When love trumps hate: OPSEU at the Toronto Women’s March

OPSEU members holding OPSEU flags during crowded Women's March in Toronto.

Saturday, January 21, 2017, was a historic day around the world. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the U.S. capital for the Women’s March on Washington, while millions filled the streets in other communities around the world in solidarity marches.

Former OPSEU member, long-time activist, and key Toronto Women’s March 2017 organizer Deb Parent was blown away by the whole experience.

“I’ve been to so many marches and protests,” said Parent. “This [march] stood out though. There were such powerful criticisms of the bigotry and hate not only given license in the Presidential campaign, but also expressed by many of our own officials and people running for office here in Canada.

“There was also such openness, unity, and positivity at the march.”

fb_img_1485283908400.jpg Deb Parent (middle) stands with the rest of the organizers of Toronto's Women's March 2017.

The turnout in Toronto was far beyond expectations, with some estimates having attendance at 60,000.

When she initially applied for the permit from the city, Parent estimated 3,000 people would come out. Another community organizer, Kavita Dogra, who’d had the same idea as Parent, also applied for a permit for the same reason. On her application she estimated 300 people would come to the march. The two, along with their respective organizing groups, decided to join forces, and plan the march together.

The afternoon was kicked off by a drumming circle featuring OPSEU Indigenous mobilizing team members Crystal Sinclair and Darlene Kaboni. Sinclair was also a speaker at the rally.

crystal_at_rally.jpg Member of the OPSEU Indigenous mobilzing team Crystal Sinclair speaking at the Toronto Women's March.

In their opening remarks, organizers named the unions and organizations that had donated to the event. Considering so many first-time-marchers came out to Queen’s Park, it was a good opportunity to put a different face on unions, said Parent.

“Being a union gal myself, I’m happy we could publicly acknowledge the unions. It was a good way to show people that this is how unions work in the community. They aren’t just single-issue bodies.”

16142651_1596836523666428_4573483948000939305_n.jpgSome OPSEU members in the crowd of Saturday's march.

Parent also extended kudos to OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas: “Not only because I was an OPSEU member, but I really appreciate OPSEU and Smokey’s ability to read through the Liberal bull, whether it’s the budget, or the anti-privatization fight with Hydro One and the LCBO.”

Thomas underscored the need for OPSEU to engage in community organizing as it did with the Women’s march. “This union is fully two-thirds female. Our fights against budget cuts and privatization are women’s issues because it’s women, especially racialized women, who bear the brunt of these harmful policies.

“The fight for equity, for closing the gender wage gap, for ending rape culture, all of it directly impacts the vast majority of my membership,” Thomas continued. “So women’s issues are of prime concern for me and the rest of OPSEU leadership.”

16113908_1596648333685247_3695516535115523125_n.jpg OPSEU Executive Board Member Myles Magner (back left) poses with some OPSEU members at the Toronto Women's March.

Attendees of the Toronto march brought with them an array of creative, mostly handmade signs. For Parent, “as a woman who has been at this for several decades,” her favourite sign read, “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s.”

The march wasn’t really only about Trump, said Parent. Rather, it was about mobilizing against a marked rise in hate speech and hate crimes.

Whatever reason brought any individual out on Saturday, the overarching theme seemed best captured by a sentiment written on many of the signs in the crowd: “love trumps hate.” Parent hopes to build on the energy contained in the march. “Maybe we can’t maintain that kind of momentum,” she said. “But I think we can keep it simmering.”