Archive for September, 2013

Two Four Six Eight

On my way back home from curling last week, I heard the whistles, yells, and flashing lights that can only mean one thing: A protest.

As I drew near, the shouts became clear: “Two four six eight! No more date rape!”

Now, the last time I spoke about protests was during that occupy movement which took the developed world by storm two years ago.

To be honest, I think I’ve softened my view on protests a little bit since then. I’ve come to acknowledge that protests can be useful, even in a country like Canada. Not because of the protests themselves, but because of the media attention they attract. If the media takes hold of a protest and provides it with continuous coverage, it forces people to pay attention. Media coverage greatly expands the number of people who are aware of any given issue (and as a result, the number of people who can get angry about any given issue). And it’s this anger that can, occasionally, force political actors to act. Without media coverage, a protest is a tiny blip on the radar of government, and will wither away and die quite quickly in most cases.

This Two Four Six Eight protest was, unfortunately, one of those useless protests that just serve to annoy me.

As I’ve said before, if you’re going to start a protest, you need to have a purpose. Maybe you’re protesting against the actions of a public official. Maybe you’re trying to change the law. Maybe you’re just trying to change peoples’ minds about something. But you need to be out to accomplish something. And as far as I can tell, this protest had no reason to exist.

For one thing, it wasn’t held in response to any particular wrong that was done recently by a public official. By way of comparison, look at Slutwalk, or the more recent Sammy Yatim protests – both of which concerned wrongdoing on the part of Toronto police officers. In the former case, we had a protest in response to some dreadful remarks made by a police officer, and in the latter we had a protest in response to the shooting of an 18 year old on a streetcar. Both protests succeeded in causing a change: the first officer apologized for his comments, which the second one was charged with second degree murder. Without these protests I doubt either of these events would have occurred.

For another thing, it’s not trying to change the law. Date rape, or any other form of rape, is illegal in Canada and just about all of the Western World. The punishment for it is less severe than only treason and murder (and piracy. Yarrr). The law on this is as strict as it’s going to get.

And this protest wasn’t intended to change peoples’ minds about a subject. The vast majority of people would agree that drugging someone so that you can have sex with them is a reprehensible act. The small segment of society who doesn’t subscribe to this belief aren’t going to see this parade moving down Princess Street and say “Golly gee, I’ve been wrong about this all along!”

You could argue that these protesters were just trying to raise awareness about this issue, but I don’t accept “raising awareness” as the ultimate goal of any movement, be it a protest or otherwise. “Raising awareness” is just a means to an end. You raise awareness so that other people will feel motivated to support your cause and pressure political actors to act. Awareness on its own accomplishes nothing.

And besides that, this was happening in Kingston. At most, you’ve raised the awareness of a few thousand people.

I think that some protesters only do what they do because they see it as a fun way to kill a few hours. It’s legal in this country, so why not grab a sign and blow a whistle with a bunch of people who feel the same way you do about a certain issue. In that sense it’s very similar to going to watch a hockey game. You cheer for a few hours surrounded by people who support the same cause that you do, and then you go home without ever having accomplished anything. And I suppose that’s fair enough. If I like to watch the occasional hockey game, why should I complain if other people want to engage in an occasional protest?

I think the main difference is that I don’t even pretend that hockey is serious business. I may joke about the fate of the free world hinging on the outcome of a hockey game every now and then, but I don’t actually believe that crap. I just feel that protesters shouldn’t take themselves so seriously, especially since without media coverage or a proper cause their actions will accomplish about as much as me sitting at home watching the Flames lose.


I’ll tell you one thing that hasn’t changed though: There are still screwballs everywhere.

Screwballs are those types that just don’t give a shit about class. They spend entire lectures on Buzzfeed, scrolling through useless (if sometimes amusing) articles, making plans for the weekend, and generally appearing oblivious to the fact that they’re in school.

These screwballs aren’t exclusive to Queen’s. Heck, they’re not even exclusive to university. They’ve been there ever since elementary school, wasting everyone’s time. And when I went to high school, I remember being told “It’ll be different in high school. You won’t get any of those screwballs there.” But alas, there they were. And then when I went to university, I was told “University is serious business, Michael. There won’t be any of those screwballs there.” But again, there they were.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that there are screwballs here too. Maybe screwballs are just a fact of life; a constant presence that I’ll just have to get used to at some point.

There are two things that differentiate these postgraduate screwballs from their previous incarnations, however. The first is that, just from the very fact that they are present in law school, there is a very good chance that some of these screwballs did better than me on the LSAT. And that infuriates me to no end.

The second thing is that some of these screwballs won’t end up paying for their laziness later on. See, earlier in my academic careers, the presence of some screwballs in class was beneficial. They brought down the class average and made whatever work I did look better in comparison. And the screwballs themselves were punished for their laziness with bad grades and a low GPA.

But here in law school, grades are only a means to getting a job at the end of these three years. Aside from that, they don’t matter. A lawyer with a C- average is still a lawyer. And you can bet that some of these screwballs are already set because daddy has a position waiting for them once they graduate. They don’t need to be outstanding. They don’t even need to achieve anything specific. They just need to pass.

But what can you do?

The More Things Change…

We’re now two weeks into my second adventure at Queen’s, and I can safely say that things are different this time.

The most marked difference (as expected) is the sort of company I’m keeping this year. Back in 2009 I lived in this strange paradox where I was almost never alone, but felt utterly isolated. This year, I’m undoubtedly spending more time alone than ever before, but it doesn’t feel that way. Between class, orientation events, readings, skyping, and fencing the vast majority of my hours are booked. Orientation will be done as of this Thursday, but curling season starts next week and will fill that gap nicely. In first year of undergrad I had so much free time that I had to stretch just to find ways to use it. Part of that was a result of the relatively low workload I had, and part of it was because I had no friends. I watched all 240 odd episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh for fuck’s sake. And no, I’m not proud of that.

I feel like I’ve this time I’ve hit a comfortable balance where I don’t feel overwhelmed by school, nor do I have so much free time than I know what to do with it. I’m busy, but not so busy that a skype conversation that runs two hours longer than planned will have any serious bearing on me. On the whole, I think that’s been good for me.

I certainly don’t have the sense of doom and gloom that I had two weeks into my first year of undergrad. That’s not to say that I have the same sense of abundant joy that I had two weeks into second year either. I’m somewhere in the middle right now, but that’s pretty much where I expected to be.

On the whole, I can’t say that I’ve been overly surprised by anything thus far. But given the vast array of surprises I received last time around (see the vast majority of my blogs from September ’09), maybe that’s not such a bad thing.