Thanks to a conspiratorial roving band of criminals/anarchists/ … (fill in the blank as to your dismissive name of choice) who chose not to disavow the use of violence and instead burnt and tore some shit up on Saturday, the well-armed and equipped security forces entrenched in downtown Toronto for the G20 gathering had all the excuses they needed to respond in kind, justifying not only their heavy-handed presence but the exorbitant cost of maintaining them here. If you build a barricade, they will attempt to storm it. From the very beginning, the organizing of the summit was a provocative act, used to demonstrate the need for a police state apparatus to keep us safe from the onslaught of threats swirling around us. Crazed terrorists from the outside; civil unresters on the inside.
It strikes me as funny that law and order types, mostly right of centre leaning, will throw unlimited money and resources at what they perceive to be a problem of national security but when it comes to issues of a more social nature, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Matters like poverty, the environment, unemployment are all best dealt with in a less is more fashion. There’s never enough money to go around especially if you’re doling out a billion dollars plus for a three day event hosting the world’s most vulnerable leaders.
But at least we know where these people stand and what it is they truly believe in.
What about the rest of us, many who merely shrugged a miffed shrug at what we felt was little more than an inconvenience albeit a costly inconvenience? Those that saw this gathering arbitrarily enforced and organized very much out of the public eye as simply an excuse for an extended summer getaway. To the cottage. To Scotland. (Yes, readers. I am indeed making a very pointed reference to those I once thought of as like-minded colleagues and fellow foot soldiers in the battle for progressive causes. I see them now as merely co-workers. Strangers sharing nothing but office space. Shame, shame I say to them and yesterday’s mea culpa should only be the beginning of their rehabilitation.) What exactly is it that they believe in?
Clearly it isn’t democratic principles. Those, we have just failed miserably. We stood idly by and watched as governments dismantled long, hard won ideals like freedom of expression and the right to open public assembly. “Designated areas of protest” do not constitute either of those freedoms. The provincial Liberal government’s Public Work Protection Act, secretively enacted by cabinet fiat earlier this month, handed over broad and very likely unconstitutional powers to the police, allowing them “to demand identification from and search without warrant anyone who comes within five metres of the security zone.” How did we find out about it? After someone was arrested and charged. Your papers! Where are your papers?!
We have not seen such intrusive, far-reaching powers granted to the government by the government since the fallout from 9/11 and, before that, Trudeau’s War Measures Act in response to the FLQ crisis. No longer does it take an actual threat for us to cravenly hand over our rights and responsibilities to the authorities. Any old perceived threat will do these days. Do we deserve any sort of freedom when we so easily hand it over with barely a peep of disgruntled complaint whenever we`re asked?
People on both sides of this battle line seem to agree on one thing: the violence we saw on Saturday did nothing to help the situation. There were many like Craig Kielburger who wrote that the nasty turn only served to diminish all of the protesters in the eyes of the public. “This group [Black Bloc] doesn’t deserve to be called protesters. Martin Luther King was a protester. He campaigned against racial segregation through non-violent tactics. The groups that marched peacefully on series of social issues, they were protesters.”
May I remind Mr. Kielburger that while Martin Luther King played an integral role in the civil rights movement, he was hardly alone in the effort. There was a more militant strain also at work within the African-American community epitomized by the likes of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. I don’t believe that one would’ve worked successfully without the other. For every Ghandi pacifist led march to independence there is the blood soaked path as witnessed in places like Algeria. The world’s beacon of freedom, the United States of America, was born from the womb of violent insurrection.
Am I likening the Black Bloc to early American revolutionaries? No. We’re simply talking tactics and I do empathize with those who feel the need to rage. While many will simply brush the riot-inclined off as professional agitators, I would suggest they’re missing the bigger picture.
