On a chilly November day I stood with a large crowd in front of a stage near Toronto City Hall, listening to speeches about the wilful failings of our current mayor.
He admits to having bought illegal drugs. He sometimes shows up drunk at his workplace and in public places. He casually flings slurs and swearwords at various groups of people and refuses to consider any opinions that do not mesh with his own. Despite urgings by his municipal colleagues and his friends, he denies that he needs to take time off for addiction treatment and stubbornly refuses to step aside from his position of city leadership. He cannot see that he is hurting the very community he claims to love.
As we heard such truth spoken at the downtown rally, we applauded, cheered, booed, and cried out “Shame!” Drummers added to the noisy protest. When the speeches ended, as one body we spontaneously turned away from the stage and slowly walked toward the front doors of City Hall where dutiful police waited for us behind metal barriers. Contrary to one media report, we did not “storm” City Hall. I know. I was there. It’s a good reminder that what the media report is not always exactly accurate. ;-o
At this protest there were no violent infiltrators so we law-abiding (unlike our mayor) but frustrated Torontonians stood as close to the government building as allowed, yelling at the top of our lungs. We wanted Rob Ford to give up his position as mayor of our city. Subsequently the huge majority of City Council passed an official recommendation that the mayor step down from his office. Neither they nor we have any power to force Mr. Ford to leave. And he still refuses. So what's the point?
Many scoff at all such protests. If you can’t force change, why waste your energy parading and shouting? Many look down their noses at the “Occupy Movement” and “Take Back the Night’s” annual march, seeing such public displays as utterly useless. What good does it do? What effect do such brief demonstrations have?
It occurred to me that many would say the same about church services and other worship gatherings. What good does it do getting together to listen to yet another sermon telling us that there is a transcendant and loving Someone beyond human kind; that we are called to love our enemies; that Jesus welcomed the broken and lost, saving his criticism for show-offs? What good does it do to sing and pray words like “Your will be done on earth” or “Oh God, our help in ages past, our hope in years to come”?
Like our attendance at church gatherings, joining such non-violent protests first of all reminds us about our personal values and our goals in life.
Secondly it provides a chance to publicly express our refusal to conform. We reject our culture's priorities of greed, coercion, and selfishness. When I am part of a crowd shouting, “Hey Mister, Mister, get your hands off my sister!” or “Whose streets? Our streets!” or “Rob Ford has got to go!”, I am calling aloud what I believe to be truth.
Thirdly, when we join others who are like-minded, we see that we are companions on the slow journey to peace and justice.
Instead of muttering alone at home, by participating, I am helping to fight feelings of despair and powerlessness in myself and in others. When the gathering ends, I leave feeling stronger and more hopeful about taking my next small, practical step for change, instead of giving up. Maybe spectators, as well, will find new motivation for positive action.
Dear Reader, I invite you to join me. In one way or another, shout it out!