Just because a protest is nonviolent doesn’t mean it can’t be inconvenient or disruptive

The nationwide blockades begun on Wednesday’s “national day of action” for Idle No More are doing exactly what they were intended to do: bring people’s attention to the gravity of Aboriginal frustrations. Blockading railways, highways and national borders is a tricky matter because of the debate around the practice and whether or not it constitutes a form of violence.

Fortunately, this debate is wholly unnecessary. The answer is obvious: blockading a road or a trade route is not violent.

As the video above makes apparent, impeding access to a road does not inherently involve any sort of violence. It involves inconvenience and, in the case of long-term blockading, some economic difficulties, but neither of those things are violent.

Blockades are much more acts of civil disobedience than of violence, in that they disrupt people’s lives but don’t cause anyone physical harm. The idea that any protest that inconveniences non-participants is somehow “violent” or “not peaceful” is ludicrous. By that reasoning there are almost no forms of protest that aren’t in some way violent.

Protests need to disturb other people’s peace of mind or ease of life in order to get their message across. If an outsider can live his or her life without any sort of interaction with a protest, there is no incentive for them to pay any attention to it, or to treat its concerns as serious.

The fact that many non-Aboriginal Canadians, especially white Canadians, who have benefited for generations from the same structures that have oppressed Aboriginal people, can’t wait on the highway for one hour without calling the protest “violent” speaks volumes. That is a minor inconvenience, in the scheme of your entire life. The people who are protesting have suffered so many indignities they can’t even count them. Giving them an hour of your time is literally the least you can do.

The other aspect of this “blockades are not a form of peaceful protest” idea that worries me is the fealty to corporate and institutional interests it requires.

When Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall uses the false dichotomy of “discouraging blockades and encouraging peaceful protest,” it makes sense. He is the exact type of person who wants us to accept that governments and corporate interests should dictate when and where we register our dissent.

The idea that blockading roads is somehow violent or unacceptable has also been fairly widespread in online discussions of Idle No More, with some people calling it “economic terrorism” while others claim it “tramples on the rights of others.”

But for regular citizens to parrot that line of thinking is dangerous. It signals a willingness to cede our right to protest (which is an integral aspect of our larger right to free speech) to the very people who want us to refrain from protesting. Protest is not supposed to be quiet or pleasant, easy to avoid for everyone who doesn’t care about the issue. That allows the government to marginalize the people who do care, who are affected, and to claim that those people are a small minority who can and should be ignored.

[cite type=photo]jonathonreed/Flickr video: coco72inlondon/Youtube

blockades, , , free speech, Idle No More, , , rights

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