I was at a protest today. It had two purposes mainly: to denounce a CN lawsuit against a protester who blocked their tracks, and as a run-up to this weekend’s massive protest in Montebello, where leaders of the three North American countries are meeting to discuss trade and security.
I’ve been to a lot of protests as a reporter (I worked at Concordia during the first half of this decade, after all), and at some point they all kind of blend in together. There’s Jaggi Singh, being vague about whether he supports rampant property destruction in protests. There’s the references to Palestinian occupation, whether or not Palestine has anything to do with the protest at hand. There’s the demonization of the local police, who are standing quietly to help clear traffic out of their way as they march. And there’s the fact that half the time the media covering the event outnumber the protesters.
The protest, organized as always by a loose coalition of left-wing activist groups (No One Is Illegal, People’s Global Action Network, etc.), started off at Central Station, which for about an hour today became the safest place in the world. A media scrum quickly built up around blowhard Jaggi Singh and someone else the media couldn’t care less about. After a press conference that lasted way too long, they marched to CN’s headquarters down the hall, demanding to be able to deliver a letter to CN CEO E. Hunter Harrisson.
Naturally, that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, they promised to send their director of public relations. Except they couldn’t find her, apparently. So then they promised to send a representative from that department, who would accept the letter but not answer questions. Then they pulled a little bait-and-switch and sent a member of the security department to pick up the letter. The protesters wouldn’t bite, and that ended that. A slow march to Dorchester Square, some more megaphone chanting and everyone dispersed.
Afterward, I spoke with one of the people behind the megaphones (I wanted to speak to someone other than Jaggi Singh). You’ll get some insight from her in Saturday’s paper.
The protesters’ cause isn’t crazy. They want CN to drop a lawsuit against a protester, and they want international negotiations to happen with public input. But when they start chanting “no justice no peace”, it’s hard to imagine too many passers-by thinking “yeah, I agree with that.”
It makes me wonder: Should we separate moderate-left causes which can gain popular support (like, say, the 2003 anti-war protests) from the radical-crazy-left anarchist/communist everything-is-about-Palestine-and-native-rights window-smashing “fuck la police” riots, so that the message of the former isn’t dragged down by the public’s repulsion to the latter?
UPDATE: Video of the protest has been posted to YouTube.