Thursday, March 17, 2005

Leafletting With L

I have been attending my friendly neighbourhood peace and justice vigil since last August or September, but the vigil takes place in a location with almost no pedestrian traffic so it does not involve distributing leaflets or directly engaging the passing public in conversation. As I've noted before, the vast majority of the built form in greater Los Angeles does not lend itself to this sort of activity. And I miss it. Even if the activity which the leafletting is promoting is of marginal political utility, the leafletting itself is a powerful political tool and a chance to talk and listen to regular folk about the issues of the day, something many North American social movements don't do enough of.

This week marks the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion and recolonization of Iraq. It also marks the second anniversary of the vigil I've been attending. In order to commemorate these things, the vigil regulars are trying to get a larger crowd than usual for a bit of a celebration on the corner. As well, we are trying to kick off a petition drive to get our Governator to demand that the California National Guard units be withdrawn, as apparently the governors of Montana and Idaho have already done (not that the federal government is under any obligation to so much as open the envelope that the demands are sent in, but it's still symbolically useful). There's some talk of seeking a city council resolution. The details of where all of this might go are unclear to me at this time. But, anyway, the point is that this sparked some activity beyond the usual weekly vigil, in order to try and build things up a bit for tomorrow night: some leafletting.

While this was happy news for me, it meant having to wrestle with a couple of dilemmas. First of all, I'm not particularly comfortable doing this kind of thing solo. Most of the time it's fine, but in my experience in handing out leaflets in downtown Hamilton on a variety of issues over a number of years, once in a while you will run into someone who threatens violence or some other unsavoury consequence. I, or friends/allies doing what I would've been doing had I been there that day, have had hassles or threats of violence from cops, from angry vets, and from skinheads. Taking controversial stands, even in the politest possible way, is going to provoke intense reactions sooner or later, so it just seems to me to make sense to leaflet with a buddy. However, when I assumed that this would be the practice here and asked at the meeting last week when people wanted to leaflet, the uncomprehending, "Well, whenever you want to," kind of threw me. I followed up over email, and I still have the sense that this concern on my part is seen as a little peculiar.

In any event, the times at which others would be leafletting did not include evenings, when I would be able to go on my own, and that raised the other challenge I had to deal with. I ended up deciding just to plunge in and see how L might react to tagging along. I wasn't sure how long his patience would last, and I was pleasantly surprised. He spent 35 minutes sitting in his stroller watching the world go by as I chatted and passed out pieces of paper. It was quite encouraging, and indicated I might actually be able to do this regularly, if for shorter periods than I might have done previously.

Beyond L's amiability, I enjoyed the chance to get out there. I felt kind of rusty; I'd forgotten how you have to be able to package the information verbally in a variety of different ways, on the fly, depending on the level of interest expressed by the person with whom you are engaging. I had no particularly interesting conversations other than with the woman that I was out there with, but that was more than enough to make it fun. People on balance seemed to be supportive.

The only other thing of note was the location: in the parking lot of a grocery store, just outside their doors, with permission of the store. I've been kicked out of a grocery store parking lot or two in my time for handing out political material, so I thought it was pretty cool that we were actually allowed to be there.

Anyway, I'm not sure whether there is more leafletting to come, but I hope so. I am sure that I'm going to stick to my guns about not engaging in political action alone. I think part of the reason why that is not part of the way the local group does things is the way that people are so geographically separated from one another in LA -- you just don't find many skinheads at an upscale organic grocery store on the west side, and apparently middle-class white emotional repression (or something) is considered sufficient to keep any rage at the peaceniks bottled up while in such a public place. But it still feels like something I don't want to be doing.

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