Riot Night In Canada

Long-time readers of this blog are probably aware of how I feel about riots, and more importantly, their aftermath. But when Toronto lost its shit over the G20 summit almost exactly one year ago, as ridiculously unjustified as that was, it was at least over something important: the rights of citizens in their city. Oh, and politics, and the environment, and big corporations, and, uh… hipsters, or something.

So I don’t know if Vancouver is just trying to be Toronto (no surprises there), or if they really just take hockey way too seriously.  Either way, I earnestly implore my BC friends:

Come on guys. Really?

I don’t suppose it’ll mean much if I say it’s “just a game.” I get it- hockey is a big part of our culture, and watching a Canadian team lose to the Boston Bullies in a Stanley Cup final is a serious blow to our collective ego. But there are good hockey riots and bad hockey riots.

GOOD: When Toronto boy and former Timbit Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal-winning goal in your fair city during the 2010 Olympics, the entire country took to the streets in celebration. Walking home that night along Yonge, I experienced the massive party in Yonge-Dundas square, saw the spontaneous parades marching proudly down the street, and heard buskers everywhere break out into our national anthem. It was a beautiful, glorious moment, and one that the Canadian hockey lover in all of has every reason to cherish.

BAD: This bullshit.

I admit, I don’t necessarily get the whole “hocky culture” of Canada. I grew up here, but I was born in the States, and my parents are from entirely different continents. But I am Canadian.

One of the proudest days of my life was receiving my Canadian citizenship. I like beer, bacon, and maple syrup, and when I get bumped into by a pushy stranger, I apologize. I believe that Canada is the best country on Earth, and deserves the respect and admiration of the world.

But you, rioting Vancouver Canucks fans. You’re just making us look bad.

We’re supposed to be better than this. Okay, I know, Toronto rioted last year too, but at least we had genuine grievances, and the overwhelming majority of us wanted nothing to do with those proceedings. I have yet to hear a single Vancouverite speak in defense of his or her city. Not that I’m saying that all Vancouverites are rioting douchebags- I know they’re not. I know that they don’t even necessarily all love hockey. But, well… here’s my thing with Vancouver:

I’ve known many people from Vancouver, and most of them have been very nice. Some have even been my friends. But I haven’t met one who didn’t move to Toronto in search of better opportunities in whatever they were trying to accomplish in their life, and then constantly complain about how much more stressful Toronto is, and whine that they wish they were back in BC. Torontonians are all cold and mean, apparently, and BC is some sort of hippy paradise where everyone smokes organic weed and hikes through mountains even though it’s raining but, you know, you just get used to it. Toronto’s too cold and our sushi is sub-par, and the lake is nice and all, but, you know, it’s not the ocean. And it’s loud and bright and crowded all the time. If only everything closed down at 5pm so you could spend more time fishing in your backyard. But hey, have you ever thought about why Toronto is so busy and crowded all the time? Because people move here looking for bigger and better opportunities. Just like you did! We have the best University, the biggest industry, the most happening arts and culture scene, and the multi-culturalist people in Canada. And when you have all that going on, you tend to stay out a little later. You tend to play your music a little louder. You are busier, and the places you go are more crowded. If you don’t like it, move back to the mountains. Oh wait, I forgot- many of you do, when you realize that you can’t hack it here. Your sunshiney disposition may be missed, but your superior attitude won’t.

Am I generalizing about the people of an entire city that I haven’t even been to since I was a kid? Yes, yes I am. But please understand that I don’t hate all Vancouverites- on the contrary, their relaxed go-with-the-flow attitudes can be a refreshing change (and they always have the best weed). Are they all like that? Of course not. But in my experience, yes. Some acclimate to their new environment quite nicely, and some don’t. Our cities just have different cultures, and I get that- I mean jeez, Toronto is supposed to be the most multi-ethnic city in the world. Surely we can tolerate a few Vancouverites?

But, of course, it isn’t just a few. It’s a lot. Sometimes, it seems like there are three types of Canadians: Torontonians who move to Vancouver to get away from the hustle and bustle and stress, and then complain that they’re bored and it rains all the time; Vancouverites who move to Toronto in search of bigger and better things, adventure, excitement, and a shot at making the big time, and then complain that it’s too fast-paced and hectic and they want to go home and curl up in their Native-Canadian-woven hemp blankie; and everyone else, who are from the maritimes or Winnipeg or something. Now, is this the very attitude that makes the rest of Canada hate Torontonians? Oh, hell yes. I freely admit that. And I don’t believe that that’s really the case- it’s just that the experience of living in Toronto necessarily narrows your vision until that’s how you see the rest of the country. Because, while it may not be true to the rest of our vast, great nation, it certainly is true here.

It’s the whiny, pretentious, entitled attitude that I object to. If you move to the city where everything happens because you want to be a part of the action, don’t complain that it’s more stressful than what you’re used to. Duh, of course it is– that’s why you moved here! People lead busy lives, and deal with other assholes every day. We’ve seen it all, and have become rightly cynical. Your wide-eyed wonder is adorable, but when you come to my home and list off all the reasons why the city that I love is inferior to the place you moved away from, then prepare for a demonstration of that famed Torontonian rage you’ve heard so much about.

