On December 30th 2009 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament, essentially ending all the previous session work on bills, legislation, committees and investigations. When parliament does eventually resume members of all parties will have to start from square one.
This is the second time in as many years that the prime minister has taken this undemocratic approach, and Canadians have taken unprecedented action. In less than two weeks over 212 000 people joined a Facebook group started by Christopher White from the University of Alberta, and local activists began planning rallies and demonstrations all over the country. Using online social media tools – websites, email, Facebook and Twitter – events were set for a mass day of protest on Saturday January 23rd. Many of the volunteer rally organizers were new to each other, new to activism, new to organizing protests – yet the utility of online tools provided an efficient platform to organize local events and market them effectively.
The Victoria BC rally was held in Centennial Square under glorious Vancouver Island sunshine – compared to events around Canada we had it lucky. It is hard to estimate numbers, but several hundred at least carried signs against proroguing parliament, listened to music by the Raging Grannies – joining in on the National Anthem and This Land is Your Land – and cheered loudly during speeches by Dr. Keith Martin MP (Liberal, Esquimalt Juan de Fuca), Denise Savoie MP (NDP, Victoria), political scientists, youth leaders and many others.
The use of online social media as a protest platform is certainly not unprecedented in Canada. What is somewhat unique is how quickly the Facebook group spread virally across the entire country, how it was used as a messaging and organizational system, then leading to disparate groups and individuals into protest rallies. As everyone who joined online and attended the rallies are now actively engaged, it is a wake up call to political communicators that the ‘engagement paradigm’ has radically shifted – not just theoretically, but in a real life situation.