Rethinking protest

Okay, so now that the situation in Toronto has gotten really serious, all of a sudden we’re having an entirely different conversation about protest. Well, an entirely different conversation from the one most people were having last week, anyway. Now we’re in the territory of repeatedly using the word “anarchist” in fear-mongering constructions, suggesting that the overwhelming police presence was not only justified but possibly insufficient and CBC online commenters using such expressions as “barbarians”, “animals” and following brilliant lines of reasoning to connect acts of vandalism with any kind of left wing politics.

Now, the conversation is about “legitimate protest” vs. violence. These people are destroying whatever legitimacy could have been found in peaceful demonstration. Because it’s in the hands of the general public to legitimize objections, and if Joe and Jane Q Public decide that they find your tactics unsavoury, the content of what you say is absolutely irrelevant. You didn’t put your hand up, you chose to shout the right answer out, so the teacher will ignore you and likely penalize you on your report card. And the person sitting next to you, who is clearly your friend and who put his or her hand up before you shouted out the answer, but was being ignored in favour of the students the teacher liked better, well, that person will just continue to be ignored because they shouldn’t be friends with you and give answers that are the same as shouter-outers. Because yes, we are actually all in grade school, and order is more important than learning, discussion and truth.

In this discussion that has primarily become about violence vs. legitimate, peaceful protest, I can’t help but note one thing that I’m not seeing mentioned all that much. We’re not actually talking about violence. We’re talking about vandalism and property destruction. I have not seen a single report of anyone being injured (if anyone is actually reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong, but a quick search of major Canadian news outlets don’t disprove this, and I have to suspect that they would be the first to jump on any story that existed). Private and public property costs money, and burning police cars are powerful images. But they are not necessarily violence. Is it tenable to suggestion that in some cases, possibly this one, these acts are violent? Probably. Should it be stated as truth without question or dispute? Absolutely not.  The standard expected by the family Public is that protest does not actually disturb anyone or anything. The less it is noticeable, the better.

I can’t say I really support property destruction and burning things as acts of protest…I have a deep feeling that some sort of shift in tactics needs to take place in order to create any kind of effective protest…but damned if I can’t say that at least we’re talking about something, even if all most people are doing is erasing the line between vandalism and violence and delegitimizing anything not resemebling the status quo.


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