Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My First Protest - Idle No More

Solidarity, joy and communal energy. These are not the sentiments I expected to feel when I attended my first protest, part of Idle No More, a movement which defends the sovereignty of Indigenous Canadians through the protection and defense of treaties and human rights.  I have always questioned the usefulness of protests as a valid form of provoking dialogue. Our society tends to be saturated by them and I have always viewed manifestations under a black and white lens, are they successful or not? What does successful mean? By what standard is success rated when talking about a protest? 

Protests are often critiqued when they turn violent and lack direction or are poorly organized and executed, an excuse to shout and scream without ever actually saying something. Protests have a tendency to be viewed as a trend that peaked in the 1960's and 70's. Those who attend and organize protests can be seen as hippies who smoke too much pot, flighty people who use disconnected jargon for concepts for which they do not completely understand the meaning.
One of the drummers in his red cape at the Eaton Center for an Idle No More flash mob.

 If we pay attention however, to the way our protests and to more importantly how our awareness and dialogue have changed over the years, we must come to the conclusion that there have been no failures in our society in giving voice to causes that lack and demand one. We are learning from past mistakes. The word "hippy" was simply a word used to describe a community of people who opened their eyes to see injustice and who  therefore chose not to accept the status quo. There is no longer one "type of protester" because, globally, there is so much to protest and so many more issues that need a voice. 

The hippy movement may not have succeeded in achieving everything it set out to do, but at least a collective voice was heard and change was made. Change, as we all know does not happen over night but the voice was strong enough that it permeated into the universal psyche and we live with some of the positive changes that were created then. 

As I read and hear so many chiefs and leaders of the movement proclaim, Idle No More is not only a movement important because it represents native Canadians, it is also important for non-natives. The treaties the movement fights to protect, include treaties that speak to the access to public waterways, resources used by all Canadians. The movement could garner so much more energy from non-natives by acting on this sentiment by introducing and educating non-natives to the traditions and the movement itself.
Impromptu dance circle, a very common action to take place at the Idle No More manifestations and flash mobs.

 Perhaps setting up an easy to spot booth in the center of the manifestations where non-natives could come to read and learn more about the movement and why it is important. What about on-the spot drumming and chanting lessons?  In attending the protest at the Toronto Eaton Center, the hairs were sticking up on the back of my neck and I felt a great connection, a rootedness as I not only listened but felt the chanting and drumming. Imagine the impact if all three levels in a massive shopping mall were chanting and drumming. Imagine the sense of unity, imagine the power...

 I may have a European background with a hint of cree, but there is no time to be wasted on pessimism and "white man's guilt." There is only time for learning and growth. Our old ways and systems are not working for us anymore and it is now, more than ever, when it could not be more evident. 

So for the pessimists who do not believe in the effectiveness of a protest, rather than absorb that pessimism, take what you know and turn it into something positive. If you no longer can sit on the couch feeling useless, guilty and pity, feeling sad that such things happen in this world, I say stop feeling sad. Get up and be idle no more. 
Many posters such as this one were floating off of railings on various levels inside the Eaton Center. 

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