It must be pretty uncomfortable for a lot of you out there right now, being branded as radicals by none other than the prime minister himself because of your opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline.
It certainly is for me. I haven’t had to wear that tag since 1989, when I got into a pissing match with the neo-Nazis in Vancouver and, after they torched the Green Party office and sent me a death threat.
The newspaper report ended rather gallantly with “despite the fire and the death threats, Horner vows to press on.”
It should have said “vows to press north,” because I hightailed it out of town to my first newspaper job in Fort St. James within days.
But yeah, like many of you, I oppose the pipeline project, not only because I value this beautiful coast but because the expansion of the toxic goo-sand extraction it will create is the exact opposite of the way we should be going if we plan to have more than one or two more generations as a species.
So after so many years, I reluctantly find myself defined once again as one of you radicals.
Don’t be too alarmed though. Being a radical doesn’t have to be intimidating, as long as you keep a few simple rules in mind.
Perhaps a couple of my own experiences might prove instructive.
The first of these took place on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the mid-‘80s, with a big crowd of protesters expressing their opposition to uranium mining in B.C.
Caught up in the excitement of the moment, I grabbed the bullhorn and began to whip up the crowd.
“Two! Four! Six! Eight!” I bellowed. “Uh …”
In the awkward silence that followed, a lone voice floated up from the crowd.
“Nice chant buddy!”
So, grasshoppers, lesson one: If you’re going to lead a mob in a chant, try to remember the words.
Lesson two takes place outside a fancy hotel in downtown Vancouver.
The year was 1985 and my crew were taking part in a demonstration against an event promoting the arms trade.
Two of our people managed to get inside the hotel through a side door. They were immediately swarmed by security and, after going limp, were dragged into an elevator and from there to the police van.
The rest of us saw what was happening and began sitting down in front of the meat wagon.
The third time I was removed, a cop put me in a choke hold, lifted me up bodily and slammed me onto the hood of a car.
“Stay there!” he roared.
When the vehicle left, I was incensed. I was going to make a complaint! That was police brutality!
I made all this clear to the media and they tagged along as I led a march to the downtown cop shop.
Thing is, I had never actually been to the police station because, well, I was really a pretty law-abiding fellow and had never had to. As we streamed across one street and continued up the block, one of the cameramen raced up to me.
“Uh … the police station is back there!” he said, pointing down the street we’d just crossed. “Where are you going?”
It’s actually a lot harder to turn a mob around than you might think and the milling and confusion certainly made for lousy TV.
So lesson two: If you’re going to lead a mob, know where you’re going.
Neil Horner is the assistant editor of the Parksville Qualicum Beach News and a regular columnist