This past Friday, June 3, a young page stood during the Throne Speech and held up a homemade sign that read ‘Stop Harper.’ After this event, Brigette DePape promptly released a well-written, concise press release (you can read it here), denouncing the Harper Government’s divisive politics as destructive to Canadian youth and contrary to Canadian values.
Here’s the gist: Brigette DePape is 21 years old and an activist. Originally from Winnipeg, she is a graduate of the University of Ottawa in International Development. She was a participant in the Canadian Senate Page Program and is now banned from Parliament Hill. Following her unprecedented act of civil disobedience, she is the subject of polarized debate.
There have been claims in mainstream news outlets that this was nothing more than a self-serving stunt; that DePape was looking for fifteen minutes of fame.
Well, I think that’s garbage. This sort of petty angst speaks more to the media’s own hypocrisy than some purportedly misinformed page. As one Globe & Mail commentator pointed out in this article, nothing was said about the attack ads that Conservatives ran against former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. But all of the sudden, when a bright, assertive, left-leaning young woman points out that our electoral system allows for a ‘majority’ government with 40% of the votes, she’s labeled an opportunist. Actually, she is organized, intelligent, and thoughtful. She cares deeply about her community and what will happen to the environment, post-secondary education, and the public sector after an unbridled Conservative tenure.
Moreover, Brigette DePape has made clear something we’ve known all along—the downside of peace, order, and good government induces a myopic but fierce allegiance to proceduralism. That this young woman obviously took the time to think about a form of civil disobedience that would have the largest impact, rather than stage an orderly, well-publicized rally that quickly fades into obscurity…well, all these old, white, powerful people (but mostly men) look a little silly, don’t they? And perhaps a wee bit out of touch? Claims that as a page DePape should not have protested in such a venue, are blind to the fact that civil disobedience is at its most effective in just this sort of space: what better place to confront your government than oh, I don’t know, inside of the government?
And don’t tell me this was unprofessional. Know what could also be viewed as ‘unprofessional’? Walk outs. But these are necessary means to redress injustices. What about heckling during Question Period? That’s just disrespectful to the processes surrounding democratic debate. And what about law enforcement officials attacking peaceful protesters during the G20? Yeah, I don’t think the police on duty were at their most professional there, either.
Attempting to brush this aside as the actions of a silly young lady are sexist and ageist. Contrary to mainstream media claims, youth are in fact a powerful entity that are engaged. Clearly, countless attacks levied DePape’s way have far more to do with the decorum deemed fitting for ‘nice young ladies’ than anything else.
When she said Canada needs its own Arab Spring, DePape was accused of speaking out of context, just another wayward lefty who didn’t understand the power of their words. Errrr … I think she is well-aware of what that statement entails and its radical underpinnings. But thanks for asking. To say otherwise is unbelievably patronizing and reflective of an anachronistic ideal of what shape critical discourse should take and who can voice said critiques.
You may agree with DePape’s views and tactics, or you may not. But she is an inspiring example of the power of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action. Democracy is at its best when it’s grassroots and dynamic, taking on numerous forms. It’s collective bargaining. It’s making a decision as a group through consensus, looking ahead beyond immediate benefits. And it’s holding a ‘Stop Harper’ sign during the throne speech.
A simple proclamation to be sure, but one whose boldness and, in my eyes, bravery, is inspiring to the people who were dissatisfied with the May 2 elections. In spite of this government’s claim to a majority, we are the real majority here.
If a homemade stop sign can speak truth to power so eloquently, just think what we can do together.