• Darrow Woods

When freedom's just another word — for anarchy

What rights are being protected when protesters desecrate property, threaten fellow citizens and hold a city hostage?
A protester carries a Confederate flag at the 'Freedom Convoy' blockade in Ottawa. TWITTER

What is “freedom?” We’re each free to think of it as we choose, but if people are willing to occupy the streets around Parliament Hill, or limit access to one of the continent’s busiest border crossings, I hope they’re clear about what they seek and how they pursue it. The “how” matters.

I have a story to tell that isn’t from a major news outlet, so it’s not tainted by the agenda of corporations or governments. A member of the church where I serve as pastor told me what happened this week to her grandson, who attends high school across the street from a hospital in a city in another part of Ontario.

An anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-mandates protester ventured across the road to accost students as they entered their school. He told them they shouldn’t listen to their parents and said they were sheep for wearing masks. He stepped very close to the young man and ripped the mask off his face.

I have the old-fashioned idea that there are limits to my personal freedom. The freedom to swing my fist, for example, extends only to the point just before it impacts someone’s face, or they fear it might and feel threatened. I no more have the freedom to punch someone than a protester had to assault a Grade 10 student who was just trying to go to school.

Members of the trucker convoy have the freedom to display Confederate flags, Nazi swastikas and hateful slogans about people who are not white nor Christian. When they do, they are telling us a lot about themselves and the fellow travellers who condone their choices.

We are in the midst of Black History Month, which is an excellent opportunity to celebrate those who have struggled to be free from actual enslavement.

Other members of the Ottawa occupation have exercised their freedom to defecate on the front lawns of ordinary people. Some kept children awake all night with blaring truck horns. Others have accosted people of colour on the street, asking where they were from and rudely suggesting they go back there.

We have the freedom to see those choices for what they are and to interpret the kind of freedom they represent.

We are in the midst of Black History Month, which is an excellent opportunity to celebrate those who have struggled to be free from actual enslavement, to live where they wished, to work for their own gain, to vote, to be treated with due respect. Black people continue to struggle for things I take for granted, simply because of my skin tone — something about which none of us have a choice.

In my mid-20s I lived and worked in rural Georgia alongside people who knew and worked with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. Before they participated in marches or other protests, they were trained in non-violence. Not everyone who volunteered was invited along. They had to be ready.

Dr. King was inspired by Gandhi, who referred to his form of non-violence as satyagraha, meaning “truth-force” or “love-force.” It means a person should seek truth, love and freedom while refusing, through non-violent resistance, to participate in something they believe is wrong.

It takes maturity, spiritual depth and the support of kind-hearted, like-minded people to work toward freedom without resorting to tactics that threaten or cause harm to others.


Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.

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