Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2010/ Why I Support the G20 Protests

Why I Support the G20 Protests

So thousands -- maybe tens of thousands -- are heading down to Toronto to protest the G20 Summit this weekend. Good for them. Many of the protesters have wrongheaded ideas. The threat of protests has resulted in the government squandering thousands of millions of dollars in "security". The protests will be loud, filled with tear gas and futile. Nonetheless, I applaud their efforts, and think that most of the kneejerk putdowns of these protesters miss the point.

The point is that there are a lot of people out there who feel that they have no voice. They feel that a small influential group of people control their lives, and they are expressing their discontent. This is a protest about mistrusting authority, and mistrusting the mechanisms by which the world makes its decisions.

Some critics say that the protesters have no unified message. Those critics miss the point. Not only are unified messages the domain of public relations departments, but in protesting "globalization" these protesters are identifying the many many ways in which global influence affects their lives.

Some critics say that the protesters are disorganized. Those critics miss the huge amount of commitment and communication that has to be done in order to organize anything. Do you think booking (and paying for) a bus to Toronto is easy? Do you think that it is easy to organize nonviolence training? I think lots of those protesters are in for a shock when the tear gas starts, but lots of them have been prepared to some degree, and that takes work.

Some critics call the protesters dirty hippies without jobs. Some of them are -- many of them are students, after all. But taking time off from their normal lives to travel to Toronto and speak their voice is no small sacrifice. Risking arrest and endless teargas is a lot less pleasant than going on vacation to the beach. The protests may be silly, but they are not lighthearted.

Some critics call the protests futile. They are futile in the sense that the G20 summit will be unaffected by the actions of the protesters. They are futile in the sense that the organizers will be burned out for months following the protests. But for many of the naifs protesting this is going to be a turning point in their lives. They will see that they are not alone. Many of them will experience oppression for the first time. Many of them will understand the futility of giant puppets and protest signs, and -- distressed and lost -- they will search for more effective forms of social change. And most importantly, these protesters are expressing their voices in ways that make national headlines. Could these folks be spending their energies more wisely? Perhaps. But those of us drooling over iProducts and sitting on porches could be spending our energies more wisely too, and nobody makes fun of us.

Many critics (and most media outlets) characterize the protesters as violent hooligans. I think this is ludicrous. There will be some violence and some broken windows, which the TV cameras will train their eyes upon even as they ignore police violence and planted cops taking protesters down. Having hung around left-wing activists for many years now, I know all too well that some people advocate violent protest. But most of the activists are mired in pacificsm, and do their hardest not to cause violence even when it is nonsensical. As usual, the broken windows will make the headlines, and will obscure the true nature of the protests.

Some critics say the protesters are mostly white, middle-class comfortable kids. I tend to agree, and there are certainly dangers when comfortable middle-class people pretend to speak on behalf of the poor, but I would rather have myopic white kids protesting injustice in the world rather than having nobody speak up against injustice at all.

So why am I staying home? I am a coward and a snarky hipster. Like everybody else I find it easier to mock the wrongheaded rather than commit to anything constructive. I skipped the 2001 protests in Quebec City as well. But after an evening of reading snarky comments and disparaging remarks by comfortable yahoos on the CBC site, I am jumping off the fence and picking a side. For all of their faults, I am glad that the protesters are doing their best to make themselves heard.