In the wake of mass actions by Idle No More protesters on January 16th, there has been a flurry of media activity discussing whether blocking major roadways was a help or a hindrance to the movement. Many drivers simply saw the protesters as an inconvenience to their daily commute and this only further galvanized their stance against the movement. Arguably, this demonstration didn’t really do much to gather more supporters. But that might not really be the point.
A good protest is not like the student union elections at your high school. That is, it’s not a popularity contest. A good protest is a little more like Cirque du Soleil. No, I don’t mean its something your Mom bought you tickets to for Christmas and you have to fake the flu to get out of going to it. It’s a spectacle and even if you don’t like, it you’ll have one hell of a problem trying to ignore it. As such, a good protest is about waving your signs and yelling your slogans until the powers start paying attention.
Let’s use the Quebec student protests as an example. The majority of Quebecois and even the majority of Montrealers did not support the protests. But, through a continued effort that invade the streets, the average Quebecer could hardly escape what was happening.
At this point in the Idle No More demonstrations, the protesters have probably begun to acknowledge that progressive culture building in Alberta has probably gone as far as it is going to. If you weren’t on board with the movement from day 14, the next 3 weeks of demonstrations aren’t really going to change your mind. So as a protester, what’s left? Make a spectacle of yourself. As much as I disagree with their tactics, I think PETA gets it right with this one. You may not decide to stop eating meat today, but it is hard not to notice the naked woman (or man) running down the street.
In short, a good protest should certainly seek to raise support. But once the limits of that support are reached, it’s time to start your very own Cirque performance. Block a few highways, run naked down the street, stand outside of a bank and chant at all the executives as they come in to work on Monday morning. In short, convince the general population that you’re not going away. Any good protest will ultimately reach a tipping point of support, and after that it’s time to start poking the state in the eye. Much like a failed marriage, the state may not be listening but after the constant nagging, they’ll eventually take the trash out on time.
Andrew Douglas is a fourth year student at the University of Alberta studying political science.