What’s the Point of Protest?

28 Jun

That’s a question I’m asking myself after the G20 weekend in Toronto. I went on the not-very-big protest march on June 26th, but only heard about the burning police cars, smashed shop windows and Black Bloc (although I saw a small contingent of them) after going home. Now that’s all over I wonder what any of it means.

The march itself first of all. People met and walked and chatted and shouted slogans, and went to some destination I’m not even aware of north up Spadina Avenue. I know that the G20 leaders couldn’t have cared less that or why we were there. So why were we there? Is it because we feel we have to do something even if it is ultimately meaningless in terms of positive change. Mayor David Miller says it is to make our voices heard, but our voices are often heard — and largely ignored. Our government and the governments of the 19 visiting countries know our issues and have decided to keep on doing what they think is best.

The violence, overstated by a breathless press, also raises the question of its ultimate purpose: is it to indicate the level of anger or frustration many people, especially the poor and disenfranchised, must feel? Only they weren’t the ones breaking windows. Is it a kind of revenge against the system? Or letting off steam?

Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be any political thought behind any of it. With no one talking about the reasons 15,000 or how-ever-many we were people marched, only the “Black Bloc,” the whole experience has been as disappointing as the bad referee calls in Sunday’s World Cup games.

So why go on marches? Why protest? I know from both research and personal experience that mass mobilizations (not that this was one last Saturday) do bring results. The slum dwellers of Mumbai’s Janata Colony got new land when the Colony was cleared, and kick-started an organization of some 2 million people.

Landless rural people in Brazil have won themselves thousands of hectares of land to farm by occupying and demonstrating and insisting on far more than simply being heard.

And while I still really can’t say what’s the point of protest here, I do plan to keep on marching – if only so that the people who run the world are aware, however vaguely, that we don’t buy their hollow promises, even if we do have to pay for their sumptuous lifestyles.

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