Stepping up to the right to protest
Photos and text by Faye Bayko
Robert didn’t want to go to the rally. He had no interest in such things, environmental or otherwise. He was in a relationship though and was interested in staying in one. If that meant standing on a crowded downtown Vancouver sidewalk in the heat of a spring day, bored out of his skull, well, he’d do it.
When we see coverage of protest rallies on the evening news, we don’t usually think about who isn’t in attendance. We assume that those who want to be part of these events do.
Protest marches, blockades, and rallies all involve large groups of people coming together in what can be a chaotic, milling mass of humanity. Sound systems often garble speeches. Chanting and drumming drown out conversation. Emotions often run high and crowd control can be iffy. For the sight-challenged, who depend on mobility devices such as canes, guide dogs or human assistants to help them navigate the world, the decision to put themselves into such a situation is dependent on their support network.
If they have a friend, family member, or a professional caregiver willing to attend the event and act as a guide through the crazy maze of people and noise, they are able to exercise their right to support the cause of their choice.
But, if it’s the life partner of the sight-challenged person who wishes to become involved in a cause and attend protest events, and wants their partner to share that participation, a different dynamic happens.
A lot of noise
It became obvious as soon as we crossed Granville at West Georgia on that morning in May, that the protest had not attracted the numbers I had expected. There was maybe 200 people scattered along the sidewalk in front of the TD Bank building. The organizers walked among the crowd trying to encourage individuals to form two lines to allow those not wishing to participate to pass through. This had short-lived success.
As the crowd grew, we were moved out of our lines and grouped around the entrance of the TD Bank where the speakers finally started offering their view points. It was difficult to hear what was being said over the chanting and drumming. I left Robert to stand alone while I walked to the front of the group to see if there was any sign of the crowd being moved into walking mode but found instead more shouted speeches. I began to wonder if the organizers had decided not to march to the other banks.
When I returned to where Robert was standing, I could tell he was bored. I knew then that this was not going to be an activity we would be doing together going forward. I was disappointed but asked if he wanted to go have a drink somewhere instead of staying at the rally. He jumped at the opportunity and we left without participating in the march that eventually happened. So, this ended up being his first and last protest march.