You are not entitled to constant peace and quiet if you live in a big city. You are not entitled to great sushi if you move away from the ocean. You are not entitled to leisurely strolls if you are walking down Yonge street. And you are not entitled to a Stanley Cup if your team loses fair and square.

And yes, I’m sure there are dozens of technicalities that the referees “missed” or whatever (you want to talk about officiating conspiracies? Try talking to a Habs fan), but you lost, the Bruins won, deal with it. Vancouver, you often accuse Toronto of being a city full of assholes, but shit like this doesn’t happen over a goddamn hockey game here.

Of course, there are other reasons for that.

So I don’t know if you’re bored, making an attempt at badassery, or just trying to be like us, but in any case, get over yourselves, Vancouver Hockey Rioters. If you’re going to riot, do so over something like civil liberties, not over a hockey game. You’ll get another chance at the Cup next year, so live up to your reputation and CHILL THE FUCK OUT. Because you’re acting worse than bad Canadians right now. You’re acting like Americans.

And no one wants that.

 

PS: To all my dear British Columbian friends… um, I meant those other Vancouverites. Hugs!

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Made For Walking

Last month, a Toronto police officer giving a lecture on rape prevention advised those gathered that the best way to avoid being raped was to stop “dressing like sluts.”

At that, all the rape victims in the world finally realized where they’d gone wrong. From Canada to Iraq to South Africa to the United States, everyone donned a parka, burqa, or Virgin Mary costume, and no one was ever raped again.

Because, that’s how it works, right?

I mean, come on, some eleven-year-old children are just totally asking for it, right? Take real good look at a Catholic altar boy some time. Goddamn begging for it. Could you resist the little tramps? When the Japanese invaded Nanking and raped thousands of people, some multiple times, some until they died, you just know it was because of all those sexy lacy thongs those saucy little minxes were wearing. And when my unstable boyfriend suffered a psychotic break in the middle of the night, woke me up with violent touching, and proceeded to torture me until I was barely aware of my surroundings, it must have been because of those damn button-down pyjamas I was wearing. Pyjamas which I’d borrowed from him.

It was a cop who’d sworn to look out for us who said this. Someone I might turn to if I’m ever attacked again. Someone I’d count on to be on my side, to see that justice is done. But justice is an easy word to throw around, whose meaning is fluid, hard to recognize and understand, just like the word “slut”. Exactly what is a slut? What constitutes slut-dom? Its meaning seems to change according to its circumstances, much like the word “rape”.

When I was a kid, I thought a “slut” was just someone who’d sleep with anyone, without being picky. But I noticed that when some people did this, they were called “studs”. This was confusing. So I looked for differences in behaviour- what marked a slut from a stud? It seemed to me that a ‘stud’ is defined by sexual conquests, getting many people to obey your sexual whims, having sexual power over those from whom you take what you want (which all sounds pretty rape-y to me). A ‘slut’, on the other hand, was someone who let herself be used for the pleasure of others. Usually suffering from poor self-esteem, she seeks the lowest form of attention and affection, becoming an empty vessel without desire or agency to be used and consumed by those who don’t really care for her. But unless you get a t-shirt that says all that, I don’t really see how you can get that across via clothing choice. Which is when I discovered that, apparently, “slut” refers to females (and only females, for some reason) who wear clothes that men traditionally find sexy. Which simply means “not much clothes at all.” Which, of course, doesn’t take into account that different men find different things sexy. Some go for lipstick and heels, some for glasses and sensible boots.

So if it isn’t the clothing itself that defines a “slut”, and it isn’t merely a submissive but invisible attitude, then what? Most definitions seem to agree that quantity of sexual partners, or a willingness to have sex, are intrinsic to the identity of a “slut”. Which sounds pretty close to the definition of “stud”, except there’s no suggestion of coercion here, no “making someone your bitch”, as it were. Females who, somehow through dress, express themselves as sexual beings.

But, aren’t we all sexual beings?

So, if a “slut” is simply any woman who doesn’t retch or freeze at the thought of having sex, then a “slut” is basically any woman with sexual agency? Or am I leaving something out? I’m so confused!

The problem is that this word that carries so hurtful a meaning doesn’t seem to actually mean anything at all. But it isn’t going to go away. Like it or not, it’s a part of our language, even if we don’t know what we’re saying when we use it.

So I guess that means that the meaning is open for a new interpretation, huh?

And there are women in this city who have decided to take it back.

If “slut” is to mean “a woman who is comfortable with her own sexuality”, then fuck it, I guess I’m a slut! And I am proud to be so. It took me a long time to get here. It was a hard climb from Victimhood Valley to see the Sexual Liberation Summit from where I stand. Maybe I haven’t quite reached it yet, but at least I have my goal in my sights. And you have no idea how hard it’s been.

When you’re raped, you stop being you. It’s like being assimilated by the Borg. Suddenly, your body doesn’t belong to you anymore. It’s being used for someone else’s purposes, without your consent. We here on Earth like to believe that human rights are absolute, inalienable facts. You have some sort of soul or mind or consciousness that is housed in a fleshy structure, and that structure is your only means of interacting with your environment. You are that structure. It is you. You have exclusive rights to it, and only you may decide what happens to it and what it’s used for.

