We Are Not Alone


Protester

Photo courtesy of Donna Sinclair ©

by Donna Sinclair

There was a time when all my mittens were stiff with candle wax. It was almost a secret signal, a way to discern other protesters. If you hold a vigil for peace outside the office of your Member of Parliament, you are going to drip candle wax on your mitts and down your jacket, and (since you are busy thinking up new ways to get the attention of those in power) you won’t take time to scrape it off.

Those days are gone. I haven’t held a candle in a long time. My friends and I are still meeting in front of our MP’s office though. It’s not so much that we are trying to get the attention of this government – they have made it supremely clear they aren’t interested in what we think – as letting the rest of the citizenry know our worries.

Last week (thanks to my friend Suzanne who led the effort) we were there about Bill C-51, commonly called the secret police bill. The one that allows unprecedented powers of detention and arrest over those of us who are – well, accustomed to holding up signs, singing chants, and generally announcing our dissatisfaction with government policy. Most of us, by the way, are equal-opportunity protestors; we are just as likely to picket a Liberal MP as a Conservative one. We have never had an NDP or Green federal member in our riding, but had that been so, and had that party formed the government, we doubtless would have found a subject on which to disagree.

It’s one sign of a healthy democracy.

But here’s the problem. Everything is so much bigger than before: our concerns, the changes the government is planning to legislate, and the stakes. Especially the stakes. According to author Kathleen Dean Moore (speaking of the accelerating threat of climate change) “our house is on fire.”

Our house is on fire, and our government responds by silencing those scientists who would tell us where the blaze is fiercest, and how to put it out. With Bill C-51, it threatens to arrest members of the bucket brigades: those of us who are trying to stop, say, the leaky pipelines used to transport oil, because everybody knows you don’t add fuel to a fire. Among other things Bill C-51 also seizes the opportunity to enrich the airlines’ no-fly list – a marvelous tool to stifle dissent from First Nations leaders who live in so-called “remote” villages. Not to mention those of us with candle wax on our jackets.

So March 14, 2015, when citizens all over Canada picked up their banners and shouldered their home-made signs and marched down to their constituency offices or courthouses or civic squares, was a very important day. The citizens (not the stakeholders, or the taxpayers, or the target audience, but the citizens) declared their constitutional right to freedom of speech. It was a very fine day. Oh, rainy and cold in some places, windy in others, but a glorious (there is no other word) day for democracy.

There’s been a big change. Time was, we held our vigils and went home, hoping maybe someone else had done the same thing. But Saturday I clicked on leadnow.ca and saw the crowds in Toronto and Vancouver, Halifax and St. John’s, Calgary and Victoria, Yellowknife and Antigonish. Crowds. Union leaders and politicians, First Nations leaders and citizens were speaking. Flags were waving. The bright yellow Council of Canadians banner turned up often. Little children in strollers were sleeping under hand-lettered signs announcing their rights. On and on, pictures from Cranbrook and Edmonton, Sechelt and Sudbury, small groups and large crowds, happy faces, determined faces.

Our own group wasn’t large. We are not Toronto. But – I realized, as I scrolled though the pictures – that doesn’t matter. We are all together, all across the country. We are not alone.

A few days later, I sat down to reflect on what those cross-country protests had accomplished. The CBC and Huffington Post had noted them, the Globe and Mail hadn’t. There had been extremely fine speeches, often to the converted. We had coalesced as defenders of democratic rights, but Bill C-51 continues to shuffle implacably towards passage.

So here’s what I concluded, looking back. Obvious, but perhaps helpful for those of us just emerging from the candle-wax-on-mittens era:

  • Social media works. For a full news cycle, Canadians observed what might have been otherwise overlooked: the potential in Bill C-51 for enormous damage to our freedom of speech, privacy, and right to dissent.
  • We can all work together very well. The young were prominent: Leadnow.ca, OpenMedia, GenWhy Media, Youth Vote Canada were all supporting groups. And so were the long-established: Amnesty International Canada, Council of Canadians, Canadian Association of University Teachers. And more, too numerous to name.
  • Actual, physical, real-time protest is still critical. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone equally outraged staves off despair. And fresh air is always good, even if our feet are cold.
  • Visibility, as a form of solidarity, is also critical. Churches, for instance, might make or commission banners and flags to celebrate their presence at these events. That would mean pleading the case for such named visibility before congregational councils. That’s good too.
  • We need to be persistent and alert and ready to move quickly, because it works.

The real question, though, is how to carry on after Bill C-51 is implemented. We will need to be brave and wise in equal measure. This Bill will make it much easier for a government to criminalize dissent; we can’t afford to place at risk those whose jobs depend on a security clearance. Retirees and elders, those who can’t be fired, may have to take on increased responsibilities.

But above all we will need to have hope. And that is a spiritual specialty – pulling hope out of history or scripture or just thin air, even when there is no hope. Faith communities who have stared down the authorities and offered their sanctuaries to refugees know all about wisdom and courage and hope. So do First Nations who have quietly declared their land to be sacred, in the face of those who would not have it so. So do union members who have endured long strikes, and veterans who have fought for their rights, and ordinary folk who have stood on a beloved mountain and declared there would be no pipeline here, and busy people who have found the time to stand outside their elected member’s office and ask them to do a better job.

As Moore says, our house is on fire. We’re all going to have to work together to put out the blaze. And we will.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is Tommy’s Angel (2013).

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Ethics, Featured, Leadership, Peace, Justice, and Equality, People, Values

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at woodlakebooks.com

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