Why I did it: Senate page explains her throne speech protest
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Wed Jun 08 2011. Brigette DePape
I am moved by the excitement and energy with which people from all walks of life across this country greeted my action in the Senate.
One person alone cannot accomplish much, but they must at least do what they can. So I held out my “Stop Harper” sign during the throne speech because I felt I had a responsibility to use my position to oppose a government whose values go against the majority of Canadians.
The thousands of positive comments shared online, the printing of “Stop Harper” buttons and stickers and lawn signs, and the many calls for further action convinced me that this is not merely a country of people dissatisfied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada.
It is a country of people burning with desire for change.
If I was able to do what I did, I know that there are thousands of others capable of equal, or far more courageous, acts.
I think those who reacted with excitement realize that politics should not be left to the politicians, and that democracy is not just about marking a ballot every few years. It is about ensuring, with daily engagement and resistance, that the vision we have for our society is reflected in the decision-making of our government.
Our views are not represented by our political system. How else could we have a government that 60 per cent of the people voted against? A broken system is what has left us with a Conservative government ready to spend billions on fighter jets we don’t need, to pollute the environment we want protected, to degrade a health-care system we want improved, and to cut social programs and public sector jobs we value. As a page, I witnessed one irresponsible bill after another pass through the Senate, and wanted to scream “Stop.”
Such a system leads us to feel isolated, powerless and hopeless — thousands of Canadians made that clear in their responses to my action. We need a reminder that there are alternatives. We need a reminder that we have both the capacity to create change, and an obligation to. If my action has been that reminder, it was a success.
Media and politicians have argued that I tarnished the throne speech, a solemn Canadian tradition. I now believe more in another tradition — the tradition of ordinary people in this country fighting to create a more just and sustainable world, using peaceful direct action and civil disobedience.
On occasion, that tradition has found an inspiring home within Parliament: In 1970, for instance, a group of young women chained themselves to the parliamentary gallery seats to protest the Canadian law that criminalized abortion. Their action won national attention, and helped propel a movement that eventually achieved abortion’s legalization.
Was such an action “appropriate”? Not in the conventional sense. But those women were driven by insights known to every social movement in history: that the ending of injustices or the winning of human rights are never gifts from rulers or from parliaments, but the fruit of struggle and of people power in the streets.
Actions like these provide the answer to the Harper government. When Harper tries to push through policies and legislation that hurt our communities and country, we all need to find our inner activist, and flow into the streets. And what is a stop sign after all, but a nod to the symbol of the street where a people amassed can put the brakes on the Harper government?
I’ve been inspired by Canadians taking action, and inspired too by my peers rising up in North Africa and the Middle East. I am honoured to have since received a message from young activists there, saying that we need not just an Arab spring but a “world spring,” using people power to combat whatever ills exists in each country.
I have been inspired most of all by Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old woman who issued avideo calling for Egyptians to join her in Tahrir Square. People did, and they together made the Egyptian revolution. Her words will always stay with me: “As long as you say there is no hope, then there will be no hope, but if you go and take a stand, then there will be hope.”
Brigette DePape is a recent graduate of the University of Ottawa. She has started a fund to support peaceful direct action and civil disobedience against the Harper agenda:www.stopharperfund.ca
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1005119–why-i-did-it-senate-page-explains-her-throne-speech-protest >