When those we have elected stop listening to our concerns or wilfully ignore the requests we make upon them, what recourse is left us? The dangerous route is to throw our hands up in the air and dismiss them as only politicians doing what politicians do and head off to the cottage in disgust. Politicians will only do what we let them do and every so often they have to be reminded of that fact. Sometimes at the ballot box. Sometimes by peaceful protest. And sometimes by any means necessary.
Attempting to diminish that option with media massaged propaganda about anarchic radicals bent on nothing other than mindless destruction or trying to take it off the table entirely by an overwhelming show of official force emphasizes rather than addresses the underlying causes of dissatisfaction and anger. It is the growing disconnect between the citizens and those they have chosen to represent them that lies at the heart of the conflict that flares up every time the world’s leaders gather behind locked gates within our midst to discuss our collective future. We want to be heard not dictated to and if it requires the odd petulant outburst, so be it. Other, more reasonable methods don’t seem to be working at the moment.
— violently submitted by Acaphlegmic
Good article! I just want to add – you wrote that thanks to the rioting on Saturday, the security forces had all the excuses they needed; yes, they did, and it was a little too convenient, if you ask me. How that riot managed to happen at all, and then for as long as it did, makes no sense. Where were the walls of cops in riot gear we saw elsewhere? While the riot was happening I repeatedly read tweets and other reports that said cops were there, unorganized, standing by and doing nothing as windows were smashed and cars set alight; the cars themselves were allowed to burn, the one at Queen and Spadina for, what, half an hour, 45 minutes? -and apparently with a water canon nearby. It’s not like they didn’t expect this kind of dissent and couldn’t have been prepared. We all saw the cop cars burning; how did that happen? The official line is the cars were abandoned because the cops realized they were outnumbered. So, they’re outnumbered and decide to flee … on foot? Let’s not blame an individual moment of cowardice: I think this is exactly what they were paid to do. I agree with you that reasonable methods of dissent don’t seem to be working at the moment, but I also think it may be that no methods of dissent are working – the cops or, really, greater authorities are 100% in control of these situations.
Sure, very noble words, but what was the “Black Bloc” protesting against? I couldn’t see any motivation except “sticking it to the man” and “destroying sh*t”. They failed even at that, because, the “man” being too well-protected, they decided to destroy some private businesses instead.
A plague on both their houses.
As for Harper… well, he could obviously afford to piss off Toronto residents, because he would never get any votes here anyway. This might even be a political plus for him, because the rest of the country is happy if they see that Toronto isn’t.
We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke couldn’t agree more with your sentiments. When we posed a similar question to our revolutionarily minded colleague about what exactly it was that the Black Bloc were protesting against, he very greasily adopted a Brando-Johnny Strabler stance: Whaddaya got?
In his absence, let us try to answer you in earnest. What if the Black Bloc was protesting against the anti-democratic, pro-corporate agenda of the G20? While many people might’ve wanted to see their elected officials getting together to deal with such things like climate change and international financial reform, what they got was nothing more than non-binding pledges at deficit reduction. Climate change was completely ignored. Financial reform was derailed by our own government.
By literally attacking corporate symbols and those with authority (police), the Black Bloc elicited a response that revealed a society prone to both heavy-handed authoritarinism and disturbingly undemocratic tendencies. Like Joe Orton said after a stretch in prison: The old whore society really lifted up her skirts and the stench was pretty foul.
How’s that work for you? We’re just trotting it out there, trying to get it into racing shape.
“Private businesses” – I think it’s fair to differentiate between places like banks and Starbucks, and independent establishments. The only damage I’ve heard of an independent business suffering was a music store’s windows were smashed… but not by protesters. The windows broke as a result of the heat from the burning cop car nearby which, as I’ve already argued, was consciously abandoned and allowed to burn. If the cops had done their job and put out the fire (or, hey, not abandoned their vehicles in the first place), it wouldn’t have happened.
Attention must be paid to the peaceful protesters who stopped looters. A futile gesture? Or the finest example of responsible citizenship? Or do we see a glimpse of the future, where protesters must hire their own security to keep mayhem-loving teenagers in check?