Tactics and Strategy
A Canadian Case Study
Do protests work to change policies? There’s a mixed bag of results, but most have no more effect than a fart in the wind. As imagined, public protests require a great deal of effort, outreach and resources to gather the like minded or curious in opposition to government actions, much less corporate malfeasance. This work tends to be performed by a few committed zealots assuming legal and media responsibility. Since this is a Long War, activist burnout is a real enemy, like cholera in the trenches.
One person wearing a The End is Nigh sandwich sign is a meme for a reason. Dissent is scattered and fringe, abandon hope ye resistors. That is the major reason protests succeed even when they fail to achieve stated goals. All the lonely people, feeling like no one understands or supports them, become aware that they are part of a movement in agreement on one demand, maybe a medley.
Temporary autonomous zones run by the inmates. Community involvement in Creative Resistance. People pitching in. These are more sustainable in a siege. Strategically, protesters must share the load of work and leading, both to bring them off, fill the streets and grow organically over time. That may be all we have on our side, but it feels like time is missing now.
The whole world began watching Ontario to judge whether protests work. Some were seeing cracking ice in the narrative, others were outraged by the unbelievers. Hordes of truckers and fellow travelers protesting Canada’s border crossing vaxxport mandate clogged the city with their big and small rigs. Their convoys cruised downtown, parked on ring roads and stalled the major border crossing bridges. Thousands of smaller (but still huge) truck (and even hatchback) drivers parked their vehicles in “terrorist” cells across the city, putting five lane urban throughways on a road diet of one open lane for ambulances and slow traffic.
Kitchens, playgrounds, hockey rinks, and tailgate parties sprouted in the streets and parking lots around the capital city. There wasn’t much corporate media coverage of the trucker’s protest this side of the Great White Wall as it swelled, until presstitutes figured out how to cage it. They told us these protesters are all “Far Right.” Swastika swinging Nazis, Lost Cause Rebels, terrorists and white supremacists urinating on Canada’s disabled hero statue.
In thirty years of vaccine research and random mingling with my peeps, never read or met any white supremacist anti-vaxxers. Thought they were all gun nuts and skinhead genealogists, discussing which detergent gets sheets the whitest after stomping the Mud People. Apparently they were breeding in home schooled trailer parks behind the Great White Curtain.
This protest was organized by the “far right side of the spectrum,” I learned from one of KPFA’s radical leftist radio programs. This “fiercely independent” station out of Berkeley is part of the Pacifica network, one of three public stations I get on my car radio. From day one, they have not deviated from National Pharmaceutical Radio’s pandemic narrative. Not one iota. (Yet another Greek variant?) I’m not monitoring FM liberal talk radio, but music stations suck now. AM is mostly LatinX racket, reactionary rants and rehashing sports trivia.
I only caught the last half of What’s Going Down, a Canadian agitprop show usually about environmental catastrophes and Canadian politics Calming stuff. This one broke the mold. Billed as Ottawa, the Far-Right, and the State: Inside the Convoy Protests and the Unfolding Three Way Fight.
The moderator interviewed two earnest anarchists, spokespersons for Punch Up Collective, “a small anarchist collective based in Ottawa, Ontario, on unceded Algonquin land.” They sounded too young to be anarchists, not standard, grizzled cynics who couldn’t get along in a group.
Can’t tell you what the three way fight is about, even though I listened to the entire “podcast” later. So you wouldn’t have to. Word of advice about tactics, don’t send links to hour long podcasts and vlogs without comment. What did you get out of it? Prefer textual analysis, to tell you the truth. That is what I aim for in this Free Press substack newsletter.
I was amused by the irony that dare not say its name, woven through their discussion like a serpent in the garden. The anarchists related their interactions with the decentralized carcamping sites scattered around Canada’s Parliament building. They were audibly impressed with the Truckers Occupation, “eerily familiar to [our] decentralized occupations, [leftists] gathered in smaller sites”, with popup compounds and ad hoc parklets, outdoor kitchens, three portable saunas for occupiers, children’s play areas, and a social scene described as multi generational interaction in frigid conditions.
