by Susan MacVittie
Photo Credit: Fireweed
When First Nations, dressed in regalia and beating drums and singing, slowly paraded through the crowd that had gathered in front of the Provincial Legislature in Victoria for Monday’s Defend Our Coast rally, I knew it was going to be an empowering day.
Despite being an overcast and chilly Monday, thousands of people flooded to the Parliament lawn to hear BC First Nations and others passionately speak-out against pipeline projects and oil tankers in BC.
Like any good rally there were costumes, music, signs and banners.
One action saw hundreds of people carrying a giant black banner, measuring 235 metres, the size of a super tanker, encircled the grounds of the B.C. Legislature.
The “radicals’ included people from all walks of life and all ages.
One older woman held a simple green piece of paper that read, “This is my first protest banner, but NOT MY LAST!"
It was a message that was repeated throughout the day: People are committed to stopping pipelines and tankers in BC.
And it wasn't just those tree-hugging hippies speaking out.
One after another, First Nation leaders took the mic and spoke passionately about protecting the land and our democratic rights. They were joined by NDP and Green Party elected members, BC Teachers Federation, Canadian Federation of Students, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians , Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and environmental groups.
No matter how many laws Harper tries to quietly pass through legislature without a proper debate, as he is trying to do with the Canada-China Trade Agreement, and no matter how silent the media remains, as has been happening with the glaring omission of reporting on the Trade Agreement, people are raising their voices and coming together to oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline and others.
Dave Coles, national President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union, was met with cheers when he described the pipeline as a, "job-killer, not a job creator" and exclaimed, "don't let anyone tell you there is a divide between the labour movement and the environmental movement. If they do they're lying to you. We are united!"
His union represents many of the workers affected and he said he was there to "say unequivocally, our union stands against this pipeline!"
As David Suzuki and Executive Director of Coastal First Nations Art Sterrit wrote in Monday’s Globe & Mail, “Underlying the widespread opposition to tankers on the coast is a much broader discontent with the way our social and political systems are working. People are angry about the decisions that degrade and destroy the foundation of life on Earth. When government should have stepped forward to protect Canadians and the environment, ours gutted Canada’s environmental laws.”
Speaking out about Enbridge is more than an environmental issue. Enbridge is the catalyst for an unsettled feeling that has been brewing as Canadians witness the erosion of environmental regulations and democratic rights under the autocratic leadership of Harper. It's about stopping the legal free reign given to international corporations who line their pockets with our resources.
When Grand Chief Stewart stated, “If necessary we will fight this at the barricades on the land itself."
The crowd roared their approval in response and the chant of, “The people united, will never be defeated” echoed over Victoria Harbour.
It didn’t matter if the Legislature sat empty (the BC govt decided not to return to work this fall), or fat cats in Ottawa and China were making back room deals, because the symbolism of bringing First Nations, politicians, labour, environment and a host of other organizations and citizens together to work towards a cause is in itself a powerful movement. And that is empowering.
As one sign read, "Chairman Harper, We Won't Let You Sell Our Coast To China!"