AS CITIES GO, Kamloops is not a hub of protests.
Certainly there are protests.
On Oct. 15, correctional officers protested violence they face in their workplace outside of Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre. On Oct. 7, dancers dressed in red from Extinction Rebellion protested the Kinder Morgan pipeline on Mission Flats Road. There was a Climate Strike organized by local students on Sept. 20.
There have been ongoing small protests over the years at Kamloops’ MP Cathy McLeod’s office for everything from (the then) criminalization of marijuana, to protests about bills on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), to a protest calling for action to ensure federal employees be paid correctly and on time because of the broken Phoenix pay system.
Opponents to City of Kamloops plans to ship bio-solids to Turtle valley rallied at Kamloops City Hall in the spring. While the debate over the Ajax Mine continued, there were frequent protests against KGHM’s proposed plans.
None of these protests amounted to more than a few dozen people. None reached even one hundred.
Watching the sea of protests around the world this week, it’s hard to imagine that the small protests in Kamloops could make a difference. In Vancouver, on Oct. 25, a Climate Strike in Vancouver at which Swedish activist Greta Thunberg spoke, attracted 15,000 protestors.
One million marched in Chile this week. Up to 2 million or more have marched in Hong Kong. Tens of thousands linked hands to create a human chain across all of Lebanon. From Hong Kong, to Lebanon, to Chile and Iraq, streets have been filled with people protesting loss of freedoms, political corruption, and economic inequalities.
Protests can work. The hated extradition law was withdrawn in Hong Kong. The prime minister of Lebanon has resigned.
But none of Kamloops recent protests attracted even a fraction of these numbers.
So when Kamloops’ protests are so small, can they lead to change?
Anyone who has lived in Kamloops long enough knows that the traffic lights at 3rd and Columbia were not always there. It wasn’t traffic engineers who got them built. After being ignored by City Hall and the Province, in 1966, Marguerite Beesley led parents protesting an unsafe crossing for students at St Ann’s Academy.
They linked arms and blocked traffic, day after day for weeks until the powers that be agreed to put a traffic light at the intersection to provide a safer crossing for the students.
Beesley and others’ protest shows how even a small group can have a strong effect.
Fifty years later, traffic safety is still a concern.
On an online twitter discussion back in the summer, I suggested that one thing worth protesting in Kamloops would be for safer bicycle routes.
ICBC reports that in the Southern Interior on average each year vehicle crashes cause 160 cyclists’ injuries and two cyclists’ deaths. And for the entire province there are 1600 cyclists’ injuries and nine cyclists’ deaths involving vehicles each year.
Some in Kamloops don’t think protests are the way to go.
When I tweeted suggesting a protest for bicycle infrastructure, a City councillor and others weren’t keen on my tweet suggestion. They thought consultations and meetings would be more productive.
There is a place for meetings, but there is also a place for protests.
The Netherlands is renowned for their bicycle infrastructure. It has not always been that way. Continual cyclist deaths led to organized and ongoing protests in the 1970s. In the end, Dutch politicians had no other choice but to build safer bicycle paths.
Protests raise awareness of issues and shift peoples’ attitudes. And protests can be highly effective, even if they are small.
Kamloops may never have protests in the thousands or tens of thousands. But even the small protests can shift policy and lead to changes that benefit people for decades.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.