Thursday, July 8, 2010

Battle in Toronto: Between Truth, Lies, and Solidarity

On Wednesday June 23rd, we saw the Toxic Tour march through Toronto to expose the institutions and corporations most responsible for the environmental destruction and social impacts of Canada's extractive industries. With 75 % of global mining capital coming from Canada, our country is a major international pillager. The rally travelled from Dundas & Bathurst for over three hours, stopping a few times along the way the denounce various toxic perpetrators, ending on University avenue at the courthouse, across from the American embassy. About 400 people took part, and the action was very well organized, very loud, very lively, and very impactful.

The following Day was Indigenous Day of Action which was again very enthusiastic and well organized, and featured a 200 foot long banner which read 'Native Land Rights Now', and a slightly escalated police presence. Leaving from Queen's Park the march ended at Allan Gardens, also temporary home of the tent city which had been set up. The rally increased in numbers from the Toxic Tour on the previous day.

Friday saw the Community Day of Action take flight from Carleton and Jarvis, head down College street boisterously, with again increased police numbers, and a growing number of minor altercations. Music playing out of a pick up truck driving along with us, the atmosphere was definitely dynamic as we headed south down University Avenue. When we got close to Dundas a large enough group tried to join the rally, but police pushed and prevented them from crossing their line. People were upset by this but the march continued on peacefully. Again the number of demonstrators and activists had significantly increased from the previous day.

In the evening, after a speaking event with Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Vandana Shiva, Maude Barlow, Clayton Thomas-Muller, and others, Naomi Klein marched around 600 people to Allan Gardens with police following along trying to seal off the crowd. The people eventually made it to the Gardens with little problems; enthusiastic speaking and chants ensued. The action was spontaneous and fervent, and energy was imminent, and the G20 episodes were turning into not just actions on the ground, but a feeling in the air.

Saturday also saw a considerable increase in the amount of people on the streets. Day by day, our numbers continued to grow.

All together the days of the G8/G20 saw 20,000 people taking to the streets. They did so to protest peacefully, and to bring to light a vicious, elitist economic agenda which already has exacerbated, and aims to further impose social devastation on humanity, and environmental destruction on Mother Earth. The people have justification in their voices, and their demands.

The large majority did not come out with corporate grudge rage vandalizing and smashing, even if those few targeted only banks and big corporate and injured nobody, it is very unfortunate that our misguided, spurious mainstream media chooses to focus on negatives rather than genuine positives.

Now the reasons behind the G20 and the actions on the streets.

The G8/G20 was summoned to impose a neoliberal financial agenda which will now force austerity measures, cuts to social spending on the national economies of the world to allegedly reduce budget deficits. The reason for the G8 followed by the G20 is so the top 8 can gather first to make decisions in order to tell the other 12, weaker yet still economically relevant countries, what to do. Austerity measures announced in the midst of the 4 day summit for which the Canadian government has spent around $ 2 Billion dollars to host, while it continues to finance the seemingly endless war in Afghanistan, and when financial stimulus in the form of billion dollar bail-outs is directed towards banks instead of being spent to help struggling working class families. Here I paraphrase Naomi Klein roughly. In other words, governments have taken billions of tax dollars for pay-outs to save the perpetrators of the crisis, and have stuck regular people to foot the bill. This is the biggest restructuring of wealth in the history of humanity. Furthermore, these cuts to social spending while minimizing the role of the state, serve to hollow out the the economy in order for private corporate capital to fill the space. So the decisions of the G20 are continuing to deepen the financial crisis, to further entrench the cycle of organized plunder and desolation through refined, reinvented tactics, tailored to today's unique triple crisis. This is an economic and social agenda that can be imposed only through undemocratic decision-making, repression, and violence. All three were actively demonstrated in Toronto during the G8/G20 summit.

The absurdity of the arbitrary terror was astounding. I spoke with a friend who had money outright stolen from him by police, an acquaintance who was dragged into an unmarked van, beaten, held in submission for 30 minutes with nothing said, no rights read, and then randomly released at a further location. TTC workers were assaulted, women were beaten. People were essentially kidnapped; taken forcefully without charge, with no rights read, and detained for a whole day in horrible physical conditions, psychologically tormented, with scarce food and water, with no phone call, and with your family not knowing where you are, to be fair, is pretty much the equivalent of being kidnapped.

The police were deliberately detaining just to keep people of the streets long enough for the action to subside, and they were keeping them inside for as long as legally possible. The large majority of people were released on breach of peace with no charges, which essentially amounts to drunk tank; my arresting officer actually said this to me, "have you ever been in the drunk tank before? This is like that, we're going to hold you just long enough to disrupt this gathering, just for a couple of hours, and then you'll be released." The police openly referred to this method as catch and release, as if we were fish. But unlike conditions including beautiful rocks, mysterious castles to play in, bright colors, and regular scheduled feedings, our holding cells were not nearly as desirable as aquariums, and were actually more like kennels. We heard that the police were referring to them as rat cages. I guess its better to be referred to as a fish than a rat.

