Thursday, August 5, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Let’s start this one by saying “Happy Anniversary.” This time last year, the attentions of our sorted little berg were focused on the southern most end of the city, on a little parcel of land which will eventually house the Hanlon Creek Business Park. A group of well-meaning and devoted activists took to the land and settled there in an effort to stymie construction, and to everyone’s surprised, it worked. For a while anyway.

Many thought that the spring thaw would not only mean the beginning of shovels in the ground for the HCBP, but a welcome back for the protestors after the winter break. Yet this has not come to pass. On the HCBP there are signs and security, but aside from a bizarre attempt to grow illicit substances, there’s been neither hide nor hare of disruptive activity. So what’s the deal? Was hating on the HCBP a passing fancy, or have protestors merely admitted defeat in the wake of construction going full speed ahead?

Or is it neither? For those on the left that admire themselves as more active, there was another once in a lifetime attraction that drew their attention this past June. If you have read the papers then you know that the arrests made during the G20 in Toronto rounded up the usual suspects in terms of direct action in Guelph. Trapped in the midst of various states of legality, it’s probably hard to plot further grassroots action when you’re sitting in jail for weeks. Understandable, but the question’s been asked: does Guelph breed troublemakers?

As the Reverend Lovejoy once observed “Short answer ‘yes’ with an ‘if’; long answer ‘no’ with a ‘but.’” So yes if you count aggressive activism as a sign you’re a troublemaker. However, the answer can also be no considering that a small group doesn’t indicate a wide-spread pattern and the fact that all the big names in activism locally come from hometown’s not named Guelph. But the Royal City does seem to be some kind of rally point for these like minded people.

Now normally, finding a community where you can be yourself amongst people who believe as you do is considered a good thing, but some of people in Guelph, it seems, have had enough. A recent post on the subject of Guelph-based political activists on the Mercury’s 59 Carden St blog elicited nearly 100 responses, nearly all of which were of the “down with protestors” variety.

On the one hand you can hardly blame people for the reaction because aside from the disruptive nature of these protestors, is their penchant for using illegal or borderline illegal action to get their point across. Fair enough, but the tenor of some of the discussions goes deeper than a “don’t-be-a-menace” type scolding. The inference instead being that if you can’t work within the system, then you should sit down, shut up and accept the world for how it is. Outstanding advice. They said the same thing to all those people that protested the Iraq War when they said it would be costly and wasteful and not yield a single WMD.

For some reason, we consider our democracy as an entity that’s passive and inactive. Aside from the once in a while sojourn to voting booth, if you could limit your participation to the council chamber or a neighbourhood meeting behind close doors, that would be great. Just so long as we don’t have to see it.

A special on MSNBC last weekend called “Politics Gone Wild” showed debates in parliaments from India to South Korea where matters are settled more with melees than points of order. Say what you want about the practice of chair throwing to silence an opposition member, or eating a bill to stop its passing, but you can’t say that these people aren’t passionate about the government. And I have to tell you, going into election season, I hope that we the people of Guelph are even half that passionate.

Just keep the throwing of office furniture to a minimum.

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