I never would have imagined I’d become so heartily sick of hearing the word “freedom.”
A lady of, I’d estimate, forty years or so, with a pudgy face that could belong to your childcare worker, the cashier at Loblaw’s, maybe, if you push your luck, an elementary school class, separates from her group of friends and struts towards police officers we’ve just seen carrying away pieces of a barricade.
We’re in Ottawa on February 9th, 2022, the umpteenth day of the so-called Freedom Convoy, which supposedly is in town to make their dissatisfaction about pandemic restrictions loudly and unavoidably known.
Her opening salvo is shocking. “I’ll be the first! Take me down, assholes!”
The cops look around to see who this crazy person is who’s shouting at them (I wonder if she realizes she would have been shot by now in any number of non-democratic countries, from Myanmar to Manila, maybe even Minnesota?).
Launched into full-bore suburban white-lady mode, she continues: “How DARE you do something like this when we’re fighting for YOU!”
It’s acutely embarrassing; a grown-up version of the whiny brat, the outrage of a two-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed. These people are fighting for… who?
Not the people of Ottawa, who want them gone after one full week of obnoxious horn honking intended to disturb the peace, of vandalism and swastika graffiti and pissing on public monuments; or the businesses of Ottawa, who are losing money because downtown areas are inaccessible.
Not people affected by the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan, the busiest border crossing in North America: workers in the auto industry, which is facing layoffs (Toyota has already shut down production, and automakers are seeking an injunction to clear the bridge), or farmers who can’t get their goods to market, or consumers facing empty shelves, or essential medical workers, or hospitals needing equipment.
Gotta wash that Murican right outta my hair
There’s a thread of conversation between Canadians which is consistently turning up online since this occupation started.
“This is not Canadian.”
“These are not Canadians.”
“It’s all Americans behind this, what did you expect?”
(And as if to underscore the point, the Canadian truckers’ alliance put out a formal press release condemning the protest. In fact, Canadian truckers, used to obeying all kinds of freedom restrictions like how long they can drive, are 90% vaccinated and have the passports to prove it.)
Some people have sneered at the idea of a Canadian identity, denied that we have any such thing except as “non-Americans.” But that’s just the usual progressive diffidence, Canadians being, on the whole, progressive.
The qualities of inclusion and tolerance and acceptance, the great big tent, are, ironically, the qualities that prevent us from, well, being generally like this lady above and from defending ourselves against what American, and, increasingly, Canadian, conservatives have become: intolerant, entitled, anti-democratic, contemptuous of any “freedom” that is someone else’s freedom, hungry for power without consensus or even consent, unscrupulous, because that makes the process of power-grabbing easier.
But one look at this rag-tag mob and we knew: This isn’t driven by Canada, Canadians or Canadian values. It can’t be: there are confederate flags in my nation’s capital city. I feel revulsion when I see this. Those ain’t anything to do with me, Murgatroyd McGraw.
There’s angry lawlessness in the air, a chip-on-the-shoulder, defiant viciousness. Racist and homophobic taunts heard in the streets, inspiring fear, a homeless shelter blocked off, a fire set in the lobby of an apartment building. This mob rule is not how we do things. We find it frightening. Alien.
Freedom Convoy. It sounds foreign to us. American. We don’t use the word “freedom” like that, because we have a different and more nuanced understanding of what it means. To Americans, it means “MY freedom to do whatever I want. I’m walking through this door and I’m gonna let it slam in your face. Why do I have to worry about YOU?” Canadians pause and hold the door. Americans forget that there’s no such thing as a nation of three hundred million islands sufficient unto themselves.
It is so typically an American thing, this convoy, all down-home swagger, dripping with hokey sentiment and thrusting a virile chin forward to show its distrust for anything high-falutin’, ma’am.
So typically American to reduce a global tragedy to a maudlin melodrama in which they’re the damsels in distress, so unfairly victimized by public health mandates that claim precedence for saving lives over their need to cram their bloated bodies behind the wheel of an SUV and drive one block to Arby’s for a Big Slam.
It is so typically an American thing to have no interest in their neighbour, none at all, until their neighbour is suddenly invaded by American money and American interests, in fact, Americanized; only then does it become interesting enough to report on and for Trump to give us a call-out. When did Trump ever give us a call-out before?
Why would he? Trump wouldn’t be interested in the things that interest us, for example, welcoming, with open arms, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, the sponsors paying out of their own pockets for the privilege. Settling refugees (or, I guess, “foreigners”) is un-American. He made that abundantly clear, non-stop, for four years.
So typically, obnoxiously American to bring and display Confederate flags in this quiet capital city, and it’s hard to tell if this is just manspreading arrogance or sheer ignorance. To assume that being a “patriot” — a word we use, if at all, only when singing the national anthem — means defying and wanting to overthrow your elected government, rather than applauding it for fulfilling its mandate, even if you didn’t vote for the party in power.
Have all American conservatives become sore losers? I’m pretty sure I knew by the age of ten that being a sore loser was childish, something grown-ups strongly disapproved of as anti-social and a sign of bad character.
You shook the hands of the players on the winning team after a Grade six baseball game and congratulated them.
Has that changed?
So typically American for politicians from Texas presume to comment and to threaten an investigation into the GoFundMe freeze of the funds, praising the hooligans in the hot tub, and angry that the crowdfunding company has stopped the flow of cash.
Mobs gathering to vandalize and paralyze a city in a foreign country does not make a “protest”. People protest. Trucks do not. It’s an invasion. No, let me use a different word.
It’s an infection. And I’d rather have COVID-19 in all my nuclei than this particular strain of American “exceptionalism” (translation: All men are equal, except you, because I’ve got the gun).
