Last year I continued my annual “Why I Need Pride” essay series on FreethoughtBlogs–it was one of the works I submitted as a writing sample when I first applied to FTB, an ongoing project that started in 2012. A lot has changed since last year and my approach of Edmonton’s Pride festival has changed accordingly.
My opinions have shifted quite drastically in that time, a process which excites me greatly, but a process which also forces me to confront my relationship to the things around me. Since last year, I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with representative democracy as a system of government. I ended up immersed in Robert Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchy, in which I walked away conceding his points about the tension between the moral autonomy of the individual and the authority of the state. The stock-fare response to the question, “is there any rational justification for the authority of the state?” is “the consent of the governed”–and yet, not a single neoliberal democracy has enjoyed even a basic majority consensus from its voters in decades, in some cases even centuries; to say nothing of how the minority by definition does not consent to the decisions of the majority. It seems to me that the governed have only “consented” if you’re willing to stretch the definition of consent on a rack for a few hours. (If you need convincing on this point, I might consider doing that in another post, just not here).
From there the actions of law enforcement in our various democracies starts to be painted in a much less favourable light. I went down the rabbithole that was the prosecution of Canada’s anarchist organizers during the G20 protests–a mass arrest in which some ~1,100 Canadians were indiscriminately rounded up in Toronto at the 2010 G20 Summit. Following this, organizers from various networks found themselves in court over conspiracy to commit mischief charges because some of the protesters damaged property. The Crown’s argument was that the organizers ought to have plausibly known that some of the people were going to damage property because they had expressed frustration during (what were supposed to be private) meetings, and so they were party to the crime. This “evidence” was acquired through surveillance and police infiltration of activist groups.
The cases were never tried–6 organizers from various NGOs took plea bargains down to “Counselling Mischief” and the rest had their charges dropped. Their sentences ranged between 10 and 14 months, most were paroled after half that time. Anarchist organizers in Canada were appalled that speech expressing frustration with law enforcement was conflated with explicit and detailed plans to damage property, and virtually everyone who followed the case considered the over-charging and subsequent plea bargain an act of intimidation directed at civil rights organizers, particularly as none of them had participated (nor were even alleged to participate) in the property damage.
Of course, the Americans mass arrested at Trump’s inauguration are going through the exact same thing–conspiracy charges, evidence acquired through surveillance and police infiltration, being held accountable for actions that are not their own–only the United States thinks 75 years is a more appropriate sentence because that’s just how the USA rolls. Sadism is the bedrock of their so-called “criminal justice.” In violation of their right to a speedy trial, the defendants have until March of 2018 to think about the stakes of their charges. If that’s not by design, it’s surely a happy accident for the prosecution, as those plea bargains will start to look real juicy in comparison, regardless of their legitimacy. To the DA it’s just another notch in the axe, implications for the health of a democracy be damned.
No wonder people are frustrated with law enforcement. You can’t even say “fuck the police” without it being used as evidence of “conspiracy to assault an officer.” How unfortunate that all the freeze peach lecturers admonishing me for my opinion on Milo are suspiciously absent to defend the speech of anarchists who they happily characterize as vandals and violent. I’ll remind, 208 of the 214 people aren’t even named in the public indictments of the J20 defendants, yet every single participant has been charged with the same nine felonies regardless of their actual participation or lack thereof in the property destruction. Literally–the evidence connecting “the mob” to the destruction is “anti-capitalist slogans.” I expect the freeze peachers to be flipping their fucking shit, any minute now. *checks watch*
There is certainly a difference of severity between the USA and Canada, but the tactics–from law enforcement infiltration to the courts’ construction of conspiracy charges to the overcharging-plus-plea-bargaining–are just the same.
All this: My relationship with law enforcement and navigating their hate-on of both trans women and anarchists; my relationship with the incarceral practices with which I am threatened; my relationship with potential lawmakers who would see me re-classified as legally subhuman; my relationship with members of the so-called LGBTQ+ community who more often than not marginalize my concerns as a trans person. All this is what complicates my relationship with 2017 Pride.
You see, the organizers of Edmonton’s Pride continue to welcome the very law enforcement who participate in the surveillance of civil rights activists. But because the organizers of the Pride festival are under tremendous pressure from the city and their corporate sponsors to include the police, they risk their entire funding structure if they agree to the concerns of grassroots queers. Not to mention those elements of the LGBTQ+ who are openly assimilationist and who celebrate the capacities of capitalism and law enforcement in the community.
I am told that the police work for me, that I should be grateful for their labour. In reality, they try to harvest data of my legal identity at protests and rallies through card checks. They try to construct a model of my networks so they know who to press for info should they ever find an excuse to arrest me–or who I should be naming if they try to do the same to me. They characterize my beliefs as terrorism because I can’t help but notice my country’s actions in global warming, even as it speaks out of the corner of its mouth about environmental stewardship. They abuse their arresting authority to threaten people like me with frivolous charges knowing it causes psychological pressure and wastes my time in court. It might be Harper’s machinery but Trudeau is suspiciously slow to remove it. The threat continues today. You still can’t question the authority of the state, the impact of continuing oil-and-gas development, or the implications of law enforcement without ending up in a CSIS file or in front of a provincial judge wondering how you “obstructed” a peace officer by filming them from 20 feet away.
The inclusion of the police is then an endorsement of these limits. This is the mainstream Pride movement once again pushing for assimilation where it used to mean revolution. It’s saying we should fight for a place within Capitalism, within the callous disregard for the health of our climate, and within punitive incarceral systems whose only objective is to destroy. It’s saying that restorative justice is Political Correctness Gone Mad, it’s we can’t be trusted with our own moral autonomy, and it’s saying that the exploitation of the proletariat is an inevitable fact of life.
My conscience is conflicted. I’m marching with Safe Accommodations for Queer Edmonton Youth–a service that frankly only exists to band-aid the worst of Capitalism’s problems, but I hesitate to say I march with pride this year. I am not proud of a movement that appeals to the boot on its own neck. I am not proud of a movement that demands the oppressed couch the delicate ego of our oppressors, that demands we strangle our justified anger to appear respectable. I am not proud of a movement that refuses to name whose hands tighten around our throat. I am not proud of a movement who sees the prosperity of its most vulnerable as some kind of optional side goal, a convenience when-we-get-around-to-it. I am not proud of a movement that deliberately erases its own history.
But I am proud of every queer who’s here and telling cishets to fucking deal with it, especially if we are bound doubly and triply by our identities as gender variant folk, black, immigrant, woman, and/or disabled. That will do for now, I suppose.