Lessons we can learn from protesters

The biggest problem with protests isn’t necessarily the protesters but how we react to them and their message.

This has clearly been the frustration for pipeline protesters, including those at an event last week in front of the Legislature in Regina.

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The loss of oil patch jobs because of a downturn in the oil economy made worse by the lack of pipelines is a serious problem. Yet it very much seems the federal Liberal Government and eastern Canada can’t hear the concern.

This was Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s message last week, when he stood before the protesters in -30 C windchill.

“We feel like we’ve been left out in the cold,” Moe told 200 or so pro-pipeline protesters.

“I know at times it feels like no one is listening to us.”

Moe’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers at this rally, including organizer Cody Battershill who emphasized his group’s message was to be based on positivity, respect and inclusivity.

Prior to the event, Battershill made it known that the so-called yellow vest protesters were not welcomed or at least, they would not be welcomed to wear their yellow vests. The yellow vest movement has come to be associated with violence in Europe. And here in Canada (including rallies in Regina) their messages have also been about anti-immigration and anti-vaccination and images threatening Justin Trudeau’s safety.

“Wear your hard hats, wear your work coveralls, but please don’t wear the yellow vests because that’s not what our movement is about,” Battershill told the Leader-Post’s Arthur White-Crummey.

Sometimes, protesters’ messages do get side-tracked.

But the far bigger problem is that people often don’t listen, preferring to simply write off all protesters as malcontents or ne’er do wells. Certainly, many, in the federal government and eastern Canada seem to be doing this pipeline movement because of the fringe.

Admittedly, last week’s protest did have its political leanings, with Moe and other Saskatchewan Party politicians at the podium and federal Conservative politicians like Senator Denise Batters bashing federal Liberals at the microphone. (That said, this would hardly be the first protest we have seen in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature with a tinge of political partnership.)

Nevertheless, one can appreciate Moe’s frustration and the frustration of pipefitters, riggers and others whose livelihoods are now at stake.

But there also is more than a little irony here.

It wasn’t so very long ago that Moe and his government encountered a very different kind of protest in front of the Saskatchewan Legislature.

It was the so-called teepee protest that started almost a year ago after Gerald Stanley’s not-guilty verdict after being charged with second-degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie.

That protest camp morphed into Justice for our Stolen Children, focussing on past and present problems with Saskatchewan’s child welfare system.

Of considerable controversy was Moe’s decision not to visit the teepee camp or even meet with the protesters.

His stated reason for not doing so is that these campers were conducting an illegal protest, unlike last week’s noon hour protest that had permits from the Wascana Centre Authority.

But in another irony, the day before the pipeline protest Moe found himself apologizing for the Sixties Scoop, government policy of adopting children from Metis and First Nations and raising them in white homes.

This was actually a huge part of the very concerns raised by the teepee protesters this summer, who raised both historic wrongs of the Sixties Scoop and ongoing problems with social services.

Those protesters were also very frustrated by a politician that would not meet with them.

So maybe the lesson here is that we should all take the time to listen.

You never know what side of the protest you will on.