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Toronto protest challenges Islamophobes

Carolyn Egan

December 21, 2017

On a dark night in December, trade unionists from the rapid response team of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council gathered at the Ontario Federation of Labour building. They were joining community members from the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia who had called a demonstration against bigotry.

Just two blocks away on the same street, the Canadian Christian College was hosting Pamela Geller, a notorious Islamophobe, who had traveled north from the United States. She was speaking to a crowd of the far-right and was trying to inflame anti-Muslim sentiment in our community. Not even a year has passed since six men were gunned down while praying in their mosque in Quebec City. The number of hate crimes has been steadily growing, and building a strong response is critical.

Just south is Flemingdon Park, the home of thousands of Muslim Canadians, where a woman wearing a hijab was viciously attacked by a racist. Members of that community spoke to those assembled before they marched the short distance to the college. Arriving, they saw security for the meeting made up of La Meute, the Northern Guard and other members of the alt-right. They appeared to be itching for a confrontation, many of them holding small clubs. The police presence was heavy in the surrounding area, including on horseback.

The anti-racist march was committed to a peaceful protest, making clear that this bigotry was not welcome in our community. There were members, including local leadership, of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 79, the United Steelworkers, labour council and the Ontario Federation of Labour. They made up the majority of the protesters, and Rebel Media, a right-wing outfit, was asking if unions really supported the protest. Demonstrators refused to speak to them. They were scheduled to do a one-on-one interview with Geller after the meeting to promote her views to a wider audience.

Chants rang out, “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here”, “All of us or none of us”, “Immigrants in, racists out”, “Black lives matter here.” This continued in front of the building, stating clearly to the media present and passers by that our community as a whole will stand shoulder to shoulder with those subjected to Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, antisemitism and bigotry of any sort.

We have seen the demonstration of 60,000 neo Nazis in Poland, Marine LePenn leader of the National Front in the run off for the presidency of France, the Golden Dawn in Greece and the far right marching in Charlottesville. In these times of economic uncertainty and political volatility where the neo-liberal agenda is running roughshod over the poor and the working class, scapegoating is rampant. Divide and rule is the recipe of the day for the capitalists and governments all over the world.

We can not allow the politics of division to weaken our struggles against the 1%. The most vulnerable amongst us, racialized communities, women, LGBTQ are particularly under attack. It is very important that the trade union movement  be front and centre in the fight backs that are taking place. The working class has a central role as we build the movement for change. Labour councils all over Ontario have been mobilizing against this threat and this must continue.

We must remember that we are also having victories such as the fight for the $15 minimum wage in Ontario through a strong grass roots movement. Pipelines have been stopped and women are speaking out strongly against the misogyny, harassment and assault they are being subjected to. Trump’s election was met by one of the largest demonstrations we have ever seen and his Muslim ban was objected to at airports across the US with New York City cab drivers refusing to take fares from arriving flights. Continuing to build from below is the way we can defeat the growth of the far right and develop an inclusive movement that can not only protest the attacks but bring an alternative vision of a world without oppression and exploitation.

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