As we marched through a suburban gauntlet with scattered police on one side and uniform, expensive houses on the other, angry voices chanted a familiar slogan: “This is what democracy looks like.” I understand the sentiment. Exercising our “legal and legitimate” right to vote and protest obediently—or, worse still, ignoring or supporting widespread oppression—implicitly accepts the rule of the powerful, surrendering freedom and common access to society’s wealth.
Stepping towards democracy means conflict with established power and embodies participatory aims in attempts to call the engineers of social misery to account.
It’s a first step towards an aim pushed into the distance by apathy and narrow self-interest. Furthermore, the helicopter circling above our march of about 100, the dozens of police officers waiting outside the meeting in Oakville’s Community Centre, and the barricade of cops and metal separating us from the Tory leadership debate constituted our government’s response to such steps.
Mohandas Gandhi’s declaration hits close to home: “Western democracy, as it functions today, is diluted fascism.” Mike Harris’s legacy loomed large over Monday’s Tory convention as debates proceeded to find his replacement. The legacy finds support in deluded self-interest, oft-repeated myth and indifference to its many victims. It was the government of Mike Harris whose police force murdered Dudley George, an un-armed native Canadian protestor, and who refused to take the necessary investigative steps to counter charges of the premier’s involvement. The case of Kimberly Rogers also comes to mind. A 40-year-old woman, pregnant and diagnosed with depression, Rogers was “convicted” of collecting student loans to fund her education. Enjoying such a privilege while collecting welfare was deemed to be fraud, and she was cut off from welfare, ordered to repay the $13,000 in student loans and sentenced to six months under house arrest. Condemned to an apartment turned sauna by six days of record-hot Sudbury weather, she was cut off from welfare benefits for even the barest necessities and lost access to her anti-depressant medication. Kimberly Rogers died in a hell constructed by government decree during the eighth month of her pregnancy.
From the inability of a government drunk on privatization schemes to provide public services—as seen in Walkerton—to systematic assaults on public education, workers’ rights and the province’s poor, the Conservative record demands response. “Most places,” an activist screamed through a megaphone, “they need [the IMF and World Bank’s] Structural Adjustment Programs to ensure resources and lives are milked for profit. We don’t get SAPs here, the goddamned Tories do it themselves!”
Another activist continued: “This government’s callousness has provoked such a backlash that the Tories can only meet behind what you see here, behind moats of police with billy-clubs and pepper-spray, fences and guns. We’ll continue to put the Tories under siege, just as they’ve done to this province!”
It’s a fight-back that those intent on a better future would do well to support. March 23 will see the Tories meeting for their leadership convention, and they must be put under siege. Demanding reconstruction of the province’s social infrastructure, as detailed at www.tao.ca/~ocf, a network of similarly-minded organizations are ensuring the Tory assault cannot continue without a fight. The words of Brazilian activist Paulo Freire should inform our approach to such turmoil: “To wash one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” When neutrality and indifference give way to constructive rebellion, our hopes for the future can find legitimate fuel.