Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands


Changing the world, one pom-pom at a time
Francois Marchand, edmontonjournal.com
Published: Saturday, September 8, 2007

Samantha Power and her cheerleading squad are rehearsing their jumps and kicks and readying their rah-rah-rahs.

"It's a lot of practice," says Power, a former University of Alberta Students' Union president. "We want to be pretty tight. We have a few friends who have been cheerleaders before to teach us how to do those types of things."

But Power and Co. aren't practising for the next sporting event. You're more likely to see them in front of the legislature or marching down the streets with fellow protesters.

A decade ago, "radical cheerleaders" were rallying the troops by dancing and singing in unison, often wearing red and black garb (anarchist colours) and brandishing pom-poms made from shredded garbage bags.

They were known for having fun with hot-button issues: feminism, gay rights, economics, oil and globalization.

Radical cheerleading may have faded over time, but this high-energy form of protest is now making a comeback in Edmonton, fuelled by global warming and the affordable housing crisis.

"I think there are some major issues we can draw attention to," says Power, who is leading a new, yet-to-be-named squad in E-Town. "The tar sands issue needs a lot more attention. We can do that in a fun and engaging way. There's more activism going on in Edmonton and Alberta than there has been, so there are lots of opportunities for us to engage in that and contribute to the movement."

"I think it's just a really exciting statement about how political action can actually be fun," Power continues. "You don't always have to write your letter to the MLA, which is important, but you can actually get out and perform and show the public what political action can be."

Power and her group of radical cheerleaders are once again taking an all-American tradition out of the football stadium and bringing it to the barricades.

Radical cheerleaders were around in the late '90s, most visibly at the WTO protests in Seattle, at G8 summits, and in Ottawa in 2001, when squads from all over North America gathered for a full-fledged convention.

There were troupes in a number of major cities - Phoenix, San Diego, New York, Vancouver and, yes, Edmonton - with names like the Rocky Mountain Rebels or Lickity Split.

"It started as a small movement," explains Power, who remembers seeing them at protests against Alberta's Bill 11 health-care plan. "They became really popular and then disappeared and disbanded."

Louise Swift of the Raging Grannies also remembers the early days of radical cheerleading, having spent some time alongside Edmonton's original squad some 10 years ago.

"I was sorry that the group sort of disappeared," says Swift, whose Grannies are usually seen and heard singing their own protest songs at different events. "There was a common kind of respect for each other's way of doing things."

As "normal" cheerleaders would, Edmonton's radical cheerleaders aim to inform people and boost their fellow protesters' morale by using techniques and visuals adapted from sports culture.

"Definitely," says Power. "That's part of it. I mean, part of it is also having fun with people's expectations of what a protest should be."

"I think it's just a different way of protesting - I think everything has to be tried," says Swift, who adds she is looking forward to seeing the cheerleaders back in action. "If we can do it one way and they do it another, we find that we usually agree on why we're protesting. Our reason for being there is the same: to get people to know what the issue is."


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