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Something to talk about


Photo Credits: Left - Jesse Winter for StarMetro Vancouver. Right - National Post, courtesy of Jordan Kosik, Facebook

Convoys and conversations: how can we learn if we cannot speak to one another?


Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Talking about education and justice is easier said than done. Sometimes, the issues really hit home. When emotions run high and people are being encouraged to take sides, how can we make space for education and learning?


As you may be aware, there is currently a convoy of transport trucks and supporters traveling from across the country, headed for Ottawa. The group is protesting a range of issues – from vaccine mandates (generally, and specifically the vaccine requirement to cross the border to the United States), to public health restrictions, to the government’s supposedly unlawful actions. [1] It has attracted support from conservative corners, where folks attempt to qualify their support by separating the radicals from the mainstream of the movement. [2] Unfortunately, the radicals are the organizers of the movement.


It is not clear how many convoy supporters agree with the convoy's key organizers who claim COVID is a hoax[3], who believe that global elites are orchestrating the ‘great replacement’ of “anglo-saxons” [4] and who advocate for western separation [5]. One of the organizing groups is circulating a “Memorandum of Understanding” that they claim can force the dissolution of the federal government. [6]


Whatever reasonable grievances the group may have, there is racism, incitement to violence, and much else to unpack here. A lot of it is quite disturbing. I (and, I suspect, one or two of you, dear readers) react to this emotionally. And when I see some of my relations supporting any part of this movement, I am stunned.


As an ally, a settler of privilege, I know it is my responsibility to speak out against racism and scapegoating. So, I have to do something – but what? How? Today, I’d like to share with you what I’m still working out for myself. Maybe we can help each other figure this out.


How can we have reasonable conversations with our loved ones?


I’ll start with two caveats. First, our well-being comes, well, first. If it is not safe, physically or emotionally, to have these conversations with the people in our lives who support these positions, we don’t have to have them.


Secondly, while I’ll focus below on how to speak from a place of reason instead of emotion in these conversations, the emotions still need an outlet - lean on your community. At the same time, remember that it is your friends and family who have personally experienced racism and discrimination who are bearing the brunt of the emotional toll when situations like this one dominate social discourse. Check in with them.


What might help us have meaningful discussion about movements that serve to normalize racism and violence?


(Please know that I make this list, mostly as a reminder for myself. It is the product of long thought and counsel with trusted friends, not expert opinion. It is also a work in progress. Your additions, critiques and questions are welcomed.)
  • Remember the context: we’re in the second year of a pandemic that turned our lives upside down. Even before that, information and discussion has become increasingly polarized and extreme – it’s changing the way we understand the world. [7]

  • Be curious and be empathic. Who is the person you are speaking to? How can you respect and hear them even if you disagree with their ideas?

  • Encourage grounded discussion: do the research, think critically – understand what makes a reliable source, question what you read and learn.

  • Qualify your statements, be precise, avoid generalities. Say what you think you know, and state your sources. Encourage others to do the same.

  • Start small: this is a marathon, not a race – being able to have these conversations in a mutually productive and respectful way is not going to happen overnight. Instead of jumping right to “how could you support racist organizers?” – start with questions about sources of information, point out dubious quality and overt bias. Identifying data and well-sourced, critically reported media does not have to be a political discussion.

  • Check your own bias: remember, your loved one is probably thinking the same about you and your position as you are theirs. Also, you’re getting your information from your own silo. As best you can, seek out neutral reporting, and check your facts.

  • Avoid logical fallacies. For example, don’t succumb to the “good people on both sides” line. Are all of the convoy supporters also defenders of the ‘white race’ or planning to overthrow the government? No. That does not absolve the protest of its deeply problematic elements and roots. There are many ways to challenge perceived government overreach without aligning with white supremacists and financing them. [8]

  • Don’t assume you know where your loved one is coming from. If your hope is that they will dialogue with you, that is a two-way street. Work to cultivate a space where you can talk openly, ask questions honestly, and continue the conversation non-judgmentally. Focus on building trust, even if you cannot agree.

  • Practice all of the above with a “safe” person, someone you trust, and someone who will challenge you. Test your argument and your reasoning. Practice sharing your sources and dialoguing rationally.

In this situation with the convoy, and many others, there are big questions that require background, nuance, and patience to understand and discuss. There is a lot of unlearning and learning to do to be able to talk together about why, for example, the Wet'suwet'en protests (especially the rail blockades of February 2020) appear to be treated so differently from this convoy protest - the two pictures above, for example.


