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Overactivism: why I'm done with protesting

Before I got on the bus from Halifax to Ottawa, before I started attending events for a conference called PowerShift, and before my views on environmentalism and activism completely changed, I had planned to write a story about a protest on the Hill. But I no longer wanted to.

Protestors gathered on Parliament Hill on a chilly Monday morning in late October, wearing all manner of strange ‘Halloween’ costumes, to protest the $1.4 billion David Suzuki says the Canadian government gives annually in subsidies to the oil and gas industry.
I stood apart.
Before I got on the bus from Halifax to Ottawa, before I started attending events for a conference called PowerShift, and before my views on environmentalism and activism completely changed, I had planned to write a story about this protest on the Hill. But I no longer wanted to.
Before the conference, I hadn’t given much thought to the word ‘activist.’ All I knew was activists cared about the environment, and so did I, and so I identified as one.
In a university town such as Halifax, activists are everywhere. Street canvassers flag you down on your way into the SUB, bake sales tempt you with food for charity and events are advertised as a way to dance, drink and get trashed all for a good cause. Activism has become so ingrained into our culture that, in my mind, the underlying “cause” often becomes a little lost in the act. Only during this weekend did I really start to think about this.
As she walked over with me during her lunch break, my cousin, Meredith Holmes, a family lawyer, pointed out the Prime Minister’s Office. “You know, they only protest on Parliament Hill because it looks good in pictures. If they really wanted to reach the prime minister, that’s where they’d protest,” she said, pointing at a nondescript building.
Both of us agreed: the protest was for a good cause.
But I was over protesting.
I was not the only one. As Meredith headed back to work, I saw Ezra Manson, another King’s student who fit in with the age bracket of the rest of the protesters much better than Meredith did. Like me, he ignored the chant sheets and the hype of the crowd.
I asked if he planned to join the protest. He didn’t. He had passes to observe parliament and asked if I wanted to join him.
I knew I had a story to write, but I kept thinking about the past weekend of talks and workshops. Many were given by people who had never built a wind turbine, analyzed climatic data or practiced sustainable farming, yet that’s what they were talking about.
A talk about alternative energy had an anti-nuclear spin and exaggerated much of the information against nuclear energy and completely ignored or discredited pro-nuclear information. Even if your side is probably the winning side, listeners should be given a balanced argument and be able to make up their own mind.
That’s when I realized I didn’t want to talk about or protest something. I would much rather spend my time working toward tangible change than focus my energy on getting in other people’s faces about the world’s problems.
Don’t get me wrong. I am definitely not saying activism is all bad. What I am saying is if an activist does not properly engage with an issue, does not fully understand the implications of what they are proposing, and does not present their argument fairly and in a balanced way, then that is the kind of activism I disagree with.
I decided to leave the protest and go with Ezra. Ezra led me across the grass, away from parliament. I looked back. Maybe 50 were protesting by now, but as we got further away, the Peace Tower dwarfed their presence.
“I hope they don’t push for zero fuel subsidies and focus on reducing instead,” I said, “because no one will listen to them if they’re unrealistic like that.”
He agreed.
We entered a large, historical building, almost like a castle, with a copper roof long oxidized into a turquoise colour. This is where many MPs have their offices.
When we passed the protesters for the second time, their group had grown from 50 to maybe 100, and police presence had also increased slightly.
We watched the crowd from a distance, skirted in front of them, and ducked into the entrance below the Peace Tower.
At the final security check, I went into my bag to take out my pen and notepad so I could take notes while observing parliament, but the security guard said, “No, you can’t take that in.”
“It’s just a pen and notebook.”
“You can only have what’s on your person,” said the security guard.
I later learned what they were telling me was true. The forbiddance against note taking in the House of Commons is a remnant from a time when parliament struggled against the Crown and there was a constant fear of a “stranger in the House.”
Reporters have only been allowed to legally take notes in the House since 1971. But that privilege has not been extended to ordinary observers yet.
I looked pleadingly at the security guard, and then at Ezra as the guard put my bag behind the counter and handed me a tag.
Ezra asked another security guard if I could have my notebook and the answer was no.
There goes my story, I thought.
I stood there for a moment and said “fuck” a bit too loudly.
Then I looked at Ezra and said, “Now what?”

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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