Last night in front of the National Assembly hundreds of citizens arrived to protest the raising of tuition fees and the application of the draconian law known as Bill 78. I found the experience paradoxical. Behind us was the beautiful and impressive building that houses the Assembly. It stands on a hill overlooking the Old City. It should be the place from which laws promoting peace and good government emanate. In front of me hundreds of students, teachers, seniors, families, and visitors were gathered. They came in great numbers to register their disapointment and anger at an obdurate government which took far to long to open communication, and when that led to militant action, proclaimed a law that under-cuts the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It must be noted that over the weeks of marching during which there was no Bill 78 the students and their supporters marched peaceably. As they did the night before. But this time with Bill 78 invoked over 100 marchers walking in a peaceful respectful manner were arrested. What a social statement, gather peacefully and we will detain or arrest you!
At about 8 pm the police sought from the students and citizens a plan of the route they would be taking. If they produced it they would be allowed to march. If they did not, they would be immediately arrested when the march started. A young woman about 20 took the microphone to speak to the hundreds who had gathered. She said, ” we must now make the decision as to whether we comply with this unjust law or whether we march despite the law. We believe in democracy even if they (the government) don’t. We will take a vote, All those who want to give the police the plan of the march raise your hand. Those who don’t want to, raise your hand.” The process had to be gone through twice to make sure of the result. The students did give the plan of the march so it was deemed legal.
Then I was asked to speak. I had spoken with many of those gathered over the hour and a half while the march was being organized. I was impressed by the sincerity, commitment and courtesy of most of the citizens who were present. I wanted them to know why I was there and why our collective witness was important. This is what I said,
“My Dear Friends: Tonight I come to the National Assembly to speak to you as a citizen and as a bishop to denounce the use of Bill 78 on peaceful law abiding citizens. I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls all Christians to speak truth to those in power. This is especially important when power is being used as a weapon by those in authority. What we need now, is for the two sides to meet and speak together in good faith. It is only by a willingness to engage in discussions in good faith, that this impasse will come to an end. No citizen should be arrested for participating in a peaceful and non-violent march protesting an issue that is, in their view, highly important to them and to their community. This abuse of power must stop.”
Then the march began; and again peace, non-violence and respect were the order of the day. I learned a great deal from these young leaders, I learned that the only way to move toward change is to tenaciously hold to the principles that guide and direct you. I learned that when people share decision making and power they grow stronger and wiser. I also came to the conclusion that we would be better served if our politicians were more aware of the needs and aspirations of all the people rather than continuing to serve the few. Even now I hear echoes of the Occupy Movement that succinctly reflects our present dilemma and challenge: We are the 1 per cent.