Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wake from Your Sleep 


Saturday, in the parlance of our time, I got woke. That is, I became aware. I had a very full schedule so I needed to be prepared. My first priority was breakfast. This may not have done my cholesterol any favours but my customary two poached eggs with ham, cheese and toast was necessary fuel for the day ahead. I would be joining three different consecutive events. At 11 AM, I’d be doing Cycle Toronto’s “Coldest Day of the Year” Ride through the downtown to promote winter cycling, then at 12:30 PM there was the National Day of Action Protest (basically a protest against Donald Trump and Steve Bannon…) at the US Consulate, and lastly at 2 PM, an Introduction to Winter Bike Maintenance presented by Bike Sauce at a local library. The last one was primarily a show of support as I’m pretty accustomed to biking in the winter and know at least the basics of maintenance but both this library branch and the volunteers at the non-profit DIY bike shop, Bike Sauce have been good partners in our bike advocacy work.

Saturday morning was one of the colder days we’ve had recently. It was frosty but not bone chilling so I decided to don light layers from my high-tech long underwear, to fleece, lightweight down jacket, to my bright red Gore-tex jacket. Fearing I was late, I rode pretty hard to the west end meeting point of the ride and had broken a sweat to get there but the high-techery of my clothing proved its mettle and I was still comfortable when I arrived early only to find we’d be waiting for 30 minutes before starting. When the ride did begin, there was about 250 of us swathed in the gaudiest of “performance” gear, the wooliest of winter coats and downiest of jackets. These rides are usually slow motion parades but everyone had self interest in mind as we rode steadily and briskly through a roughly 10 km circuit. Upon finishing a few of us planned to continue on to the US Consulate for the protest which we did after a quick hot chocolate.
“My hope is either he’s impeached or dies peacefully in his sleep.”
When we got to University Avenue, there were already thousands of people gathered, many holding placards such as “Not Today”, “U Can’t Trump This”, “Love Trumps Hate”, “No Ban, No Wall” or “Silence is Violence” and so on. A lot has been made on social media about the humour of these signs and it should be said the mood of the crowd was jovial, spirited and collectively good. I can't say I saw any memorable quips on the signs, though I did overhear someone say, “My hope is either he’s impeached or dies peacefully in his sleep.” It’s been such a strange few weeks that it was comforting to be surrounded by thousands of like-minded strangers. I say this as someone who hates crowds. I’d really do more things, like music festivals or any kind of festival really, if only those types of things didn’t involve crowds. At least a protest in sub-zero temperatures in February minimizes shirtlessness which can’t always be said for public gatherings (see aforementioned music festivals).

After an hour of milling around and some chanting (and maybe one or two free samosas), the time for the bike clinic at the library was coming up so we high tailed it back across town. By this time, I’d been in the cold for over three hours, so I was well and truly chilled and was glad to be in the hearth of the small library. The presentation was surprisingly well attended and gave us a chance to connect with other volunteers.

That’s kind of the point of all of this. It’s not expecting regime change or really any kind of change. David Frum has warned the protests won’t account for much though I seem to recall Vietnam War protests eventually wore down everyone to the point where the war became easier to abandon than to explain its relevance. By attending such rallies, it is comforting and reassuring to know not everyone in the world is a racist, misogynist jerk. Even more importantly, it’s simply wrong to tolerate those ideas which is for me more worrying. It’s easy to recognize the goose-stepping, book-burning fascist but it’s harder to fight against someone who doesn’t burn books because they don’t read books (this idea is related by Neil Postman as foretold by Aldous Huxley). It’s hard to fight complacency. It’s hard to fight against the absence of outrage, because there should be more of that. It’s astonishing what the American president and his cabinet are proposing but it’s more depressing that so many people are not just fine with it but don’t even see the problem. Even if I was the sort of person who thought minimizing immigration was good, or that you should be cautiously skeptical of what you read (or for most, watch on TV) in the mainstream media, I still would recognize the utterly petty contempt and sort of naive clumsiness of the Trump administration. In the past I've mocked Donald Rumsfeld’s evocation of the “unknown unknowns” but he was correct and in fact part of that quote is the very definition of ignorance. If you’re too stupid to know that you are stupid then you are truly lost. Today, the more wrong someone is, the more righteous they seem to be about it, to the point where logic, reason, and straightforwardness are treated with derision. We are living in “the Upside Down”. Conservatives are against free trade, liberals applaud it. The right sells itself as the defender of the common man, while espousing the educated and monied left are the powerful elite. The conspiracy theorists are main stream and main stream news organizations are the plotting, colluding conspiracy. It’s difficult and exhausting to remain critical and thoughtful but it’s worth the effort.

Saturday morning I woke early to “get woke” so Saturday night it was easy to slip into sleep early to "get slept". I can honestly say I slept peacefully and maybe a little smugly but Sunday and every day after I’ll have to “stay woke” and do it all over again.

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