Truth be told, activists irritate me. For some time I’ve felt that, taken as a group, they’re not much more than outrage junkies looking for a fix: angry people going out of their way to find some injustice to protest, something to focus their pre-existing rage. Protesting for the sake of protesting, without a clear agenda or a specific outcome. My pre-existing biases are confirmed by Andrew Potter’s Maclean’s piece on the G20 protesters:
What sort of policies were they opposed to? Which ones did they support? It’s surprisingly hard to say. I’ve been trolling through the stories in the aftermath of the summit, and it would appear that most of the protesters had no real clue either.
When a firm agenda was expressed, it tended to be absurdly general: “People not profits.” “Stop the G20”. “Justice Now.” “Animal Rights are Human Rights.” “Free Palestine.” You get the picture. Even the supporters and organizers of the protests seemed less than pleased with the discordant messaging. At one point, in a rally and march held the day after all of the major arrests (on June 28), the Globe’s Anna Mehler Paperny tweeted “The telling moment when Rebick shouts ‘what do we want?’ and everyone shouts something different. (They settle on ‘justice’)”.
Meanwhile, Potter points out that the Harper government was doing something actually worth protesting about: they protected several fossil fuel incentive programs in the face of G20 pledges to phase such programs out. In other words, the Canadian government protected tax breaks for the oil sands. That, says Potter, “is completely evil on Canada’s part — not just doing the wrong thing, but doing the opposite of the right thing. And it was out there, on the national newswire, while the summit was still going on, and the day before Judy Rebick led the crowd in a game of ‘let’s play “what do we want”’.”
Had that policy been the focus of the protests, it could have been a profoundly uncomfortable and embarrassing moment for the government, which would have been neatly caught between G20 commitments and precise popular pressure. Talk about a missed opportunity. Well done, activists.