Largely lost in much of the commotion around the protest that interrupted the Kingston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 has been why the protesters chose to bring their activism to the meeting in the first place. While the message of “ceasefire now” was heard loud and clear, the ‘why here?’ was almost as important as that message, according to those involved in organizing the events.
As reported in Part 1 in our two-part coverage of a protest that interrupted the most recent City Council meeting, early in the agenda of the meeting after the first delegation of the night was complete, a group protesters began ringing tambourines and chanting “ceasefire now” in the Council Chambers of City Hall. Councillor Wendy Stephen quickly addressed the situation, notifying those protesting that continued interruption of the meeting would result in her calling a recess. When the chanting continued, Stephen did exactly that, and the meeting of Council was moved into a virtual format. Police were called to City Hall and four officers responded to the “approximately 20” protesters who “were co-operative, respectful, and polite,” according to Constable Anthony Conlangeli, a Media Relations Officer for Kingston Police. In total, officers remained at City Hall for 20 minutes, and no arrests were made, police said.
Over two days following the meeting, Kingstonist attempted to find at least one of the protesters to ensure the voices of those protesting were included in our coverage. With the heightened sensitivity around the conflict in the Middle East, many of those who participated did not want to be identified. But while she chose to remain anonymous, one of the organizers of the protest spoke with Kingstonist on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. Kingstonist has verified her identity and her presence in City Hall during the events.
The people who engaged in the protest have actually been trying to speak with councillors or the mayor for months now, the organizer said. For example, in an attempt to speak with Mayor Bryan Paterson — who was not at the council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, as he was part of the Kingston delegation that travelled to Scottsdale, Arizona the same week — some of the protesters have emailed and called multiple times, trying to set up a meeting.
“We have been getting nowhere,” the anonymous protest organizer told Kingstonist.
“The only time we were able to speak to [members of Council] was during the [New Year’s] Levee. Many of them were there and they couldn’t go anywhere else,” she continued.
The organizer said that, while her group of activists for peace in Gaza, Israel, and Palestine did receive response from a a couple members of Council to their emails, none of that response was “convincing as to why they wouldn’t want to [call for a ceasefire].”
Ultimately, the organizer said, the municipal government is the closest level of government to the average citizen. Those wanting to have their voices heard by Council would like to see the City of Kingston officially call for a ceasefire — and they have a petition signed by over 500 Kingstonians who agree with them. The organizer pointed out that Council did accept their petition and read the name of it aloud at a meeting in doing so, but, she said, that’s as far as it went. She also pointed out the January 2024 motion of Council expressing “grief and regret” over the loss of life in Gaza. But when Council passed that motion, they were already aware of the group requesting a delegation to address Council over the matter, the protester explained.
“The fact that they knew we wanted a delegation and the fact that they did [pass the motion] without even getting back to us, given that we actually have been trying to tell them that we want a delegation, that in itself was disingenuous to us… It just fell short of the meeting that we wanted,” she expressed.
The protest organizer, who was one of several who co-ordinated the demonstration, said she and the other protesters present on Tuesday night just want Council to “pass a motion calling for a ceasefire, similar to [motions that have passed in] cities across the U.S. and Canada.”
“We have been witnessing unimaginable horrors and suffering for over 120 days in Gaza. We’ve seen tens of thousands killed, an unprecedented amount of destruction… and a catastrophic humanitarian situation… One scene I cannot get out of my head is one of an autistic boy mourning over the body of his dead mother with no words. I break into tears every time I think of it. Horrors like this must end.”
The organizer said that police were “friendly” and “just wanted to know why we were there,” and noted that, during the events, “councillors did not say anything to us.
“The meeting chair tried to approach us politely, which was appreciated,” she shared.
“I can’t say every other councillor was as polite.”
Another protester who agreed to speak with Kingstonist did not hesitate to go on the record. Wolfe Erlichman, a member of Independent Jewish Voices, was quick to point out his unique position in the protest.
“My background is [that] I’m Jewish,” he said in a phone interview on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, “and I’m a Canadian.”
“And what’s happening in Israel, Palestine is being done in my name. Canada is supporting the Israeli side of things. And Israel claims that what it’s doing, it’s doing for me,” Erlichman expressed.
“I’m just very concerned about human lives. And people are dying. As we speak, terrible, terrible things are happening. And I just think that we have to do whatever we can to try and stop the misery of what’s happening over there.”
Erlichman’s voice was flatly serious as he concisely explained why he felt the protest at City Hall during a Council meeting made sense to him.
“For me, the closest level of government is the municipal level. That’s the level that I can go and talk to in my neighbourhood,” he said. “I just want the local government to say something on the behalf of people who are concerned about human rights, and hopefully it will reach the upper levels [of government].”
Asked how he feels about those who associate calls for a ceasefire with anti-Semitism, Erlichman was frank. Like the protest organizer who spoke with Kingstonist, Erlichman dismissed the idea that the two are associated.
“For me, it’s about human lives, whether they are Jewish lives or Palestinian lives or any kind of lives,” he said, noting that it is difficult to even fathom the tens of thousands of lives lost, those left injured from the fighting, the devastation of the displacement and destruction — particularly from as far away as we are in Kingston.
Erlichman also said he doesn’t feel that a ceasefire would leave Israel vulnerable to “the enemy.”
“There are other ways of trying to either protect yourself or stop this from happening. But to do a mass murder, an industrial killing of people, it just doesn’t make sense to me,” he concluded.
As for the unnamed protester? Work is far from over. She said the group she is with are working on how to get Kingston City Council to meaningfully respond to their requests. Asked what message she would like those in the Kingston area to receive, she was thoughtful in her response.
“The message that we are trying to get to the broader community is that the Council should not continue to ignore our pleas for a ceasefire motion. The horrors unfolding in Gaza have deeply affected Canadians,” she said, pointing to IPSOS poll results from November 2023 that showed 81 per cent of Canadians polled wanted to see a ceasefire.
“And that was over two months ago,” she pointed out.
“It is the Council’s responsibility to listen to its constituents and represent them.”