The Big Picture

In Culture, Personal, Politics on June 25, 2010 at 6:00 PM

You see this picture? I know the kid that did that. He and his friends waited until Waterloo was completely asleep, and they set out to spray-paint the town with their words. Since he was driving, the kid was completely sober that night, although it was anything but a sober operation. What they realized as they stumbled through the night, whispering, looking out, keeping the car running, was that their footsteps would go unnoticed because the people of this town rested deeply at night.

He was on a high the next day when he took this picture. But as he retraced his steps from the previous night, he noticed that most of the graffiti had already been wiped clean off the glass. The town had seen this before.

As the kid continued to class, he paused at the words “Moderation Kills The Spirit,” painted with bold black lines on a white wall near the University bookstore, a high traffic area. Students walked by without noticing it. It would appear that this town slept deeply during the day too.

Why did he do it? What was his point? He had a different answer, depending on who asked. He was trying to make art. He was trying to make people think. He was trying to make reality TV. He was trying to make a difference. If you ask me, I think he was just trying to be heard.

Whenever he looks back at this picture, it reminds the kid that despite pulling a unique stunt in a quaint town, the people of Waterloo had been conditioned to categorize his actions with the actions of others, a general all-encompassing movement of frustration and protest against all things corporate. It didn’t actually matter that his intentions were different. That’s how everyone else had perceived it, and that’s why it was dismissed with such ease – they had heard it all before.

The kid’s story is a reminder of how society can dismiss any kind of message that even remotely resembles a protest. Even carefully placed words to inspire thought and skepticism of the world around us were simply signs of another protest, as far as the town was concerned. Some anti-corporate punks trying to destroy property, that’s all.

I understand how much a large part of protesting is the need to be heard. But we must recognize that protesting is a medium, just like the walls were for spray-painting. It’s just a channel to communicate the message, and people are tuning out. Increasingly, protesters believe making a bigger bang is the answer because they aren’t being heard. But what if they did the opposite?

They have spent billions building a fence, securing the core, closing roads, hiring and housing police and security, creating relief centres, the list goes on. Why not hold a massive, all-encompassing Protest Bazaar at Downsview Park on the weekend? It would completely undermine this government’s actions and show the entire country, perhaps even the world, exactly what a waste of money this was. Let the media tape the hoards of cops simply loitering the empty streets of the Toronto core, riding around to coffee shops in packs, aimlessly, looking for something that will never come. I can’t imagine making a louder bang.

This plays on the forgotten benefits of protesting, the gathering, the mingling, the pamphlets, the lectures, the cross-linking, the recruiting, and in general, making people aware. Not only would the media cover it, ordinary citizens wouldn’t be afraid to participate in it. This stunt would nestle itself into the hearts of the massive Canadian majority that is angry at the cost of the entire program.

Whenever I look at this picture, I think about how hard the kid tried to make a difference. He slaved over choosing the right words. I think about all the students who never paid any attention to it. I think about how if he hadn’t done this, he would never have known what to do next.

It’s a mistake to think that there’s no point in protesting, in the same way as it’s a mistake to think protesting alone will bring about change.

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