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Notes from Quebec by Ethan Cox

Ethan Cox's picture
rabble's Quebec correspondent, Ethan Cox is a 29 year-old journo, pundit and incorrigible rabble rouser from Montreal. A former union organizer and student union executive, Ethan has also worked on a number of successful municipal and federal election campaigns, and was a member of Quebec central office staff for the NDP in the 2011 election. More recently he served as Quebec Director and Senior Communications Advisor on Brian Topp's NDP leadership campaign. He now spends his time writing for rabble, freelancing for outlets like the National Post, appearing regularly on CJAD radio in Montreal and working on a book about austerity. You can follow him on twitter @EthanCoxMtl

Defend Our Coast: A national movement is building

| October 23, 2012
Photo: Zach Embree

It is a lot easier to believe that we're building a real national movement when you travel from Quebec, and our glorious Maple Spring, to Victoria B.C. just in time to participate in the beginning of what I'll call the West Coast Fall.

Yesterday, on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria for Defend Our Coast, it felt a little like Quebec. It also felt a lot like victory.

There were crows, whales, dogs and massive puppets. There were speeches, songs and an overwhelming feeling of love and community. There were also well over five thousand people. Organizers I spoke to were hoping for a turnout closer to fifteen hundred, and the crowd was one of the largest B.C. has seen in years.

Even more impressive when you consider the action was held on a Monday afternoon, rather than a more nine-to-five-warrior friendly weekend day, and advertised as an act of civil disobedience which had the potential to lead to arrest. Over five thousand people didn't show up to wave a placard, they showed up to get arrested, because they feel a crushing sense of urgency.

It was the same strange mix of elation and hope I remember from Quebec this year, mixed with fear and burning necessity. In the face of cataclysmic threats to our very survival, in resistance to a brutally broken system, we find in each other the strength and power to build the simplest revolution, one rooted in common sense and built on the power and value of love, community and solidarity.

This protest wasn't just about Enbridge, or Kinder Morgan, or fracking, or even the tar sands. For the people there, the world hasn't made sense in some time. They've known something was wrong, but been unsure how to fix it. They are unsure no longer.

A line has been crossed, a final straw snapped astride the proverbial Camel. We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore. Yesterday, people came together. They laughed and cried and screamed their rage to the skies. They found hope in each other, and let me tell you, once hope has been found, it's a fire which is not easy to extinguish.

The police failed to cooperate with organizers original plan to breach the police line and provoke arrest, by failing to establish a police line. Faced with police who resolutely refused to arrest anyone, and a massive crowd who really wanted to get arrested, the civil disobedience portion of the day fell to the staking in of a giant black banner the length of a supertanker around the lawn of the Legislature.

Although it was a largely symbolic act of civil disobedience, there was nothing symbolic about the spirit of resistance alive in the breasts of thousands who braved the rain and stood strong for many hours.

During a rousing and passionate speech, Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt asked the crowd if they were willing to lay down in front of bulldozers to block the building of pipelines. The throaty roar of thousands of voices screaming yes in unison was the loudest response of the day.

Dave Coles, national President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, gave a barn-burner of a speech that repeatedly drew roaring ovations. Explaining that his union represents many of the workers affected, he said he was there to "say unequivocally, our union stands against this pipeline!"

He went on to condemn the pipeline as a "job-killer, not a job creator" and exclaim "don't let anyone tell you there is a divide between the labour movement and the environmental movement. If they do they're lying to you. We are united!"

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians drew loud applause when she relayed a message of solidarity from activists camping in trees in Texas to block the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. "They are up in the trees, high above the bulldozers, and they will not come down!"

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip also gave a rousing speech, telling a cheering crowd, "we will not stand down, we will not step back. We will stop Enbridge and Kinder Morgan dead in their tracks!"

The speeches and songs carried on all afternoon, far too numerous and well spoken to recite here. In the waning moments of the rally, as the last speaker stepped to the mic and a steady rain fell, I suggested to my companion that we take our leave.

"Just a little longer. I love this feeling".

No wonder, it's a beautiful feeling. It's the feeling of a community coming together in the face of an insane system and re-asserting control over our lives and our society.

The real test of this West Coast Fall will be whether the energy of this beautiful day can be transferred to the decentralized actions at the offices of MLAs across B.C. on Wednesday the 24th. Building a movement is about more than a single action, it's critical that the spirit of Defend Our Coast be brought to bear on B.C.'s elected representatives, and that they be sent a clear message that betraying their constituents will have dire consequences.

To find your local action, check the Defend Our Coast website, and if you possibly can, be there. We need your voice.

Although no list of official sponsors was published, I am informed that the main partners in the Defend Our Coast coalition were Greenpeace, Truthfool, Forest Ethics and the Council of Canadians. They were supported by LeadNow and the Dogwood Initiative, who took responsibility for Wednesday's distributed actions around the province. Local Victoria support was also provided by Social Coast Victoria, an organization dedicated to bringing a social justice analysis to the environmental movement. It should also be mentioned that they have a 'battle bus'. If I left anyone out, please let me know in the comments, and I sincerely apologize.

Photo: Zach Embree

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