Ex-page DePape calls for democracy beyond the ballot box

“We live in exciting times and we need to seize the moment.” – Brigette Depape

On June 3 of this year, parliamentary page Brigitte DePape stood up on the senate floor in the middle of the speech from the throne with a cardboard stop sign that said “Stop Harper.” She stood silently in protest until she was escorted out by security.

DePape was promptly dismissed from her position as a page, but garnered a lot of attention from the media, which played a huge role in allowing her to get her message out. Canadians, as usual, were divided in their reactions, but organizations such as the Council of Canadians, Public Service Alliance of Canada, and famous film-maker activist Michael Moore were so impressed they offered her jobs.

On November 1, The Peterborough-Kawarthas chapter of the Council of Canadians hosted DePape at Market Hall as the keynote speaker for an event called “Stop Harper: the arts, youth, and the future of Canada”.

There were over 100 people in attendance, of all ages and walks of life, but everyone had one thing in common: they were inspired by Brigette DePape’s small act of civil disobedience.

John Etches, of the Peterborough-Kawarthas chapter of the Council of Canadians opened the night with a speech that outlined issues threatening Canadian values and the character of our country. As he mentioned topics ranging from Canadian participation in war; free trade; the Tar Sands; the devaluation of the arts; a lack of attention paid to environmental issues; and the threat of corporate take-over, various members in the crowd cried “shame.”

DePape said that she once aspired to a career in politics, either as a politician or a lobbyist, thinking that change could be achieved through parliament. However, what she witnessed when she became a parliamentary page was “something else,” not a remedy to social injustices.

Depape said that she was prompted to take action when the climate change bill in the senate was rejected. “Small acts of resistance together build a movement,” she said.

“We do have power when we decide to make that leap,” DePape continued. She believes we have a broken system that needs to be fixed so that Canada can transition toward being to a green and just society.

DePape also shared that her roommate was a big inspiration to her, because instead of seeing posters of musicians or celebrities, every time Depape would pass by her room, she would see a flip-chart entitled ,“How can we confront the majority?”

In her keynote presentation, DePape expressed deep concern for our Canadian image deteriorating internationally. She talked about what we need to do to hold our government accountable, Harper’s agenda and what we can do about it, how we can leverage our power, the relationship between art and social change, grassroots uprisings, the role of youth, and the Occupy movement.

She called Harper’s agenda an “austerity agenda,” for wanting to cut social services but still spend money on the military, prisons, and tar sands expansions. She criticized Harper’s “neoliberal free market agenda” for favouring “endless corporate profit over our well-being.”

Though the election result was discouraging, DePape said that we have to change our understanding of power; although we may not have the resources that the government has, we have “people power, numbers, and collective strength.” She called this “democracy beyond the ballot box,” and full-heartedly explained that social movements and people power works if we just “think outside the ballot box.” She explained that if you’re not happy with something, you need to think of creative ways to resist and use whatever position you’re in because “anyone can be an activist.”

Regarding the Occupy movement, she highlighted civil disobedience as being part of our history in Canada, and shared the inspiring words, “We are all leaders in the movement.” The mood started with the Arab spring, and the youth of our country which have lost faith in the electoral system are being inspired.

Near the end of the presentation, an older woman in the audience shouted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Stephen Harper must go,” and the chant broke out, with Depape joining in.

Brigette’s act served as a catalyst for action for some, which is why Monroe Scott, a member of the Council of Canadians in Peterborough contacted her in hopes of having her come and speak here.

DePape stressed the importance of the arts and youth in shaping the future of our country. Throughout the evening, the house band Rep By Pop would energize the crowd with their groovy jams, and played a song called “Stop Harper” which was inspired by DePape’s protest.

Local spoken word artist Ziysah took the stage with a beautiful piece calling for change and empowering the individual, a recurrent theme during the event. Fellow local, progressive groups spoke and gave performances at the event, such as OPIRG, KWIC, I Love CBC Peterborough, SAGE, Ploughshares, and Jamaican Self-Help Youth.

About Sara Ostrowska 34 Articles
Sara has been editor for Volume 47 (2012-2013) and Volume 48. She is a fourth year Philosophy and Political Studies undergrad. Her main interests are Canadian politics, and issues of law, justice and rights, feminism, and ethics. She is also a programmer on Trent Radio. You can follow her on twitter here!