And that is a lie.

Your body is nothing more than a walking meat pile, as public a commodity as trees or water or dead animals. Nothing stops others from doing what they want with it. If someone else decides that you have one arm, you have one arm. If someone else decides that you’re not a virgin, you lose your virginity. If someone else decides that you are a vessel for their pleasure, then that is the case. If someone decides that you die, then that’s the end of you. You do not own your body. That’s the truth. And yes- it is possible to prove it to you.

People often talk about psychologically surviving rape by “leaving your body”- mentally checking out so you don’t have to acknowledge the horrifying, empty truth being proven to you using your own body, your spiritual home as evidence. But what no one ever mentions is that, after you leave your body, you can’t get back in. That’s it. The locks have been changed, and someone’s repainted the interior an awful colour. Your mail is marked “return to sender”. You’re not there anymore.

Meet the rape-victim zombie.

Floating through her life with the understanding that the only purpose of her fleshy substance is to provide pleasure for others. Her own doesn’t matter. She is not a person. She is only an empty shell.

God. If only she’d worn the flats. Clearly, she was asking for it.

Let’s be clear: it is impossible to “ask for” rape. That is contradictory to the very definition of rape. But here we go with definitions again. What is rape?

Rape is the act of separating a person’s soul from her body. Rape is the act of seizing absolute power over another. Rape is the act of demonstrating to a person that their basic human rights are a fiction, they are not entitled to a mind or soul, that they are nothing more than walking meat piles existing solely to be consumed by others. Quite simply, rape is the worst thing in the world.

Despite ridiculous legal gray areas, there is no difference between “date rape” and any other kind of rape. From “incest” to “pedophilia”, we keep trying to tell ourselves that there are types of rape that are somehow worse than others. We forget that people are equal, and everyone has a right to their own body.

So why the victim-blaming? Why do we perpetrate the myth that rape victims are women who walk the streets at night dressed provocatively, instead of acknowledging the reality that they are people like you and me, who are probably raped in their own home, by someone they know? Some say it’s some deep-seated cultural misogyny, some say it comes down to a fear of female sexuality. And some just desperately need to believe that such a thing can only happen to “someone else”. Someone who made herself a target somehow. Someone who was asking for it.

In fact, you probably know someone whom it has happened to. Your friend. Your co-worker. Your wife. Your mother. Your daughter. Your son.

The truth is, it can happen to you. Yes, even if you’re a guy.

But that doesn’t mean it will.

You cannot live in fear. The streets of your city belong to you, and you have every right to walk down them wearing whatever you want. Your body is not a commodity, and no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, or threatened, or to take your rights away from you. You own yourself, and no one can take that away.

The fact that we live in a world where rape is even possible is existential-crisis inducing indeed. I won’t tell you how to prevent rape, because that isn’t your responsibility. It is your responsibility, however, to NOT rape. It is every person’s responsibility to not be a rapist. We live in a society where we accept sexual assault as inevitable, the status quo. We live in a rape culture. But that can change, if we take control. Don’t be a rapist, and don’t be a victim. And when I say “don’t be a victim”, I don’t mean that it’s your fault if, god forbid, the worst happens. It isn’t. But victimhood easily becomes an identity, even to those who have never been attacked. If you have been there, remember, you don’t have to see a victim when you look in the mirror. You don’t have to see that red raw meat that you no longer recognize. You don’t have to live in fear. Be a survivor. Be free.

Tomorrow, we take back the streets. We take back the word that has so often been used against us. We stand up for our rights. We march.

Join me and countless others as we march the Slut Walk down Toronto’s streets. Meet on Sunday April 3rd at 1:30 on the south lawn at Queen’s park. Together, we will wear what we want, and proudly carry our sexuality, whatever form that takes, down the streets that are rightfully ours. And we will not be afraid.

Note: Read also my other blog, that I write with another fabulous lady, where I’ve posted a complementary piece on this same all-important subject.

New Year’s Resolutions 1: the Long Arm of the Law

Happy 2011, Rage-aholics!

I realize that it’s almost March. I’ve been busy. And the news has been nearly impossible to keep up with. So many stories, so many issues filling me with anger and contempt, I didn’t know where to start. So I moved a bunch of them to the back burners to simmer. And now that the news outlet’s short-attention span theatre has moved onto other things, I feel it’s high time to start the new year off right by getting some things from 2010 off my chest.

So I’m just gonna go ahead and dive right into today’s retrospective pet peeve of 2010: Police brutality.

Cops are the modern-day Knights in Shining Armour (well, them and Elton John), riding in on great white horses to save us from distress. As our city mourns the loss of one of Toronto’s finest, we become acutely aware of the dangers faced by our law enforcement, and the sacrifices they make on behalf of all of us. For their continued dedication to serving and protecting the public, they have my eternal admiration and gratitude. I have nothing but respect for officers of the law. Every single officer I’ve ever met has been polite to me, and I’ve never witnessed a police officer harassing someone unnecessarily (as far as I could tell). But it’s the start of a new year, and I don’t feel like we can move on until we find some resolutions for unresolved issues from 2010.

