here’s what worries me

major's hill
Major’s Hill Park, Ottawa, 2007

Here’s what worries me. So many ugly things are happening in Canada this weekend (and in the US too), with swastika flags flying and people shouting for the Prime Minister to be put to death, hung, desecrations of monuments to courage, and I feel helpless. I don’t feel there’s anything I can do, in part because I’m so far away, and in part because there’s no actual model for opposition to what began as an expression of free speech and dissenting opinion but which has devolved to chaos beginning to resemble what happened in Washington last January. I suspect the money chain would lead to the same sources that funded that insurrection. American supporters, including the last president, are the usual suspects. Many of the flags are the same, the rhetoric has a similar aggrieved sense of entitlement. “We’re not leaving until all COVID vaccination mandates are reversed.” Like aggressive dogs, they peed on the National War Memorial. Watching footage of a woman dancing on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was so disturbing that I can’t get it out of my mind. The homeless shelter we often pass when we’re in Ottawa visiting our family posted this today:

Image

I feel helpless and it worries me. In the past month I’ve read several books about the Holocaust. One of them, The Boy Who Drew Auschwitz: A Powerful True Story of Hope and Survival, by Thomas Geve, was so absorbing, I read far into the night, astonished at the resilience of the author’s younger self, just 15 when he was liberated and who drew the buildings, created simple narratives of such events as hangings and food lines, a living testimony. Another was The Dressmakers of Auschwitz: The True Story of the Women Who Sewed to Survive, by Lucy Adlington, documenting the work of women who were conscripted within the camp to sew for the wife of the camp commandant, Rudolf Hoss, as well as the wife of Hermann Goering, among others. The other day I spent an hour reading Vassily Grossman’s essay, “The Treblinka Hell“, as succinct and terrible an account as anything I’ve ever encountered. In the first two books, as with others I’ve read over the years, I was shaken by the methodical way the rights of people were eroded over a period of time, methodically and insidiously, and what astonished me is that good people didn’t do more to prevent this. Surely there were many good people, the ones who hated dog whistles, batons striking old people on the street, new rules preventing Jewish children from attending schools, their parents from owning businesses, crowds breaking windows, and, and, and it goes on. Went on. Yes, families were helped, hidden, given refuge. But so many weren’t. And crowds cheered for the regime that brought this hatred and terror into the open.

Here’s what worries me. How far along in this awful trajectory are we? Where we don’t act against what’s going on in Ottawa (and in other cities too, where placards with hideous messages are in proud evidence) because, well, it doesn’t actually affect us in our homes so far away. Doesn’t affect our daily life. We live in a democracy, we tell ourselves, and we all have the right to our own opinion. And yes, I believe that, but I also believe that democracy asks us to know what it means. We have a democratically elected government, we have good health care, free education, but can we count on these things to continue if we don’t recognize anarchy when it’s at work in our cities? I remember watching the assault on the US Capitol last January, in horror, with a small inner voice saying that such events were unlikely to happen in Canada. Ha. I never expected to see trucks on the streets of Ottawa flying Confederate flags or people in Major’s Hill Park with their swastika flag in full view of our Parliament Buildings, a park where I’ve picnicked with my family, yet there they were. No one stopped them. Where were the good people when protesters entered the homeless shelter? Where was I, for that matter?

ottawa
War Memorial, Ottawa, 2008

How do we know when it’s too late? I guess that’s what I’m wondering. I’m wondering what I can do right now, and how, and with whom.

(On a lighter note, I saw several signs on trucks advertising non-vaccinated sperm. The suppliers looked just as I supposed they might.)

21 thoughts on “here’s what worries me”

  1. I’ve been very anxious. Lots of Holocaust stories around the anniversary. The older I get, the more real it feels to me. The individual anecdotes stick with me. I wake up at night, agitated.
    Hard times. Obviously the trucker agitation is US-inspired. Confederate flags? I think you have family visiting or coming soon? That is good medicine.

  2. Susan, I’m so sorry this is happening, sorry for the ugly symbols appearing again on the streets of cities we hope(d) are civilized. I am thinking of everyone whose families lived through or perished in the terrible events of the past and wishing for better, for all of us.

  3. Yes! to everything you have said here. “Never in Canada!” was something I rather smugly said last year on January 6th. Well, here we are. And yes, how do we know when that awful line is crossed, when it is “too late”?

    I too have been sitting tight, refraining from comment on social media, hoping that it will just fade away, but it does instead seem to be ramping up as these people (the protesters) seem to be emboldened by the politeness they are being met with to act with even more crassness and disrespect.

    What does one do? Trying to talk about this topic with the proponents of the “Freedom Convoy” reminds one of the saying, “Never wrestle with a pig. You cannot win, you just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.”

    1. I think of how other protests or actions have been dealt with by law enforcement and I have huge problems with this but to see how the flags go (seemingly) unchallenged, that the big trucks are allowed to take up public space, that downtown workers are advised not to come to work tomorrow — and honestly, there’s a huge discrepancy, isn’t there? Not to mention the waste of fossil fuels during a climate emergency. There are lots of legitimate ways to register dissent but this seems to be about so many things at once and the aims are silly. (We won’t leave until the mandates are lifted.) I don’t think I’m eager to wrestle pigs, though!