“They are really dug in, in the midst of winter”, like a “long term camping trip. Burning man, a Church Picnic in a traffic jam.” The woman admired the “enormous amount of helpers.” Traffic Calming was immediate, which urban progressives love when its protected bike lanes but commuting suburbanites hate. In fact, Ottawans elected a crack smoking, obese mayor campaigning to get rid of bicycle lanes way back Before Covid. When he died of a heart attack, they chose his brother. Not sure if he’s hittin’ the pipe, but still hates Traffic Calming, whether truckers or bikers.
Yet, Ottawan suburbanites and Quebecois city dwellers (across the river) crammed into downtown on weekends to join the road diet protest. Church groups that organized direct action protests against mask mandates, lockouts and limiting religious gatherings in 2020, became vaccine refuseniks last year. They are showing up on Sundays to preach the gospel to the pagans. The woman was unhappy about being asked to accept a patriarchal god, even his sacrificial lamb, as her Lord and Savior. She’s vegan after all, although some claim Jesus was a Woeman. (Xe/xim)
That could be a teaching moment for evangelist pro freedom Christian sects, formerly a stalwart ally in the anti-vaxxmovement. Lately, even they are sidelined by paid off television preachers as throwbacks to snake handling. There’s nowhere else to turn to, except health freaks, redneck truckers and fringe heathens. Not all of us are receptive to The Word. Cast not your pearls before Swine. Stick to the Message.
“Freedom is the symbol they are proclaiming, ‘You believe in Freedom, Right?’” she recalled. Not so much in anti-vaxxers’ Freedom, the anarchists admitted. Health and Safety trumps individual right to refuse. There were “signs and graffiti about every conspiracy theory ever heard of.” Not unlike Occupy encampments. Only ten years ago, and already like mythic Woodstock tales to Millennials. Apparently there were no Anarchist Cookbook Free Libraries in the Truckers’ Occupation.
They confessed that most signs and protesters shared “consistent anti-mandate slogans” and hating on Trudeau’s “liberal government.” These young idealists were wistful that these “far right activists are engaging with a much broader range” of uninformed, formerly non-political Canadians, “just like we used to do, but they are creating reactionary forces.” Anarchism is a reactionary force to totalitarianism.
As racialized white people, they felt welcomed despite their masks, but the woman had heard disturbing stories about “racialized people of color” with masks on being shouted at. White men asked to take selfies with black women, then called them racial epithets when they refused. Others were shoved and punched.
Tactically and Strategically =seriously flawed. Whether factual or apocryphal, there’s no upside in threatening already scared people to take off their masks. They wear them to feel safer. Like the wind betting the sun over who could get the man to take off his coat, warmth wins every time.
Ninety percent of Canadians older than 12 are fully vaxxed (by the latest standard) according to NPR, but similar to the untied states, “racialized people of color” are twice as likely to be vaccine “hesitant” as whites. Black Lives Matter contains more fertile ground than Thin Blue Lines.
Don’t dismiss Critical Race Theory as communist infiltration before examining the tactics and strategies used by another fringe minority. We too are oppressed, “legally” discriminated against with New Jim Crow laws and regulations based on vaccine status. Drive Ins replaced Sit ins as a civil rights tactic. Embrace CVT.
One of the major disadvantages of public protests is you can’t control who shows up. Lone nuts, black bloc bank crashers, Antifa provocateurs, drunken patsies, pissed off police and crazed car drivers.
The anarchists affirmed that convoys and campsites were flying the Canadian flag, not bygone banners, but the maple leaf symbol is as “racialized” for northern BIPOCs as the Stars and Bars are for southern ones. Don’t Tread on Me is a more universal banner for pro Health Freedomites. Like the rainbow flag for LGBQTIANs, (there’s coaching videos online on how to pronounce this).
