This isn’t going to be a popular post, but so many people have written triumphant posts about the anti-prorogation rally on the weekend, that I thought I’d talk about why I didn’t go.
I have many of the same issues with protests as I do with strikes. And before I go on, I want to be clear that I’m just speaking from the viewpoint of someone in 21st century Canada. I know there are long lists of causes in other countries and in our own country, in other times, that were moved forward through public demonstration.
When people have very little legal recourse or when there is a severe and direct threat to individual freedoms; demonstrations (peaceful or even violent) are the only way to go. None of the conditions that would legitimize or necessitate public demonstrations exist in Canada today. Protest is a tool that blunts with misuse and overuse.
What was the intended outcome of this protest on Saturday? To change public opinion? To force the Prime Minister to change his mind? To send the Prime Minister a message that “Canadians” aren’t as apathetic as he thinks they are? Has any of this been achieved?
If we hope to persuade anyone of anything in a civilized society we need to use reasoned discussion and a well-crafted argument. Clever signs, witty songs and general outrage are not persuasive. They might be fun and they definitely generate excitement among the demonstrators and in the media, but they don’t persuade anyone of anything.
The people at whom this type of protest is aimed do not care about these things. They can not. Stephen Harper has protesters on his doorstep every day of the week in lesser or greater numbers. He doesn’t formulate policies or decisions based on what the mob-of-the-day is demanding. Yes, he’s slipped a bit in the polls because of media attention the protests and the Facebook group have generated; but he also soared in the polls after he played the piano and sang a song in public. The general populace has a very short memory. And, when it comes time to vote, Harper is betting Canadians are not going to use this little break from Parliament against him.
While it looks great that thousands of people across the country came out to demonstrate on Saturday, it doesn’t necessarily translate into anything significant come election time.
Strength in numbers, in a case like this, isn’t real strength. Just because something is popular today doesn’t mean it’s right or good in the long run. Eleanor Roosevelt said: what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular.
Demonstrations continue all over America in opposition to same sex marriage. Pro-life groups protest outside of abortion clinics all the time. Every time someone commits a particularly heinous crime, protesters gather and call for the reinstatement of capital punishment. It would be very wrong of our leaders to make decisions based on the size or volume of groups of protesters. If 3500 pro-lifers showed up on Parliament Hill next weekend, you would be upset if the Prime Minister were to second-guess abortion legislation over their protest.
I’m not saying that Harper was right to prorogue parliament — though I am a bit curious as to why this particular issue is causing so much outrage when he’s done so many more outrageous things both before and since his re-election. I am saying that just because a lot of people turned out for Saturday’s demonstrations doesn’t automatically make Harper wrong. Nor does it convince him, or anyone else, that he is wrong.
In fact, it may do just the opposite. Middle-of-the-road people tend to stereotype political protesters as “crackpot activists” (see PETA). So, a viewpoint taken up by these so-called “crackpot activists” might convince middle-of-the-road Canadians to take up the opposing viewpoint in order to disassociate themselves from the “crackpot” element. (And no, I’m not personally calling anyone who attended a demonstration on Saturday a crack-pot)
In 21st century Canada there are so many more effective ways to express outrage and so many better ways to attempt to promote change. We can, for instance, use television, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, the legal system and/or letter writing to get our point across. All of these are more effective than standing in the cold with cardboard effigies.
As an example, writing letters to your politicians – rational, reasoned letters asking specific questions – guarantees that those letters will be read and responded to. Every letter that comes in with specific questions will be read by someone. If there are one or more specific questions in that letter, it will get passed on to the correspondence unit, who will then have to craft a response. The response and the original letter will get passed up the line for review, edits, input and a series of signatures, including sign-off by the person to whom you wrote the initial question.
All this costs politicians time, money and human resources. These things force them to pay attention. If they get enough letters about the same topic they can’t ignore that topic. They can ignore a protest rally. And they do.
There are many countries in the world where protests are the only recourse to injustice; where protests are a necessary medium for the voice of the people. Canada isn’t one of them.
Though there was a lot of talk about the undermining of “democracy” at the rally on Saturday, Canada, in fact, has a well-established democracy. Even Stephen Harper with all his games cannot threaten it. And we, the people of Canada, have many mechanisms for input into that democratic system and should make full use of them.
Though I’m quite sure that many of the people at Saturday’s protest were sincere and well-meaning people, their actions are seen as easily shrugged-off theatrics by those being protested against. Leaders cannot rule by angry mob. And, protests can have the opposite of their intended effect on the population at large.
PS: For the record, I have never voted Conservative and never will. To me, right now, the most effective way to get Harper out of power is to support and work toward offering a strong and viable alternative at the next election. Because as long as there are no really good options…guess what…