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The No Prorogue Movement: Re-Inciting the Art of Protest.

January 31, 2010

A young protester makes his voice heard at a No Prorogue rally. Photo couresty of Fifth_Businesses, flickr.

Protests in Vancouver are usually lackluster at best. Throughout my four-year attempt at being a rabble-rousing UBC student, I attended many rallies and marches in wet city streets, demanding protection of InSite or better housing for the homeless or greater awareness of First Nations rights.

Regardless of the cause, the atmosphere was always familiar, with the same few solemn faces standing behind a banner or two, the same angry young egos screaming into worn-out megaphones. We would usually number in the tends to low hundreds at best, and although we were passionate and held strong beliefs, I’m not sure that we were ever convinced that our yelling and marching and sign waving was making any real change.

But last weekend’s coordinated No Prorogue events, which took place across the country and drew an estimated crowd of 2,500 in Vancouver, re-ignited my passion and belief in the power of collective action. Never before have I heard so many voices raised for one cause on a dull, rainy, winter day.

For me, protests have always signified true democracy, the true power of citizenry, in a way that no other action can. Being an American citizen, one of the only parts of my country’s culture that I identify with, and truly miss when I’m gone, is the incredible passion fueling protests in the States, the igniting anger that can bring together hundreds to thousands of people concerned with the same issues. My American parents were active in the civil rights movement of the 60s, took to the streets to march against the U.S. occupation in Vietnam, raised their fists against mining on Native American lands and for the right to unionize.

I attended my first protest when I was just one year old, and staged my first action when I was four, organizing fellow preschoolers in a victory march at Nelson Mandela’s release. The energetic anger that makes the U.S. such an uncomfortable place to live in so many ways is lacking from much of Canadian culture, making it, in my opinion, a more habitable country. But every time I’ve marched the streets of Vancouver, campaigning for one cause or another, I’ve found myself in the midst of a passive movement longing for the throbbing, jostling crowds of LA or New York or Seattle.

And last weekend, I found it. The thousands that gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery were – to put it plainly – pissed, and were using this anger to act together towards a specific goal.

Whereas other protests I had witnessed and partook in were often scattered, and included a very select group of people (read: young progressives), Saturday’s No Prorogue actions included people from all walks of life, many of whom had never attended a protest before. They did not come out because it was expected of them, but because they all felt like their democratic rights were being hindered; this was their way of taking them back. It was protesting at it’s best: a large group of citizens taking to the streets, making their voices heard. Whereas other actions felt ineffective and dramatic at best, Saturday’s coordinated rallies felt real and necessary. We were not just marching to march, we were marching because thousands of citizens had the same concern, and wanted to make real change.

And for once, for the first time in years, I felt like that change was possible, like our marching and chanting and sign waving was making its ways to the ears of Ottawa rather than falling deafly against Vancouver’s glass high-rises.  I felt that angry energy rise up in me again, and finally found a way to harness it.

Hours after Saturday’s rallies ended, members of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament, the Facebook group through which most of the actions were organized, were calling for this energy and excitement to continue and be used to exert more pressure on Harper to end the prorogue, as well as to address other issues facing Canada today. I echo their calls, and hope that the No Prorogue movement can act as a model for how collective action can effectively occur.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. marakardasnelson permalink*
    February 2, 2010 1:46 pm

    Great points, Kat. I agree that much of the discussions and political activism happening today are not taking place on city streets but in chat rooms and on Facebook as you say. Much of the reasoning behind my observations is that I do not partake in these mediums as much as others may be doing; and also that I still think that there’s a power to marches and rallies that is irreplaceable. All the talk on the CAPP Facebook group was exciting, but I think that talk turning to action–and measurable action, that could be seen and felt and heard in Ottawa–when that organizing left cyberspace and met at the VAG was far more powerful. While I can’t deny that at times I’ve found Vancouverites to be apathetic, not only in comparison to their southern neighbors but also when compared with activism taking place in other parts of Canada (namely Toronto), I’m not arguing that the passion or interests of this city is lackluster, but that the protest movement, which I personally hold in high regard, needed to be shaken up. And I see the No Prorogue movement as having the potential to do just that.

  2. February 1, 2010 6:33 pm

    Interesting post, Mara. Thanks for this. I’ve been a big fan of the No Prorogue movement – especially because of its critic-defying, crowd-rousing success largely due to an often dismissed medium – Facebook. I echo your statements about the rally – regardless of one’s personal politics, it was hard not to be inspired by a crowd of people so large it spans several downtown blocks – especially a crowd featuring an equally inspiring combination of ages, backgrounds and ideologies.

    However, as another American expat who grew up in the U.S. but now lives in Canada, I’ve been continually inspired by the activism and passion of Vancouver’s residents. They may not come out in massive numbers like angrier (and often, sadly, more desperate) communities do in other larger cities with deeper-rooted systemic problems (such as the massive protests last year that happened in cities like San Francisco and Chicago at the tightening of laws for new immigrants, especially those from Mexico specifically), but they are aware, engaged and active on a common level in ways that I have not seen in other ‘greater’ cities like NYC, LA and Toronto.

    Personally, after a few years working with activists and rabble-rousers of all stripes in this city, I’d say that Vancouverites aren’t coming out for protests in numbers as large as other cities because they’re busy engaging in other ways – by lobbying independent media outlets to publish their stories, by volunteering at Insite and Carnegie Centre, by shooting rapid-fire debates on Twitter and over the blogosphere about Vancouver life or fighting with each other via Francis Bula’s municipal politics blog – by coming out to the hundreds of activist, progressive, socially-engaged events happening across the city every week.

    I’d still love to see massive, hopeful crowds come out to protests in this city like they did in Seattle for the WTO protests or in San Francisco during the Vietnam War, but I’m really starting to believe that things are different now – that the avenues of engagement are widening in ways that didn’t exist a few years ago – and that keeps me hopeful regardless of how many people come out to the VAG for the next rally.

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