Uncivil Disobedience

by Terry Oliver on April 1, 2012

Grandparents were much in evidence on a loud protest demo and march against the Tar Sands in Vancouver this week. As we cheered all the First Nations chiefs in their traditional regalia who had come to speak out against the devastation that will surely follow if the pipeline to Kitimat goes through, the talk was all about how our generation is the first to leave our world worse than when we received it. This heavy burden we are placing on our children and grandchildren seemed uppermost in everyone’s mind, not least ours. We both carried placards bearing slogans emphasising our grandkids.

Bill McKibbin, that tireless campaigner for the planet’s future voiced the other subject which is more and more in the zeitgeist – that of civil disobedience as the logical next step in the struggle to save our environment and make it safe for our progeny in the generations to come after us.

We have to be prepared to face whatever the establishment and government will throw at us and if that means going to jail to bring attention to our planet’s plight, then I suppose that’s what we must do.

What McKibbin further proposed was that the people in the front line should not be the youth , the Occupy activists or those trying to hold on to precarious jobs in the current recession but… yes, that’s right – seniors. Those of us who have no jobs to lose or families to put at risk should be the ones to get arrested in the struggle. To go to prison as the ultimate protest we can make for our offspring and their future.

It’s one thing to go on a protest march in solidarity with hundreds or thousands of others and  share in all that feelgood  sense that you are part of the cure and  not of the cause.  But quite another to go to jail for those beliefs.

For my generation who never had to go to war, the thought of going to prison is scary to say the least. Am I prepared to do it to prevent the inevitable devastation which exploiting the tar sands will do to our world? I’d like to think I would.  It’s something older people like me can do which might just make a difference.

And if anyone needs to go to jail to prevent the destruction of my grandkids’s future then I’d prefer it was me rather than my children.  They have enough to do providing for my grandchildren’s present life.  It’s up to me, I think, to protect their chance of a future.

But as my grandmother used to say, ‘fine words butter no parsnips.’ Am I ready to go to jail for what I see happening, or do I just talk about it? I don’t yet know. Are you?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila Turnbull April 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm

It seems we are in show-down time. Either we stand up for the environment or our children will pay the price. The scientists have spoken, the bees are disappearing, the oceans are acidifying, and our government is refusing to acknowledge the depth and breadth of the crisis. This attitude will bring in a few more votes for the time being. I wouldn’t want to be in Mr Harper’s shoes when his grandkids ask him one day why he supported the development of the Tar Sands- the full development of which could spell disaster for the planet.

Camilla Morrow April 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Terry, you have touched on a theme that has long intrigued me, especially since the 1980’s when my involvement in Latin American solidarity began. Working closely with Guatemalans, Chileans and Salvadorans, several of whom had been jailed and tortured by their repressive governments, I often questioned what I would have done in their situation: would I have joined the guerrillas, following Che’s example by taking up arms to bring about a more just society? Or would I have fled to a ‘safe’ country like Canada, and tried to forget it all?

Or, had I lived in Nazi Germany, might I have sheltered Jews in my home, or helped them escape to a safe haven, thus risking not merely jail, but my life?

Another salient point for me is the difference between spending time in a Canadian jail, versus one in Syria, Burma, Guatemala or Iran, to mention a few countries where the sound of the torturer’s approaching footsteps must be terrifying for any prisoner. Not that I think it would be easy to spend time in any prison, but the courage required to stand up for human rights or environmental causes in countries with very repressive regimes is overwhelmingly admirable.

Perhaps we will never know how we’ll react until our lives are on the line, until the crisis becomes so horrific that we are forced to choose, one way or the other. Thanks for bringing this crucial topic to our attention…!

Terry Oliver April 20, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Thanks for your considered reply, Camilla. I agree that going to jail in Canada is not remotely in the same league as the countries you mentioned, not forgetting our immediate neighbour to the south.
Although, having seen how the protesters who were arrested at the Toronto G20 summit were treated by the Harper government, it looks like Canada is catching up fast.
Like you say, until push comes to shove, we won’t know how we’ll respond.

Terry Oliver April 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Sheila, I think the news coming out about Harper’s religious fundamentalist anti-science beliefs can only be a portent of what is to come. We can’t say we haven’t been warned. Elizabeth May is one of the few lone political voices confronting these intimidating neo-con tactics borrowed from the US extreme right fundamentalists.

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