Split the road, Jack: the (unequal) freedom to rally in peace.
What do you get when you bring together a caravan of truckers, a frustrated public, and an army of social media commenters? Well: turns out, you get front page news and wall to wall coverage of the “Freedom Rally” on every major network.
Hark! What rough beast comes slouching down the highway? Oh, look, it’s a convoy of truckers, screeching and honking their way into the headlines. The concerns of the protestors aside, the media attention focussed on the #FreedomRally is astonishing: it has provoked a thunderous debate whose sound and fury signifies… racism.
Flashback three years ago, when Indigenous activists called on the public to take action in response to the violent arrest and removal of Indigenous land defenders from their lands. Under the tagline #shutdowncanada, they aimed to block rails, ports and roads to force the government into good-faith negotiations with Wet’suwet’en Title holders.
Today, a Google search for #shutdowncanada brings up a single story on APTN with a 2-minute video, some social media posts and a deep-dive by a right-wing think tank that grossly exaggerates the movement’s impact. There was plenty of thought-provoking commentary for the media to amplify – check out this panel, with Molly Wickam and Naomi Klein – but #shutdowncanada received nothing like the 24/7 coverage given to this week’s “Freedom Rally”.
Why is it that the media swivels its spotlight to land on #FreedomRally when, all across the country, Indigenous land defenders are being quietly, ruthlessly, removed from their territory at gunpoint for protecting their lands and upholding their laws? Do only matters of concern to settlers cause us to cock our ears, even as we turn away from those whose deep-rooted wisdom is based on a worldview that stubbornly refuses to be reduced to a sound-bite?
Imagine having so much power and privilege that you could issue a national call to take over highways, knowing you’d be unlikely to encounter armed police and violent arrest? Every media outlet in the country has repeated the demands issued by the truckers convoy. Now: imagine if you had stood with your family for weeks in minus 35 Celsius weather in northern B.C., according to laws you are bound by blood and kinship to uphold? That’s what the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en land defenders continue to do in the face of oil and gas industry trespass on their lands. Not only do they face a $200-million dollar corporate lawsuit, their story and their plight makes the news only when there are flashing blue and red lights of police raids to briefly illuminate their struggle.
Sadly, infuriatingly, it IS that stark a racial divide. Regardless of what tone the coverage of the trucker’s convoy takes, we still live in a country where having status as a settler confers the privilege to stage attention-grabbing protests: without the fear of brutality.