Punch Up’s core mission is to break the fifth wall of white privilege, demonstrate solidarity with racialized others, and are committed to “the free movement of people without regard for nation-state borders.” You’d think they would be ideological allies with racialized white protesters who demand no vaxxports at borders. Instead, the truckers core demand wasn’t seen as a legitimate grievance, merely a ploy for the Conservative Party to hang its hat on. MCGA hats.
Punch Up had participated in Defund the Police protests against racism and violence by Ottawa police, with a “long history of targeting black and indigenous people of color.” They were justifiably upset that white protesters got kid glove treatment by police. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police weren’t called in to “brutally arrest” them. There weren’t snipers on the rooftops like those mobilized against indigenous and BIPOC protests.
The “cops are on their side, they’re sympathetic to the movement” because a “small minority” of police officers are also “resistant to vaccination, but they stand together.” Unlike anarchists with truckers protesting tyrannical government border laws.
A brilliant tactician would have seized this opportunity of a white shield against police oppression to safely educate proletarian masses how the entire system is rotten and must be torn down. Or blown up, whatever anarchists do these days. Am I confusing them with nihilists?
Instead “people are fighting back against these freedom protests.” Three hundred showed up at one rally, organized through slack. “Newbies, angry at the invasion, who want cops and military to come in.” They were opposed to that, but described the “wonderful sight of ordinary Ottawa people who don’t care about politics, just ‘pissed’ about racism they’ve heard about, going to counter protests and protective actions for racialized people who fear the truckers/ allies.” First Nation people, African immigrants, Sikh (technically Caucasian) and veterans of Canada were protesting side by side with their white allies. And they were open to taking selfies.
The earnest anarchists were not won over. “Activists and union leadership have come down against occupation. People are fighting back. Progressive city councilors are calling for more policing.” A “masked counter protest with unions” was being scheduled, but the occupiers were “decentralized, dispersed throughout downtown”, difficult to target.
A civil case was brought by lawyers where one “young woman stood as plaintiff, to charge people for disruption in residents lives.” The constant truck honking was traumatic, “no one could sleep.” The “judge brought down an injunction, honking horns is not political expression.” [His honor ruled, “Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought.” Sounds like politics, though.] They recognized that this “sets up worrying things for when we organize”, potentially banning First Nations cultural expression of drum circles. Talking drums might be kosher.
Truckers honking is a cultural expression of Wake the Fuck Up! The trucker occupation welcomed First Nation drumming and chanting prayers, some even allied with them against a pipeline threatening sacred water somewhere, until their gifted funds were rejected, then seized. Runs on GoFundMe and Canadian banks followed.
The anarchists called “white people waking up to police actions/inactions [saying] ‘what’s the good of you if you can’t do anything’”, cognitive dissonance. That is actually when a person’s brain can not process information countering their ingrained narrative. Kind of like anarchists not recognizing natural allies against a despotic state.
“Organizing in a pandemic sucks, monitoring signal threads to plan something is challenging. Radical activists circles are so depleted, atomized in the last two years. We are a group that many have never met in person, feeling safe to meet has come slowly. An advantage they have is they are not afraid of hanging out without masks.”
Never once did the Boomer radio host or the Millennial collectivists recognize that the goals of the convoy/occupation, opposing totalitarian mandates on injection vaxxports and mask signaling of slavish obedience, align with anarchist and progressive values. Bodes ill, if a motley crew of working class racialized white men and their families, Indigenous traditionals, evangelical Christians, Sikh warriors and fellow travelers can not recruit the lowest hanging fruit of young radicals that our fight is yours. However, Punch Up is a “closed collective.”
The protest was tactically brilliant, yet failed to secure their political goals. Promises were made to end them soon, still unresolved. Radical Activists were not persuaded, although many more apoliticals enthusiastically joined in. Hopes and prayers and tens of millions in donations were mobilized. They set off a worldwide motorized resistance and demonstrated fearless and resourceful tactics. Threatened with cruel and unusual punishments, up to moldering in Mordor’s dungeons, a defensive retreat in the face of tyrannical state power is sound tactics. Survive to fight another day. Strategically, they successfully revealed the true face of Velveteen Rabbit rulers.