Serious People Protest Closing of Parliament

January 25, 2010

I remember a few years ago reading an essay about the Internet which claimed that it couldn’t really be used to effect social change because it is just several million people aimlessly tapping away about their individual interests and concerns. The atomization of discourse on the Internet, the way the individual is blinkered by extreme selectivity, makes the kind of group activity which brings about social change impossible. The author concluded that through unfettered freedom of expression, when everyone becomes a spokesman, no one listens to anything and we become helpless.

The essayist speculated that Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech would have had very little effect if it had been posted to the Internet. It gained its impact on American history from the presence of the 300,000 sets of feet on the streets of Washington to march for civil rights on that day in 1963.

Saturday, organized by an Internet Facebook campaign, Canadians walked out in the icy wind to show that they would tolerate no more abuses of their Parliamentary tradition, that vast, dusty, bureaucratic mess of contradictions by which we are governed. Simply put, Canadians decided that they had had enough of Stephen Harper’s chain-saw approach to the hedges of the Canadian legislature.

My son explained it: “With prorogation Stephen Harper sent our representatives home because he couldn’t be bothered with them. By extension he told us that he couldn’t be bothered with us. That’s an insult to Canadians, particularly to conservative voters who expected better.”

The CPC used a Facebook protest against last year’s threatened opposition coalition to back up the argument that, however legal the formation of a coalition was, Canadians were wholeheartedly against it. Harper went so far as to call the opposition leaders “traitors” on no basis other than 150,000 Facebook memberships on an anti-coalition site.

So Facebook numbers were good enough for the CPC War Room to use last year, but this year 220,000 Facebook members, almost half of whom are over 45 and 96% who claim to have voted in the last election, are just mouse-clickers who are not to be taken seriously.

That’s why the feet on the snow-covered streets of our cities Saturday were so important. In Ottawa people tore themselves away from an afternoon Senators game and turned up on Parliament Hill in droves to make it clear that the decision to prorogue the House tipped the apple cart. Canadians of all political stripes are angry at Stephen Harper and they have served notice. Attempts to minimize this grass roots demonstration as “a euchre party in Ottawa” as one Tory commentator called it — even in the face of photographic evidence and RCMP crowd counts of over 3500 people — simply won’t work this time. They just show the basic dishonesty of the Conservative spin machine.

Canadians want competent, conservative leadership, but they don’t want a dictator, and they showed that on Saturday afternoon. A protest organized on the Internet succeeded in putting feet on the ground on Parliament Hill, in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and many smaller centres across the land. The message was clear: “Stephen Harper, we are your employer. Ignore us at your peril.”

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