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After 40 years of protesting Kissinger, it might be time for some new tactics

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One afternoon last week I took part in a protest against former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres being allowed into Canada. Both spoke at a Simon Wiesenthal Centre fundraiser deep inside the bowels of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

The protest was carried out by the group Actions4Palestine. But, as someone who was a regular at protests 40 and 50 years ago, I was disappointed by the small size of the crowd, and that our group made no attempt to explain our cause to passersby.  

The protest was definitely justified. Kissinger, who turned 93 last week, is one of the worst living war criminals. In 1973, he masterminded a U.S. scheme to help a brutal military dictator overthrow Chile's democratically elected government and supported brutal regimes in a number of other countries.

Shimon Peres supported several Israeli actions against Palestine, include serving in the Haganah, a Zionist Militia that massacred Palestinians during 1948-1952. He was involved in the massacre of Jenin and gave the green light for Israel's violent incursion against besieged Gaza in 2008.

Almost 2,500 people attended the fundraiser, which raised more than $3.75 million for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies Centre.  

While some 130 folks said on Facebook they would come out for the protest, fewer than 70 showed up.

A bullhorn was used to blast out slogans that were repeated by placard-carrying protesters as they walked back and forth on the street and later stood on the street in front of the Metro Centre. 

The demonstration reminded me of any one of a number of protests I took part in during the 60s and 70s, except perhaps more people showed up in those days.

Our group had no intention of trying to disrupt the meeting by getting into the building, perhaps through a back entrance. Many of our group were long-time protest warriors who have experienced police violence. For their part, the police were taking no chances. On hand were about 15 police officers, all with big black batons, a paddy wagon, three police cars, and a dog barking viciously from the paddy wagon. When protestors got out of line, police asked them to move back.

We didn't see Kissinger or Peres, but I hope the two war-hawks were told that our group was out there.

If one of our group's goals was to inform the public about what was going on, we failed badly. Folks walking along the street awkwardly passed us by.

Early in the protest, three small groups of people were gawking at us from in front of the Metro Centre entrance. I decided to walk over and talk to them. I asked a group of four female lawyers taking part in a law seminar if they knew what was going on. "No, we have no idea," said one of them, as they gathered round. They could hear the word Israel being blasted out from the bullhorn.

I explained what Kissinger had been involved in. After a brief chat, heads started nodding. Now that they understood, they agreed the protest was a good idea. I moved on to talk with three businessmen, and they had a similar reaction.

I wondered if I would have the same luck with the police. I strolled past the paddy wagon with the vicious dog, and stopped in front of four policemen. They didn't know what the protest was about. After I explained what was going on, two of the officers seemed sympathetic.

Even though the protest didn't accomplish much, I don't want to belittle those taking part. Some of them and/or their families have personally experienced the wrath of the brutal Israeli regime. They have no doubt tried different ways of protesting without much success.  

Nevertheless, if groups want to be effective, they need to improve their tactics.

First of all, perhaps the groups that stage protests should meet and make plans to support each other's campaign better. Old rivalries should be put aside. Forming a co-ordinating committee would be a good idea. Some unions officially support the causes groups are campaigning on, so they should be expected to support activities.

Protests that attract fewer than 100 people probably should be called off.

In terms of confronting the likes of Kissinger, without tipping off anyone, three or four people could have tried to meet his airplane. Where was he staying? Picket the homes of the people who brought him to Toronto.

A bullhorn can be effective if used in a way that passerby understand what's being said. Union-style moving picket lines can be effective if they are more friendly than aggressive. 

Whenever there's a protest, three or four people should try to talk with passersby and gawkers. This is a chance to politely convince folks of the importance of the demonstration.

I don't know what other actions are taken by groups these days. But with the Internet such a powerful tool now, skilled techies can disrupt communications and close down websites. Actions4Palestine has an excellent Facebook page.

The organization behind the visit, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, also should have been targeted.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist who writes about human rights, the climate crisis and international financial corruption. You can join him on Facebook.

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