. . . in Ottawa on February 18, 2018 was my first protest. I had never been to one and yet I had opinions about them (it’s not the first time I have had an opinion without evidence, and it won’t be the last). Part of the human condition I suppose. In any case, here was an opportunity to see how closely my opinions about protests matched their reality.
The rally was scheduled to start at 1:00 PM. I arrived at the Terry Fox statue on the south side of Wellington at about 1:05 PM. As far as I could tell, there were about thirty protesters, ringed by police in yellow vests; there were more police than protesters. It struck me as odd that the police were facing inwards, toward the protesters; perhaps it was based on an assessment of the most likely source of violence. There was an audience of about ten people, one of whom apparently had a non-Islamophobic bone to pick with one of the protesters. There were lots of chants and obscenities but no real passion. At about 1:15 PM it had grown to about forty protesters and they moved across the street to Parliament Hill.
Some observations, leavened by thoughts and opinions:
- the actions of the participants didn’t feel spontaneous. I had the sense that the protesters, anti-protesters, police, and media all knew each other and each knew their role in the production. It reminded me of one of my favorite Merry Melody cartoons (Punching the Clock)!
- I didn’t see any Muslims among the protesters; most seemed to be whites in their twenties. This surprised me because news coverage of protests against racism in the United States usually shows predominantly black attendees. Why weren’t Muslims protesting their mistreatment?
- Several protesters carried signs that denounced Islamophobia, but they also displayed the number $15. I thought that they may have been soliciting donations for the cause, but in fact they were advocating for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour! I asked one how he felt about Islamophobia and he dodged the question, saying that all injustices were linked.
Digression: I read a mystery novel years ago by Lawrence Block about Evan Tanner (The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep). I remember nothing about the book except that Evan often marched in protests (the more obscure the better), not because he believed in them all, but because protesters were strongly networked and would attend each others’ protests to bulk up the crowd and get better press. I loved the idea, but always thought that it would be too organizationally intensive to work in the real world. Apparently not!
- I suspect that this was organized in response to the “scissors attack on girl in hijab” of January 12, 2018, and even though that was a hoax, the train had left the station and the protest could not be called off. I want this suspicion to be true; I just love the idea that protesters against the system are stuck in a different system, with the same bureaucratic inertia!
- I googled the protest in the following week to see how the media reported the protest. CBC’s wrote that “Hundreds gather in Ottawa to protest against Islamophobia“! WTF??? I only saw forty protesters, and some of those were opportunistic protesters of another cause! Did the CBC include every person within two hundred meters of the protest?
Regarding protests . . . nothing that I saw changed my opinions about protests; protesting is not a Canadian thing and there needs to be a significant injustice for a protest to attract a significant audience. I am looking forward to my next protest; maybe I’ll bring a sign advertising my blog!
Regarding Islamophobia . . . a big nothing burger! It is not an issue for Canadians.
Regarding the media . . . my faith in the media took a huge hit. The CBC inflated the number by almost an order of magnitude. I had concerns about their trustworthiness before, and even more so now.