Leave it to me to miss all the Nazi action on my birthday weekend.
By the time I arrived at Braid, the neo-Nazis were already giving the crowd the finger and being escorted away for their own safety.
Moments earlier, the taller of the two bigots had drawn the crowd’s attention by spitting on an anti-racism banner and saying something about finding his own friends.
Clearly, he wasn’t looking to make friends in that crowd.
Neither was I, to be honest. I was more interested in the Nazis.
I followed the bigots up the stairs, hoping for a chance to pull one aside for a little in-depth questioning. I really wanted to find out more about them. What fuels their hatred. What sustains it. What makes them feel entitled to despise.
No such luck. Too soon, police bundled the somewhat beleaguered bigots onto the SkyTrain. But not before the doughier of the two assured us he doesn’t hate lesbians. Only fags. And anyone who isn’t white.
When asked why fags, he shrugs. I watch him, hoping for something illuminating. Instead he insists he didn’t know the guy he’s following; he simply met him on the bus. So much for an in-depth interview.
These two guys give Nazis a bad name, I think, as I make my way back downstairs to meet the protesters.
I’d heard about Sunday’s protest from Maitland Cassia, who emailed Xtra two weeks ago trying to rally support for a counter-protest. Word had surfaced via Facebook that some neo-Nazis were planning a march to protest the international day for the elimination of racism.
Given the 200 counter-protesters I saw, I wouldn’t be surprised if the less-than-stellar scouts decided to beat a hasty retreat.
Disappointed, I wander through the crowd, adjusting to the anarchist vibe. Not my usual scene, I note. But very queer in its own way.
This isn’t the WinterPride crowd, Alex Mah agrees with me, laughing.
Mah is here to show the Nazis their hatred is not welcome in our city. “I don’t think I’m here with the naivety that seeing a demonstration like this will change their minds,” he says. But maybe it will change other people’s minds, he suggests.
“What would it take to change the neo-Nazis’ minds?” I wonder.
“Maybe a really close relationship with someone who’s not white,” Mah suggests. “Like me coming out as trans, it really changed people’s prejudices around me.”
It’s the old Harvey Milk argument: the more homos come out, the more people will realize their neighbours are gay and the more they’ll relax or at least reconsider their hatred. I think it works well with average sheltered types, people who have never knowingly met a homo before and have little vested interest in hating us.
But would it work with neo-Nazis? With people who must already have had opportunity to meet others unlike themselves and still deliberately cling to their hatred as a way of life? Maybe it would. Depends what sustains their hatred, I guess.
At that moment, Cassia’s voice booms through a nearby bullhorn, declaring the counter-protest a success.
The SkyTrain ride back downtown is the highlight of my day. I end up sharing a car with a bunch of young people from Abbotsford, all committed to resisting hatred. Turns out Cody Baier was one of the original Social Justice 12 students who enrolled in the class then protested its withdrawal in 2008.
He not only protested, he marched off school grounds, despite threats of suspension, to demand access to a broader education. The school board eventually relented. Now Baier is looking forward to taking the class next year.
“It goes really deep into issues not usually explored in high school,” he says. “If you want to get conscious about these issues, this is the class to take.”
I imagine Baier and a teenaged neo-Nazi engaging in genuine dialogue. Then I imagine dozens such dialogues.
And again, I wish one of the neo-Nazis had stuck around to talk.