Protests for justice means change is in the air

By Pat Watson Wednesday March 25 2015 in Opinion
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Maybe it started with the “Arab Spring” as it was literally ignited when Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in frustration and protest against the protracted unjust system that was suffocating Tunisia. Maybe it was the utterly unconscionable killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by a vigilante who was then set free after shooting and killing Martin.


It definitely has something to do with the new era of social media communications. We know this because before the official story about what happened to 18-year-old unarmed Michael Brown was contrived by official reports, ordinary people took to social media to make sure another perspective on yet another troubling police shooting was told. We know what happened next: Protests in Ferguson, Missouri where Brown was shot and killed by a White police officer; protests in New York City where police interaction with Eric Garner, 43, also unarmed, resulted in Garner’s death from suffocation.


Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe”, has become a rallying cry.


Fifty years after the March in Selma, a new generation of activists have begun pushing back against systemic abuse and injustice directed at people of African descent. This movement is among others that declare a growing underclass of people is reaching the point where they won’t sit still and accept inequality and injustice.


It’s not as if history has not seen such responses before. There certainly is an ebb and flow to the tides of unfairness and push back in response. The period of pushback is rising once again.


Here in Toronto, there have been demonstrations in support of those that have taken place in Missouri and New York City. But local protests are also about local injustices.


The fight to end the random and unreasonable street stops by police of Black youth, which amounts to harassment and, more seriously, psychological warfare, is ongoing and is now finding a wider reaction calling for change.


Yet there is much more to do. The current unrest and the impetus to participate in bringing about change may be best understood in the context of the current economic climate.


When the rate of employment is at a critical mass, the level of unrest will ebb. As it is now, those who are most affected by the chronic fragile state of our current economy and jobs market are visible minority youth. Those who do have jobs are in significant numbers employed in low wage activities that promise little in terms of advancement and skills growth. What we used to call “dead-end jobs”. Part-time, retail positions do not offer much stimulation for a population of youth bearing university degrees.


The status quo continues to keep the gates closed to all but a few who aspire to participate at all levels of working society while the programs that are in place to provide opportunities are considered as altruistic endeavours or charitable acts, rather than as social responsibility or social justice or equity.


That being the case, therefore, what we are now witnessing – the growing push for social justice and change – would be what some would characterize as karma. Or, a case of what the dominant forces in society sow is what they will in due course reap.


There are many good people trying to do good in the interest of the many. The challenge is to continue to enact policies and programs for justice and equity with the kind of dedication that looks like obsession.


There is a quote from Nelson Mandela, which is, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.” Similarly, overcoming social and racial inequity require myriad acts of justice.


There is a dire warning in the axiom, “No justice, no peace.” But there is another choice: Know justice, know peace.


A note on a measure of justice…

An Aboriginal woman in northern Ontario chose to take her fight to court after she was prevented from building herself a one-room home in what has been called “Crown land”. She won her right to retain her home, but the judge’s explanation that it wasn’t worth the “public expense of a lengthy trial” misses the real mark of the moral and ethical heart of the matter.


Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.

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