This is why education and justice are tied together. Without space to learn and discuss, it is hard to talk about what justice means and how it can be achieved. Facing today’s polarized discourse, especially within our own families, will require making and holding space where we can work to close the gap between us.


Until next time,


Amy and Team ReconciliACTION

 

[1] From the group’s GoFundMe page: “We are taking our fight to the doorsteps of our Federal Government and demanding that they cease all mandates against its people. Small businesses are being destroyed, homes are being destroyed, and people are being mistreated and denied fundamental necessities to survive.”

Tamara Lich and B.J. Dichter, “Freedom Convoy 2022” (14 January 2022), online: gofundme <www.gofundme.com/f/taking-back-our-freedom-convoy-2022?qid=88f7ce4b7dbb0eb4fe232299d7e185d0&fbclid=IwAR2c-56WUU3eOVwvaDsbSxjheE5VewZaIDfk8iDKj1dXxza3sE6hlTJPECc>.


From one of the organizing groups, Canada Unity, which is circulating a “Memorandum of Understanding” demanding that the Government of Canada fulfill the group’s demands or “RESIGN their lawful positions of authority immediately”: “Do you want your jobs and your lawful freedoms back? Do you want the vax passport and fines to be dropped? Do you want to be on the right side of history and of the law? Yes? With enough signatures, this Memorandum of Agreement can do all that and then some!! If you said yes - then please help defend our Canadian lawful freedom of choice and #SignTheMOU!”

Canada Unity, “M.O.U.”, online: <canada-unity.com/mou/>.


[2] Andrew Sheer, “Thank you Truckers! Trudeau is attacking personal liberty and threatening everyone's ability to get groceries because of his overreach on vaccine mandates. He is the biggest threat to freedom in Canada.” (24 January 2022 at 14:48), online: Twitter <twitter.com/AndrewScheer/status/1485731133404889090>.


Jason Kenney, “Ottawa’s trucker vaccine mandate has to go. We are at the peak of supply chain constraints with empty shelves popping up all over the country. We can't afford to lose thousands of truckers.” (22 January 2022 at 9:26), online: Twitter <twitter.com/jkenney/status/1484925402002989062>.


Candice Bergen, “My statement supporting Canadian Truckers.” (25 January 2022 at 15:31), online: Twitter <twitter.com/CandiceBergenMP/status/1486104514964955145>


CBC News, “Conservative MP discusses his support for truckers' protest” (26 January 2022), online (video): CBC News <www.cbc.ca/player/play/1996667971692>.


Rex Murphy, “Reopen Parliament early for Freedom Convoys arrival in Ottawa”, National Post (26 January 2022), online: <nationalpost.com/opinion/rex-murphy-reopen-parliament-early-for-freedom-convoys-arrival-in-ottawa>.


[3] For the purposes of this piece, we have identified as key organizers Tamara Lich (who set up the gofundme account and claims to have raised nearly $400,000 personally) and the list of regional organizers for drivers which is posted here and linked to on the group’s official Facebook page. Alberta’s organizer is listed as Pat King, a familiar name from the province’s alt-right.


Bethania Palma, “No, a Canadian Court ‘Victory’ Didn’t Prove COVID ‘Is a Hoax’” (10 August 2021), online: Snopes <www.snopes.com/fact-check/alberta-court-ruling/>.


[4] VestsCanada, “King dives head first into the Great Replacement/white genocide myth. It's all a conspiracy, see. Because whites have "the strongest bloodlines." He calls it the "anglo-saxon replacement" so antifa can't get mad at him. Who is behind it? Muslims and the UN. /2” (9 August 2019 at 19:17), online: Twitter <twitter.com/VestsCanada/status/1159997274900041729>.


[5] Maverick Party, “Tamara Lich: Secretary,” online: <www.maverickparty.ca/tamara-lich>.


Maverick Party, “Projects”, online: <www.maverickparty.ca/projects>.


[6] Canada Unity, supra note 1.


[7] Cass R. Sunstein, #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2017).


See also, The Social Dilemma, Film (Netflix, 2020).


[9] See supra notes 3-7. The gofundme page at note 1 has raised nearly $7M and though funds were temporarily held back from disbursement, gofundme began releasing funds on 27 January 2022, according to an update posted by B.J. Dichter.


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