Regular readers of this blog (hi, mom!) will recall my indignation at the events of the G20. It probably sounded like I was on the side of the police in that debacle. The truth is, although I admired the actions of some, I knew that the law enforcement heroes of this great city had much to answer for. There is no question that I have no sympathy for the opportunistic vandals and looters (such as those in the notoriously removable “Black Bloc” outfits), but that does not mean that I did not support the peaceful protestors, or that I thought the cops were in the right. Like I said, they have much to answer for in regards to that day.

But will they answer? Will they be held accountable? Will we ever see justice done?

It’s been eight months, and some people are tired of waiting.

On that warm summer day, hundreds of protestors were brutalized by police officers “in the line of duty.” Were some of these individuals in fact being so unruly that the only way to calm them was with force? Were they out of control, a danger to themselves and others? Were they breaking the law?

Sure, some probably were. But not all. In fact, not even most. Truth be told, not everyone beaten within an inch of his or her life by Toronto cops was even a protestor.

Click on that link. Go ahead. And while you’re at it, click on this one too. That’s my friend Dorian, who survived a horrific beating following a sucker-punch from a police riot shield. He was hanging out at Queen’s Park that day, no sign, no chants, no particular beef with anybody, just watching the crowd, ready with his camera in case anything interesting happened. Hell, I wasn’t there, and I’m not a reporter, so if you want the facts of the day, read those links up there. What I do know is that Dorian is one of the most harmless individuals I know. He is reasonable and not prone to starting fights. I honestly cannot imagine him doing anything to provoke this reaction. His injuries were beyond brutal, his experience appalling. And yet, those responsible have yet to see the slightest sign of justice.

I cannot tell you how angry this makes me. But, since that is the entire purpose of this blog, I am certainly going to try.

Somewhere among the shining examples of duty and bravery of Toronto’s finest are some bad seeds that give a noble profession a bad name. To those cops who beat and held my helpless friend who hadn’t done a damn thing wrong, you probably know who you are. And you ought to be ashamed. Your entire profession ought to shun you, kick you out of their ranks. You are the reason that people hate cops. You are the reason they shout “Fuck da police”. You are the ones they call Pigs. You are not officers of the law. You are nothing more than petty thugs. And you must be brought down.

Do you think we’re afraid of you? You’re not above the law, and you can’t get away with shitting all over our civil liberties like that. You are everything that’s wrong with the system. You are “the Man.”

If you use your power to abuse others, we will find you. If you think it’s okay to assault those weaker than you, we will find you. Because we are stronger than you think, and we have numbers on our side. Better than that, we have the law.

Be you beat cop, seasoned detective, S.W.A.T. member, or even Mountie, if you disregard our rights, the very law that you purport to protect, we will find you, and we will take you down.

To those virtuous examples of the Law Enforcement profession, I am sure you are just as disgusted and outraged at the conduct of your so-called comrades as we are. Help us. Help us to find justice.

To those who make a mockery and shit on everything that the good cops stand for:

Fuck you. And the horse you rode in on.

Built Ford Tough

Toronto is known for its multiculturalism, its cosmopolitan inclusiveness, its vibrant youth culture, its cultural and environmental awareness, and its progressive liberal politics. Which is why, during the October 25th 2010 Mayoral Election, we elected this guy:

Laugh it up, Fuzzball.

You see, the lefty hippies, yuppies, and hipsters of downtown were torn between two other candidates: the amusingly named Joe Pantalone, who seemed to be most popular among downtowners, and George Smitherman, who wasn’t Joe Pantalone, but wasn’t Rob Ford either. No one really wanted to vote for Smitherman, you see- they wanted to vote for the unimpressive but inoffensive Pantalone- but they all did anyway. Why? Because no one was going to vote for Pantalone. And because of this reason, almost everyone who wanted to didn’t.

That makes sense, right?

You see, no one thought that Pantalone had a chance, as the early polls from a limited scope indicated little support. Because of this, the massive numbers of people who supported him decided to vote for the other Liberal instead. Everyone I talked to agreed that everyone wanted to vote for Pantalone, but no one would, due to the fact that no one was going to vote for Pantalone.

So since it had somehow been uniformly decided that the candidate with the largest downtown support base didn’t stand a snowball’s chance, the default became Smitherman, who didn’t have the same support, but stood a chance of beating Ford due to not being Pantalone.

This is what is known as “strategic voting.”

Let’s face it: voting for what you want is for pussies. Voting for something you don’t want out of fear of something even worse happening- now that takes balls.

So, with everyone downtown haggling over whether everyone should put their majority vote toward electing the mayor they want, throw it at the guy they don’t want less than the other guy they don’t want, or vote for one of the over thirty other candidates no one had ever heard of, the way was laid wide open for the lone Conservative on the ballot.

And man, did he work the suburbs.

Toronto is a large city, and most Torontonians live downtown (or so they tell us), where things like Nuit Blanche, TIFF, Luminato, Gay Pride, Caribana, Word on the Street, and the Fetish Fair explode on their doorstep with such regularity it’s not even weird anymore. These are people who support the arts, the rights of minorities, help for those in special need, women’s groups, LGBT culture, local organic produce, and bike lanes. And they depend upon public transit.

