Thursday, August 28, 2014

You Can't Wear Buttons in the BC Legislature

On Sunday this past week, my husband and I went to the BC Legislature to join some parents and students who were presenting an 11,000 name petition to the Opposition Education Critic, asking for a mediated settlement to the Ministry of Education's dispute in time for the scheduled start of the school year. We got there a little early, so I suggested to my Welsh husband that we go into the impressive legislature buildings and have a look at the art and architecture. Standing at the main entrance was a uniformed guard, who smiled pleasantly at us as we entered.

We wandered into the little gift shop area, and then into the main, domed foyer. We were quietly admiring the decorated walls, my husband having drifted over to a different part of the room, when I was approached by another uniformed guard, who asked me what the two buttons on my shirt said. I offer you this photograph: 
For clarity, my buttons say, "In the US they call it Survivor; in BC they call it TEACHER", and, "WTF? Where's The Funding?" Not in the picture, the lettering embroidered on my shirt says, "For the Charter, For the children, #iwillholdtheline."

As you can see, the buttons are not small, but I'm a special ed teacher, so I assumed that the guard must have left her glasses at home, and I obligingly read them to her. She replied, "You have to take those off." Startled, I asked why, and was told, "You can't have any partisan slogans in the Legislature."

I was stunned. My brain simply could not compute. Is not the Legislature the very seat of partisan politics? Is it not the place where I, as a citizen and taxpayer, should most be able to exercise my democratic right to freedom of speech? I just stood there. I was not allowed to wear buttons in the legislature.

Having been raised as a good little girl in the 1960s, just after the hippies passed through their teens, during the rather conservative backlash of the docile, compliant, non-protesting followup group, I began to remove my buttons. My brain was essentially in zombie-mode, and I complied because critical thought was stunned into inaction. As this exchange took place, my husband turned toward us and the guard, raising her voice, said, "Sir, you'll have to remove your button." He had only one button, far too distant for her to read.

Hubby approached, not having heard the directive, and asked what was up. The guard reiterated her position. My husband, who is entirely and stalwartly unflappable, paused, visibly thought about his position, and replied, "No, I'm not interested in doing that."

We were then told we had to leave.

Finally, my brain kicking back into low gear, I stopped unpinning my buttons and repinned them. My husband agreed that he would leave before he would remove his button. The guard had moved into full, officious, power mode and was repeating that we had to leave. So we left.

Later, I began, as people are wont to do, to fantasize about other actions I could have taken. I could have refused to leave, sat down, engaged in a little non-violent civil disobedience, and been dragged out. It certainly would have made a point. I could have removed my buttons, handed them to her, then noted that my shirt also bore a partisan slogan, and removed that as well. That one would have been fun. If I had pulled it off, I could have very calmly continued in my bra, looking at the wall paintings, until security arrived and removed me.

I'm really quite dismayed that I didn't at least consider doing either of those things. It seems to me, that if there is indeed a rule that I can't wear buttons in the Legislative building, it's not exactly a rule borne of respect for democracy. Had I wanted to walk about the place with picket signs, which in a closed space could arguably become weapons, I would have understood. Had I been approaching people and thrusting my views, unwanted, upon them, I would have understood. Had I been disturbing the peace, or in some way intruding on others' enjoyment of the building, I would have understood. I might even have understood had the Legislature been sitting, and there been some argument that lobbying was a potential problem due to the sheer number of people guaranteed to be dissatisfied with the current government. But that wasn't likely, given how rarely this government actually sits.

However, I didn't do those things, and maybe it's just as well. Maybe the tourists in the vicinity would have been so appalled at the sight of a fifty something woman wandering about the building in her brassiere, that the future of tourism in BC would have been catastrophically impacted. We'll never know.

But ever since, I have been thinking about it. What would have happened, if I'd had a BCLiberal button? Why is it that the guard at the door didn't stop us and advise us that we couldn't enter wearing our buttons? Is this really a policy? I could find no reference to it on the Legislature web page

And then there's the other question: Do I still live in a democracy, when the government can rip up what were supposed to be legally binding contracts, ignore the decisions of the Supreme Court without sanction, rule over a population, the majority of which did not vote for them, make decisions about professionals whose roles they do not understand and suppress the voices of dissent in its citizens? 

It's an interesting question. And it's not the only one coming out of this summer of assault on public education. 

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