [of the “action”] is designed to be aggressive and confrontational. It suits the organizers’ agenda, deliberately.”
How can they possibly claim a victory, when they were too afraid to take a stand?
Yesterday, Thursday June 27, I went to Major’s Hill Park to listen to the protesters, to take in the scene, and to check out the security forces at the “No One is Illegal” march.
I could hardly believe my ears: before the protesters started their march in the torrential rain, they were asked to be respectful of property and not to be violent.
Good. Too bad the organizers hadn’t chosen to say this when they initially planned this two-day protest. And, too bad they didn’t choose to work with the police and RCMP.
Although I can only speculate upon this, I believe organizers would have doubled or tripled the number of protesters if they had told potential participants – who are, after all, the public at large — that they oppose violence. They ought to have told city officials and security forces – and media – that they believe in peaceful demonstrations or “actions.”
So, why didn’t they? I have no idea.
For them to vilify our security forces is ridiculous. Of course the police and RCMP have to take the protest organizer’s deliberately confrontational approach seriously. (If they hadn’t, can you imagine how we the public would vilify them for NOT having protected our capital city, its symbols of the nation, its corporate and family businesses, its residential areas, parks… and people? Especially after September 11.)
Demonstrating in the streets is crucial to our democratic right to free expression. Ironically, the very society represented by the G8 leaders permits us all to shout our slogans and wave our banners on our Canadian streets. Our rule of law further provides us with security, while we promote our call to actions.
If Take the Capital planners want to claim victory, no one can stop them. But it’s a shabby premise. Instead, it smacks of an adolescent joke.
What “victory”? If you tell everyone, via CJOH late-night news that there are some issues (– like the G8 – ??) that Ottawans must realize are worth dying for on the streets of Ottawa, and then after all this, the protestors just happen to be a peaceful bunch, what’s the “victory” here?
Why not, from the outset, actually take a stand against violence? What wimps. Ironically, it’s the same group of people who claim that violence and war must be stopped throughout the world, yet they refuse to take a stand among their peers. Disgraceful.
Protest organizers can only truthfully claim victory if they achieve what they advocated from the outset.
Sure, the marches, sit-ins (such as the Seven-Year Squat campaign at 247 Gilmour Street) and other actions were peaceful. But that might be because of the rain. Who knows? It’s certainly not because Take the Capital organizers took a rallying call for peaceful demonstrations.
So let’s look at the police and RCMP. Let’s give a nod to the head to Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan, who marched in the streets and was amid the actions. Just his job, you scoff? Well, no. He could’ve been like Calgary’s police Chief Jack Beatton who “removed himself from the line of fire and watched the protests from a command centre” according to the Citizen.
Our capital’s Chief wanted to demonstrate solidarity with his own forces. I admire that.
As I wandered around Sussex, the ByWard Market, and Major’s Hill Park on June 28, I observed more security forces en masse than I’ve ever witnessed previously. Did they scare me? No. Do I believe I’m living in some fascist police state? No!. How did I feel about them being there? Very, very good, that’s how.
Why? Because if violence had erupted in the crowd, I knew I would feel far more secure with police presence, than not. If some protestor had started lobbing bricks at the American Embassy, if a group of them had stormed the streets of the ByWard Market, I for one would have expected and wanted the police and RCMP to try to prevent as much damage as possible.
Meanwhile, all my concerns regarding violence thankfully were not realized. But I did feel nervous going into the capital. Of course I did. I felt nervous, too, when I saw people wrapping bandannas over their faces as they crossed Sussex, with me in tow.
I thought to myself: what will I do, if all of a sudden these people start jostling, pushing and inciting the crowd to violence?
These thoughts swirled through my mind. I saw someone with an anarchist T-shirt shout, “F* you” at a policeman as he passed by. Of course, the cop didn’t react. (Lucky we live in Canada, isn’t it, where passers by can idly shout obscenities to our police and not be thwacked on the head. Freedom of speech to all, right?)
Don’t get me wrong. Protests are the heart and soul of democracy. I don’t think all’s right with the world. I have concerns over this Liberal government, over the G8, about the War on Terrorism, just like you do too, probably.
But our demonstrations must be planned, from the outset, as peaceful actions. Their leaders must take a stand against violence.
Only then can the organizers of political demonstrations claim victory. Not before.
Only then can organizers of political demonstrations expect the general public to consider participating.
In Susan Riley’s column dated Friday June 28 in The Ottawa Citizen, she wrote, about how the protesters are losing their audience. She observed, “Yesterday’s march on Parliament Hill attracted a couple thousand people, true. But next week’s gay pride march in Toronto is expected to draw a million. How come?”
Think about it.
Freedom of opinion. Right to speech. These are fundamental pillars of democracy, right? Then, I challenge you to speak up. Write your letters to the editors of papers and magazines you read. Actions, or demonstrations, are only one method of expressing opinions and encouraging change. It is utter and complete falsehood to promote the lie that we cannot bring about change. If you have not bothered to vote for the past age, if you’ve not bothered to take out citizenship (and yet benefit from all our laws and social services), if you’ve never written to your MP or MNA, if you’ve never written a letter to an editor, how, exactly, have you been working for positive change?
Think about it. What do you want to change? How do you propose to work for it?
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer who telecommutes from her electronic cottage north of Quyon, Quebec. She welcomes your opinions.