What would it take?

We watched Milk last night and I was struck by the power of political activism. The energy generated by injustices and a clear solution is amazing. But it left me wondering what would it take to have that kind of energy coalesce around an issue in our time. What would have to happen here to have 30,000 people march?

There are many issues right now that demand this kind of energy and activism. Here in Vancouver we have had 2 gay bashings in a short amount of time yet the community is unable to muster more than 2-300 people to come out and protest. We had over 60 women go missing from the Downtown Eastside over a period of years yet it took the better part of a decade to arrest someone and try him (I refuse to write his name). Even then, justice has been denied. He was only tried on 6 counts of murder. The other 20 women, whose DNA was found on his family’s farm, have not gone through the courts.  The community also believes that he did not act alone as there are questions about his mental capacity.Then there are the gangland shootings which have plagued Metro Vancouver this year. Twenty people have died and they deaths have not garnered any response from the community in spite of the fact that innocent people are being killed. The police response is pathetic – they want parents to turn in their children.

Even the world-wide economic crisis is not enough to push us out of our apathy. Our systems are broken, our governments corrupt and we sit by letting it all happen around us. In other countries like Pakistan, for example, many people, mostly lawyers, braved severe repercussions to protest the suspension of the Chief Justice. How can we forget the images that came out of Myanmar when monks protested against the ruling Junta. Why do some countries in other parts of the world seem to be able to create social change while we cannot.

I suspect the answer lies in the fact that for most people in North America our lives are pretty comfortable. Yes there is grinding poverty in many areas of Canada and the US but people are not so uncomfortable that they are able to rally and demand change. The other impediment, as I see it, is one of definition. The issues affecting us are extremely complicated and deeply rooted in discourse. We have been indoctrinated in so many ways that we are unaware of why react the way we do. I have discussed the response to the poor in North America before – one only needs to look at the Protestant roots of our society to see where a great deal of our prejudice comes from. The religious idea of predestination underpins our reactions and judgments against those who are less fortunate. Until we are able to dissect our core beliefs, questioning the status quo is impossible.

Even when we can examine our beliefs and define the issues how are we going to solve the problems. Personally, I am at a loss. I can identify an issue and examine the discourse surrounding it yet I am unable to see what change could look like – this is the power of discourse. I think until we are pushed out our comfort zones and forced to suffer a bit not much is going to change. This makes me very sad.

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