Unsurprisingly, this is also a laundry-list of everything that Ford is against. And we downtowners tend to forget how much the car-driving traditional-family-values suburban sect can resent our highballin’ hedonistic street-car-ing ways. In fact, we tend to forget they exist at all (which, upon reflection, might account for some of that resentment). Toronto has a lot of suburbs. And damn, they’re big.

While Mississauga was busy re-electing the kindly grandmother who had brought prosperity to one of Toronto’s finest burbs for the two-hundredth time, Etobicoke was hammering down on our dreams of drug-fuelled all-night Hollywood art-party orgies with the power and fury of ten thousand silent K’s.

It makes sense. There are probably slightly more liberal-minded folks around here than conservative, but the liberals were all confused over who they were supposed to vote for. Some of them gave up and didn’t vote at all, often citing their busy downtown schedules as the reason. The Conservatives had one option and a lot more free time. It was a no-brainer.

There’s been a lot of finger-pointing down round these parts. Who’s to blame for Rob Ford’s election? The Smithermites for not going with their gut? The Pro-Pants lobby for supporting a loser? The Ford group for actually voting for Ford? It’s a question with no easy answers if you ignore the obvious one, but anyway, the suburbs are really far. It’s much easier to blame your neighbour.

Did we do it to ourselves? If the votes for Pantalone and Smitherman were added together, they’d outnumber Ford’s by a hangnail. But who knows? Maybe a more unified front from our side would have stoked those fires of fear in the suburban hearths, and would have driven them out in even larger droves. As it is, only slightly more than half of the eligible population voted, so who knows what the outcome would’ve been if things had happened differently. It’s a dangerous game, this What-If-Roulette, with almost as many penises. But there’s a strange and terrifying kind of comfort to be taken in the belief in Democracy. If you’re an idealist, then it’s impossible for the wrong guy to win an election. Even if you don’t agree with the result, the Voice of the People has spoken.

So why am I angry? Well, we have elected a mayor whose vision for Toronto does not match my own, and mere disappointment won’t cut it. But whom is my rage targeted against? Whom do I blame?

The obvious answer is Rob Ford himself. But then again, in his mind, he probably honestly believes that he is the best person for the job, so you can’t really blame him for trying. So, you blame his supporters. Only, they were only exercising their democratic right to choose their candidate, and I can’t really expect everyone else’s values to reflect my own. Clearly, the man appeals to a large portion of the population whom I’m sure is comprised largely of perfectly nice, rational people. You can’t really blame someone for casting their ballot for the candidate of their choosing, at least, not if you really believe in democracy. So how about all those people who didn’t vote? Seems like a no-brainer, except there’s no guarantee that things would have turned out differently, and if they hadn’t, I’d be just as mad, and for the same reason. So is it possible that it really is the fault of everyone who voted for the other guys? That doesn’t seem right. Each person used their one vote as they saw fit- some to vote for whom they wanted as mayor, some as a stand against whom they didn’t. Sure, I personally don’t see that as an example of how democracy is supposed to work. Those who believed that voting for a candidate you didn’t like would work as some sort of Konami-code for winning the whole election found out they were wrong. But hey, they thought it would work. Sure, logic tells us that if everyone who liked Pantalone best had voted for him, he might’ve won, but that’s just logic-ing with your heart. Some people tried to out-think the election, tried to trick it by voting against their own wishes, because the election would never see that coming. Democracy is no match for the solid strategy of voting for the wrong guy. How the hell did that not work out?

But I’m not really angry with those who managed to over-complicate something that by its very nature is designed to be as straightforward as possible. It’s not really their fault- they only did what they thought the smartest thing was. By some convoluted egg/chicken logic, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

But as much as I disagree with such voting “tactics”, in the end, don’t their values reflect my values? Let’s face it; if Smitherman had won, I’d be okay with it. So how could I be angry with those who voted for him? Whatever their reasons, enough people voted for Smitherman to make him a serious contender. If a few more people had done the same, we wouldn’t have Rob Ford as mayor. I do understand the rationale- early polls had Pants way behind Smithers, so it’s reasonable that certain rats will jump ship. Call it peer pressure or jumping on a bandwagon, but in the end, their hearts were in the right place, even if their heads had gotten stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy while they themselves believed they were outfoxing “the system”.

Am I angry with those who voted for all the other candidates, including those who had dropped out of the race? Of course not. If anything, their hopefulness is adorable.

So who am I angry with?

Anger is a reaction, so if you feel it, your brain is trying to tell you that something isn’t right. There’s an injustice taking place, perhaps, and where there’s injustice, there’s usually a culprit. That’s what on-the-face-of-it rationale tells us. So, to find the culprit, one must determine what it is that one is reacting against. And maybe it’s not what you think. Maybe it isn’t injustice. Maybe it’s something else, something you wouldn’t discover if you didn’t ask these questions. For someone like me, anger can be a reaction to almost anything. It’s my default. Sadness, frustration, guilt, regret, and fear- they all become anger by the time they get to you.

