I’ve spent the last two weeks tinkering with a potential blog post about protests in general and why I suspect a misunderstanding of the notion of ‘non-violence’ may have decreased their effectiveness.
Then lo and behold, Rick Salutin at the Globe & Mail (who is rapidly becoming my hero) writes a brilliant editorial on Friday in honour of Labour Day on precisely that theme.
I’m still not happy with what I’ve been writing on this subject. It’s wandering all over the place and getting into areas that I really know nothing about. So instead of inflicting the whole mess on you, here are a few of the more coherent thoughts I’ve had in nice, neat, somewhat random point form:
1) I think that demonstrations like the one at Montebello have become too generic. It seems to always be the same groups with the same banners chanting the same all-purpose slogans. And while there is undoubtedly a deep connection between the peace, environmental, labour and anti-capitalist / -corporate / -globalization movements, unless there is more specific focus at specific events the message is in danger of getting lost.
2) There appears to be a distinction that I was previously unaware of between the so-called ‘Black Bloc’ protesters who cover their faces and wear black clothing to avoid being identified or singled out by the police, and those who simply wear vinegar-soaked bandannas to protect themselves from tear gas. The latter group, from what I saw, make no attempt to conceal their identities, and are apparently less inclined to throw things or damage property (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Both groups seem equally willing to put themselves in harm’s way for a cause they believe in.
3) The commenter on one of my previous posts who said, "I don't believe that violence accomplishes anything" may be missing an important point. In fact, violence has an important role in traditional Gandhi/King-style ‘non-violent’ protest: specifically, violence perpetrated by those one is protesting against.
4) It’s important that this violence not be provoked by throwing rocks at the police or smashing windows. That sort of thing only alienates people and accomplishes nothing. Instead, violence can and maybe should be provoked by reasonable and non-violent direct action such as burning passes, making salt, registering to vote, squatting / sit-ins, etc. This kind of provocation is not only acceptable, it is probably the most effective way to establish the moral high ground and illustrate the injustice of the status quo.
5) Not everyone taking part in these demonstrations is willing to take a truncheon to the head or pepper spray to the face, or even risk being arrested. Those who are willing should not be marginalized or simply dismissed as ‘radicals’. Instead, it may be time to start meeting them half way. If they are that anxious to place themselves in harm’s way, then we should respect them for that. But protest organizers need to be the ones provoking the authorities to action in a meaningful way and on purely righteous terms.
6) Conversely, if organizers aren’t willing to do more than wave flags and make speeches, then they shouldn’t be surprised when it’s the shot of the mailbox going through the plate glass window that ends up on the 6 o’clock news.
So there you go. My personal and largely uninformed opinion. Have at it.
Edit: And now, the view from the far left. Interesting. I disagree with some of what they're saying, especially towards the end, but it's point of view worth taking seriously.