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Jack Knox: In the contrarian capital, we know about effective protest

It’s hard to see how protesters' cause is advanced by alienating people who are just trying to pick up the kids from school, or go to work at Victoria General, or whatever.
Protesters line up on Belleville Street in front of the legislature in support of the truckers convoy, which was arriving in Ottawa the same day. Letter-writers offer their opinions about the protests in Victoria and Ottawa. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

I unplugged for January.

Disabled my email, turned off Twitter, threw the phone in the toilet and focused on a single project, distraction-free. Slept like the dead every night, thanks for asking.

So, it took me a minute to clue in Saturday when I came across the noisy, maple-leaf draped crowd in front of the legislature. Jeez, I thought, did I sleep until Canada Day? Of course not: Victoria council would never condone that kind of flag-waving.

No, the fuss turned out to be what some called a truck convoy, though when I walked by, I didn’t see any trucks. Nor did it look like any convoy I ever heard of. My dad told me about watching Stuka dive bombers attack his convoy of Sicily-bound troop ships in 1943 when he was 20 years old, though I don’t recall him mentioning anything about his fellow soldiers holding up signs reading “Ivermectin works.” Nor do I ever remember him whining about being hard done by, for any reason. That’s probably because he didn’t have to wear a mask when shopping. Lucky him.

Monday afternoon, there was another demonstration, this one by a group that briefly blocked the Trans-Canada Highway at Tillicum to protest against — um, let me check my notes here — old-growth logging. Several people were arrested there, as were two at a similar demonstration in Nanaimo.

Now, I worry about old-growth forests, too. Like a lot of city-dwellers whose jobs aren’t at stake, I tilt toward conservation. Some of my best friends are trees. Still, it’s hard to see how that cause is advanced by alienating people who are just trying to pick up the kids from school, or go to work at Victoria General, or whatever. Treat them as though they’re cannon fodder in your war and they will respond accordingly. It’s counter-productive.

By now we should be better at effective protest here on Vancouver Island, literally on Canada’s fringe, the last refuge of the disconnected and disaffected.

It’s a home for anti-establishment contrarians who simply don’t trust The Man, whether it be in relation to pipelines, smart meters or public health orders. Dissent is built into our DNA, the poor legislature lawn handling more foot traffic than B.C. Ferries as successive generations have gathered to rail about issues ranging from Vietnam, Amchitka and Solidarity to uranium mining and B.C.’s goat-milking laws (for real).

We once saw an anti-poverty activist turn naked cartwheels on the grass and a guy lose his pants at a NATO conference.

Protest can be an useful tool for creating needed change, though when it works it usually involves A) persuasive logic and B) sacrifice on the part of the protester.

Three decades ago, the War in the Woods ended in environmentalists’ favour because 850 people travelled to Clayoquot Sound to not only get arrested but take the consequences, which included jail time and fines.

In the 1930s, Gandhi turned the hunger strike into an effective tool. U.S. civil rights marchers endured beatings, even death. China still can’t shed the image of that lone man facing down a column of Tiananmen Square tanks in 1989.

On the other hand, critical issues can be diminished and trivialized when they become synonymous with marginal characters who stake out the territory as their own. Nothing kills a cause like a crackpot. Which brings us to the “Freedom Convoy” in Ottawa.

The use of vaccine passports and other pandemic restrictions is a legitimate subject of debate. On Monday, the Angus Reid Institute said the number of Canadians who agreed with the statement “It’s time to end restrictions and let people self-isolate if they’re at risk” has risen to 54 per cent, 15 points higher than two weeks ago.

Yet could anything be more harmful to the anti-restrictions side than the orgy of self- indulgence in the nation’s capital, where there have been stories of swastikas and Confederate flags, harassment of homeless-shelter staff by protesters looking for food, intimidation, racial slurs hurled at paramedics and rocks thrown at an ambulance, people dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier….

The reaction has been predictable. Drape the Terry Fox statue in anti-vaxx gear and Facebook gets flooded with a photo from the Marathon of Hope: “This is what a real convoy looks like.” Hyperbolic bleating about lost “freedom” just invites ridicule.

And as the noise gets louder, we ask whether it’s better to plug in or plug out.

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