The Council of Canadians organizes and participates in numerous protests every year.
And while a government or corporation that concedes on an issue would never admit that protests contributed to their decision to do so – and others argue that protests have no impact whatsoever or even actively disparage them – the evidence is mounting that protests do make a difference.
In an opinion piece published by the CBC today, freelance writer Rosemary Westwood comments, “The fact is, protests seem to change minds and shift public opinion. And that’s why, for many, it makes sense to slander the movements they dislike.”
She cites both Black Lives Matter and Idle No More protests as examples.
Westwood notes, “A striking example of the power of protest is that of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., the existence of which has been correlated with a dramatic shift in American perceptions of systemic racism. In 2015, 59 per cent of Americans polled by the Pew Research Centre said they think the country needs to do more to bring equal rights to white and black Americans — up from 49 per cent only a year earlier. That’s not definitive proof, but it would be hard to deny the impact of protests — such as that over the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody in April 2015 — has had on public awareness of race issues in the U.S.”
And she adds, “We’ve seen the same trends in Canada over perceptions of Indigenous issues. In 2013, a majority of Canadians didn’t support Idle No More protests and believed Indigenous Canadians were the authors of their own suffering. By 2016 — after years of demonstrations, coupled with the tabling of the widely publicized Truth and Reconciliation report — those views began to shift, and an Environics Institute poll found one quarter of Canadians said their views of Indigenous peoples had improved.”
Polling has also shown that protests are popular among people in this country. In 2012, an Environics poll found that 62 per cent supported the Occupy movement; that same poll found that 56 per cent supported the protests in Quebec over increased tuition fees for students, the provincial austerity agenda, and attacks on the environment; and a Nanos poll found that 40.6 per cent support Idle No More, with the relatively high finding of 13.9 per cent without an opinion. Forty per cent is roughly the same level of popular support that elected the current federal Liberal government.
And Quartz reports, “A clever analysis by economists from Harvard University and Stockholm University finds that protests do in fact have a major influence on politics, just not in the way you might think. Their research shows that protest does not work because big crowds send a signal to policy-makers—rather, it’s because protests get people politically activated.”
Furthermore, The Guardian reports, “Historical studies suggest that it takes 3.5 per cent of a population engaged in sustained nonviolent resistance to topple brutal dictatorships. If that can be true in Chile under Gen Pinochet and Serbia under Milosevic, a few million Americans could prevent their elected government from adopting inhumane, unfair, destructive or oppressive policies.”
One way to engage in community organizing, become politically activated and help make needed change is to join a Council of Canadians chapter.
For information on how to do so, please click here.