Idle No More has not been idle. Today, Monday 28 January, 2013, they have called for a global day of action “to peacefully protest attacks on Democracy, Indigenous Sovereignty, Human Rights and Environmental Protections when Canadian MPs return to the House of Commons on January 28th… As a grassroots movement, clearly no political organization speaks for Idle No More. This movement is of the people… For The People!” And folks across Canada, the U.S., and the globe have responded:
Idle No More protesters are set to gather in at least 30 Canadian cities and will be joined by solidarity protests around the world as the indigenous grassroots movement marks a global day of action on Monday.
The day of action, which comes as Canada’s MPs return to the House of Commons, is to include everything from a rally in Vancouver and a peace march in Calgary, to a gathering of jingle dancers on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill and a sunrise ceremony in Montreal, according to regional Idle No More Facebook pages.
And internationally, protesters are set to gather for events everywhere from Australia to Sweden and across the United States…
Last week a new assembly of social movements called Common Causes – associated with the Council of Canadians – announced its support for Idle No More to mark the global day of action. Common Causes has also announced Monday rallies and marches in cities across the country, most of them in coordination with Idle No More events.
The largest Idle No More turnout is expected in Ottawa, where jingle dancers across the country have been invited by organizers to dance on Parliament Hill following a rally on Victoria Island. Maude Barlow – the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians – is scheduled to give a speech on behalf of Common Causes on Parliament Hill Monday afternoon.
As should be clear from this description of actions, Idle No More is a broad movement with many leaders. In the media narrative, however, it is Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence who has taken the spotlight with her weeks-long hunger strike. As Matt Sheedy writes at Waging Nonviolence:
It is of course historically significant that Chief Spence was able to force a meeting with the prime minister on January 11 — which she turned down due to the absence of the governor general, vowing to continue her strike. But the disproportionate focus on this confrontation between Canada’s First Nations chiefs and the federal government has had the effect of placing undue emphasis on the traditional channels of power, when in fact the true source of the movement’s vitality is in the thousands of ordinary citizens who are being mobilized and energized, both online and in the streets.
Chief Spence’s admittedly brave and attention-getting strike may not be the real center of attention. But it does provide the example for one way in which South Dakota is joining in Idle No More’s global day of action, as our friends at Fast for the Earth have called for a daylong fast in solidarity with Idle No More activists across the globe.
Whether used by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails last year or women’s suffragists like Alice Paul a hundred years ago, fasting has long been a standby in the nonviolent armory. Indeed, it has been called a form of moral coercion, especially when it has been used by a powerful figurehead (see: Gandhi, Chief Spence) to force an opponent’s hand. The faster knows that his or her death from hunger, or even his or her hospitalization, will cause a public outcry that could well threaten to seriously delegitimize his or her opponent. For a prisoner, fasting represents not only a way to gain public sympathy but also a means of taking control of one’s own destiny. My opponent may imprison me, but I at least can decide what will or will not go into my own body (assuming I am not force-fed – but then the absurd vision of a prisoner having to be force-fed to keep him alive can be a powerful way to win over third parties.)
In this context, as a way to leverage public opinion and claim a modicum of power, a day of fasting makes little sense as a solidarity action – indeed, one might take it almost as an empty gesture. But for Gandhi at least, whose fasts had the practical effect of convincing or even coercing his opponents, there was an equally important spiritual element as well: “A genuine fast cleanses the body, mind and soul. It crucifies the flesh and to that extent sets the soul free.” It is a means of self-purification, a way to refocus one’s spiritual energies on the essential and to suffer in solidarity with those under the yoke of oppression, in whatever form.
And in THIS context, Fast for the Earth’s action has great significance. It may not attract the attention of the media or halt the construction of Keystone XL. But it will place those who have chosen to fast today in solidarity with thousands of activists, Native and non-Native alike, who are struggling for the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere and for the dignity of the Earth itself. And in that capacity, it prepares them for the hard work of getting the media’s attention, of stopping Keystone XL with our bodies if need be, of making the planet we all share a livable place for ourselves and for our grandchildren.
And for that we here at the SD Peace & Justice Center applaud them. We must all prepare ourselves for the fight ahead.