My son, temptation is one thing that I've defeated
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Moments of silence are usually held during solemn occasions, as shared acknowledgements of tragedy. So when the thousands of Freedom Convoy supporters in downtown Calgary observed a moment of silence for their “brother sister truckers in Ottawa” amidst a boisterous rally, it carried obvious “then as farce” significance. Fifty-five seconds in, shouts of “Freedom!” interrupted. The weekend crowd didn’t react with scorn but with enthusiastic approval.
The Ottawa contingent was, at the time, experiencing relatively tame interactions with city police, who’d finally moved in on the disruptors. The Convoy members’ wildest delusions, like hanging the Prime Minister or unraveling Canada with legalistic magic spells, remain unrealized. Yet their ostensible aims – No more masks! No vaccine passports! – are coming to pass in many places.
“Freedom for me, and fear for you” is the Convoy’s unspoken but apparent creed. Conservative premiers, heading off further party divides, remove restrictions while the COVID-19 pandemic’s fifth wave still thrashes our communities. Will our newfound “freedoms” spur a sixth? Bet on it.
What does a reasonable person think and do, when confronted with the unbelievable and inevitable? For the majority of folks, it will likely feel unnecessary in the coming weeks or months to wear a face covering indoors or only patronize the few establishments still checking immunization records. It’s hard to begrudge one’s friends and neighbours as they see one another in person again, experience fewer hassles, and relax just a bit after two harsh years.
Yet if the true measure of society is how it treats its most vulnerable, we’re about to follow the Convoy straight off a cliff. Alberta Health officials already set the stage for widespread disregard of public caution. By repeatedly using the noxious term “comorbidity” when discussing the deceased, the representatives remind us that hey, many unfortunate casualties weren’t perfectly healthy people anyway. Normalizing eugenics has long left polite discussion, but one recalls that it’s part of Alberta’s history.
The consensus messaging from North American governments and major news outlets: children, seniors, frontline workers, the disabled, the immunosuppressed, the chronically ill - move aside and sit out your regular lives so that others can enjoy their luck and privilege.
One seeks a word to describe the capacity to move about safely, without anxiety regarding debilitating viruses, public contempt, and physical violence; for the autonomy to take measures that increase one’s personal comfort, even if not mandated; to feel as though your wellbeing matters to others as much as their own. But the right wing has captured “freedom”. Stripped it of conventional uses, turned it on its head. Like “my body, my choice”, like street protest tactics.
Kenney, Moe, Ford, and – less openly but also more damagingly – Trudeau have let the Convoy clown show distract from their own pandemic failures, but also, from the grim fifth decade of technocratic neoliberalism. Kenney is headstrong as ever about privatizing Alberta’s healthcare, while Trudeau allows CEOs to collect benefits ostensibly meant to minimize recent job losses.
The effect of these leaders’ disinterest and surrender? The Convoy and its supporters continue to enjoy freedom from purported government overreach, whereas vulnerable groups will not be granted the freedom to be cared for and considered.
Who needs contorted, restrictive freedom? Perhaps the right can have the word anyway. As is the case with justice, there isn’t necessarily an obligation to hold space on the left for high-minded definitions of liberty. Karl Marx playfully riffs on the “double freedom” of wage labour in Capital, Vol. I, published 1867: “free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale”. Most people recognize the contradictions and impossibility of “tolerating the intolerant” even in a liberal democracy, as discussed by mid-20th century philosopher Karl Popper. Free speech is subject to elite capture, and Convoy members – able to drive across the country, skip work for weeks, and grift millions – are, by and large, elites within their social and economic spheres.
At least we still have solidarity, a notion the right has yet to dilute. From this principle comes strikes and union drives, advocacy and action, ongoing efforts that could always use one more contributor.
Take a moment of silence, when you can, to listen for the voice of those unheard. But don’t mourn for too long. Organize.
-Karen, Team Advantage
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