It’s been a while since I last posted (and in fact, even since I last wrote an entry on my personal blog), and this entry is about part of the reason why—and that if you’re reading this, you should take up similar pass times. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the distinction between so-called “peaceful” actions and non-violence, I’d suggest you keep a stopper on that query until a later date, when I will answer that question for you in another piece of writing. In this piece of writing, I am deliberately choosing not to talk about “peaceful” anything; however, I am also not talking about aggressive behaviour or confrontation of any kind, while focusing on a specific form of non-violent direct action.
As for the term “direct action”, this generally means, as an activist of any kind, taking matters into your own hands. Direct action is often associated with aggressive behaviour, confrontation, hostility, and violence, whether or not the actions taken even are violent (i.e., police and sometimes even military tend to be responsible for the escalation of direct action to the point of violence, as is being seen in New Brunswick right now, where non-violent protesters in a road blockade are being arrested for laying tobacco on the highway). For instance, I’ve written before about effective grassroots protest methods including the formation of a Black Bloc, and generally speaking, any community of activists can reasonably anticipate infiltration by undercover police if they are effective at anything they are doing (i.e., one more reason for the Black Bloc). Violence is often rather paradoxically mis-characterized as well, in that many see vandalism of inanimate property such as vehicles and buildings as violence, but fail to acknowledge or even recognize systemic oppression such as poverty (a direct and necessary product of capitalism) or racism (a direct and necessary product of cultural chauvinism, cultural imperialism, and white supremacy) as violence. For that matter, most people fail to recognize the inherent violence of the very existence of those buildings and vehicles themselves — environmental violence. I’ll be addressing that further when I write about the distinction between “peaceful” and non-violent some other time.
Now that all of that is aside, I bet you’re wondering what the actual fuck I’m talking about — what is the non-violent direct action anyone can do and that everyone should? Well, it started with a strong curiosity about a certain bird (I’m kind of nuts about birds, as anyone who knows me personally can tell you). Then it became very long walks in the forest. And then the marsh. And recently, the beach too. Most often, these walks have been a solitary activity, but on a few occasions, I’ve had human company. Over the past few months, it’s become the (technically illegal) gradual discovery, extraction, and disposal of several hundred pounds of trash by yours truly from former Coast Salish village sites, forests, marshes, and beaches. And you could (and should) be doing it too.
I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I like being outside. I enjoy taking long walks in the forest and on the beach, following ravens and eagles around, having staring contests with Great Blue Herons and mute swans, watching ducks waddle around, and being used as a perch for squirrels, chickadees, and sparrows (yes, that actually happens—no, my name is not Snow White). But I also feel disgusted, angry, and emotionally injured on some level when my walk is interrupted by the presence of cigarette butts all over the ground, used facial tissues and wetnaps tossed carelessly aside, abandoned butane lighters partially decomposing into rust, and plastic bags that have been trampled over by people and animals alike for at least several consecutive days. Neither the forest floor nor the beach are ash trays or trash cans to be used at the whim and fancy of everyone who simply can’t be arsed to take the shit they brought in back out with them when they leave. So a few months ago, I answered this distress by making piles of the trash I was finding within mere inches of the sidewalk adjacent to Pipeline Road (which cuts directly through Vancouver’s Stanley Park — a former Coast Salish village site), for Vancouver Parks Board employees to pick up. I hadn’t brought my own bags on that particular occasion, but I came back with an entire roll of them (and a box of gloves) when I went back again within a matter of days. I have been bringing bags with me every time I return ever since.
Soon enough, I also felt a growing responsibility to bring my bags and ambition to Vancouver’s most popular clothing-optional beach. There is a system of trails that winds all the way around the west point of Vancouver, which is engulfed to the north, west, and south by the Strait of Georgia. Currently, this area is home to the University of British Columbia, but it was once a Musqueam village site all the way up until just over a hundred years ago, at which time the deliberate spread of smallpox and malicious amendments to The Indian Act forced the Musqueam out of their last remaining villages throughout their traditional ancestral territories (which includes 125 other locations in Vancouver and several other municipalities, many of which are now home to the wealthiest districts in the area—not even remotely a simple coincidence). Now this clothing-optional landmark attracts people from all walks of life, many of whom have no notion of the history of this place or the dignity and respect it deserves, as they come to the bottom of the 1,000 stairs on this furthest west-facing beach, and leave nearly everything they brought down with them. The very same people who think vandalism of inanimate property is violence.
Between these two places, which I feel are very important and yet, I see being subjected to an equally important amount of apathy and environmental violence, I have gradually removed several times my own body weight in trash over the past several months. I’ve made and maintained a weekly commitment to the beach (regardless of weather conditions) for a couple of months already, and have made up for the inconsistency of my visits to the forests in Stanley Park by staying longer and disposing of more trash when I do make it there. However, it is important to note that, rather paradoxically, if I were caught in the act by an employee of Vancouver Parks Board (depending on exactly what I was caught doing, where, and by whom), I could actually be subjected to a fairly monumental fine. Though I am removing refuse abandoned by other people, I am actually violating at least one municipal by-law that carries a maximum penalty of $2000 (and I am very likely violating several other by-laws as well). It’s a risk I’m willing to take to ensure that these places don’t gradually become landfills, and it’s a risk I encourage every reading this to assume, where ever they call home, as well. When you could actually be penalized for doing your part to take care of the land, resistance becomes duty. When you finally begin to recognize this responsibility, you stop seeing the overturned police car at the Oka crisis as violence; and you start seeing the laws themselves – that punish people for respecting the land — as institutionalized violence.
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