By Orinoco Tribune Staff – Mar 31, 2022
From January 29 until February 23, 2022, a convoy of big rigs descended on Canada’s capital, paralyzing the downtown core, demanding an end to vaccine mandates that would cost truckers their livelihood, and protesting against the government’s response to the pandemic. Joined by between 5,000 and 20,000 protestors at its peak, the “Freedom Convoy” occupied downtown Ottawa, sounding air horns and disrupting traffic. The polarizing events and accompanying media coverage briefly thrust Canada onto the world stage.
Now that the smoke has cleared, Orinoco Tribune’s editorial team, based in Venezuela and including members from around the world, recently discussed the international implications of the events during the panel “The Geopolitical Ramifications of Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’: Orinoco Tribune Editorial Room Panel #1.” The panel marked the first in a series of events in which the outlet’s contributors and editors hold an informal discussion on a topical issue. Participants included Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza, Saheli Chowdhury, Dana Dhailieh, Steve Lalla, Robert Quinones, and Kahlil Wall-Johnson.
In particular, the discussion centered around a series of questions which have divided commentators: was the Freedom Convoy a collection of right-wing racists complaining about infringements of their white privilege—a gang of Canadian Trumpers? And if so, what would this imply for progressives and revolutionaries? Alternatively, did the demonstration constitute a legitimate workers’ uprising? Should socialists support or encourage this movement?
Webster’s Dictionary defines astroturfing as “organized activity that is intended to create a false impression of a widespread, spontaneously arising, grassroots movement in support of or in opposition to something (such as a political policy) but that is in reality initiated and controlled by a concealed group or organization (such as a corporation).”
Mao Zedong, on the other hand, offered words of wisdom that seem applicable: “The attitude of Communists towards any person who has made mistakes in his work should be one of persuasion in order to help him change and start afresh and not one of exclusion, unless he is incorrigible… As for people who are politically backward, Communists should not slight or despise them, but should befriend them, unite with them, convince them and encourage them to go forward… Communists must never separate themselves from the majority of the people or neglect them by leading only a few progressive contingents in an isolated and rash advance, but must take care to forge close links between the progressive elements and the broad masses. This is what thinking in terms of the majority means.”
Was the Freedom Convoy a grassroots movement?
The convoy managed to raise at least $18 million through a GoFundMe campaign and a GiveSendGo campaign. Journalists reported that about 55% of the funds raised for the “Freedom Convoy” through the GiveSendGo campaign, which reached $8.4 million, came from US donors. For those who have selflessly given their time and money as activists fighting against appropriation of Indigenous lands, fighting for workers’ rights, or opposing police brutality, or Canada’s imperialist and warmongering foreign policy, these unimaginable sums of money did not help to cement the Convoy’s status as a “grassroots” movement.
Panelists expressed opinions that were nuanced. Criticism was levied at the Trudeau administration, a government that has frequently been criticized by Orinoco Tribune for its peonage to US policy, particularly towards Venezuela. In addition, a critique of the “Freedom Convoy” itself was presented, although there was also a recognition of the genuine issues raised by some of the movement’s participants. The “Freedom Convoy” opposed vaccine mandates in Canada, an issue that became more urgent with the elimination of social programs such as the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which ended in October 2021, that had helped to protect workers who lost jobs due to COVID-19.
“I would say that the COVID pandemic is a political pandemic,” said US-based Robert Quinones. “So when I see people say the government is doing too much, it makes me feel like the movement is against me, because I feel like the government should do more—that too many people are dying, that we should have more responsibility from above to take care of the general public.”
The Emergency Measures Act
In addition to freezing funds that had been raised by the Freedom Convoy protestors, the Trudeau government took the radical step of implementing the Emergency Measures Act, which had never been enacted since its creation in 1988. This measure replaced the War Measures Act, which was invoked by Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre Elliott in order to arbitrarily arrest 497 Quebec residents during the 1970 October Crisis, including journalists, labor organizers and activists who had no connection with the Quebec sovereigntist movement at the heart of those events in 1970.
