Credits: SUN NEWS NETWORK
It’s easy for journalists to cover a protest rally. And that’s who most modern protests are targeting — the media. It’s an exercise in PR.
The quick and easy formula for reporters is to make a rough estimate of how many protesters attend, take some pictures of the most colourful signs and costumes, get a bumper-sticker-deep slogan quote from a spokesman, and you’re done.
But at a Hamilton protest last week, I tried something different. I arrived at 11 a.m., and by 11:05 I had everything I needed to do a normal story. I had counted the 50 people there, taken pictures of the more entertaining ones and took a little flyer explaining their point. They were against the reversal of an oil pipeline called Line 9. (Right now that pipeline ships OPEC oil from east to west; the company wants to reverse it, to ship Alberta oil from the west to the east.)
But instead of leaving — as most busy journalists have to do in order to meet their deadlines — I stuck around for two more hours. I introduced myself to more than a dozen of the protesters. And I learned something that I’m sure I wouldn’t have learned had I followed the usual media formula.
The first thing I learned is these protesters were clueless about the pipeline they were protesting, and about oil and economics in general.
I asked one of the protesters, Mike Roy, why he is only protesting the pipeline now, even though it’s been operating without incident since the 1970s. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn this. I asked him why he only opposes the plan to put Alberta oil in it, but was fine with it pumping OPEC crude for decades.
At first Roy simply refused to believe me. He was confused about how OPEC oil could be pumped from Alberta. He didn’t understand that the pipeline was operating now, with Saudi and Algerian oil now. The Alberta plan would be a change — that’s the “reverse” part that he was protesting. He didn’t know that.
When I pressed him on why he prefers Saudi oil in Line 9, he said he opposes Saudi oil too. But he couldn’t explain why he has never protested Saudi oil before, let alone protested at the Saudi embassy. I asked these same questions of a half dozen protesters, and all were confused. One woman proposed an excuse: she prefers Saudi oil, she says, because it’s “sweet oil.” I think she believes that means it’s like sugar water, so it’s better for the environment. Others pretended not to use any oil at all — as if you can bicycle to work in Hamilton in February.
How could people who were so clueless about what they were protesting also be so passionate, too? That’s the second thing I learned. I did what many reporters simply don’t do — I Googled the names of a half dozen protesters there. Mike Roy was from London. So was Bailey Lamon. And Dan Beaudoin. Jeff Hanks was from out of town too.
They’re professional protesters, who go from town to town on whatever the cause of the day is — Occupy, Idle No More, anti-GMO food, whatever. That’s why they didn’t know anything about the pipeline. They didn’t care. They just like protesting.
But it got darker. Because the more I looked, the more I realized these protesters were not just idealistic young people trying to heal the world. They were dominated by an inner circle of hard-core anarchists. Like Peter Hopperton. He was sentenced to five months in prison for rioting at the G20 in Toronto in 2010. Dave Prychitka was there too. He also rioted, but charges against him were dropped. Roy, Lamon and Beaudoin have all been charged with crimes too.
You wouldn’t know these things if you were a reporter too busy to find out. Or too sympathetic to their cause to find out.