‘How does protest help?’ brings vivid discussion to south Vancouver

A Defend our Coast protest at the B.C. legislature in Victoria. Photo: Jacqueline Langen

A crowd of activists, professionals and academics gathered at the Unitarian Church in south Vancouver on Tuesday to discuss if protests can result in real change.

The event, called “How does protest help?” was part of Simon Fraser University’s Philosophers’ Café series, with discussions on different topics taking place throughout Metro Vancouver.

An SFU prof curated the discussion

A group of about 20 sat in a circle led by Sarah Fleming, a senior lecturer in the department of Linguistics at SFU.

A wide array of topics were covered surrounding protest, including government spending, the importance of speaking up, education and apathy in society.

Fleming asked the group tough questions, including “What is required of protests?,” “What is the goal of protests?” and “Will the government ever get good enough that we don’t need to protest?”

Citing uprisings from across history and around the world, the group discussed both major and minor issues in their two-hour discussion.

Although there was a general consensus that protests can have power, there were some differing opinions among the crowd.

Local banker said Occupy Movement wasn’t focused enough

Seymour Kelly, who works in investment management, noted his surprise at the ineffectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement and emphasized that protests must be specific to work.

“The public purse is depleted. We don’t have all these excesses where we can say, ‘what do we want?’ because guess what folks, we’re operating in a deficit,” said Kelly.

“We’ve got to manage our resources better because our system is – and I’ll use a very kind word – broken.”

Although some disagreed, Kelly added that he believes the power in protest is in numbers.

“[We have] the power individually, but we have to use it collectively,” he said.

Non-consumerism could be one way to protest

Chris Dalton, an activist and retired post office employee, said consuming nothing at all would be the most effective way of dealing with governments.

He said that becoming non-consumers but being focused could have an effect. “Money seems to be the thing that’s in control of this planet,” he said.

He also said he believes protest won’t work unless it affects people directly.

“It’s got to be close to home. It has to be almost life threatening,” said Dalton, adding that this is a problem, since sometimes things aren’t so black and white.
“Some of our rights are starting to get chiseled at,” he said.

The media plays a role in how protests are received by the public

The media’s role in protests was also a hot topic, with a general agreement that without media coverage, protests wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

But some were left questioning who controls the media, and expressed disappointment at the way protests like the Occupy Movement were covered in the news.

Multiple Philosophers’ Café events take place throughout November and December across Vancouver.

Reported by Cara McKenna

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