There are some things in this world that are worth fighting for.
There may even be some things worth going to war for.
And then there are some things that are worth so much that they are worth making peace for.
Today I attended a peaceful gathering in front of the supreme court of Canada. What I heard was pretty standard. What I felt caught me completely off guard.
A little context. Indigenous peoples from across the country are attending hearings at the Supreme Court about drilling rights off the Baffin Islands.
I attended because I am on the side of free speech and on the side of governments truly giving people a voice who could not have one without support. I am not looking to take sides on an issue that I know nothing about. I know that the issues are important, so I really want our Canadian democracy to work – for everybody – on all sides of the political spectrum – so that the right solutions are found – instead of the politically expedient ones. So, I have made it a personal goal to not sit idly by any more when people are struggling to exercise their democratic rights to be heard. As a clergy person, I want to learn more about what it takes to leverage disagreement to forge progressive and responsible communities. Given what has been going on the world, it seems like it’s the least I can do.
What caught me off guard? I didn’t realize this was going to be so emotional.
A little more context: Grace came through a smiling police officer this morning. Caught in a river of indigenous peoples from across Canada (the woman I was walking with told me she had come in this morning from London, Ontario), we were struggling to make our way into the parade. With a big smile on his face, the officer said “Hey folks, you can cross over here. It’s safe. We’re going to block off this part of the street for you.” No one moved. Undaunted and still smiling, he called us again. This time a few of us moved and then we all made our way. “You can just meet up with the rest of the people there,” he said. I wish I could have gotten his name when I stopped to say thank you. He and his fellow officers, both from the RCMP and local Ottawa police deserve more than a thank you. Their professionalism and bedside manner were striking in their peacefulness. More than saying “we respect your right to assemble”, the presence of the police this morning said “we know that our society will only be better when people share what is serious in a peaceful manner”.
And yet more context: Trisha and I took our place among the 300 or so people who were there. Maybe there were more – hard to tell. I looked around and you could pick out the so-called “white people” so easily. Remove the millennials that were part of the “white group” and we were in a really small minority of people. A minority of two. The only ones. She and I. It didn’t really hit me until I the speeches began. Because I had no idea what the exact details were about, I had to listen for different things. And even then, I didn’t really understand. My mind began to wander. And then….fear took hold. I wasn’t afraid for my physical safety. I was afraid for something bigger. I was afraid of the stuff that comes after fear of the other takes hold. A voice pierced the fear. “Why are we here, needing to go through the courts, when all we needed to do was sit down and work things out? We are an interconnected web of creation,” one of the bandleaders said, tears in her eyes.
And then, I began to fight tears. Not out of sentimentality for a cause I know very little about. Out of something more basic.
How would I feel if someone showed up at my door and served me papers telling me that I needed to leave my home? If I didn’t understand why, if no one really listened to my grief, what kind of a person would I become in time? Shudder the thought. I would not be a pretty person. I would be filled with disillusionment. And then where would that lead me?
That, I thought, is what it feels to be marginalized. In my imagination there I am. Afraid, desperate, lost and worthless because what lies outside my door wants me to just disappear. But I don’t want to disappear. I don’t want to fight either. I want to make a contribution to a better world. I want to share what I know and to learn from people who know other things that I don’t. I want to live in a way that builds hope – a community of diverse people who want what’s best for me as much as I want what’s best for them.
I am woefully ignorant about the issues surrounding energy and the environment. But I am not so ignorant about how fragile democracy can be. My father lost his whole family because of hate. My mother lost a good portion of hers. It may have happened in another time in another part of the world, but it was the same intolerance, the same failure of will to stand up for what unites human beings and the same temptation be “polite” in the face of prejudice that threatens us now – on many levels.
Will you join me in working for peace so that reasoned voices can sort it out – sit down and work it out – as the band chief said? She is right. We are an interconnected web of creation.
I believe in free speech, not to have an opinion to do my own thing, but to have a common understanding that we are powerful and beautiful in our diversity. It takes a lot of personal responsibility to be diverse. I must learn about who I am for better or for worse to hold on to what is better – and to do that because I love my neighbor as myself.
The apostle Paul wrote “Test everything, hold fast to what is good”. There are some things so important in the world, they are worth making peace for. It is time we stop calling what happened today “PROTEST”.
It is time for a new word.
What would you call it?