Hello, bonjour, and welcome to Local First.
I’m Candice Vetter, coming into your home from mine.
On Friday, June 5th, when people worldwide were marching in support of anti-racism movements, even the Village of Russell held a March in Solidarity.
Not only did they hold this march, it attracted close to 300 people.
It was organized through the Love Russell Ontario Facebook page and started as just an idea from Russell Township Councillor Cindy Saucier, like, hey, we should have a march here. Within three hours Russell residents Tina Collins and Christina Stapper had organized the event. It attracted Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux and many other community leaders.
The Facebook page stressed that it was peaceful, that it was a family-friendly, and that physical distancing rules were to be followed. Looking at the photos and talking to participants, it appears that almost everyone wore masks, and it was a lot easier in Russell, than in cities, to maintain distancing.
It still worries me, though, and in this time of pandemic I personally would not consider joining a march. So I was surprised by the normally law-abiding, rules-upholding people who defied federal and provincial orders to gather. So what’s going on here? Why do people feel so strongly about this issue, and the trigger of one particularly horrifying event, that they will take these risks?
I spoke to organizer Tina Collins before writing this piece. Her voice became emotional as she described the afternoon. She said, it started with her reading aloud the names of 27 persons of colour who have been killed because of police actions in Canada. Collins herself has health issues that she takes care not to compromise, but she felt such a need to express solidarity with sufferers that she not only participated but encouraged others to, too.
I haven’t watched the notorious video, and I never will. I don’t need to see it to know that certain people are treated differently because of how they look. For years I worked with charities and NGOs and human rights organizations. That meant I did business with, travelled with, and was otherwise in the company of people of every background, many of them indigenous people from all over the Americas.
You know how there’s always someone who’s just plain mean? Someone who, for whatever reason, needs to show off power or strength or snobbery? And will do it whenever they think they can get away with it? I was stunned by how much of this bile was directed to my colleagues. No one was threatened, no one was hurt or even directly insulted, but any little rule or policy or procedure that could be used to stigmatize those people was enacted.
In one instance, an employee mentioned to me that she it would take two weeks to be able to access her paycheque. What?!? I said. I marched to the bank with her (it was on the next block) and demanded that they start giving her access to her paycheques immediately. Well, that’s not so bad you might say. Except that the bank also held the account the cheques were written from and it had hundreds of thousands of dollars in it. they had no excuse, other than, let’s make this woman squirm. I denounced the bank staff who enacted that policy as racists, to their head office.
But realistically, I think they would have done it to anyone they thought wouldn’t have the power to cause a fuss. It could have been a disabled person, a down-and-out person, a person they know has a high debt and low income, whomever. I remember being a young person with a tiny bank account and being treated like I was a deadbeat. Lucky for me I don’t put up with that, er, stuff, and I caused trouble in return. But not everyone is like me. Not everyone grew up with excellent parents and good examples and an anger over injustice like me. Not everyone is capable of standing up and shouting, but for those of us who are, we should.
Whether it’s protesting against horrible projects that ruin rural communities, or refusing to bow to big business, or fighting with the school board or the municipal property assessors, or defending a person being bullied, or decrying officially condoned but unjust acts, everywhere you look there are battles to choose. Mean-spirited policies put in place by mean-spirited people must be called out.
I’m not planning on going to any marches soon, but there are other small ways I’ve helped and will continue to help over the years. In another example of bigotry, a grumpy nearly-retired federal staffer in a building I used to go to regularly loved to complain loudly about the smells from the staff kitchen. But only if the food was Asian or Middle-Eastern or African in origin. She started that complaint with me one day and I shut her down by saying right out loud that she sounded prejudiced. No one she worked with on a daily basis had said it to her face before.
Another time I took on the main branch of a major bank in Ottawa, which was cashing travel expense money orders we had prepared, but only for our guests who were white or had no accent. They had many policy reasons for not cashing the others, but once I stood up and called them racist and pointed out just why, they backpedalled very quickly.
Another time in an airport I watched an African family get hassled from Slovakia to Zurich to Dorval. Once in Canada I felt safe enough (and privileged enough) to take on the customs official who was again demanding to see these travellers’ passports, while they were hauling their luggage down a double flight of crowded, dangerous concrete stairs! I knew that family didn’t have the luxury of not cooperating, but I can’t be thrown out of my own country, so I was the one who told the customs official to smarten up. And there are lots of people like me, white, European-extract, but hating to see injustice and unfairness and bigotry.
The last few weeks have proven that. There are people who are racists, and bigots and just need an excuse to be mean, any excuse. And then there are leaders who are racists and bigots, who have huge power and privilege, and who encourage cruelty. Many of the old patriarchal systems entrench that cruelty. Police forces, armed forces, tax systems, welfare systems, the Indian Act, the courts and judges, schools, workplaces.
I’ve started a list, which I’ll share on-air someday, of the things that need to change, post-COVID. Ripping up the playbook on these old, patriarchal, Prussian-derived, empire-modelled, top-down systems, in which the powerful get rich, and the weak get trodden into the mud, is going to be on that list. Governments, corporations, lending institutions, rule-makers, big business, and a whole bunch more institutions which are kneeling on the necks of the people, have got to make radical changes, or those changes will be forced on them.
The protests, the calling out of the United States’ National Guard, the fires, the black voices screaming to be heard, these remind me so much of the American race riots of the 1960s, which I remember. Those riots did not solve every problem of bigotry, obviously, or we wouldn’t be talking about it now. But there was significant and extreme societal change afterwards. A lot of the worst bigots ended up going down.
And previous pandemics have also resulted in major societal changes. In Europe the Plague caused the collapse of the feudal system. Yes, an entire system, which had been propped up for hundreds of years by the sweat of half-starved serfs, collapsed in less than a decade.
So, to the haters who sent hateful messages to the Russell marchers, and yes, there were threats, even here, in little old rural Eastern Ontario, take note: It seems there are a lot more people who support this message than don’t. And right now these same people have been cooped up for months, are scared for the future, and are just done with the world that, for so long, has been arranged to benefit the powerful, at the expense of everyone else.
And look where that got us. No wonder people are just plain mad. It seems we’re not going to take it anymore.
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