We got to the Metropolitan United Church, where Galloway was supposed to speak, just before the vote in the House of Commons was set to take place. We were hoping to watch CPAC on a laptop at War Resister Support Campaign information table, but the wireless connection had been shut off as the organizers prepared for the webcast.
A Campaign friend stuck at work put her cell phone near her computer, and we gathered around another friend's cell on speakerphone. Four or five of us were huddled around the iPhone when someone ran over to tell us the vote was being projected on a big screen for the whole church!
Just in time for the start of the vote, we ran in, and everyone who was early to the Galloway talk watched it together. I think most people didn't know what was being voted on and why we were watching.
The vote was called, and the "yea"s came in. Everyone who was present from all three opposition parties stood.
When the yes votes were finished, Allan said he had been counting, and there were 129. 129?? We were horrified. That's way too close. I asked, Is it possible you're off by 10 votes? Please let that be the case.
Then it got really nerve-wracking. My heart was absolutely pounding while the Conservatives were voting. Campaigners later told me they thought we had lost. And then, finally, the tally: 129 for, 125 against.
Now the House of Commons has voted twice - once on June 3, 2008 and again on March 30, 2009 - to Let Them Stay.
A Campaigner announced from the podium what the vote had been for, and the crowd erupted in cheers. Unfortunately, he had to explain that the vote was non-binding, but nonetheless an important victory.
We were hugging and crying - seems like I write that every-other day! - with relief. Honestly, I was sitting and listening to the first speakers before it sunk in that we had actually won.
James Clark, from Toronto Coalition to Stop the War - who George Galloway singled out as an "organizational genius" - took the podium, and two speakers later, I realized I was so caught up in the moment that I hadn't been taking notes.
Rev. John-Joseph Mastandrea, a minister from the Metropolitan United Church, welcomed us and talked about the church's long history of activism and community-building.
Rafeef Ziadah, a Palestinian-Canadian activist, brought us up to date on attempts to silence Israeli Apartheid Week and pro-Palestinian activism on campuses. She gave an inspiring rallying cry about the strength and resiliency of her people all over the globe.
Sandra Ruch, a Canadian woman with Independent Jewish Voices, told us about her journey to Gaza with Code Pink. They're going again on May 22 if you want to join them.
Hamid Osman, a York University student organizer and activist expounded on the meaning of the slogan "Education, Not Occupation," itemizing what could be done in Canada with the money wasted on needless military spending.
And Ali Mallaha, a stalwart of many peace and justice movements, pulled it all together, railing about the hypocrisy of the Harper government for banning George Galloway from Canada: "Last time I checked, giving humanitarian aid to suffering people was not an act of terrorism!" I was so pleased to hear another bit of hypocrisy called out: after Jason Kenney cut funds from the Canadian Arab Federation's ESL program, he announced that immigrants who don't speak either English or French "well enough" should not gain citizenship!
James Clark returned to the podium to remind everyone of the April 4 global day of action, and to introduce the "ban-breaking broadcast," the speech Jason Kenney didn't want you to hear, now being beamed into 20 cities around Canada and the world.
Then there was George Galloway.
He congratulated Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney on failing spectacularly, as hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands, so many more people than we ever would have imagined, would now hear his talk.
Galloway promised Canadians: "I'm on standby. The minute you think this ban can be broken, I'll grab my toothbrush and head to Heathrow Airport, and fly straight to Toronto," then challenged Jason Kenney to a head-to-head debate. He accused Stephen Harper of being determined to add Ottawa to the axis of evil that runs straight from Pennsylvania Avenue to Downing Street to occupied Jerusalem.
He said "it just isn't credible" to call a five-time elected Member of the British Parliament a terrorist threat or a security risk. "The real danger I was to you, Mr. Kenney, is that I had come to tell the truth" about what's happening in Gaza.
I took copious notes, but my notes can't even begin to do justice to George Galloway. Should I wait until the speech is on YouTube and the transcript is made available, and post that?
I will post that, but here are some notes anyway.
Thanks to the organizational genius of James Clark, people all over the world will hear what you tried to stop...
Mandela was branded a terrorist...
It's our movement that tries to stop racism, against Jews, against Muslims, against the original people of North America...
Galloway described the convoy he took from the UK to Gaza, the aid they brought, the hardships they faced to get there.
Who should I have brought aid to if not the suffering?...
Is it terrorism to bring food to the hungry? Is it terrorism to bring wheelchairs to disabled people? Is it terrorism to bring medicine to the sick?
What kind of language is it that your government has indulged in that call acts of humanitarian kindness terrorism?
You are making a mockery of the very real concept of terrorism... and making a laughingstock out of Canada...
Galloway reminded us that we must be careful who we put on the list of "the banned and the damned," because today's terrorists may be tomorrow's government leaders that we must meet around the negotiating table. He named several examples, but Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams come to mind.
Galloway said Gaza looked like it had been hit by an earthquake, the very big difference being that if the destruction had been caused by an earthquake, all the governments of the world would have given aid to the survivors. Instead, a siege sealed the victims into the largest open-air prison on earth, where they were slaughtered.
Galloway said he didn't have time to detail the case against the war in Afghanistan, but reminded us that the people of Afghanistan have not given in to foreign occupation ever, over thousands of years, and that continued occupation will only meet with increased resistance.
* * * *
Questions from the audience were an interesting challenge, communicated by cell phone, then answered on the screen.
During questions, Galloway described the horrific scenes of massacre and violence that North Americans didn't see on mainstream TV, but that the rest of the world witnessed on Al-Jazeera.
He answered to charges of anti-Semitism, and it seems quite out of the realm of reality that this man could be credibly accused of anti-Semitism. As he said, it's our movement that has fought against racism in all its forms. He described anti-Semitism as the most virulent of all forms of racism, invoking the systematic annihilation of millions upon millions of Jewish people.
But, he reminded us, Israel is a state. It is a state, like the United States, like Canada, like the UK, like France. It is a state, and as such it can and should be criticized for its political policies, just as all the countries that support it should be.
His rejection of anti-Semitism and his explanation of why criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism was so brilliant, so rousing, so spectacularly thorough, that I wish I had taped it and could transcribe it for you now.
He also responded to questions about his "one-state solution".
On one hand, he said, the two-state solution, announced and shook upon in the White House rose garden lo these 14 years ago, has not been acted on, not for one moment. Israel clearly rejects it.
But beyond that, why do we want an Arab state and an Israeli state, a Jewish state and a Muslim state? Why don't we want one nation, where all people - Jews, Muslims and Christians - are equal, and equally free?
When Mandela was finally released from prison, and became president of South Africa, he was asked if he would keep one portion of land for a white South Africa, the so-called Orange Free State. He replied, I don't want a white South Africa and a black South Africa. I want one nation where we are all equal.
To the notions of nationalism, division and apartheid, Galloway offered a vision of internationalism, inclusion and equality.
It's a vision that fills me with joy and hope.
In the past week I've heard George Galloway described as a "clown", a "buffoon", a "closet anti-Semite", who talks "rubbish" and defends terrorists.
I defy anyone to hear this man speak, to read his words, and defend those descriptions. Without lying.
George Galloway is a hero for peace and justice. It was my privilege to hear him speak last night, and it was Canada's shame to deny him a place in our country.