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a protest in Toronto and a powerful encounter

A big day in Ontario. A huge rally at Queen’s Park, CUPE workers and their supporters rallying to protest the government’s imposition of the Notwithstanding Clause and refusal to increase worker pay. These are essential workers in schools, mostly women, immigrants — custodians, lunchroom supervisors, educational assistants like people who work with kids with disabilities, making too little to support themselves. 

It was a glorious day and a strangely joyful gathering, a sense of solidarity, fighting together for justice, marching around the government building with signs, chanting. I have a terrible feeling about this job action, that parents have been so battered by years of Covid, kids already home from school for so long — will they turn on the workers? That’s what Ford and Lecce are banking on. 

And in other news, while we’re distracted, the government announced they want to take 7500 hectares from the Green Belt “to build housing.” That’s the farmland that feeds this city and that they promised not to touch.

So tired of fighting these same fights over and over. Nearly 20 years ago, my kids and I were marching in the same place about education cuts by another vile stupid Conservative government. Here we go again.

I missed Anna, who spent the morning with her strike camp making signs and then brought the whole brood to Queen’s Park — my hero, that woman. 

The best thing about today, as well as the hot sun and the warmth of the crowd, was my awareness that unlike the protesters in Iran, Russia, and many other countries, we did not have to fear the police swooping in with tear gas and billy clubs, beating and gassing and hauling us off to jail. The usual groups were there — Communists, Socialists pushing their broadsheets, other unions. All of us disagreeing with the government, safely.

The children’s craft table

On the way there, riding along Richmond Street on my way to City Hall, where I was mistakenly headed instead of Queen’s Park further to the north, I saw a woman lying in the middle of the street flailing and howling. It’s a busy one-way street; speeding cars were navigating around her, but I thought it’d be only a matter of time before she got hit. I stopped, a woman passerby stopped too, and we decided we had to do something. I parked my bike and we walked into the street to try to get her to the sidewalk. Cars stopped for us. She didn’t want to move, cried and shouted — she was both physically and mentally disabled and in great distress. Finally we got her to the sidewalk. “Just listen to me,” she kept insisting. And so we did.

Though it was hard to understand her, she told us today, November 4, is her birthday, and her beloved husband of 20 years died on September 1st. She wailed. We listened. She calmed down. In the end, though she said she wanted “pop, not money,” I gave her $20, saying Happy Birthday, go have a good breakfast and some hot coffee. And she said, “Thank you for hearing my pain.” When we left, she was sitting on some steps, quiet. 

Riding away, I wept. She was desperate for someone just to hear her. What profound loneliness and grief and despair. There’s so much. 

I didn’t ask her name. I wish I’d asked her name. 

Why did I take the wrong route to the wrong destination? It ensured I was in the right place at the right time, for once. I think it’s an encounter the three of us will not forget. 

It’ll be 21 degrees tomorrow. I leave you with more local trees — a ginko and a Japanese maple. I know their names, at least.

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One response to “a protest in Toronto and a powerful encounter”

  1. Lianne says:

    Just catching up on your blog Beth. I got the link in the email this morning (Nov. 27th). I’m an RECE in childcare at U of T, fortunately I’m not in the same position as the CUPE workers but I am in a CUPE union, and I’m in childcare. I get paid significantly more than they do, but still not nearly enough for this physically and mentally demanding career. It’s infuriating to hear Lecce, and the like, demonising women (let’s face it) for asking for a living wage in exchange for teaching, supporting, and caring for the well-being of children and their families. Thank you for being at the rally. Thank you for your voice.

    Thank you also for stopping your bike and helping that distressed woman in her grief. You were meant to be on Richmond Street that day to listen and remind her that there are still humans who care, that even if she has no one else to turn to, her grief is valid and acceptable. After all, isn’t that what we all want?Whether it’s a book, an article, a blog, a social media post, a rally? We all want to be seen and heard. Thank you for stoping that day.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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