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Mass protest against Steve Bannon in Toronto

By: 
Michelle Robidoux

November 3, 2018

About 1500 people joined an angry and determined protest against Steve Bannon in Toronto on November 2nd Bannon, the alt-right founder of Breitbart News, was invited to speak by the Munk Debates, a semiannual debate series founded by Peter Munk, who made his fortune with Barrick Gold.

The protest, organized by a coalition of groups, took over the area around Roy Thomson Hall for several hours. Fueled by the horror of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh a few days earlier, people gathered several hours before Bannon’s scheduled appearance. Before reading out the names of the 11 Jewish worshippers who were slain, Cynthia Levine-Rasky said “our strength is standing together, no matter who we are, no matter how alike or how different we may be to the people standing around us. We stand together to say no to forces that aim to divide us.”

The protest was emceed by Nigel Barriffe of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, who spoke of the extensive efforts to pressure the Munk Debates to cancel Bannon’s talk. For weeks leading up to the event, thousands of people phoned, petitioned, emailed the debate organizers to demand that Bannon’s invitation be rescinded. The Federal New Democratic Party called on organizers to cancel the event. MP Charlie Angus said “It’s not acceptable to give provocateurs like Mr. Bannon the opportunity to present their extreme views.”

Yet the event went ahead, but not without resistance. Some protesters were able to enter the building and create a disruption as patrons attempted to enter. This caused a significant delay – when Bannon’s speech eventually did start, people were still entering the hall.

Bannon ‘debated’ David Frum, the former speech writer to George W. Bush and the author of the infamous ‘Axis of Evil’ speech that justified the invasion of Iraq.

Patrons stood in line for hours while being publicly shamed for participating in normalizing neo-fascism. Protesters chanted “No hate! No fear! Nazis are not welcome here!” and listed off all the reasons Bannon should be shut down. Over the past few months Bannon has toured European cities and met with leaders of fascist parties. He is giving confidence to the far-right and the Munk Debates gave him a golden platform to spread his white supremacist filth.

Protester Brian Champ said, “I think Bannon is a very dangerous man because he peddles hate speech and had access to the highest reaches of American power. It’s very dangerous because we’ve already been seeing activity by the far right in this city. This is only going to encourage them. That’s what I fear for my community.”

As Bannon began his speech, an activist deployed a large banner right next to the stage, reading “No hate, no bigotry, no place for Bannon’s white supremacy”. Outside, the rally blocked major streets in the city’s theatre district for several hours on a Friday night. Carolyn Egan, President of the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, said "If unions, community organizations and anti-racist groups continue to work together, we can defeat these right-wing bigots and build a society with dignity and respect for all."

Over the course of the protest, 13 people were arrested and many were pepper-sprayed as hundreds of cops deployed around the venue.

With the stark reality of open white nationalist Faith Goldy coming in third in the recent mayoralty race, there are clear challenges ahead. But this event galvanized and strengthened activist networks, and sent a clear message to those at the top of society who think fascism is just another topic of debate that there is a growing movement that will not stand by while these murderous forces grow. As one activist stated, “Fascism is not an opinion – it's a crime!”

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