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Monday, June 28, 2010 

"Violent protest only doing the work of the political right" - Brian Topp

A smart, smiling, committed delegation from my union was on hand in front of Queen’s Park Saturday to carry a message about the priorities we believe the world’s leaders should be pursuing. Among these, there should be a place for art and for artists – for building “village squares” in the world for people to come together and tell their stories, share their values and dream about the future.

But that message was not heard.

Nor was much of the message carried by thousands of other union activists that day. Instead, the people who were heard all around the world (including across the Atlantic here in Paris, from where I’m writing) were a relative handful of a very different kind of activist. Dressed in black. Equipped with hammers and various other tools and weapons. And determined to create mayhem on the streets of Toronto.

As someone else said in a different context, what is happening in our streets is not only wrong, it is a mistake. It is wrong to turn peaceful protest into riot and violence. Gandhi, King, Mandela, and many other leaders, political and spiritual, all taught the same lesson – real change comes when the overwhelming majority demand it, and that overwhelming majority is won through the force of argument that does not back down and does not ever give up. Not through force.

It is a mistake to turn peaceful protest into riot and violence. Because this gives the bad guys what they need to unite and to react. And because – and this is the decisive point – it persuades ordinary citizens to rally against the forces of progress and toward the forces of reaction.

The people currently running conservative governments around the world need to be defeated, and replaced by progressives, whose global duty is then to meet and to act.

In a democratic country, violent protest is morally bankrupt – the twin brother of the interests it is aimed at.

In a democratic country, violent protest is stupid – counter-productive, demobilizing, demoralizing. It is doing the work of the political right.

So to the kiddies in Toronto in masks with hammers: do us all a real favour. Go back home to mommy, in the comfortable upper-middle class homes many of you probably come from.

Grow up. Learn to work. Learn to do political work with a moral centre – work that hurts the bad guys instead of helping them.


Globe & Mail

Brian Topp is executive director of ACTRA Toronto. He also serves as chair of the board of Creative Arts Savings and Credit Union, and is a member of the board of directors of ROI Fund, a venture capital fund. He previously served as a senior vice-president at Credit Union Central of Canada, the national office of Canada's credit union system outside of Quebec. He served as deputy chief of staff to Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow. He co-ordinated the federal NDP's campaign war room during the 1997 and 2004 federal elections, and served as that party's national campaign director during the 2006 and 2008 elections.

I do not wish to include anarchists in the same category as social democrats or the broader progressives. The anarchists are not going to care if their violence increases support for the political right.

I do think progressives need to make clear that we support full democratic rights for all. That includes the right to vote, and the right to peaceful assembly and protest practically anywhere. That includes the police recognizing all people as citizens rather than as criminals. Steve Paikin had mentioned that a small group of peaceful protesters were able to protest near the fence. The riot squad was practically surrounding them. That's treating citizens like criminals.

If people want to live in a police state, do not expect to live in a peaceful society. What the anarchists did this weekend such as breaking windows and burning police cars was minor compared to what they or others can do in a police state. Our security will only be an illusion.

Well said.

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