One afternoon last week I took part in a protest against former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres being allowed into Canada. Both spoke at a Simon Wiesenthal Centre fundraiser deep inside the bowels of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
The protest was staged by the group Actions4Palestine, but, as someone who was a regular at protests 40 and 50 years ago, I was disappointed by the small size of the protest crowd, and that our group made no attempt to explain their cause to passers by.
The protest was definitely justified. Kissinger, who turned 93 last week, is one of the worst living war criminals. In 1973, he masterminded a U.S. scheme to help a brutal military dictator overthrow Chile’s democratically elected government, and supported brutal regimes in a number of other countries.
Shimon Peres supported several Israeli actions against Palestine, include serving in the Haganah, a Zionist Militia that massacred Palestinians during 1948-1952. He was involved in the massacre of Jenin and gave the green light for Israel’s violent incursion against besieged Gaza in 2008.
The Canadian Jewish News reported that almost 2,500 people attended the fundraiser, which raised more than $3.75 million for the Centre.
While some 130 folks said on Facebook they would come out for the protest, fewer than 70 showed up.
A bullhorn was used to blast out slogans that were repeated by placard-carrying protesters as they walked back and forth on the street and later stood on the street in front of the Metro Centre.
The demonstration reminded me of any one of a number of protests I took part in during the 60s and 70s, except perhaps more people would have shown up in those days.
Our group had no intention of trying to disrupt the meeting by getting into the building, perhaps by a back entrance. Many of them were long-time protest warriors who have experienced police violence.
Police not taking chances
For their part, the police were taking no chances. On hand were about 15 police officers, all with big black batons, a paddy wagon, three police cars, and a dog barking viciously from the paddy wagon. When protesters moved beyond where they were supposed to be, police asked them to move back.
We didn’t see Kissinger or Peres, but I hope the two war-hawks were told that our group was out there. Kissinger is dogged everywhere he goes, and he could be arrested for war crimes in some countries.
If one of our group’s goals was to inform the public about what was going on, we failed badly. Folks walking along the street awkwardly passed us by.
Early in the protest, three small groups of people were gawking at us from in front of the Metro Centre entrance. I decided to walk over and talk to them. I asked a group of four female lawyers taking part in a law seminar if they knew what was going on. “No, we have no idea,” said one of them, as they gathered round. They could hear the word Israel being blasted out from the bullhorn.
I explained to the group what Kissinger had been involved in. After a brief chat, heads started nodding. Now that they understood, they agreed the protest was a good idea. I moved on to talk with three businessmen, and they had a similar reaction.
I wondered if I would have the same luck with the police. I strolled past the paddy wagon with the vicious dog, and stopped in front of four policemen. They didn’t know what the protest was about. After I explained what was going on, two of the officers seemed sympathetic.
Even though the protest didn’t accomplish very much, I don’t want to belittle those taking part. Some of them and/or their families had personally experienced the wrath of the brutal Israeli regimes. They have no doubt tried different ways of protesting without much success.
Nevertheless, with such a small turnout, and failing to communicate with people, the protest seemed it was pretty much a wasted activity. The kind of event we staged alienates everyday people.
If groups want to be effective, they need to change their methods.
First of all, perhaps the groups that stage protests should meet and make plans to support each other’s campaign better. Old rivalries should be put aside. Forming a co-ordinating committee would be a good idea. Some unions officially support the causes groups are campaigning on, so they should be expected to support activities.
Small protests should be cancelled
Protests that attract fewer than 100 people probably should be called off.
In terms of confronting the likes of Kissinger, without tipping off anyone, three or four people could have tried to meet his airplane. Where was he staying? Picket the homes of the people who brought him to Toronto.
A bullhorn can be effective if used in a way that passer bys understand what’s being said. Union-style moving picket lines can be effective if they are more friendly than aggressive.
Whenever there’s a protest, three or four people should try to talk with passers by and gawkers. This is a chance to politely convince folks of the importance of the demonstration.
I don’t know what other actions are taken by groups these days. But with the Internet such a powerful tool now, skilled techies can disrupt communications and close down websites. Actions4Palestine has an excellent Facebook page:
The organization behind the visit, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, also should have been targeted.
Contact Nick Fillmore at firstname.lastname@example.org
. . . → Read More: A Different Point of View….: Protest against Kissinger/Peres like the ‘70s; maybe it’s time for some new tactics