Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dissent - both noisy and quiet

A story from the 80s:

It was, of course, business as usual.  They were selling weapons again. And they were so proud.  A Dutch company, in partnership with Canadians, had developed an anti-missile system that was now being showcased for eager shoppers. However, this kind of shopping seemed indistinguishable from any number of lofty pronouncements of new government policies. According to the papers there was to be a press conference with the Minister of the Department of Defense, assorted other federal and provincial ministers and corporate representatives collectively to hype this newest piece of lethal merchandise. I had friends who were organizing the requisite protest of this grim carnival and i trusted that things would go well.

I wasn't surprised when Christine called me up and, with characteristic urgency, told me to join her at the Ritz Hotel immediately. With urban-bike-speed, I was there in moments. Christine filled me in: the protestors had already been cleared away. Everything was quiet. And Christine had an idea. She thought just the two of us stood a chance to sneak into the hotel and then get near enough to the press conference to slip under their guard and perhaps get a bit of attention.

As Christine elaborated her plan she pulled a rubber Brian Mulroney mask from her bag and explained that she would squirt ketchup on the cheeks for effect. I remember thinking, "What the hell? What's another trip to the cop shop for righteous action?"

We sallied forth into the five-star hotel. Looking as nonchalant as possible we scoped out the lobby  looking for access points. We boldly ventured down one hallway and, barely begun in our clandestine efforts, were spotted by a hotel worker.  Acting as natural as possible we ducked into the nearest door and found ourselves standing before an elevator. To our dismay the worker followed us into this small foyer. He looked sympathetic and, throwing caution to the winds, we explained that we were looking for the press conference. The worker looked at us silently and, with a perhaps conspiratorial glint in his eye, motioned us to follow.

We followed him into the elevator, up one floor, along a corridor, down and up stairways  - the kind of stairways that look left over and unused since the bygone days of Victorian intrigues - along more corridors until we stood before a small door.

We were lost. For all we knew this door led back onto Sherbrooke Street. The worker smiled enigmatically (is there any other way to smile in such a circumstance?) and left us. He never uttered a single word. We had no idea what was behind the small but as we pushed it open we could hear the hushed tones of officialdom nearby. We slipped into what seemed a small, dark room oddly crowded with chairs, coffee tables and grand pianos. We could hear someone giving an address to a room full of people. We jostled our way quietly amidst the pell mell pile of furniture until we stood before the door that separated the conference room from the closet we were in. We realized with glee (and a small amount of terror) that the worker had led us to the backstage storage room behind the dais of the press conference.

As Christine and i looked into the glaring lights of the many camera crews we exchanged the look that substitutes for the long conversation that boils down to, "Are we really going to do this thing?" We'd come this far and we were resolute. Christine donned the mask and i squirted the ketchup onto the cheeks. In a flash we had leapt into the room with me yelling, "But Mister Mulroney, we don't want anymore weapons manufactured in Montreal. We already manufacture 60% of Canada’s armaments." Those few words exhausted my creativity, if not my bravado. And i managed to repeat them a few times. We were almost undone by the shock of media attention that hit us the instant we entered the room. As luck would have it we had jumped into the front and centre of the room where the cameras merely had to turn a fraction of a degree for what proved an irresistible photo opportunity.

i barely recall being bodily lifted from the room. I lost sight of Christine amidst the sea of suits. And, within seconds, we were once again standing on Sherbrooke Street. Our escapade had taken a little over half an hour. And, with a feeling of relief at not having to hassle with cops, we were free to make our way home.


That night as i watched the news I was gratified to see every news broadcast carry the footage of our escapade. I was also counting down what I had left of my Warholian fifteen minutes of fame. And I remember thinking that while there were only two of us on the news as the protesting activists who had caused a disruption, our action really involved three people and would not have happened save for that silent and nameless partner.

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