Is Protesting an Effective Means of Change?

The Trans Mountain pipeline moves forward despite protest efforts in a national debate

In 2004, I paid $5 to board a bus to join a protest in Toronto. It was the first anniversary of the illegal invasion of, and war of aggression against, Iraq by the United States. There was a thick throng of people that stretched farther than I could see, and at least as wide as University Avenue. I remember the conviction of so many people gathered in common cause in such a space, raising their voice to the monstrous injustice of the war. 

The previous year there had been the largest coordinated protest in recorded history, all in opposition to the contrived American plan to invade Iraq. Millions of people flooded the streets, in cities across the globe, to oppose the plans of the George Bush and Tony Blair, among others. 

In face of this unprecedented opposition, the war went on. Iraq was invaded, millions of Iraqis murdered, millions more displaced. There were tens of thousands of soldiers traumatized by the realities of war, and a seemingly unending battle between varying rebellious forces of complicated origins, alliances, hostility, and goals. 

This was my cultural and political environment growing up; as if the power of the people was mocked, ignored, and discarded. Even as I write this now, 15 years later, I feel the sense of disillusionment that visited many of us who opposed the occupation of Iraq.

What the protests of the Iraq War accomplished, if anything at all, is intangible. By contrast, the worldwide phenomenon, the 2011 protests in New York known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS), spawned a political, an economic, and a spiritual awakening from people across the political map. 

At the urging of Canadian-based, anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, hundreds of thousands of protestors turned out in major cities around the world to protest the rising inequality of the modern globalized economy. Ridiculed then, and for some time after, for producing no tangible accomplishments, OWS sparked a growing consciousness among people that the global systems of economy were not just weighted unfavourably against them but had been engineered to ignore the needs of the majority. 

It was among the loosely organized collection of like-minded individuals that anthropologist and anarchist, David Graeber coined the phrase, “We are the 99%.” Seven years after the events of OWS there is a greater awareness of the unfair economic conditions that affect all of us. There is a great deal of work being done to try and turn the tide of this unfairness and all of this sprung from a protest that was faulted and ignored for not producing any immediate or direct, political effects. 

I didn’t join the OWS protests. At the time I didn’t understand what is was about, or what exactly they were protesting. It sounded like malcontents hanging out rent-free in parks around the world. I can now see the same hopeful spark of struggle that propelled other struggles, like the Paris Commune of 1871; a participatory, anti-authoritarian, grassroots democracy out for fairness from the forces that control their lives. 

The message may not always be easily heard, but the cause is just, and the hearts are in the right place. There are so many in Canada who believe in a better country, we just need to listen to each other and work together in the cause of each other. The breadth of history provides those looking for inspiration and education, great lessons about how to effect great change.

On July 17th, Justin Trudeau visited StFX campus to talk about twinning the 401 and to announce an increase to the Canada Child Benefit. His visit was covered by both the Halifax Star and the Casket. While the Star reproduced a Liberal Party memo, The Casket did report on the “number of people organized… expressing their concern for the environment, referring to the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline… for $4.5 billion.” They provided no further context to the protest. 

I spoke with the organizer of the protest, St. FX history professor, Dr. Chris Frazer about it. He heard about the arrival of the Prime Minister only a few days before, giving him a short window to protest the Trans Mountain pipeline currently cutting its way through British Columbia. Fortunately, Dr. Frazer and the other protestors were able to visibly confront the Prime Minister, despite repeated and shameful attempts of intimidation by campus security and the Prime Minister’s security detail. 

Dr. Frazer was spoken to by Mr. Trudeau, who repeated the false idea that protestors are against job creation and the economy. 

Mr. Trudeau has lied to voters about his promise to provide indigenous people with the right to veto resource projects on their land and territories, lied about his intention to enact electoral reform, lied about his commitment to human rights, and lied about his intention to take seriously the causes of climate change. 

I asked Dr. Frazer if his protest was worth it, and he replied enthusiastically, “Absolutely… What do you do? Wait for years until we get a chance to vote and… I look at that and think what’s the point of voting? 

Considering a Prime Minister who has completely abandoned his promises to reform the electoral system…most people in this country have a useless vote… what’s the alternative?”

I don’t know if Dr. Frazer’s protest alone will change the shameful course of the Trudeau Government and I don’t know if protests themselves are always an effective means of affecting direct change, but I do know that sustained, firm pressure on the Prime Minister and any one of his cabinet, whether in official or personal appearances, will draw attention from the people. 

Anyone interested in gathering or protesting in support of good causes, can contact Dr. Chris Frazer at