For two weeks this spring, through the cold winds, snow and rain, members of Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) held a protest outside of Toronto Police Headquarters with several significant demands to challenge anti-blackness and systemic racism, including: demanding details and names of the police who shot Andrew Loku, the truncation of AfroFest (musical festival) from two to one days and calling for an end to police carding. By the end of their rally they walked to city hall, where the Provincial Premier finally came out to respond to them and promise to address their call for justice.
Throughout the protest the organizers rallied support through a creative and inclusive approach relying heavily on social media and artistic output, which they have continued with passion as evidenced today in joining the demonstration by Idle No More representing the indigenous people of Canada at INAC for greater support with the suicide crisis ravaging their communities.
#BLMTO successfully employed social media, including Facebook and Twitter to reach both their core members and a widening network of supporters in their rally cry. Regular, engaging posts with clear messages and creative content garnered positive attention. In particular they mobilised the creative communities through social media, which seemed to link them to a wider range of sympathisers and activists for their protest and subsequent work.
Artists made graphic works for the social media feeds, while music played a huge role in further engaging their supporters and onlookers on an emotional and cultural level. Using social media an artist engaged the wider artist community by gaining signatures by prominent artists and organisations for an open letter to the government on the issues raised during the protest. Artist calls are a regular feature on their feed now, and many artistic collaborations will continue through mobilisation using online platforms. For instance they are using Indiegogo crowdfunding website to fundraise for their black summer school (to teach black history and activism to a group of youths), which includes gifts of thanks made by black artists and content for the school made by black artists.
The resulting creative output produced a protest site full of beauty, meaning and harmony. Local organisers at the protest said that art was important to their movement, because their “creative expression cannot be taken away completely, there is no limit to how much they can make, though police tore some posters down and others were damaged by weather.” The art reminded and reminds them of their “community love and solidarity, of the individuals involved (makers, and subjects), and it is a more full documentation of the protest and larger movement.”
The creative element of BLMTO also encouraged their inclusive nature. Seeing the posters and dancing as well as hearing the music, especially drumming, resulted in lots of children making art at home and school to bring to the protest in support of their message. Organisers said this helped them connect with some who could not be at the protest and others who could only stay a short while. The organisers held concerts in tandem with other oppressed communities, including local LGBTQ performers. They also felt the support of the indigenous people, whose native centre situated next to the station appears to have encouraged a special relationship; indigenous elders gave immediate support to the protestors by lighting a healing and warming fire, singing songs and carrying their own banners to join the movement for justice against racism.
This outpost of BLM has developed a real sense of community and support amongst the oppressed people in Canada, and holding their signs for the indigenous people of Attawapiskat today shows their commitment to their cause for justice across Canada. Their use of peaceful, creative and socially minded media has proved successful so far in building support and in causing change as evidenced by the city reversing their decision to make AfroFest only one day back to two, a coroner’s inquiry into the death of Andrew Loku announced today (April 13, 2016), municipal promises to review the carding system and provincial responses to endeavour to address systemic racism.