I wrote this post in Facebook in response to a question put forward in a thread about the anti-vaxxers and the angry words rising up as a result of the pandemic. An individual asked me seriously, "Right or left...and so comes the division. I have a serious question. I am curious about what you think it would take to bring our country together again? Or do you think that will never happen?" Perhaps unsurprisingly, my reply revealed that there's actually a limit to the number of characters you can write in a Facebook comment, so I had to write the post separately. And now that I've written that post in Facebook, I think I need to say it here:
I am grateful for the serious question, and I will honour it with a serious answer. When people say things like, "what are your ideas about ending the separation and division that is happening in our country right now?", I think that implies that there are only two sides, here, and that the division is close to equal. It isn't.
Some of the organizers of the convoy in Ottawa, ostensibly against the cross-border vaccine mandate that the United States has imposed along with Canada, have included demands that the government be dissolved and replaced by the Governor-General, the Senate, and a "citizens committee" (presumably, them), all this just five months after we had an election where 95% of voters voted for parties that approved of the widespread use of vaccines, including vaccine mandates to try and end the pandemic (that was the official Conservative Party policy at the time, although they were wishy-washy over it. They were quite happy to criticize Justin Trudeau for not getting vaccines out fast enough). Only the People's Party of Canada, which in other elections campaigned against diversity, multiculturalism, and immigration) actively opposed vaccinations or vaccine mandates. They got less than 5% of the vote.
Even if you swap the Conservative numbers over to the anti-vaccine side now that many have spoken out in favour of this convoy (before backtracking once they saw the unsavoury consequences of what they were backing), 61.32% of voters still picked parties that strenuously do not support the ideals of this convoy and the people who back them.
Note also that, on the day when a couple thousand protesters showed up north of Queen's Park in Toronto in shiny new tractors (I wonder where they got them; the level of organizing here suggests a lot of fundraising that isn't exactly grassroots), over 15,000 people in Toronto showed up to get their vaccinations or vaccine boosters. Over 90% of the people in Toronto over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of vaccine (87.5% have two, and 51.7% have three).
If we are to accommodate the remaining 10%, it should only be for medical reasons. If some of the remaining 10% are simply uncertain or afraid or lied-to, then tough. If you choose not to get the vaccine, you choose to accept the consequences, up to and including getting fired from a job where your lack of vaccination threatens the health of your co-workers and the general public.
The remaining 90% have the right to protect themselves. Civil society has the right to maintain itself against individuals who would willfully make it sicker. Indeed, for the benefit of those within the 10% for whom vaccines are not an option because of serious medical issues, those whose only concern is "I just don't want to" really do have an obligation, in my opinion, to brave the needle, since this helps ensure that those who can't get vaccinated can still stay healthy even while unvaccinated. That's how herd immunity works.
It's inaccurate, even, to call this event in Ottawa and other centres across the country, a trucker's convoy, since the overwhelming majority of truckers are vaccinated (around 90%) and do not support this protest. The trucker's national association has come out against this protest. In the end, on one side you have a handful of people throwing a tantrum with extremely heavy and loud equipment and on the other side, you have everybody else.
How do we, the large and largely silent majority, bridge that divide? Well, how could we, without fundamentally compromising our values of democracy, diversity and justice? And, more importantly, how can we build any sort of common ground when many on the loud side refuse to provide any common ground themselves, denying even simple facts?
It used to be said, "you have a right to your own opinions, but you do not have the right to your own facts". Unfortunately, too many now feel that reality has a liberal bias. Too many people have tuned out of factual sources of information, turned away from civil society, and tuned into sources of misinformation, much of which is being deliberately fed to them in order to remove their trust in our democratic institutions and civil society. As nice as it would be to sit down with some of these individuals, talk to them, listen to each other, and come to some sort of compromise, no compromise is possible if one side says "The sky is blue", and the other says "No, it's not, you sheep, it's green! You're part of a Satanic conspiracy to take away these colour-correction glasses of mine, currently on sale for $49.95 at infoweirs.com."