So sure, I’m disappointed. But for all I know, Ford will be a great mayor. After all, enough people believe in him to have gotten him elected. So, I’m not in mourning just yet, because I don’t really know what the future will look like, even if I don’t like the plans. Frustrated? That usually happens when I hit an obstacle of some kind that I can’t overcome. The voting process at the community centre here in Ward 27 was quick and pleasant. I did what I could, and it’s now time to move on. Again, disappointed, but I have no regrets regarding my own decision, nor do I feel any guilt. I did the only thing I could legally do to prevent a future for my beloved city that looks, from where I’m standing, somewhat bleak. I know he’s just a man, and the new City Council must approve every decision he makes. It’s not Ford himself that bothers me. It’s the legions of people who apparently think that this man having power is a good thing. People who care nothing for the things that I care about. People who, apparently, have us surrounded.

I think … I think I’m afraid.

What will become of us? Of our city? Are we working toward the Toronto we want, as all the campaign slogans said? Or are we merely running away from the Toronto we fear? What happens when it catches up to us?

So I’m scared. Big deal. Bite me. You’d be scared too if your mayor looked like this:

All the better to eat you with...

But, as we’ve all been taught, when a traumatic event occurs, denial happens first. Then comes the fear, which becomes anger. Fear hinders you. Anger empowers you.

But like all power, it must be used responsibly.

Today, as Ford took office, he was met with hundreds of protestors. Some genuinely lamented the loss of David Miller, while others seemed only to foam at the mouth at the words “Mayor Rob Ford.” I don’t like the man either, nor am I optimistic for the future of art and transit in this city. But I respect the fact that he was voted in democratically. And since I believe in democracy, I can at least give the man a chance before screaming expletives at his doorstep. Demanding the democratically-elected Mayor be impeached after less than twenty-four hours in office in order to implement an administration the people did not vote for just doesn’t seem like the democratic way. Whether we like it or not, the majority ruled. I guess I just wasn’t in the majority. If you are a democratic idealist, then it is impossible to believe the wrong man was elected. Which begs the question… is it possible that… (*gasp*)… I’m wrong? We were all wrong?

Now I’m really scared.

And I’m not alone.

I forgive those voters who voted against the man who scared them, or for the man who made them scared of others. I forgive those who didn’t even turn up, intimidated by the weight of civic duty, afraid of making the wrong choice. I forgive us our fear.

But you don’t have to take fear lying down. You don’t like the mayor? Fine, tell us why. Be passionate. Let your anger focus you, let it shut out all the noise so you can target the thing that scares you and face it. Don’t just scream and whine- be constructive. Let’s deal with this shit. Let’s deal with it now.

I hereby resolve to become more active in my community. I resolve to pay more attention to politics, and to take a stand when I think that something isn’t right. I will fight for the Toronto I want, and I will not run from what I fear.

You must be the change that you want to see. You must believe that democracy works, and that it allows you to support those whom you believe in. You must act based on hope, not fear, never ever fear. Let’s make our city into the community we want, the place we are proud to be from. Let us not hide our heads in shame for electing an ogre, but be galvanized in our quest for a better tomorrow. With the combined efforts of downtown and suburbia, from every fire escape to every cul-de-sac, let us march forward into the day of a bright, shining city of multiculturalism, cosmopolitan inclusiveness, vibrant youth culture, cultural and environmental awareness, and progressive politics, whatever those may be. What doesn’t kill makes us stronger, until we’re tough enough for the sticks and stones to bounce off our hides. Let’s lead the world in rationality, let our passion for peaceful protests and outreaching optimism be an example to those places still in the shadows of fear. Miller time is over, but today is the first day in a new chapter of our city’s life, one which will bring challenges and obstacles, and therefore just that much more opportunity to focus our fear into the raging storm of hope and change that will finally deliver us the city we want.

Remembrance Rage

(NOTE: Yes, I realize that I haven’t posted in a while. I have a backlog of posts ready, don’t you worry. They will see the light of day soon enough)

Ouch! I just pricked my finger on my Remembrance Day poppy. Oh well, I’m not complaining. It’s not like anyone’s forcing me to wear it. I could choose not to. It is a free country, after all.

You know, for all my bitching, ranting, and raving, the truth is that I am, in fact, a very blessed person. I have a supportive family, fantastic friends, and a wonderful partner who loves me. I have a fabulous apartment downtown in the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth. And I am free.

A man on the subway was selling poppies. Bright red with a black centre- it’s November 11th, after all, and here in Canada we are patriotically convinced that John McCrae was a great poet. The old man on the subway wore a uniform, decorated and freshly pressed. He stood tall, proud, and gave me the warmest smile I’d seen in a long time. He reminded me of my grandfather, a figure of stoic dignity if ever there was one. My imagination led me to consider that his smile came from watching the people go to and fro, free of tyranny and oppression. The smile of one who knows that the years spent in the heat of battle were worth it. So of course I bought a poppy from him. I mean really, is there any other option?

As it turns out, yes. Yes there is.

The White Poppy has been distributed by the “No More War” movement since 1934. This lovely flower has become a symbol for Peace, while her bloodstained brother glorifies violence. Anyone who can take a break from Call of Duty: Black Ops long enough to turn on the news can tell you that War is Hell, and portraying it in a heroic light only encourages the bloodshed. The White Poppy, we are told, serves as a reminder of the virtues of Peace, and stands in opposition to armed conflict, and the horrors of War.

