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Get Ready for the Biggest Game of Whack-A-Mole the World Has Ever Seen
When Protest Refuses to Die
What happened on the streets of Ottawa these past three weeks, and on overpasses and highways across Canada, and in countless other Canadian cities and hamlets as well, was people reaching across that impossible chasm, the space between human beings, to say: I can see you. I can see that you are human, and so am I, and here we are. Together. Making a go of it.
After nearly two years of forced distance, of the sowing of fear and distrust, of diminishing hope and passion, people came together with love in their hearts, to find one another, to represent the True North, strong and free.
Prime Minister Trudeau, author of the orders that forced so much despair and devastation, first responded to the Convoy by telling awful, dehumanizing lies about those very people, the people whom he was elected to care for and about, one and all. This “fringe minority,” he said, has “unacceptable views,” before making the farcical claim that the protestors are displaying “antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, homophobia, and transphobia.” In a fit of irony, he then asked to make Canada “more inclusive.” Then he hid. And then, in an act of extraordinary callousness, he invoked the Emergencies Act. Doing so allows him to shut down the protests. And so he did.
Consider the worst things for a moment—historical atrocities such as genocide. In her excellent essay, The Rhyme of History, Leah Rose, reminds us—or informs us, depending—of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which nearly one million people were killed in just a few months. Leah points the reader to profiles of survivors of the genocide, from a series of 2018 posts by Brandon Stanton in his photoblog Humans of New York. These stories, these survivors, reveal how normal everything seems, how friendly and human, until suddenly it is those normal, friendly neighbors of yours who are slaughtering your family. Leah writes:
Because it is a lesson of history that the callousness to suffering which allows atrocities to overtake civilized societies doesn’t appear out of the blue. The ground is laid through time, the seeds of alienation sown and cultivated by rhetoric that poisons the well of kindness, obscures, then erases, the humanity of the Other, spins convincing stories of Good (Us) versus Evil (Them) through which rage, or indifference, is justified. Stories in which permission to resent and exclude—to target—ends up granted through the ennobling of antipathy into virtue, the embrace of moral certitude into open hostility.
Atrocities don’t start with the visibly atrocious. If they started with what was visible and horrible, people wouldn’t let them happen. If they began in an obvious way, they would not, by and large, result in atrocities. No, all too often, atrocity starts by offering treats to some part of the population. People who receive the treats are grateful for them, because who doesn’t like treats? People thus sated can then more easily ignore the fact that not everyone is getting treats.
Then, once the asymmetrical distribution of treats begins, it is easier to maintain the asymmetry by blaming those who don’t receive treats. Those people don’t deserve treats. Those people are dirty. They are sources of disease. They are non-compliant. They are, in the end, the other. They are not us. If they were us, they too would get treats. Ipso facto.
Watch how easy it is to tear apart bonds that seemed strong.
Hear how a husband leaves his wife outside for hours as he spends time in the warmth of his parents’ home, a home she is no longer welcome in, for the sin of being unvaccinated against Covid. Observe that he has actually forgotten about her. Observe that when this is pointed out to him later, he is not concerned.
Hear about the young woman, unvaccinated against Covid, encouraging her family to understand how valuable the Freedom Convoy was. Observe that she was told that the mandates and protests are irrelevant to them, because they are vaccinated. Observe that she, their own daughter and sister, has disappeared from their consciousness. The fact of mandates is irrelevant to them because they are vaccinated.
Hear about the man, soon to be a father, who is the only one among his family, friends, and work colleagues who is unvaccinated against Covid, so far as he knows. Observe that he has flown under the radar until now, because that is the easiest way to exist in a time like this. Observe that he has the support of his wife, gratefully, but that when he speaks truth that runs counter to the narrative—such banal and obvious truths as that the truckers in the Convoy are not “racists” or inherently “anti-vaxxers,” he is pilloried. His own family now suspect him of terrible things. Observe that coming to a different conclusion is now equated with being a despicable person.
