I almost didn’t go—I did a gut-check just before walking down the stairs to unlock my bike. I thought there was no way more than a handful of people would show up to the protest, and I was sure that those who did show up would be ill-informed, hyper-fanatical, and terribly annoying. I was in Toronto, to be sure, and I know that no one in my hometown rises up for anything other than marijuana.
Indeed, the last time I saw Torontonians block traffic for anything, it was on 4/20. I’m not saying there haven’t been protest marches for other purposes, but I’ve never heard of or seen any. I will also add that my heart nearly exploded when I arrived in Montreal to an unexpected student protest that was blocking boulevard René-Lévesque in both directions. That is such a Montreal thing to do. It doesn’t happen in Toronto.
Perhaps now you can understand why I was so thrilled when I arrived at City Hall in downtown Toronto to find not only a large crowd, but a moving crowd. It was marching toward Bay Street, and it planned to walk all the way to Queen’s Park on city streets. I was extremely impressed.
The crowd was motivated, and much louder than I expected. The initial chant, “No Tar Sands, No Fracking, No Line 9!” gave way to “Tar Sands Kill, Pipleines Spill!”, and several other chants with more or less ring to them. But one chant stood out above the rest. The crowd really started yelling when the coordinators began chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Stephen Harper Has Got To Go!” If the volume and tone of the collective voice may serve as an indicator, it seems our beloved tin-pot dictator is the root of many of the marchers’ frustrations.
What was most striking was the diversity of the protesters. Sure, most seemed to hate our current Prime Minister, but there was more to it than that. One, the self-appointed “Cop Watch”, held a sign questioning whether Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in rehab. Others held signs scolding the federal and provincial governments for inaction on climate change. Some simply pleaded for the government to hear the voice of the people.
This was a protest like any other, led by people on stilts, followed by others holding up large puppets (not sure anyone knew why this was happening), and chock-full of career complainers. Yet, it also had a very normal, approachable air about it. Protesters were young, old, well-dressed, poorly dressed, walking, biking, yelling, talking, and welcoming others to join in.
As a result, I felt hopeful. I felt hopeful because at least a few people are paying attention, hopeful because I know that together we can accomplish a lot. I felt hopeful that we could save our city, our province, and our country from ourselves. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t tell anyone if I felt hopeful for these reasons. I would expect to feel this way. But this is Toronto: the city where people stay quiet because they have it pretty good, and, because, as our possibly rehabbing Mayor says, “No one is perfect.” This is a city in which people stand up to moan “leeegalize it,” then promptly sit back down. It is a city at the heart of a country of 35 million people whom famous historian Desmond Morton labels “grumblers”. Yet, today, this was a city in which people stood up and started walking. Maybe my city has more backbone that I gave it credit for.