The only way to resolve this is to confront these people with the truth, get them to put down those glasses, understand what's real and what isn't, and rejoin civil society. I can't help but wonder if it's not unlike trying to deprogram somebody who's fallen in with a cult.
There is no easy way to resolve this. I know many people across the political spectrum, including a significant number who voted Conservative in previous elections. Those I'm still friends with are all concerned with a growing tide of influence at the far right side of the spectrum who have increasingly painted everybody else who aren't them as an existential threat on their way of life (incidentally, most of those Conservative supporters who share these concerns are now former-Conservative supporters). Fundamentalist evangelical Christian groups are a part of this and they think of many of the people on the centre and the left as being of the Devil, and why the hell would they compromise with the Devil?
How do you compromise with that? How do you make common ground with that? And let's not forget that the anti-vaxx movement has been co-opted in many circles by white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis who saw this pandemic as an opportunity to gather up frightened people and destroy their faith in democratic institutions and civil society. The convoy itself has major organizers who are on record as being white supremacists. Convoy-goers might accuse me of painting with a broad brush "a few bad apples" who bring swastikas, racist Confederate flags, signs calling for our democratically-elected prime minister to be hanged, who throw stones at and shit on the porches of local residents who have pride flags in their windows, who intimidate homeless shelter workers and steal their food, but unless I see large sections of this so-called peaceful convoy confronting these "bad apples" and telling them that they're not welcome, these people are welcome, and the whole convoy is tainted. If the organizers have neo-Nazis cheering them on and if they honestly feel it's a bad look, maybe they should wonder why white supremacists and neo-Nazis feel safe cheering them on. And if they can't get these Nazis to leave, then they've lost control of their convoy and it has become something other than what they claimed it to be, and they should admit that and distance themselves from it. But they haven't. "There are good people on both sides", they say, even though one of those sides (mine) would never tolerate neo-Nazis and white supremacists riding shotgun.
So, "how do we end the separation and division"? Not by compromising with it. The silent majority hasn't done anything that merits compromise with the organizers of this convoy and the people who back them. The organizers of this convoy and the people who back them (apparently that includes the Attorney General of Texas who's upset that GoFundMe suspended the convoy's fundraiser because of alerts by Ottawa Police of criminal activities being funded by it; interestingly, he says this is an affront to "many patriotic Texans" who supported this fundraiser, and the convoy-goers who wanted to overthrow a democratically elected government) have shown that they don't want to compromise with us. They don't want to have anything to do with us but to trample on what we believe in. We are not being the unreasonable ones, here. We are not the ones who are operating on false information, either being misled by it or willfully spreading it.
So, how do we end this separation and division? By confronting it. By calling it out when we see it. By saying, what these people are doing is wrong. That these people are either lying or have been lied to. We end this separation and division by holding fast to our ideals and by telling and reaffirming the truth. And hoping that this is enough to bring some of these people back, and welcoming them back when these people see sense. We do it by suing and prosecuting those who wilfully spread misinformation to try and destabilize governments, to make people sicker, and cause deaths.
One reason why this convoy is so loud isn't just the horns they're using. The fact is, this 10% of society has an advantage because they don't have to follow the rules of civil society that, when applied properly, can save lives and end the pandemic sooner. The rest of us who understand and/or trust the science, who truly care about the health of everybody around them, who are trying to end the pandemic, rather than perpetuate it into something they can use to recruit people with, are masking up, practising social distancing, staying home and avoiding unnecessary travel.
We don't want to do this (masks are an annoyance, and staying home is no fun), but we're doing it so we can protect those we love and everybody else that might suffer if they caught COVID-19. We're doing this for the benefit of people we know, and people we don't know, even the anti-vaxxers. We're not the selfish ones, here. We want the pandemic to end without crashing our healthcare system and this is the way to do it, and it's tricky engaging in our own protests under these conditions. This is why the Silent Majority has been so silent for so long. But silence does not mean acquiescence. We see these people who flout health regulations, who were asked to help but spat in our face. And, by God, we'll remember them for a long time.
At this point, many of them shouldn't be seeking compromise with us. They should be asking us for our forgiveness.