Knock me over with a particle accelerator if it doesn’t turn out that around fifty percent of the funds came from the US, making this a shocking case of foreign interference in our country, our democracy and electoral process; that this disgraceful and thoroughly illegal take-over is serving as a template for a bigger one in the US and also across the world.
This was, in fact, the dry run, the out of town opening, the little theatre in Hartford that you play so you can tidy up the dialog and discover the need for a show-stopping song before the first act curtain.
It’s all part of the great American Manspread Destiny, when y’all rode that big imaginary subway of the American Dream right across the continent, and beyond, hogging the best seats, legs splayed wide as possible and so perplexed that everyone wasn’t happy for the privilege of squeezing into the space next to you while desperately trying to avoid contact.
Now America is manspreading its way up north, just enough to show us some contempt, use us as background scenery for their political version of Carrie’s prom, then leave it to us to clean up the mess, physical and psychological.
It’s a Trudeau protest
But the most American thing about this mob is that it seeks to subvert a democratic election legitimately won and replace it with a result these thugs prefer; replace it through violence and intimidation.
And I’ve written before about the strange yet predictable animus against Trudeau because he doesn’t, to conservatives, hit all the right buttons on the “manliness” scale. It’s like a weird homophobia, without the gay target. He’s been accused of being Castro’s love child, which is also a slur on his mother’s name, he’s been accused of being a pedophile (which is, you won’t be surprised to know, an accusation that’s just in a day’s work for an actual gay guy); he’s mocked for having been a drama teacher.
It’s as though you could peel off the Jason Kenney suit, the Doug Ford fat padding, and out pops one of these trucker “renegades”, barking about his freedom and waving his shotgun over a pot of ‘possum stew. Like all homophobia, it’s a secret homo love fest, with our pasty white politicians cooing as they squeeze fifteen thousand pairs of iron-hard biceps and flutter their eyelids.
This is styled as a protest against public health mandates; why, then, are the protestors singling out Trudeau? He’s simply followed the guidance of Medical Officers and scientists. No, this is personal.
From the first days of the breaking pandemic, Trudeau modelled calm, efficiency, respect for medical advice and good behavior. Canadians voted Trudeau into power again largely on the basis of his strong leadership in this pandemic, and he DOES have a mandate to do what he is doing. Our parliamentary system means that the government that’s elected, so long as it enjoys the confidence of the House, can run with its basic agenda.
So we have a massive protest about our leader, who most Canadians support, because right-wingers don’t like his policies.
Angry lawlessness on the streets of Ottawa. Angry debates in the House of Commons. And, drowned out by all the noise, the voices of scientists can’t be heard. What they’re saying is:
Don’t lift restrictions yet. You can’t just mandate an end to the pandemic. We’re going so well but you have to be prudent.
What’s fueling the discontent?
You would think that, during a global pandemic, our federal and provincial leaders would pull together and agree on a nationwide plan. What happened? The public wanted certainty, and we have a science, epidemiology, that can predict with startling accuracy the unfolding of such a public health emergency.
One person catches the virus. She spreads it to ten people. Each of those ten people spreads it to ten people. Already we’re at one thousand, and that could conceivably happen in a day.
It’s simple: Contain the virus, vaccinate. Stop the person-to-person spread, get the vaccine out. Once you’ve reached about 90% vaccination rate, the vectors for transmission are closed.
But we have conservative premiers who wither in the face of resistance. We close, kind of. The rates go down, we reopen, but too soon. “Businesses are going under!” The rates go up again. We close, we open, in an endless, flailing cycle of decreasing efficacy.
Soon, people no longer trust the advice, no longer understand that social distancing and masking work, no one understands that nothing is 100% effective, it’s a multi-pronged approach. It feels like incompetence.
Social networks allow conspiracy theories to flourish, poisoning every discussion. Another failure: No one remembers that the Black community in the US have painful memories of horrific racist experiments conducted on Black patients; they fail to take notice of that historical aversion to a newly-minted vaccine.
American voices are, of course, the loudest and the most aggrieved. The American influences become particularly acute in western provinces, where the geography favors a north-south flow of ideas and culture; Canada is a country held together with a tenuous east-west flow of common values, under constant siege from tsunamis of dubious American barnstorming and rabble-rousing, like a plug of noxious effluent burbling up from an eternally overused drainpipe.
And premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, treating their citizens like impatient kids rather than acting like leaders whose job it is to make the essential palatable, they’ve tapped in to yet another American-born trait: distrust of their own government, an easy use of grand words like “tyrant” and “freedom.”
No one gets that a deadly virus couldn’t give a shit about you as an individual or your freedom. In fact, the more free you are, the better for COVID-19. It wants your cells so it can replicate.
Live free and die. What we desperately needed was less freedom and less death.
A young infection control worker at a local Toronto hospital posts on Facebook:
“…Get your booster as soon as you can as there will always be more variants. The more immunity you have the better you are protected for future variants. If you already had Covid your immunity lasts for that variant for about 3 months. This is science. You don’t want to see my unvaccinated ICU patients. Trust me.”
Dear Convoy Mob and all who support them:
You, the people who choose not to be vaccinated when you can, you who refuse to follow mandates because all you think about is yourself ; you who seek a forced export of the most malign expression of American values and the dregs of that failed vision of a country into ours— you are the worst people in the world right now.
You are truly terrible human beings.
Get out of our faces and do something useful. Take the money you raised, drive back to your own communities, get out of your damn vehicles and help people worse off than you.
You, and what you represent are not, and never were, welcome here. And remember: we burned the White House down once already.
When the time comes for a second attempt, you better believe I’ll be first in line with the match.