By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 22, 2020.
It would be a mistake to waste the reader’s time by taking sides in the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests happening around the country.
You either support the reasons behind the rail blockades, or you don’t, and in this province only a fool would think the latter isn’t a landslide majority. To be honest, and based on the way this entire situation has been reported on by media and provincial politicians, it would take an even bigger fool not to understand why people feel the way they do.
According to Premier Jason Kenney, protesters have created “anarchy” and have been allowed to “shut down the economy” with blockades that will “ultimately … imperil public safety and health.”
The media immediately heeded the warnings of “potential catastrophe” coming from industry officials (now there’s a shocker), letting us know a week ago that we could “soon run out” of fresh food, baby formula and drinking water.
With terrifying language like that, it’s no wonder people feel the way they do. It’s no wonder a group of civilians in Edmonton were seen as heroes this week for dismantling a blockade the same day it went up — words have immense power and powerful people are using catastrophic ones to shape the message.
So, I get it. I get that anyone who wants to see these blockades dismantled due to “rule of law” or economic devastation, or even a starving infant, is going to feel that way no matter what anyone says in contrast.
But, let’s say Kenney’s desires are met and the authorities move in to end the blockades, and let’s say the Coastal GasLink pipeline moves ahead as planned, despite the demands of the Indigenous peoples and their supporters who oppose it.
These protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en are not some incidental annoyance that can be swatted away like a mosquito on a forearm, and it would be a colossal mistake to treat them like one. What we’re seeing right now is an example of growing dissension among younger generations toward the mistreatment of the planet, and that is not going to go away until actual change is made.
Whether that mistreatment comes by trampling the rights of Indigenous peoples, or just the land itself, there are those who have decided to take a stand and that group is growing. If a few choice words about rail blockades can convince people of not only a pending economic crisis, but a public safety one as well, then imagine how those with several decades left on this planet feel about the potential of climate disaster?
It doesn’t matter whether this is the doings of George Soros and David Suzuki, or actually rooted in science that suggests fossil fuel extraction — the digging up of literal death and lighting it on fire — might be bad for the environment. No amount of RCMP interference is going to arrest away this growing global sentiment, and whom you personally believe regarding climate change isn’t going to alter that.
“As the urgency of climate change continues to mobilize people worldwide, especially Indigenous peoples who remain intimately connected with the land and their non-human relatives, protests will continue against those who maintain the status quo and refuse to respond to the crisis,” says Roberta Lexier, an historian and Mount Royal University professor who specializes in activism. “These blockades are merely the beginning of a struggle that won’t end until politicians, corporations and individuals sincerely respond to the realities of climate change and the existential threat it poses to humanity and the planet.”
You don’t have to take my word for it, or even that of an expert in the field of activism. Kenney also sees this as the beginning of something bigger, referring to the current Wet’suwet’en protests a “dress rehearsal” for future battles over energy projects.
For once, I couldn’t agree more.
The debate over the validity of climate change can remain as long as people wish, but like its effects, the fight is only going to escalate. The premier absolutely understands this, and whether one agrees with him or not, each and every one of us needs to imagine what that will look like.
You don’t even have to believe climate change is real to admit that it’s a massive problem, and each side’s most passionate advocates are drawing lines in the sand. This kind of thing tends to get ugly and, I assure you, one side believes the world is at stake — so you don’t have to agree, but you better respect their fortitude.
Lexier says society needs to “sincerely respond to the realities of climate change,” but I fear we are on the verge of doing so with force. If that’s the path we take, then a few rail blockades are nothing compared to what will follow. Using the RCMP or any other authority to break those up (whether they be legal, illegal or in between) is not going to end quietly.
This isn’t one of those situations that ends with the status quo — only enacting real change will do that — and some extremely powerful people are none too happy about it. They want to use force to protect their interests and they are doing everything they can to gain our permission to do it.
If you really want to see what “anarchy” looks like, all we have to do is give it them.
Scott Schmidt is the layout editor at the Medicine Hat News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @shmitzysays. All opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the News’ editorial board.