Protesters in Vancouver are using social media and the momentum of “cancel culture” to fuel a First Nation's fight against a natural gas pipeline in northern B.C.
A Wet’suwet’en-operated checkpoint has been blocking the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline—a $6.6-million project approved by the province, but not by the hereditary chiefs governing the unceded territory. An order by the Supreme Court of B.C. prompted the RCMP to arrest dozens at the Gidimt'en checkpoint, triggering a Facebook organized blockade of three access points to the Port of Vancouver.
On February 10, another court injunction ended the four day blockade in Metro Vancouver, and 57 people were arrested early that morning. Hours later, a post was made on the “Port of Vancouver blockade in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en!” Facebook event, which has nearly 1,000 followers.
“UPDATE Monday Feb 10: Meet at 1pm at VANDU (380 East Hastings) for an organizing meeting to plan next steps. We are staying in the streets and keeping the pressure up!”
Hundreds of people poured outside the building’s entrance. Between one protesters bedazzled six-inch pumps and the accordion player leading chants, it was easy to believe reports I’d heard that the cold, sleepless shifts at Vancouver’s blockades were surprisingly fun.
“There were so many snacks,” one attendee shares, reflecting on new friendships formed over red solo cups of macaroni and cheese, passed around at the site. Others note how much singing, dancing and drum circles took place around the fire. But when organizer Herb Varley arrives, he reminds the crowd over a loudspeaker that there’s little to celebrate.
“I do not mean to chastise you all for having a festive mood right now, but in my humble opinion it's a little bit misplaced,” Varley says, and in moments the Indigenous man is moved to tears. He hasn’t slept in days.
“I'm tired, I’m wired, and I’m angry. Canada has committed yet another act of genocide today. And I just want to remind people about that. Colonization is not an event that happened 150 years ago. Colonization is an event that happened this morning.”
Organizer Natalie Knight speaks to the long term struggle that Vancouver’s show of solidarity will involve.
“Our opponents have a lot of power, and guns and resources. They are paid to resist us,” says Knight, after highlighting how the blockades cost corporations and the government millions of dollars. “We are not paid to be here. We can't stay up at 95 or 100 per cent forever but we can escalate and hit them where it hurts, recharge ourselves and hit them where it hurts again.”
One of the land defenders' tools in this battle are hashtags: organizers are using #WetsuwetenStrong, #AllEyesOnWetsuweten, #WetsuwetenSolidarity and #ShutDownCanada. While cancelling a country may seem a far stretch, Wet’suwet’en supporters successfully used the trending tags to gather enough bodies to block the entrances of the B.C. Legislature, postponing ceremonies that start the spring session. The movement has gained support internationally as well, with protesters gathering outside the Canada House in London, Britain.
The hashtags allowed me to follow the final activities at the Hastings and Clark blockade, where activist Rayne Fisher-Quann was live tweeting ahead of the anticipated arrests. The 18-year-old organizer with Climate Strike Canada says social media has played a pivotal role in helping activists share information from the frontlines.
“The way that information spreads is unparalleled,” says Fisher-Quann. “You can get hundreds of bodies at protests in under an hour from all over the city, just from reaching out to your network through a post on Instagram.”
Sharing information is a powerful part of activism, but Fisher-Quann says the work can’t be done solely through social media.
“The government isn’t monitoring people’s Instagram stories and going ‘Wow that post got a lot of likes, I guess we should stop these raids.’ No matter how much awareness work you do on social media, it’s never going to replace the groundwork. You need to do both.”