Observe how easy it is for people to forget that they were friends, to turn on one another, to abandon their own professed values and relationships. Observe how easy it is for selfishness to overwhelm loyalty, compassion, and love.
And consider the observations of Ashleigh Laughren, a Canadian who has traveled to Ottawa with her husband, from their home five hours away, a couple of times these last few weeks.
Over the weekend of February 12-13, Ashleigh and her husband found
love, unity, peace and connection while walking ‘oot and aboot’ the streets, hugging, high-fiving and cheering with the thousands of people there. We jumped in to help build a huge heated tent for children’s games in the middle of Wellington street while a massive group of supporters cheered and sang. Ever conscious of safety, we carried it together as a large group, to a safe spot that allowed a full access lane for emergency vehicles, should they need it. Just to be clear, there are full emergency access lanes throughout the whole downtown core, even where all the trucks are parked. This is a peaceful protest backed by over a dozen lawyers to ensure that they are following the law to a "T".
We saw tables and tables of volunteers making and handing out food and hot drinks to anybody who came past. There were bouncy castles, games, balloon animals, a hot tub, saunas, cotton candy, popcorn, cookies, pizza ovens, barbecues, giant vats of soup and dance parties. There were families and people of all creeds, races, and ages, waving flags, waving at each other, hugging, and conversing.
That was before Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act.
After he did so, on the morning of February 20, Ashleigh wrote to me again (links added):
I wanted to give you an update to characterize the sad state of affairs here in Canada. The police swarmed in to one of the most peaceful protests in history and used force, batons, pepper spray, tear gas, flash bangs, arrests, the threat of snipers on buildings and the fucking cavalry to remove all peace-loving freedom fighters, including the veterans protecting the War Memorial. A clan mother of a Mohawk tribe with a walker was trampled by the cavalry and sent to the hospital. They claimed that her walker was a bike that was thrown at the horses. Nope. The lies are getting thicker.
All of the trucks have left. I am so very proud of them. They did what our "leader" could not and de-escalated the situation to protect those around them. That's true courage.
The Ottawa Police released an announcement to the effect that they plan to identify any remaining protesters in the crowd and will spend months tracking them down to freeze their bank accounts and press criminal charges. This is just horrendous. I didn't have it in me to go up against a government that is not playing by the democratic rules of fairness so we stayed in our hotel room and watched the poor, brave people who may have another thing coming to them when our tyrannical government hunts them down.
There's lots of live footage to back up what I'm saying but the government and the legacy corporate media continues to spin their web of lies.
Anyways, the difference in how I feel today from how I felt this time last week is astounding.
No matter what, the truckers have opened a lot of eyes and I will be forever grateful to them for their courage.
Later that day, Ashleigh wrote with one more update:
We're driving home right now and ended up in a homeward-bound mini convoy for part of the way. We put our four-ways on and drove slowly in solidarity with them until we had to turn off. So many were honking as the trucks passed. It was bittersweet, yet uplifting.
It made us tear up and laugh at the indomitable Canadian spirit. There are already convoys in Quebec City, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. I hope our Prime Minister is up for the biggest game of Whack-a-Mole the world has ever seen!
We are living in a landscape of division, othering, and dehumanization. Some are offered treats, and not only do they readily accept those treats, they too often cannot be made to see that the treats themselves are being used to divide. Resistance is necessary. Whatever else you believe to be true, there is no version of reality in which acquiescence to the dehumanization of some part of society is okay. We must resist, in the ways that we can. To that end, let’s give them all a giant game of Whack-a-Mole to contend with.
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All of these examples are ones that I have heard directly from people who have written to me, although identifying details have been omitted or changed. This represents a tiny fraction of the stories I am hearing, which itself must be a tiny fraction of what is happening every day.
Direct quotation from interim Ottawa police chief Steve Bell at the press conference on February 19, 2022: “If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges.” Separately, the Ottawa police are known to have used face recognition technology in the past.