21 June 2011

Protesting, "meta" protesting, and Vancouver

So the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup and the fans who congregated after the match to congratulate their team on a good run and a fun season were overwhelmed by asshole rioters who trashed an area of town.

Reminds me of the assholes who ruined the World Trade Organization protests in 1999 in Seattle.

There, we had tens of thousands of ordinary people in the streets -- union members and kids on rollerskates, enviro-weenies dressed up like turtles, university students and professors, people who build Boeing planes and Microsoft software -- peacefully marching and basically partying to drums and music. Then the assholes came in and started smashing windows, spraypainting chain restaurant buildings, and lighting fires. The result? National news favorably covered the WTO and the establishment; the progressive message did not get publicized; the assholes got their 15 minutes on national TV; and part of Seattle's downtown was temporarily drawn into a bizarre, unconstitutional "no-protest" zone (PDF by ACLU-WA).

One of the Vancouver assholes, being a nice person since he is, after all, Canadian, apologized after the Stanley Cup riots. But a nurse at a local ER won't accept the apology, and for much the same reason that I wouldn't accept an apology from the Seattle WTO assholes:
To you [...], it's a chance to congregate in the ER waiting room, pounding on the triage window demanding to be seen for teargas exposure and cuts from looting and fighting, while posturing and bragging about how you kicked the crap out of somebody and smashed shit up. To me, it's taking my time away from the little old quiet lady having chest pain or taking time away from the person you "shit-kicked" for trying to stop the looting.
At the WTO protests in Seattle, I met a little old lady who'd been nearly blinded by a rubber bullet because a bunch of assholes decided to start a riot. No question, the police overreacted -- but they wouldn't have had anything to overreact to if the assholes hadn't started smashing windows in the first place.

To bring it closer to home: A few years ago, my pal Ted lost his car to rioters after the Phils won the World Series. To the rioters, it was a fun show of strength with a lot of great crunchy shattery noises. To Ted, it was immediately financially devastating because he needed the car to get to work, but he couldn't afford to fix or replace the car without being able to get to work. Luckily for Ted, it all came out right in the end. He's a sweet, honest, likeable guy and he got publicity and generous donations. But how many people in Vancouver have been just as "lucky"?

I don't mean to be so "get offa my lawn" and "back in my day" about this stuff. But it also brings to mind an incident when I was doing clinic defense a few weeks ago. An old white guy protestor was there with a crudely constructed hand-made cross. We patient escorts were outnumbered, because the protestors were in force for a religious holiday. A young white guy, dressed like a prototypical hipster in skinny pants, a scraggly beard, and 1980s-inspired sunglasses walked up to the cross-carrying protestor. He laughed at the old man, took a photo on his smartphone, and walked away. This is not helpful. Taking a mocking photo of a protestor and posting it to a social media site is not helpful. To you, it's a harmless old man with a stupid prop for a protest. But to the clinic patients, it's an intimidating physical barrier to getting inside to see the doctor; it's a person spouting religious, woman-hating invective at young women and girls who are going in to the clinic just to get their pills or undergo a pap smear. To the patient escorts, you're another body between the patients and the front door, and we're not exactly sure of your intentions because you haven't addressed us directly. And your taking a photo, laughing, and walking away does nothing to improve the situation, and likely only makes it worse by making the women not feel supported.

Protest or protest not. "Meta" protesting (like the hipster) or taking the opportunity of a gathering to do something violent or crazy anonymously (like Seattle in 1999, Philly in 2008, or Vancouver in 2011) makes life harder for everybody else, who are left to clean up the wreckage afterward.

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