Of course, most people alive today are too young to really understand what exactly those horrors are. So “remembering” them might require more imagination than actual memory. Okay then, imagine that you, your husband, your father, or your son are drafted into a conflict that isn’t yours, that perhaps you do not even understand. Or maybe you volunteered, because you’re that goddamn brave. But bravery only gets you so far in the trenches, and soon, you are lost, cold, alone, and afraid. You are watching your comrades die, some quickly, some slowly and painfully, some, unable to take atrocity in stride, by their own hand. All is terror, madness, pain, death, and you come home from years of exile broken, if you come home at all. Maybe your body is filled with shrapnel, or you lost your leg to gangrene. Maybe you can’t escape the nightmares. Maybe you defeated an evil foe whose holocaust had to be stopped, or maybe you fought an unjust war, and were spit upon by your own countrymen and forgotten by the government that sent you. Maybe you were just doing your part to make this world a better place. Maybe you were confused and didn’t know what was happening. Hell, maybe you even enjoyed the slaughter. In any case, you stood before the fire, at the gates of Hell, you felt the heat and suffered the burn, and you did not turn away. You stood your ground. And you did it for us.

There are fields of dead. Each body is someone’s husband, father, or son. Each body fertilizes the crop growing above it. Poppies rise from the corpses, stained with their blood, amid the white crosses seemingly spattered by violence, and they remind us. They remind us why you fought, why you suffered, and why you died.

To us, from failing hands, they throw not a sword, but a torch. Let us continue the quarrel, they ask, taking up not arms, but light. The foe is oppression, tyranny, slavery. The foe must be defeated. Let us lead the way through the trail they blazed toward an enlightened future.

The Red Poppy does not glorify violence, but reminds us of its consequences. The money collected from its sales go toward providing for veterans, some of whom are too shattered from their experiences to fully provide for themselves, all of whom deserve nothing less than the knowledge that we haven’t forgotten them.

I have been doing my research, and have yet to discover where the money from the sales of white poppies go. Toward the manufacturing of more white poppies, perhaps? How much can a few buckets of bleach cost? You can even make your own at home- take a red poppy, and erase all colour as vigorously as if you had made a horrible mistake that you’d rather forget. What more appropriate way is there to remember?

I am a liberal pacifist myself- I don’t believe in war. Yet the white poppy offends me. I find it distasteful and disrespectful. I imagine the kindly old veteran on the subway who fought so hard and sacrificed so much, watching a white poppy prance by as a statement that the wearer would rather he hadn’t have bothered.

But don’t get me wrong; I am not against the White Poppy. However mis-guided the movement might be, it is still a non-confrontational protest against war, which is a noble idea. In some places, you might be locked up for such propaganda, but Canada is a free country, and censorship has no place here. If we deny those we disagree with the right to wear the poppy of their choice, or even none at all, then those who sacrificed themselves so valiantly will have done so for nothing.

The White Poppy is a means of expressing an ideal. While I may disagree, I believe in your right to freedom of expression. I only wish I had the courage to defend that right to the death. I’m not sure I do, but I know someone who does. He stands on a subway platform, quiet, proud, peaceful. He sells red poppies, so that we will remember the sacrifice he made so that we may choose not to wear them.

G20 Protests Lead to Riots, Lead to Pissing Me Off

Today I walked through a shattered city. My city. A proud city, known worldwide for its tolerance and peaceful resolution to conflicts. My beloved city of Toronto.

Today, Toronto is bleeding.

Today is Saturday, June 26th, 2010. The G20 Summit has converged on downtown Toronto. Local law enforcement has been preparing for this, training riot squads and erecting barricades around much of the downtown core where the summit is to take place. Reasonable precaution? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?

Frankly, I don’t care. This shouldn’t have happened.

Naturally, everyone was expecting protests. Not only were the world’s most powerful leaders congregating to discuss how to further screw both the environment and the economy, but the security parameters were inconveniencing nearly the entire population of Toronto, a city not known for its patience.

Being the Capital of a province run by an apathetic Sith apprentice, we are used to demonstrations. Queen’s Park has been the site of more peaceful protests than a Gandhi-impersonator convention. Being the most multi-cultural city in the world, we are used to resolving, or at least tolerating, the differences between us. And while other cities refer to dark times in their histories, Toronto has suffered fires, blackouts, and, more recently, an earthquake with humour and a helping hand extended toward each other. Today, all that changed.

At around 3:40 this afternoon, a peaceful march protesting the G20 took a wrong turn for the worst, and soon became a full-scale riot. Windows were smashed with bricks and pieces of furniture looted from establishments that had also gotten their windows smashed. Fights broke out, tear gas was dispersed, rubber bullets were fired, and a police cruiser was set on fire. The fire spread, as did the rampant violence. Looting came next, with stores depleted of valuable merchandise (such as every single cell phone from a Bell store), as either an anti-consumerism protest, or, if you acknowledge how retarded that is, in an act of selfish greed. Personally, I don’t even know what statement they’re trying to make any more. Throwing feces through the window of American Apparel? Are you protesting the G20, or sweatshop-free clothing? Or hipsters?

Again, I don’t care. This is my home. This is my community. What makes these people think that they can shit on it?

