Leading up to the date, local Pride groups put out a call for a counter-demonstration. The day before, many local LGBTQ+ youth enthusiastically gathered for a poster-making session. Some of those youth left signs for other people to carry at the demo, their way of sharing their voices without being there in person. Following recent events in Hamilton and Oakville, some independent leftist queers in Ottawa decided to mobilize people from the city in support. After reaching out to those Renfrew organizers, we secured funding to charter a bus down. With less than a day’s notice, we filled that bus with 30 people, plus a few more separate cars. Added to the locals, our side outnumbered theirs at least 3 to 1. Total estimates of our people were anywhere between 90 and a couple hundred.
The “anti-woke” crowd set up first on the traffic median with their makeshift sound stage, and we took the side of the street that led into school property. As our numbers grew, this meant that we spread across all sides of the intersection, essentially circling them in. Our music and chants and the raging wind meant that the fash were largely drowned out; we blocked the wind from our mic with a wool sock. Unlike many of the demos and counterdemos in bigger cities these past few years, there was no line of cops to keep us apart, though people mostly let the road stand between us. While the OPP contacted organizers and sent a few uniformed and plainclothes officers into the crowd, they were surprisingly hands off this time round.
Aside from a few anti-trans demonstrators who crossed over to try to taunt us, the two rallies went on with little incident. Those few fash turned back as soon as they stopped finding targets for their “debates.” Here, we reiterate that the far right has no interest in genuine free speech or exchanging of ideas. Though it’s tempting to believe that these people simply don’t know better, they are never acting in good faith. The cameras they shove into your face are taking footage that they’ll use to chop up your words beyond recognition and dox you as a dangerous predator, terrorist, etc. Even if they can be talked out of the cult, that process takes place among their friends and family, not at the action.
As the fash get bolder everywhere we turn, it’s more important than ever to build strong relationships across distance and bridge the gap between urban and rural organizers. Renfrew is a small town of less than 10,000 people, about an hour west of Ottawa. Much of the anti-trans side drove in from elsewhere, but there was still a core local crew of younger students and other neighbourhood fash. All this brings a somewhat different set of considerations for us, especially as largely folks from out of town.
In these small rural communities, it’s common for everyone to already know each other’s names and faces — both among our own side, and when it comes to the cops and fash. That means that for many locals, typical security protocols like not talking to cops won’t change that the state’s enforcers are already well aware of who they are. As guests, this might also mean honouring a diversity of tactics while asking ourselves if we’re about to start fights that we’re leaving others to have to finish. To be clear, peace policing and “outside agitator” hysteria is always complete and utter bullshit. At the same time, we should remember that when the youth we’re here to support already know some of the faces across the street, the struggle doesn’t end for them just because we’ve gone back home. Our rural-raised comrades remind us, too, that there’s often a sense of resentment towards city people for parachuting into their communities and insisting we know best. These are just a few reflections we want to offer in the interest of fostering future collaboration between our communities while keeping us all safe from the threats of state and extrastate violence.
Finally, we want to share some links with a reminder and a call to action: the rise of anti-trans and COVID conspiracy movements is a product of the white supremacist operating logics of this settler colony called Canada. In response to that, cops will never keep us safe; we do.
December 1, 2022: Virtual trans care clinic closes due to Ontario healthcare cuts
November 29, 2022: Renewed anti-trans sticker campaign in downtown Ottawa
November 24, 2022: Hamilton anti-fascists defend a drag queen storytime
November 23, 2022: Anti-maskers shut down Ottawa school board meeting
November 23, 2022: Shopify, based in Ottawa, refuses to cut ties with account that incited the Colorado Springs massacre
November 16-21, 2022: Oakville high school receives at least three bomb threats in a week over trans woman teacher