Seo Hee Seo
Peaceful Youth Rally
On November 9th, I headed to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to observe the “Freeze the Industry” (FTI) rally. I had searched for public events, for the ethnographic experiment, and had found this youth activists’ event. I had previously attended a few protests; however, this was first time I came in contact with the youth-led coalition. FTI is a fast-growing network of youth activists who are standing against the tobacco industry. Before attending the rally, I had researched FTI to learn about them, and they seemed well organized. I had become more curious. The first of my ethnographies will be descriptive and focus on the rally itself. The second ethnography will focus on the place, Parliament Hill, and the format will be more poetic and literary.
# 1. The FTI Rally
When I entered Parliament Hill, there were two groups of young people. One was a group of elementary school students who were waiting for the tour of Parliament Buildings; the other group was made up of the youth activists I had come to observe. The rally started at nine o’clock on that cold morning. There were roughly 50 participants: all youth, probably in their late teens, and their gender and race varied. All of them held professionally prepared picket signs, and some even wore costumes, including a full spandex bodysuit and a cigarette costume.
In the beginning, I could not decide whether I would be a participant or just an observer. But since none of adults standing around the activists were participating in the rally, I decided to go along with other adults and simply observe. In addition, I did not bring picket sign, so I felt unprepared to participate in the event.
Some of the adults were from the Canadian Cancer Society, an ally of FTI, and the others seemed to be either teachers or chaperones (Later I found out that the activists came from different cities across Canada). A man was supervising the rally from distance, and two major media outlets, CBC and Global News, were there to report on the event as well.
“Hey FTI! Plain packages! Standardize it!”
The rally started with a rhythmic chant. One boy, the leader of the rally, announced each action with megaphone. They made a circle, chanted, walked clockwise, and paused. By forming a circle, they increased their visibility, and made their number look larger than it actually was. Adults continued to stay on the outside of circle and watch them.
“Calling all MPs to implement PSP!”
Another chant started, and they walked in the circle counter-clockwise. All of the activists were very cheerful and energetic, and I felt the energy of youth. They all gathered in the centre. Then they spread in groups and showed their picket signs to whomever passed by. People did not pay much attention, though. I’d say that the youth had a 50/50 of chance of being seen. Most people there seemed to be Parliament workers, who were used to seeing many protests of this kind. Only handful of tourists came by, to check the protest out. I assumed that the cold weather probably had an impact on who was on the Hill on that day. The number of activists was about the same as the number of the public. When they chanted, more people paid attention. Their chant was so catchy that I even joined in at the end, as did a few tourists. In a sense, the sound invited people to pay attention.
At 9:30 am, the protestors performed an action of “dropping dead,” while an announcer read: “Every six minutes, someone dies of a tobacco-related illness.”
Demonstrating the death toll of tobacco by dropping their bodies to the ground was an effective way to send a warning message. It was bold and straightforward. The same tactics were repeated at a later time. As a member of the audience, I was very impressed with how they organized an hour and a half of the rally. Most of all, it was peaceful (non-violent), pure, and playful. There was no extra police presence, other than on-site RCMP officers. The rally continued at the same place, on the Hill. Following the last announcement, the protesters spread outward so they could take up more space. After that last “drop dead” performance, they all put their hands on others’ shoulders and circled.
By the time the rally was almost over, the same tour of school age children that had gone into the Parliament building at the beginning of the rally came out. They watched the rally curiously, as they headed to the next place on their tour. I wonder what those young children thought about the actions of such young activists. The rally ended peacefully with lots of cheers at 10:30 am.
# 2. The Harmonious 90 minutes
On this cold November morning, the temperature may be below zero. I see two different groups of people. Elementary school students wait for the parliamentary tour; another group gathers for the “Freeze The Industry (FTI)” rally against the tobacco industry.
At 9 o’clock, the rally begins with picket signs and chants. The tour group enters the Parliament building.
The well-organized youth activists continue their rally.
Youth dropping to the ground as a symbol of death
The youths are cheerful, energetic, enthusiastic, and active. The adults quietly stand by.
Two cameramen (from the CBC and the Global) are busy recording.
Beside the rally, construction workers are busy making an outdoor skate rink.
A few tourists pay attention to the rally while they walk to the Parliament. Some parliamentarians go to work; they may be attending the Senate meetings. The sounds of chants and the visual of youth “dropping dead” occasionally stops them in their tracks.
Another lone protester joins the various groups on the Hill. He protests the deportation of immigrants silently. Now, the two unrelated protests continue simultaneously. Both protests are non-violent and there is no need for extra police officers.
The rally reaches the end. The elementary school children finish their tour as well. They walk by the youth activists as those activists announce the end of the FTI rally.
On the Hill, the harmonious and active 90 minutes of protest ends, and quietness returns.
Throughout this semester, I’ve learned about various types of ethnographies. Writing my own ethnography in two different styles challenged me. When I was observing the event, I wasn’t sure which part I would focus on and what wouldn’t be necessary. Thus, I tried to write down every detail. Looking through my notes, I began to think about the event in multiple ways. As Ralph, Paxson, and Tsing found various insights from an object, I tried to find various ways to address a certain message. However, in this short observation at one place, it was difficult.
Instead, I focused on the event itself in my first description and on the meaning of Parliament Hill as a public place in my second description. Conceptualizing the Hill led me recall what was happening, who was there, and why they were there during the 90 minutes of rally. This process enhanced my perspective of the event.
By reading multiple ethnographies, of different length, I’ve learned that the genre or the topic of ethnography may affect the readers’ attention and interest. Yet, what’s more important, I think, are the insights that the ethnographer relates to the topic. These insights require the ethnographer to approach the topic from multiple perspectives as well as to have rich knowledge of the subject.