The invocation of the Emergency Measures by Justin Trudeau was a sign of the ineffectiveness of the local police force faced with this particular protest movement, for reasons that are particular to the political landscape of Canada. This points to a dangerous rift within the nation’s security forces. After all, Ottawa Police are experts at clearing protests, which occur with great frequency on Parliament Hill. In addition, they have dealt with armed assassins killing a guard on the grounds of the Parliament, and breaching the Parliament intent on inflicting further harm, as happened in October, 2014.
When the Emergency Measures Act was finally passed, three weeks into the Trucker Convoy’s occupation of numerous blocks of downtown Ottawa, many commentators correctly pointed out that it was a draconian decision taken by a faltering national leadership. Others, however, also believed that the invocation of the War Measures Act was sufficient proof that the Freedom Convoy was a legitimate workers’ movement, and accused those opposing the Convoy of being in bed with the Trudeau government.
“How I see it,” said Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza, “there is no relation between criticizing the Freedom Convoy and opposing, at the same time, that crazy strategy of Trudeau’s government, of implementing the Emergency Act… Among some leftists, that was the climax of the whole blame laid on some leftists for not supporting the [Freedom Convoy] movement.”
“That is why I had shared the statement from the Communist Party of Canada,” said Saheli Chowdhury. “We can condemn both the Convoy and the Emergency Act and every other step that Trudeau and his government took in order to suppress the protests. If someone is really on the left, they would understand this position.”
As Steve Lalla pointed out, the use of the Emergency Act was surprising, because it was not needed when police forces arrested over 3,500 people during Quebec’s Maple Spring uprising in 2012, nor was it needed for the activation of 2,500 Canadian Armed Forces personnel during the 77-day Oka Standoff in 1990, during which two people were killed.
“A lot of this is related to conversations about January 6,” said Lalla. “It is obvious that these repressive measures will be used against the left. There is no doubt about that, we all know that, and it is dangerous to encourage an imperialist, capitalist government to invoke these types of measures. But, more importantly—and this is where the comparison to January 6 became obvious to many people—we understood that on January 6 there was some type of internal collaboration with the security forces on the Capitol grounds with the demonstrators. We saw over and over again how easy it was for them to get in, how there were almost no barricades when compared to other protests, and that’s really important in the context of this trucker convoy.”
The comparison with recent upheavals in the US was discussed in depth. Regarding both the Freedom Convoy and the January 6 Storming of the Capitol, for example, an important distinction must be made between supporting the demonstrators, and acknowledging that they may constitute an important repository of potential revolutionary energy.
“I am in America,” added Quinones. “And I have only been fed the most recent American version of that, and the flags they are waving, the yellow snake—Don’t Tread On Me—and the Blue Lives Matter flag, all those flags, whenever I see them, I am like ‘oh, I gotta go. This is not for me.’”
Political education through struggle
“Fascism is capitalism in decay” is a popular slogan frequently misattributed to Lenin. In fact, Lenin described imperialism as “decaying capitalism.” It was R. Palme Dutt, of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who wrote The Question of Fascism and Capitalist Decay, the source for this slogan. As capitalism struggles to respond to the medical and economic crisis of COVID-19, movements sprung up on the left and right of the political spectrum, and everywhere in between. In some cases, as the working class becomes radicalized, a lack of political awareness becomes clear.
“I don’t see it as a substitute for political education,” commented Dana Dhailieh, who has Syrian and Palestinian roots, “or for trying to form proper left-wing movements. As someone who was born in Canada, part of the diaspora, and migrant communities … people are quite lost at an identity level. To see how fast this movement spread and how fast people jumped onto it, speaks to the society, as a symptom of this neoliberal haven that has popped up in Canada.”
At times the descriptive power of the left/right dichotomy fails; it is, after all, a simplification. Movements and the individuals who compose them can possess characteristics from opposing sides of the spectrum, and they can switch positions drastically at any time. What is certain is that popular uprisings of every sort will accelerate in the imperial core as the US-dominated unipolar world continues to crumble. As one of its closest allies, Canada will not be exempt from this tendency. As we progress, both debate and tangible action are required in order to ensure that Canada, the Americas, and the united workers of the world continue moving forward, towards socialism and away from reaction, fascism, and neoliberalism.
Featured image: A protester faces off against police in central Ottawa. Photo: Alex Kent, Getty Images.
Editor2https://orinocotribune.com/author/yullma/December 6, 2018