Back from our holiday in the Rockies and where do I begin. It’s been three days of re-immersion into the city and I’m by turns glad to be home and frustrated with the general political state of things. It doesn’t help that I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided and am now onto Bill McKibbon’s Eaarth in the midst of the World Cup colonial frenzy that has taken over Vancouver. (The take-away message in Vancouver seemed to be “go white people” – despite the fact we’re talking about the Dutch in South Africa! History anyone?) All very distraction-oriented. Bread and circuses and riots and soccer. I’m feeling a little disenfranchised from it all.
At last night’s Lit Bitch social I had a bit of a discussion with a friend about this feeling – going to demonstrations in the spirit of showing support (or opposition) on one issue or another, only to be overwhelmed by the sense that the whole thing is simply it’s own kind of show and as protester-participant we are just props to be moved into the street, blocking traffic, providing cover for the ego needs of others. To predictable outcomes every time – sometimes large and frightening (G-20 police violence), but most often just tedious (and ignored even by passers-by). On Friday night, at the I heart alt media fundraiser, I couldn’t help but feel like the aftermath of Toronto is just a re-run of APEC, the WTO, Quebec FTAA, and other summit demos where organizers promise that this is just the *start* of a movement only to have it fizzle into the endless legal procedures and court cases that drain all the best energy from organizing into repeating loops of outrage orchestrated for media conferences in a desperate attempt to prove the injustices (re-traumatizing, always re-traumatizing oneself in the process).
Which is not to judge in any way the impulse, the desire, the motivation to march and press forward with demands of justice. The end of the world feels very imminent, civil liberties and environmental conditions eroding every day, the people of the world with their eyes cast downward ignoring what is right in front of them. How does this stop? How do we stop it?
In the last few years I’ve ceased attending most demonstrations – I still go to them when I’m moved to – but I usually end up feeling so alienated by the protest community itself that I leave early or stand on the sidelines making only a very half-hearted attempt to chant in solidarity. If there’s any threat of brick-throwing through windows I just get right out of the action – so futile does it seem to get arrested on the motions of a few young men so quickly undone by insurance payouts. So what to do?
Increasingly I’ve found myself turning to community organizing, and not in the broad sense of the “activist community” but as defined by the people who live on my street and the streets around me. And I keep thinking about the Bolivarian Circles concept as applied to East Van neighbourhood groups and how we can work our way up from gardening our boulevards and alleyways together to resisting the proposed highway down 1st ave to creating a vibrancy that eventually even city hall will have to listen to. Which seems so small and stupid compared to stopping the G-20, except that we never do get to stop the G-20 and it’s very easy to convince a few neighbours to garden together and from there we might event be able to build networks of trust that might sustain us in the very perilous times ahead.
Not to be too idealistic, of course, I have at least one neighbour who I’m pretty sure would shoot us to get at any food stockpiles if it came down to that – hell, he’d probably shoot us if we looked at him the wrong way…. But still it seems worthwhile to try and knit together people who define themselves as apolitical if only to prove that real communities can still define their relationship to power and that it’s not only the “enlightened” activists who understand at a very deep level that our world is in profound crisis.
It’s not that going in the street is a waste of time, because I think there is still great energy in the collective mass showing itself to entrenched power, but I also know that if I feel slightly stupid in the middle of a protest, there’s got to be thousands of other people who won’t even put themselves there to start with. It doesn’t mean they don’t want change or don’t care, but that different constituencies require different organizational forms.
I’ve got more to say. More to say on all of this, as I depart the keyboard to go back to reading about how we make ourselves more resilient in the face of climate change and other environmental degradation…. but for now I’m going to leave this post for pondering. There’s a lot going on in my head upon our return.