It was all very moving. There were some wonderful people there, sharing tremendous care and compassion for people on another part of the planet. Some carried signs and two men from Libya held up a flag. We marched and chanted and, while my role was very minor and I don’t know if our actions will actually change anything, I came away thinking that this was the most important thing I’ve done in a long, long time.
I have to admit upfront that I have never really been the protester type. The closest I came to protesting something before this was at the end of grade 10, when I burnt my math book. Since the year had ended by then I’m not sure if that even qualifies as protesting, but it was my best shot as a rookie. The only other time I came close to a protest was a year or two earlier when I told my dad I was going to a math pretest and he thought I said a math protest. He wanted to know what part of math we were protesting. I had no idea, but if there was an actual math protest somewhere that day, it was probably against inequality. Math seems to figure prominently in my early days as a protester. I can’t really picture what math protests look like, but I suspect they typically are not overly exciting affairs.
I heard about today’s rally from Facebook, and after all the horrific photos and stories from Libya that I had been seeing and sharing over the past few weeks, I felt immediately that I should go. It was one of several protests held across the country to push for an increase in the paltry number of refugees from Libya that Canada has said it will accept.
The turnout looked disappointingly small at first. A few people talked, including Remzi Cej, the Chair of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission, and a refugee himself, who arrived here from Kosevo in 1999 after he and his family were driven from their home. I knew Remzi’s story, and have phenomenal respect for not only how he came through all that and went on to be a Rhodes scholar and a humanitarian, but how he shares such a terribly harsh story with such an open and gentle spirit.
Once we started to march, I could see the numbers had swelled considerably, and I would guess there were about 400 or 500 people taking part. Many chanted as we marched, and I joined in sometimes, but mostly I walked and looked and listened and thought. And I came to see a few things more clearly:
- Some people in this world can be unbelievably cruel, but there are countless people all around us who are wonderfully kind and caring and compassionate about helping others.
- Many of these people looked nothing like me, or like each other. Young. Old. Tattoos. Piercings. Clean shaven. Long hair. Short hair. New clothes. Old clothes. We looked like many of us had very little in common with each other, and I thought that was incredibly cool. I really admired all these people of so many different backgrounds and interests. We probably passed each other on Water Street or in the mall yesterday without a second glance, but now here we were standing together for one mission… and hopefully for much more than one moment.
- Some people protest by chanting, and they do it really well. I felt bad at first that I didn’t shout with the passion that they did, but I resolved that I would be one of the ones who made their voices heard in other ways. So today some of us are posting on Facebook and Twitter. Some are writing blog posts or articles. Some are telling friends and they in turn are marching and chanting and writing songs and telling others.
- These people are all on their own journeys. Many looked like they were more experienced with protests than I was, and I really wanted to say hi and ask to hear their stories. What brought them out? What made them think they could make a difference? I wanted to, but I didn’t, and I still wish I had.
It will likely be a while before we know if the rallies will bring an increase in the number of refugees being brought into Canada. In other ways though, the rally succeeded as soon as we all got there. It brought us up close to the truly beautiful faces of people from different cultures and backgrounds and interests who give up an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon to make their voices heard. It connected us all across a wide mix of tastes and styles and belief systems. It allowed us to stand together and make sure that, with all the sad stories that this world will share today, there will also be stories of hope and smiles and kindness and caring. Strangers joined hands and voices today to make a difference, and we’re already a better place because of them. I felt privileged to be with them. I hope you’ll feel privileged to be there next time.