The days of the G20 saw the repressive forces stepping up their game, as it were. They are trying to instill fear into the equation. Considering who and what they were defending, the police proved they are simply business enforcers, representing nothing more than the interests of the rich and powerful.

The struggle of this era, of this generation, is just beginning for us in Canada, this was its initial moment, and already the state is resorting to such repressive, aggressive, and brutal means. Were our actions so grave as to warrant such a brash reaction? Our actions on the streets were very minimal, still at an elementary level thus far. As this movement grows and we start reclaiming our streets, seriously mobilizing and challenging the system, are they going to start shooting people? As our momentum continues to move forward, their repression will surely carry on with ever increasing force. We must match their tyranny with increased solidarity, and evermore effective organization.

But the repression was a failure, the G20 week had the effect of solidarizing, if I can use that word, and of bringing various groups closer together. The people of Toronto in general were all brought into the same orbit over the course of those couple weeks. Fraternity is always imminent in the face of adversity, and I think this experience has thought us that even beyond that, it needs to be omnipresent. I think we need to continue working as closely as possible with as many groups as possible, but we also need to realize that this is now the work of the people, and less so of affinity groups; an all-inclusive collective solidarity is needed. It is time for the movement to be set free and to naturally take its course. People have come out in large numbers to rallies and events, with positive energy, and that is very encouraging. It has been a natural reaction, and we have to take that momentum and run with it. Internationally the resistance is already intact, we are late bloomers, but you get the sense that a movement is really starting to take shape in Toronto, and in Canada.

Furthermore the tactic of rounding up, literally rounding up, over a thousand people, did the opposite of the desired effect for the elites. History has repeated itself countless times over in the face of popular movements with police over-reaction, and excessive violence and repression. They aim to break spirits, but the result is always more fire and growing numbers. The brutal dictatorships of Latin America in the 60s, 70s, and 80s have shown this time and time again; killings, torture, and disappearances, yet brutal psychological and social shocks to civilian populations have always had the effect of radicalizing movements, and individuals. Certainly the severity of those times is not comparable to what took place in Toronto, but the after-affect is similar: people coming together with increased vigor and conviction.

The brutality of the entire police operation, and the heavy-handed conditions inside the detention centers did not successfully deter, did not scare away, did not destroy resolve, or crush courage. The morale inside the holding cells was tense and erratic at times, but generally brothers and sisters walked away from the experience energized, rejuvenated, and more determined and committed than ever before. Just as a colony of ants will organize and frenzy when faced with an unexpected bounty of food crumbs, it is not wise to nourish fighters with adversity. So the harsh conditions and the psychological stabs at detainees, the attempt to demoralize the movement, served more as an exercise in solidarity, as a strengthening experience. The ill-conceived tactics and strategy of the elites and their thugs was irresponsible and irrational, and the result is that the ruling class establishment in Canada has a much bigger problem now than they did before the G20.

Another aspect of this episode was to observe the reaction and the understanding, or lack thereof, of the general public. Its not even necessarily oblivion or indifference, but simply complacency. People's lives become blank, linear, and sterile, they become involuntarily sheltered and everything around them just becomes backdrop. People don't even think about how their world functions, mush less that this whole society rests on brittle, fictitious, invisible foundations. Michael Moore who has a long history of community activism in the U.S explains; "I'm a citizen in a democracy, so that automatically implies, I'm an activist, you're an activist, we're all activists. Anybody who resides in a democracy is an activist. If you're not an activist, then the democracy ceases to exist." The implication is that if people don't get involved in their communities, then the would-be process is lost immediately.

This lethargy of consciousness, this taking for granted that things just are, and that they will always be, that the status-quo is fine, and peaceful, and unconsequential, is a very dangerous thing. Its been said that "there is nothing in this world as bitter as the spectacle of a people who go to sleep in liberty and awaken in slavery." The fictitious neo-democracies of the global north are prime examples of this; people who think they live in the best, most exemplary societies in the world, but the only thing they really possess is the freedom of money for a few, and nothing more. We hope that these recent events in Toronto have been a wake up call. We hope that in Canada the North American torpor has been broken, that consciousness has been roused from its deep social slumber. As one local Toronto activist coming back with lessons from Haiti puts it, "it is time for you to become citizens of your own country, right now you are only consumers."

What the people of Toronto and Canada should remember, is that roughly from Wednesday June 23rd to Monday June 28th, Native communities from across the land, social and climate justice activists, and Toronto community organizers turned the city into a beacon of social struggle. That is something, far outweighing the fact that the city was rendered chaotic for a few days, the people of Toronto should be proud of.

Truth and the power of collective resistance is the biggest threat to this capitalist, consumerist system, and although our actions physically were no threat to the establishment during the G20 summit, the symbolic and moral waves that we have unleashed will hopefully impact not only Canada, but also the rest of the world.

When people get their backs glued to the wall, they fight back. What materialized in Toronto over this transformative period, is the inevitable social reaction of a system in crisis.

Republished from G20 Blog.

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