Social media the new engine for civil protest

By Pat Watson Wednesday January 16 2013 in Opinion
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By Pat Watson


Idle No More. Occupy movement. Quebec student protest. Arab Spring. G8 and G20 civil protests.


Something is happening across the world that is showing up everywhere as people congregate to show their dissatisfaction with the status quo and to demand change.


The one that is occupying headlines here in Canada these days is the nationwide protest actions by Aboriginal peoples who have struggled for generations to get the sons and daughters of the settler nation to honour their treaties with them.


Launched by four Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan, Idle No More (INM) was the spark that moved Theresa Spence, the chief of troubled northern Ontario reserve Attawapiskat to launch a hunger protest with the goal of bringing heads of state to a meeting with her.


The INM protest is a reaction to a separate and important matter; that is First Nations’ disagreement with the federal government’s Bill C-45, the second so-called omnibus budget bill from the majority Harper government. For Native people, areas of concern within the 400-page document include the Indian Act, weakening of the Environmental Act and the Navigation Protection Act. The details of all of these are too layered to go into here; rather, the main point is the spread of the movement across the country in just over two months. INM has also attracted international support from Aboriginal peoples as far away as Australia, where the struggle for fairness for Aboriginals looks similar to the history here.


What is happening is that the concerns of people who feel that they are being taken advantage of by powerful corporate and government entities are being aided by the everyday use of communication technology. Canada is a huge country, so for a grassroots movement to spread with the speed it has taken some doing.


What the four women in Saskatchewan did to spread the message of their protest action was to post it on Facebook. Not long after that came the Twitter hashtag – #IdleNoMore. These are key actions in postmodern protest activities.


The other key component is there has to be the right moment. In the case of INM, Bill C-45 precipitated that moment. How it will be resolved is yet to be seen, but if the patterns of history are any indicator then we can anticipate some hard fought for forward movement before a dominant force takes the lead and leaves the rest at a disadvantage.


After the French Revolution, during which royalty were dispatched with beheadings, it took no time before Napoleon declared himself emperor. Apparently, people need leaders, but so many people who become leaders, by so-called democratic methods or otherwise, become transformed by the elevation. Almost invariably, an element of tyranny emerges, whether to a greater extent like Russia’s Josef Stalin or to a lesser extent as that of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.


In any case, world societies are moving now from the early dawn of the Computer Age when one computer occupied 1,000 square feet of space, into the emerging culture of “social media” made possible by portable and more affordable micro-computers. Given the rapid pace of development of this technology, as it becomes increasingly compact, there is no doubt more to come.


What we of the Black Canadian society should pay attention to is that when people mass together with a singular voice it carries significant force. The tools are there to make it happen. But perhaps like the Native people we need a strong motivator to pull together for changes we need to have to move our community forward.


This would be necessary if we have a better understanding of where most of us are located along the socio-economic spectrum of this country. It might help if we understand what percentage of Black men are represented in Canadian prisons, relative to the larger population, and why. Or the level of literacy we possess compared to the larger population. Or relative job status. Or relative health care. Our lives may not look like those of Aboriginals living on reserves, but we have our own particular set of challenges in terms of equity with the broader society. So, one has to wonder what it would take.


A note on separating hockey and foreign policy…


Canadian media personality Don Cherry has made a name for himself as one kind of Canadian everyman, as such he has a specific subculture following. Cherry’s niche is hockey not foreign policy, so he should stay away from making such comments as it’s “nuts” for Canada to give foreign aid to Haiti.


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