Ben Isitt: History is on our side—social movement mobilization in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people

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      By Ben Isitt

      Civil disobedience is one of the most noble and important traditions in human history.

      From Spartacus and Jesus Christ in ancient times, to the Suffragettes, Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Clayoquot Sound defenders in the 20th century, people standing up to state authorities have been a driving force for historical change throughout the ages.

      What we are witnessing at this moment in Lekwungen territory (Victoria) and across Turtle Island (British Columbia and Canada) is an upturn in civil disobedience by thousands of people to advance decolonization, climate leadership, and recognition of the interests of the Wet’suwet’en people (as affirmed in the settler law of Canada in the 1997 Delgamuukw decision).

      We are in the midst of a social movement mobilization of historic significance that is embracing civil disobedience as one tool in its tool box, pushing the limits of respectability to move society forward.

      From the legislative assembly of British Columbia on Tuesday (February 11), to highways, railroads, bridges, intersections and government offices from the Comox Valley to the Port of Vancouver to Atlantic Canada, and many points in between, principled people led by Indigenous youth are putting their bodies and liberty on the line.

      We saw the largest act of non-violent civil disobedience in the history of Lekwungen territory—a peaceful blockade of the legislative assembly by more than a thousand young and older people, demonstrating solidarity with Wet’suwet’en people and demanding a rebalancing between the settler state and Indigenous people, and between human society and the natural ecosystems that sustain human and non-human life.

      Predictably, institutions tied to colonialism, capitalism, and vested interests are scrambling to defend the status quo, as they always have. Spartacus and Jesus faced the wrath of the Roman armies. The Suffragettes, Gandhi and Rosa Parks were jailed by British and American authorities for their resistance. The Clayoquot Sound defenders of 1993 were arrested by RCMP and imprisoned by B.C. Supreme Court judges for protecting the ecological integrity of old growth rainforests.

      The morning sitting of the legislature was cancelled after Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs' allies stood in front of the doorways.
      Mark Worthing

      Here in Lekwungen territory today, the corporate media is frantically spinning the nonviolent blockade of the legislature as some kind of “violent protest”, a predictable frame that has accompanied nearly every protest of any significance since at least the 1950s. Similar false narratives are being propagated by mouthpieces of the oil bosses across Turtle Island in response to local manifestations of the social movement.

      We should all refuse to be distracted by these familiar techniques, and instead join the mass movement—standing with thousands of compassionate, principled, and courageous people to demand action for decolonization and climate leadership now—driving the process of historical change today.

      Ben Isitt is a historian and legal scholar, as well as a city councillor in Victoria.
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