Doing Social Activism The Right Way

As June begins I thought it would be appropriate to have a discussion about the pride flag being flown at Ontario schools.

Recently, I opined publicly that the Canadian flag should be the only flag flown at schools as it should represent all of us. It is our symbol of unity, pride and progress. 

That opinion, however, was liked and commented on by people who were not sharing my enthusiasm for the maple leaf, but liked the exclusion of anything pride. Their derogatory, inflammatory rhetoric made me realize we have not progressed  as far as I had thought or hoped. The importance of the Pride movement hit me more this year than any other. Some comments did give me pause though, to wonder if progressive voices were losing the room. 

Even my own support of progressive causes and awareness campaigns is not absolute or without hesitation,  I’ve tried not to become numb to the constant awareness campaigns being pushed at schools for a variety of worthy causes and movements. I do believe that the constant pressure to raise the virtue signal stakes has reached a breaking point for some.  It threatens at the very least to stall progress and at worst - push us backward. The recent decision by the York Catholic Board to not fly the pride flag gets the attention, but the anger of those who spoke out against it should be the concern. Where does that anger come from? 

Too many days students in class are being told to feel guilty about something. Once one marginalized group has a moment another group wants theirs. My original point with the flag was are we going to fly others - for fairness we should. It seems we spend more time pointing out division rather than celebrating what unites. 

We’ve always had a few days at school for important causes and moments, but now a few days, have become many and weeks have turned into months. 

My own kids and students in public schools have expressed cause fatigue. I have heard many other parents, and yes some from marginalized communities say the same.  You now need a rainbow of t-shirts to signify something during the week. 

Many of the movements ask students to reflect on past sins and atrocities - which is an important step in reflection and learning. But these days occur so often now, they don’t resonate, but can annoy. You need quality not quantity to feel remorse not resentment. 

One of the many reasons I support Pride  as its organizers have done a great job instilling  a sense of celebration of progress and inclusion, rather than guilt and retribution. 

I don’t want this to be read in any way as someone who doesn’t support progressive issues or wants to mute efforts for reconciliation. Quite the opposite. I write this because I want them to work! 

I know from my own experiences in social activism, that it requires disruption and it should make someone like me feel uncomfortable. But our current means will not deliver the ends we want. 

Progress is not always linear. It’s a struggle to move the needle, but it’s downright depressing when we go backwards.  

We rally behind positive messages of hope and progress. Let go of the blame game and unify - don’t divide. Self righteous purity tests are a turn off. Joining the cause should be easy. 

Yes, have a day of reflection. Our National Truth and Reconciliation Day should be at par and in the spirit Remembrance Day. For Remembrance we don’t have a day for each battle or every war fought - one day encompasses all for significance. On this day we remember the sacrifice to cherish peace. On September 30th we can remember the hurt to awaken our national soul. 

If you want impact - less is definitely more. Do we remember rainy days or hurricanes? Social gatherings or parades? 

I am not naive to believe that adopting a more inclusive, measured approach will quell those who would resist change and long for the past.  I don’t believe in total victories. But why point fingers and dare people to oppose you? 

Progress comes when we win the hearts and minds of the many. As  Martin Luther King said,

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."

By Gregory Cawsey 


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