      1. Huge discrepancy in the way this is being handled – every accommodation has been made. But the “demands” keep morphing, outright threats are being made – “Not leaving until the current government is disbanded yadda yadda yadda.” Already past the point of a “legitimate” protest – people are being harmed. Can you imagine the terrible stress on the people who live in the area where this is taking place?! And the harm that this is doing to those unable to go about their lives in peace? Time for these folks to go home. Shameful. 😦

  4. I know a few fanatical anti-vaxxers, two of them intelligent, yes, surprisingly, but disaffected men in their thirties who believe there are plots everywhere, that billionaires are in cahoots to enslave us, and of course that Covid is part of the plot. Somehow. There’s not a idea grounded in reality in their heads; they’re into grievance, rage, and suspicion. One is the son of one of my dearest friends, a loving, open woman who has worked in social justice all her life; her son dresses entirely in cammo as if he’s imminently headed off to war, and spouts the most outlandish things. What’s most horrifying to me about what’s happening in Ottawa and elsewhere is the fault-line this pandemic has exposed between reason and superstition, between rule of law and I’ll do whatever I feel like because I’m angry. Trump is a huge part of this; he ripped the veneer of civilization away, and now other leaders too are revelling gleefully in hideous behaviour. We didn’t know how thin the veneer really was. When Obama was elected, we thought the dark days were over or nearly. Instead, we’ve hurtled backwards. It is a scary time on our planet. The advice for us is: think local. Do what you can for your community. We can vote and try to get good people elected, but mostly what we can do, all we can do, is create our own sphere of kindness and civility spread as widely as we can. And I know you do that, Theresa.

  5. A very good point, Beth: “We didn’t know how thin the veneer really was.” And I keep thinking of the actions of the RCMP at the Wet’suwet’en barricades, the terrible images of police removing homeless people from parks in Toronto in the summer, and in Ottawa? Well, the difference is troubling. Yes, we have to do what we can and often that has to be local and focused. But oh how I fear for the future of our planet, our collective civilities.

  6. Me too, Theresa. But we have grandchildren, so we have to hold out hope that despite all, despite the devastation of climate change, the rise of authoritarianism and even fascism, pandemics and other horrors, that human decency will prevail or at least protect our loved ones and allow them to flourish. But true, it’s hard not to despair sometimes, and a bitterly cold January is certainly one of those times.

    1. I’m reading about citizens in Ottawa being confronted by protesters (people walking on the canal, for example) and yelled at for wearing masks, etc. Police nearby but not doing anything. I don’t know what the solution is but I’m remembering the footage of RCMP armed tactical guys kicking in the door of a tiny house on Wet’suwet’en land in northern BC a few months ago and I’m wondering at the discrepancy of action. Trying to focus on my own work but am easily distracted right now, Beth!

  7. What baffles me, Theresa, is this – where did all these people come from? Under a rock? Who are they and what were their activities and affiliations before Trump, before Covid, before I-don’t-know-what? Are they are neighbours? Colleagues?

    1. I think they’ve always been around, Juliet, but now they feel empowered by the presence of so many dictators on the world scene. I saw a number of Trump hats and banners in the news footage this weekend and that loud insistent rhetoric (if we can call it rhetoric) that they’re not leaving until Trudeau steps down, that all pandemic safety mandates are lifted, etc. A few years ago, who would have dreamed of this kind of aggressive protest in a nation’s capitol? Then last year, in Washington, wow, they sure had their model, didn’t they?

  8. It’s very disturbing and I share your feeling of helplessness, as well as your inclination to slip into stories that others have told as reminders of horrors that we have not personally experienced, in search of ways to amplify these stories, in search of compassion and empathy. Particularly appreciate your discussion of the violence directed at the land defenders here, as a terrific reminder for us to question how/whether political systems here protect human rights equitably. There are many Canadian residents who espouse the belief systems behind the images that photographers are sharing of the convoy too, though, and they don’t require ties or financing from the United States to fan those flames. If we reach beyond our usual news sources, listen to how events are being discussed outside our personal bubbles (the podcasts we don’t subscribe to!) we soon understand that this is not an American phenomenon.

    1. A thoughtful reply, Marcie. Thank you. I know it’s not an American phenomenon–sometimes a simply comment from someone I think I know reveals something I might not want to pursue at that moment…–but I guess I think recent events in the US have somehow emboldened larger groups to show up, fly their flags, etc. And there’s been lots of support from far right media figures in the US for the Ottawa event, as well as from the former president himself. But yes, it’s an underbelly here too, not as hidden as it was. Is.

  9. I am now in Chile. My wife is from here and we come most years. Chile went through some terrible times with Pinochet. But it has gradually recovered and is now functioning reasonably democratically. There is an incoming young and leftist president and a legal commitment to a new and much more socially and equitably grounded constitution. So, despite the awful recent events in Ottawa, do not give up hope for democracy and social and economic justice in Canada.

    1. Oh John, to be in Chile! How lovely. I haven’t given up on democracy, not yet, but I wish for better, for it, for us. I remember a teacher in high school (in the last century!) quoting Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” I think we need more teachers like that to make us think clearly about what works and what doesn’t and our responsibilities to each other and to our social contracts.

  10. What a powerful post Theresa. And I too wonder about some of the same things. I get riled thinking back to last January; thinking about how a cop sat on a black man’s neck for 9 minutes until he snuffed the life from him and no one did anything. In Ottawa, who is doing something? Why are these things being allowed? I don’t expect answers but I think the more everyone (including leaders/police/the average person) stands back and says nothing, or does nothing, how will our democracy be shored up. My mind is full of turmoil.

  11. … realizing those things (January ‘event’ & killing of George Floyd) were not on the same day … I got so riled I should have re-read it to realize I didn’t finish what I wanted to say in that sentence. oops.

    1. I think I knew what you wanted to say, Diane. It feels like part of a continuum — what happened over the past 4 or 5 years at least (and of course the accumulations before that) and how we seem to be at a crisis point in our own country, in the shadow of our neighbour.

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