November 7th, 2004

Baby and me

Back to the Future - Rallying at Queen's Park

It's November 7. For some reason I thought the date significant, but a quick (half a page) google on the topic suggests I am wrong.

Maybe it's because I found myself - for the first time in many years - gathered with a crowd on the lawn in front of Queen's Park (Ontario's Legislature for my foreign Gentle Readers) that I thought today marked some significant anniversary of historical significance.

Yes, I went to a demo.

For many years now, I've had an aversion to such public displays of political commitment. Not because I think there is something wrong with citizens coming together to state their believes - far from it! - nor because I am a cynic who cannot believe they will do any good (though that is closer to the mark). Rather, it is because I don't enjoy the (necessary) over-simplification involved in mass action of any sort.

Nevertheless, there I was, urging our government to do something about the (apparent - more on this anon) genocide going on in Sudan. After all, it's hard not to be opposed to genocide. Er, isn't it?

It was a strange demonstration, from my point of view - in fact, it was a bad deomonstration. Though I had little interest in hearing the requisite speakers (I knew why I was there - I didn't need to be reminded) it nevertheless seemed strange - unprofessional, even - that the sound system was so poor that I could make out maybe one word out of 20 coming from the steps of the Leg'.

Strange too, that there was almost no police presence; that there was no sign of any of the bizarred splinter groups who claim to carry the One True Quill of Karl Marx. One had the sense the vast majority of those in attendance were - like me - people who had read about what was going on in Sudan and felt/thought that something should be done.

Which thought brings my cynicism to the fore.

Beside the facts that demonstrations (assuming no assault by the police) are boring and that Canada currently has no capacity to do something about the slaughter in Sudan (assuming we had the will), I have a long-standing aversion to them due to the fear of embarassment.

Many years ago, attenting a demo at city hall that was nevertheless one aimed at dissuading our then-government from participating in the United States' plans to test cruise missiles on our soil, a good friend of mine found herself on the stage, giving a talk.

It was winter, January or February, and all of us were cold despite the thousands in attendance. It might be the weather prompted her off-topic comment.

In any event, Dina made the statement that, "5,000 homeless people" had frozen to death on the streets of Toronto the previous winter.

Oh for Christ's sake. I turned to Vern and shook my head. We exchanged that knowing glance that said, "I haven't been tripping over frozen bodies every time I step out of the house - have you?"

This was in the early 80s when, I suspect, Toronto probably had no more than five hundred homeless people, let alone five thousand dead ones.

Point being: demos bring out my inner cynic.

That said (and despite the - apparent - fact that there are no mass graves to back up the claims "the West" ousted the thug Slobodan Milosevic because "the Serbs" were commiting genocide in the former Yugoslavia), I am inclined to think that whatever is happening in Sudan it is pretty ugly at best; and Laura's report of hearing a talk by Stephen Lewis about the issue makes me even more confident that the signatures I applied to a couple of petitions were at least going to real causes.

But still, I can't help but think that sort of demonstration is the next-best thing to pointless. Sudan simply doesn't register strongly enough on the political seismometers to matter; Arabs against blacks? In some country most of us couldn't identify on a map of Sudan? The 2 or 3 thousand people who showed up at the rally while the thermometer was plummeting care, but they're unlikely to switch political alligiance from one party to another because of the issue.

But I'm glad I went anyway (and not just because I got to hold Laura's hand a while). It may be only a symbol, but it is a symbol of the fact that I do give a shit about what happens to people I don't know. It is a piece of evidence I will be able to hold up saying, "I may not have done enough, but I did something to stop the murders and rapes of tens of thousands.

No, it's not enough. And my inner Political Realist knows there are more important fights - by which I mean: fights we - as Canadians - are more likely to do something about - to fight. But still, it's something.