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The Inalienable Right to Protest

Posted 2010-06-30 Tags: None

I got some Facebook traction on this topic, and I'll address it here.

Michael said: "I think this post talks more about protesting effectively, more than criticizing the act of the protest." That's exactly what I was going for. I'm not saying that there's no place for protest, but thinking that any of the protests at the #G20 would be effective is naive. Direct protest to your MP or MPP is an effective thing to do, because MPs and MPPs have a vested interest in keeping the populace happy. This is the level at which protesters need to focus if they want to have an effect on politics.

Having worked in and around the University of Guelph for 10 years, I see a lot of what I would term "stupid" protests. People get together and make signs protesting for the rights of some people in a country on the other side of the world, and they take those signs up and parade around Branion Plaza. This is a misunderstanding of many things, not least of which is potential audience. While it is admirable to feel bad for those in these terrible situations around the world, it is stupid to protest against terrible things in this way because it displays a clear lack of understanding of your potential scope. Nothing good will come from a protest like this. Those who are perpetrating that which is being protested don't care that an affluent kid from Ontario thinks that they suck. Those who are the victims get no help from your protest. It's worse than just being ineffective though; it actually robs any of your good points of their legitimacy. The problems in Darfur are horrible but having a demonstration to protest them is not going to anyone involved a lick of good.

Things that are effective to protest happen on a local level. Protest the fact that there's going to be an extension to Walmart. Protest the fact that the buses don't run full schedules in the summer. Protest the increasing amount of destitution in downtown Guelph. Do it in the area that these things are happening in. Demonstrate. Be effective. These are all admirable things to organize and do.

The #G20 protests were nothing like this. I'm not saying that people didn't have the right to protest; I'm just saying that those who exercised their right on those days did not make an intelligent or effective choice in doing so. I fear that they misunderstand what protest is for, and how it can be effectively used as a political tool. They also don't understand that most people are either apathetic about their cause, or will look on extreme civil disobedience as a mark against them. If you get arrested, then in the estimation of most people you lose a significant portion of your credibility.

Leanne said that she had written several letters and not felt that her voice was being heard. I've written several letters to my MP (most recently regarding Bill C-32, to which I am opposed). Maybe I'm just lucky (I think we in Guelph have a great MP, Mr. Frank Valeriote) because each time I got a response that was at least ostensibly from Mr. Valeriote, which directly addressed the concerns that I had. While I don't necessarily agree with what he wants to do in all cases, I feel like he is effectively representing me and the constituency to the best of his abilities.

As for it taking money to get into politics - I have several friends who have done so, some to greater effect than others. None of them are well off; they were just willing to put in some time to ensure that their voice was heard. Getting into politics at any level will immediately get you more involved and will immediately grant you more clout in all issues political - you don't even have to be a politician! Start of as an aide to someone. Volunteer. Get involved.

I'm not saying that I am a paragon of political involvement. I write letters (yes, by hand letters). I've attended town meetings, but I've never risen my hand and taken part. I have not gotten truly involved in local politics. But if I felt as passionate about some issues as those who went to the #G20 protest purported to bed, then I would get more involved.

And I'll bet I wouldn't get arrested while doing so.