I have a confession to make… I have very mixed, very strong feelings about protestors.
On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the letter of the law and further believe that those in violation of the law ought to be treated as criminals. On the other hand, I recognize that historically protesting (often characterize by ‘civil disobedience’) has resulted in some long-term positive outcomes that have chartered new directions for those who have been victimized based on the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, and other such gut-wrenching forms of discrimination. Finally, I recognize that the essence of protesting can be measured on a spectrum; and, that in some instances protesting is crucial to a healthy democracy. But what does that spectrum look like?
I would suggest that on one end of the spectrum we have peaceful rallies designed to raise awareness around important issues. On the other end of the spectrum we have acts of violence towards property and people; both of which cause a threat to public safety. Then, somewhere in the middle you have the kinds of protests that are in violation of the law and often times include ‘everyone’ – from otherwise law-abiding citizens who feel so strongly about an issue that they are compelled to break the law, to those who are essentially ‘professional protestors’ and are participating exclusively for the sake of creating a spectacle.
When it comes to peaceful rallies, I am all for them. They are – at their core – a collective form of advocacy and I myself have participated in them along side community leaders and elected officials. In fact, my first-ever rally was when I still resided in Abbotsford and attended a gathering calling on the Mayor and Council of the day to approve a rezoning application for a social housing development (2014). In attendance where those Councilors who were favorable to the re-zoning – one of whom went on to defeat the incumbent Mayor later that year.
Turning now to the other end of the spectrum, when it comes to those engage in acts of violence and posing a threat to the general public, I have zero tolerance. They are criminals and should be treated as such. In my opinion, destruction and violence have no place in civilized discourse, thus I could not be prouder of the Province of British Columbia in partnership with the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Department, and the numerous other law enforcement agencies who demonstrated a zero-tolerance approach as they vigorously sought-after and prosecuted those involved in the Vancouver riots (2011).
Then there are those folks in the middle. The ones who come from all walks of life. The ones who have no affiliation with the ‘professional protestors’ but genuinely feel so strongly that as a matter of principle they are acting in defiance of the law because they believe it is for the betterment of society. These are the folks that I admittedly have a soft-spot for, even if I don’t agree with them.
For The Record…
Recently, a group of protestors – including MP Elizabeth May, Leader of Green Party – were arrested for breaching a Court Order that required individuals not to impede Kinder Morgan.
As I watched Ms. May get arrested I couldn’t help but respect the manner in which she conducted herself. She did not resist the police. She did not yell or scream at the police. She did not make a spectacle of herself. Instead, after being informed she was being arrested she not only complied, but she conducted herself with a dignity that was truly admirable.
As she locked arms with two members of the RCMP – one on each side of her – she was swarmed by the media. In response to a question posed by a member of the media Ms. May stated: “I want to make it as easy as possible for these fine gentlemen and the RCMP, so I think its best if I not do interviews as we walk.”
In that moment Ms. May was able to do two important things. First, live by her convictions (which, regardless of if you agree with her actions or not, it’s hard not to respect someone who lives by their convictions). Second, Ms. May demonstrated that she knew her actions would have consequences and she embraced those consequences – not only by complying with police and not speaking ill of them (as she recognized they were doing their sworn duty), but by continuing to direct her comments towards what she believes was a flawed process.
All that said, I salute Ms. May and my hope is that other protestors will follow in her foot-steps and aspire to demonstrate the same degree of dignity she displayed. In other words… “if you’re going to protest, go green.”
Justin P. Goodrich is the Managing Partner at Alliance Public Affairs Group (www.alliancepag.ca).
Previous editions of For the Record can be found online at: www.patrika.ca/for-the-record.