by Lesley Jamieson
President of the Kingston & District Labour Council
The morning of Saturday, March 23rd, Andrea Loken (president of OSSTF Limestone local) got word from a reliable source that Doug Ford would be making an appearance in Napanee, a small city of 15,000 near Kingston, Ontario. This would be his one stop between Ottawa and Toronto. The source claimed that he was scheduled to make an announcement about extraction industry investment at a mining supply manufacturer, Continental Conveyor Ltd., between 3pm and 5pm.
Torn between wanting to immediately alert as many people as possible, and wanting to ensure that Ford wouldn’t get wind of the protest early in the day and be able to just relocate his event, Loken decided to immediately start sending out strategic messages to labour and community allies between Kingston and Napanee. This consisted of OSSTF secondary school teachers in her local, leadership and activists in the elementary school teachers’ union ETFO, Catholic school teachers in OECTA, support staff with CUPE 1480, allies with the Kingston and District Labour Council, and parents involved in the fight for autism supports in Ontario. From this initial list of contacts, word spread like wildfire through closed union networks and person-to-person contacts.
At the 2:30pm meet-up time, more than 50 people had gathered in Napanee’s industrial park. At 3pm, the protestors began chants and cheers before splitting into 3 groups that blocked all 3 entrances to Continental Conveyor. Soon after, an abnormally large number of police cruisers were seen driving up the quiet sideroad beside the factory. Towards 4pm, a series of black Silverados with tinted windows began circling the building in apparent confusion. They disappeared without trying to get past the informal pickets. Finally, at 4:30pm, cars started exiting the parking lot. Finally, a manager came out of the facility to inform protesters that they were “wasting their time” since the event was cancelled.
With only a few hours of notice, education workers and their labour and community allies succeeded in shutting down Doug Ford’s announcement event. Loken writes “That so many people came out to Napanee on short notice showed that people are ready and willing to challenge authority when faced with such injustice. Many of the people who came out do not have a lot of time to give. They are busy, working people/students, many with young families, but they see what’s at stake.”
There are 3 major takeaways from this action, which we all need to take to heart as we build the resistance to austerity cuts, privatization, and white supremacy in Ontario.
1. Build your local communication network
The first takeaway is that it’s important to have networks that can be activated at short notice. In this case, our hope was to keep the element of surprise on our side so that Ford and his staff wouldn’t be able to make alternative plans before the scheduled appearance in Napanee, forcing him to cancel his appearance. Having a set of communication ‘hubs’ already in place – people who could reach out to their own contacts after hearing from her — meant that Loken was ultimately able to reach a large group of labour and community supporters by contacting a relatively limited list of people. As we build the resistance to Ford across Ontario, it’s important that we build rapid response networks like this in advance. We need to be ready to effectively disrupt Ford’s events whenever the opportunity arises.
2. Have your supplies prepared
The second takeaway from the Napanee action was the importance of having supplies prepared in advance. The local education unions and the families involved in protesting Ford’s cuts to autism funding already had the supplies needed for our action on hand—Loken had a megaphone she could access, some union flags and protest signs prepared, and was able to contact 2 other OSSTF members who also had signage, markers, and poster board. When the call went out, we were already prepared to protest with our message loud and clear.
3. Organize carpool leaders
One last lesson was the importance of planning transportation. Since events might not always take place in locations that are accessible via public transportation, we need to ensure that we prepare carpooling networks. In this case, while Napanee is only a short drive from Kingston, it’s not accessible for Kingston residents who don’t drive or own vehicles. By having carpool leaders designated in advance, we ensure that our actions are more accessible.
In the months to come, we need to be prepared, be connected, and eliminate all barriers to joining the Fight against Ford. According to Loken, “It only took 50 very nice, polite people, including several kids, to scare Ford and disrupt his agenda. The people are powerful. The people can win. Just imagine what we could do if we all realized our collective strength!”