Londons burning and I live by the river.

In true fashion to my blogs lets start with a disclaimer:

Through a lot of learning this year, I’ve made a conscious decision to embrace pacifism.  Note that pacifism does not mean being PASSIVE, but actively living IN the tension and creating peace in violent situations. It’s not a hippy cop-out, it’s a dangerous, vulnerable and frightening way of life, but something I try and live out when possible.

That being said, embracing pacifism has made me learn a whole lot more about violence.  Most notably, that I am able to be a pacifist because I’m in a position of power (however meagre) that I can choose to reject the use of violence.

There are a lot of people in a similar position, although they may not know it. They tend to disagree with violence, unless it’s JUSTIFIED (ie. sold to them in a palatable way- war on terror, or not overtly physical such as economic, social and cultural violence) To these people acts of violence, especially in a riot- type setting, is viewed as hooliganism and infantile. I was probably one of those people too. But I’m learning, and what I’m learning is this: we need to take a few steps back.

Rich white soccer player Wayne rooney's recent tweet

I’ve been following the protests-turned-riots in Tottenham, England these last few days.  Unlike other riots I’ve seen lately, there hasn’t actually been any specific policy or issue being protested. But this doesn’t make it any less important. Tottenham is a disenfranchised part of London and that’s important to remember. Watching all the BBC images and anti-rioting sentiments I thought of a quote from civil rights activist, James Forman

“If we can’t sit at the table [of democracy], let’s knock the fucking legs off!”

Violence is reactionary; it is cause and effect.  The stats in this article are hard to digest but may help point to the trigger: In these boroughs the unemployment rate is twice the national average, combine that with the recent austerity measures in a country where the richest 10% are 100 times better off than those that live in these boroughs, and an already fixed resentment towards the police and you can start to see why and how desperation turns into anger; turns into dissent; turns into violence.

Does desperation justify violence? I don’t think I’m in a position to say, However, when we start seeing this TYPE of violence for what it actually is: counter-violence against a state structure that pushes people to desperation, I think we can begin to understand and shift our sympathies towards those who are the actual victims. At the very least we shouldn’t act so surprised; When you take candy from one kid and give it to another kid that you consistently favour with lots of candy, expect some kicking and screaming.

I’m not prepared to condone the use of violence in protests because it’s broad in spectrum from those who target specific institutions to those who just go a’ lootin’. However, when we see these riots, and we will see many, many more, our frustrations should be towards the things that exclude people to the POINT of violence. We should be criticizing those who create situations that push people to the fringe and we should be advocating for these people-maybe not their violence, or looting, or what have you- but we should be actively living in that tension and finding ways to promote the basic needs of people (ourselves included).  If not, we can’t act so shocked when the legs of the table are kicked out from under us.

Get better soon, England.

…well…we’ll see.

This post is brought to you by the letter G and by the number 20 (why I will be protesting)

I have a confession to make: I am a protester. Not a well seasoned one, but I sometimes go to protests… and I protest.  According to most media outlets and mainstream opinion I am practically a terrorist, or at least an unemployed ingrate.

I understand the confusion.  Protesting is often looked at as an activity for the fringe, or according to a lot of hecklers “for the unemployed complainers who want to cause violence.”  I don’t really fit into any of those categories (perhaps ‘complainer’), nor do most of the protesters I see and meet (professors, journalists, factory workers, lawyers, artists, students etc) so I thought I’d try and clear the air. I hope this can be a starting point for people to understand why protesting is important, which requires one to think outside of their own fixed perceptions and measure from a different angle.  While protests are often portrayed as unruly and archaic meetings of destructive people,   I often compare organized protests to concerts: You may have the crazy aggressive people in the mosh pit but everyone behind that line is just there to participate peacefully.

We live in a liberal democracy, which means government is accountable to citizens and we need to make sure that they are working in the interest of citizens. When they are not, we are to speak up. This is what it means to be politically active; democracies don’t run on autopilot. To further enjoy the rights and freedoms we have, we must be constantly mindful of when we think those rights and freedoms are being compromised and by whom.  Unfortunately, we’ve been duped into thinking we only need to do this once every 4 years at election time. Protests are a great tool to let politicians know the needs of people and how they are falling short meeting those needs, as well as raise awareness for causes that the general public are disconnected from.

There seems to be a mainstream discourse that protests are violent, useless, archaic and irrelevant. If this is your opinion, then I’m singing this song to you, so hear me out.

Protests work.

Do the leaders of the summit swing open the windows and relent to the crowds? Nyet. But protests bring awareness to real issues and reveal information to the mainstream, which in turn sways public opinion and eventually brings change. Environmental issues, fair trade, gender equality and civil rights, to name a few, were all results of some “crazy fringe groups” protesting.  As a woman, I enjoy so many liberties that I wouldn’t have if  women before my time didn’t risk their reputations, and sometimes their lives, to protest their unequal treatment; I’m forever grateful that they did.

Obviously, not everyone wants protests to work.  Fair trade is bad for business, Environmental issues limit natural resource exploitation and gender and civil rights derail conventional power relations. Profit (most commonly referred to as ‘economic stability) is then considered more important than the people who actually create it.  It just so happens that the people who are effected by these issues coming to light, are the very people running our governments and economies (or the people/ corporations that fund them).  They rely on the failing (failed?) system we have in order please financial supporters, share holders etc. AKA: not you or I.

So how do you keep citizens from addressing their actual needs? you scare the crap outta them then tell them ‘everything is ok!”  Everyday the newspaper introduces a new weapon that will be used against the crowds, or the threats made by niche groups.  They play on the PERCEIVED threat of violence in order to contain dissenting citizens.  This is dangerous. When a threat is created based on not even a possibility but a perceived possibility, “preventive security” actually translates into “pre emptive agression to maintain security.”  Once everyone is good and scared you convince them that the protesters are crazy.  We somehow think that as long as nothing gets in the way of our lifesyle, everything is ok but we fail to recognize that our very lifestyles and the policies upheld by the G2o leaders can create and perpetuate the poverty of  others.  Since those ‘others’ just happen to be the people who grow our food, make our clothes and take the jobs we won’t do, it’s actually in EVERYONE’S interest if we recognize the interdependence and see that  they are healthy, educated and treated/paid fairly.

Anyone who knows me or has read my blogs can probably get an idea of why I’m protesting (you can also ask me if you don’t) but In short, I want to stand behind the dignity of the poor and oppressed by being their voice when another group denies them their dignity and renders them voiceless.  Not so I can boast in it and get a gold star of achievement, and not just when it’s safe and mainstream.  I’ve been granted the resources and the liberties to make their situations known and hold those in power accountable. To me, that translates as a responsibility and a duty to do so; Many others feel the same way.

So I encourage you to step back from the hype and recognize what protests actually are and the progress that has come from them. Ya, some protesters are violent and aggressive, but perhaps try and understand the reason behind her actions, learn more, get involved and NEVER  EVER give into fear that is impressed upon you. Question everything, look at every angle and follow the money trail.

I really encourage anyone to attend a protest, even just to dispel the condensed image of protests that are shown in the newspaper or on TV.  I hope to blog about the whole experience after this weekend (hopefully not from jail…but maybe, apparently someone just got arrested for putting up a flyer at the university of toronto…crazy)

I’ll leave you with this quote

please let me know your thoughts!

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

— Martin Niemöller (lutheran pastor and  nazi concentration camp survivor)