I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in peaceful protest. I believe that British Petroleum is actually the Evil League of Evil in disguise, and any and all governments who support them are probably also secret super-villain cadres. I believe that unrestrained capitalism leads to corruption in society. I believe that the world’s governments must be held accountable for their actions or inactions. I believe that passionate individuals should stand by their statements and stay true to their positions, and not be persecuted for their beliefs. And I believe that no one should have to live in a police state.

But what I don’t get is how an individual can have a problem with the world and think that if they write that problem down on a piece of cardboard and stand near a building containing powerful people, one of them will read it and think, “hmm, capitalism is the root of all evil, is it? Well, I had no idea! I suppose I’d better roll up my sleeves and start dismantling the system, then.” Shouting “Fuck BP!” isn’t going to clean up the oil spill. If you’re just trying to get something off your chest, then fine, but do you honestly think that you’re going to solve anything by dressing weird and carrying a sign?

Well, maybe you will. And you know what? Bless your heart for trying. Optimism is inspiring, and if it’s only words, then you’re not hurting anybody. Right?

What I don’t understand are the people who take that step from saying things to throwing things. I don’t understand using violence to make your point. You want to protest the millions of tax dollars spent on safety barricades? Fine. You want to do so by attempting to storm the Convention Centre, thereby proving that every penny was well-spent? Retarded.

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right, and words have power. If you choose to exercise your right to this power, you must accept the responsibility of doing so. Remember what Spider-Man said.

Freedom means that you are able to make your own choices. It does not mean that those choices do not carry consequences.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean you get to set stuff on fire.

It is a horrible shame that peaceful demonstrators are often arrested, mistaken for the violent kind. But the way I figure it is this: if you are peacefully protesting when things get hairy, you’d be best to walk away. If you don’t, and you throw in with those who are throwing things, then that is a choice. Your choice has consequences. You might be arrested. Don’t act so surprised. And why would police arrest you? Because the group you represent are bringing anarchy to the streets, and cops tend to have a kind of zero-tolerance policy on that sort of thing.

Maybe you are an Anarchist. A real one, the kind that believes in a self-governing populace, not the kind that spray-paints circled A’s on streetcars, throws tables through store windows, and screams “fuck capitalism” while breaking into an ATM. There’s nothing in the Anarchist manifesto as I understand it that advocates harming innocent civilians. And to those who are just trying to “fuck the Man” by vandalizing everything in sight: do you really think “the Man” is the one who has to clean that up?

I have friends who work at American Apparel, and other places which were torn apart by rioters. They are not “the Man,” they are people like you who are just trying to get by. Some cannot get to work at all, which is bad news during a recession. True, they were already diverted around the fence by the police, not the protesters, but at least they weren’t afraid to leave their house.

Look, the issue of protesting (and whether it accomplishes jack or shit) is one that hasn’t advanced in decades, and I’m certainly not going to solve that now. Nor am I about to offer answers for the issues that the G20 is here to address. I am but a humble citizen, and have no wisdom to share. All I have are my eyes and ears. And as I look around my own neighbourhood, and listen to the people on the streets, I realize that I am just as lost as the frightened, confused masses around me. No, I am not here to offer any answers. I am only here to ask a single question:

How dare you?

I don’t care how angry you are about the G20. I’m angry too. I was on your side. I believe in your right to express your discontent. You were supposed to be the voice of us all. How dare you take that responsibility and use it to terrorize a city? How dare you take your frustration out on the rest of us? How dare you burn our cars, smash our windows, and hurl shit at our buildings and our homes? How dare you make the decent people of Toronto afraid to leave their houses? HOW DARE YOU?

And to those who used the protests and ensuing riots as an excuse to pick fights and loot stores out of business, well, fuck the lot of you.

I’m angry too. It’s kind of my thing. But do you see how I handle my anger, rioters? Do you see how I express my discontent? With words, assholes. WITH WORDS.

Just where do you get off? How does it occur to you that it is okay to behave like this? Just what exactly is wrong with you? Can’t you look around and see what you’re doing? Don’t you know that you’ve entered mob-mode and are engaged in unjustified violence? How can you possibly think that this is okay?
Well, it’s not okay. Do you hear me? It is NOT OKAY TO RIOT. You will accomplish nothing of value. You will only ruin everyone’s day. If you think that mindless violence is a valid mode of expression, then you are a bad person.

But there will always be people like you. We’ll get over it. We’re resilient like that. We’ve survived blackouts, fires, earthquakes, and even unbelievable douchebags before, and we’ve always bounced back. You may annoy us, even frighten us, but you cannot destroy our resolve.

I am launching my own personal protest against both the G20 and the G20 protesters. I am not going to let you disrupt my life. I will walk down my street without fear, and though I may be cut and bleeding from your broken glass, this city will never know a broken spirit.

As I walked past Yonge and Dundas, I heard the drums. The drum band busking outside the Eaton Centre hadn’t even taken a break. The city burns while our leaders fiddle, and yet the band plays on.

Get over yourselves, violent protesters, you haven’t shaken up anything. If you have something to say, say it, and say it in a language we can understand. Personally, I don’t speak Flying Brick.

Give peace a chance?