TORONTO, ONTARIO: I never attended a protest, unless you included clicking my mouse button to support any number of causes that are forwarded to me. Armchair politician. It’s not that I am disinterested in political matters, I just don’t really understand all of the details. I am somewhat more than ignorant and less than an expert on the issues. According to the official website, “[the G20] was established in 1999 to bring together systemically important industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy.” The mandate: “Premier forum for our international economic development that promotes open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability.”
The leaders of the G20 states started meeting regularly around the time of the latest financial crisis of 2008. The website for the 2010 G20 meeting in Toronto states, “[the G20] leaders underscored the critical importance of rejecting protectionism and introduced coordinated stimulus packages. These actions constituted the largest fiscal and monetary stimulus and the most comprehensive support program for the financial sector in modern times.”
The stage was set for the 2010 meeting in Toronto. The summit was to be held in the Convention Centre downtown. Large fences were erected along Front Street. I took a ride on my bike through the ‘red zone’ the day before the big protest. Usually at rush hour, this area of the city is bumper to bumper. On this day, it was eerily quiet, except for the police loitering along the street.
I was curious and headed down to Queen’s Park in the afternoon on the day of the summit. Queen’s Park was the official protester area but was already abandoned, the march had made its way south. I walked down University Avenue, the streets lined with police in full riot gear. If their uniforms were meant to be intimidating; Success! Where was everyone?
I turned west down Queen Street and saw the crowd in the distance, near Spadina Avenue. When I reached the crowd, there was a police-led charge and the sea of people turned and ran in my direction. I learned a valuable lesson: Always have a way out. From then on, I made sure there was a side street or walkway to escape. The crowd was an interesting mix: Many niche causes, different cultures, and yes, those pesky anarchists wearing black.
From there, the crowd headed east and south down Bay Street. This is where it all turned ugly. A police car was set on fire and stores were vandalized. The crowd continued north up Yonge Street, damaged storefronts in their wake. I followed the crowd and surveyed the damage. People milled about, walking in all directions, some seemed to wonder what happened, others were busy figuring out where the next action was taking place.
It is interesting to note that organization was made easy with handheld devices. I tracked the main crowds through my iPhone and kept updated as to what was going down through live blogging. I strolled north and came around to the major standoff at Queen’s Park. There were many protesters, a sea of riot cops lined across College Street and an ocean of blue rolled down University. They even brought in the police on horseback – I always knew they were for something other than aesthetic value.
The police rushed at the crowd several times. They were pushing us backwards, gaining a few steps after each rush. I couldn’t really see what was happening on the front lines but the tension was in the air. I watched two empty buses pull up beside the Queen’s Park bridge. When I checked the inside of the buses, they were sectioned into small barred compartments for detaining people. They were planning on pushing us back towards the bridge – it was a bottleneck and they would be able to arrest people easily.
After a few charges at the crowd, I decided I’d had enough and went home. I kept updated and watched as the protesters were backed into going north, across Bloor Street and down Yonge where there was another standoff at Queen. There is an awful bit of footage where peaceful protesters were singing Oh, Canada, and if on cue, at the completion of the national anthem, the riot cops charge them down. In the end, the tally was almost 900 people arrested.
I don’t know what to make of all this. As stated earlier, I had never taken part in a mass protest, but I did expect something to go down. Is there some way we can all collectively figure something out here? How much longer is this all going to go on? I’m not talking about kumbaya and all that crap. I’m serious here.
Why was there one billion dollars spent on security? Didn’t they know that this was going to bring out the lunatics, such as the anarchists using Black Bloc techniques? The more the police ramped up, the more lunatics will come out of the woodwork. I blame both sides here. I understand that in order to change things, to truly make them better, revolutionary tactics are sometimes necessary. I just don’t understand the motivations of the violent protesters. Why were they destroying things? What does this have to do with anything? The peaceful protesters with important causes were lost in the violence, at least, according to the mainstream media.
The police tactics were built to create a militant feeling. This is wrong. Again, I understand to some degree that they have to protect, well, whoever, us, I guess. But who protects us from them? They would bang their batons on their shields to intimidate and charge full on into the crowd. It was terrifying.
I left more confused than anything else. There were people present who wanted to protest peacefully. People that want change, whatever their specific cause. Aggressive protesters, along with aggressive police, made this a study in self-preservation than anything else. Perhaps I am just selfish but it was difficult to think of doing my part to change the world when a crowd of people dressed in masks and carrying shields and swinging batons are running at you. Yes, they were just doing their job but where are the decision makers in all this? The people at the top level? The anarchists as well, who supposedly are on the side of the people, but as we all saw, burned police cars and vandalized local businesses.
There just seems to be a total disconnection between all parties. The leaders who make the decisions on our behalf and who failed to acknowledge what was going on outside on the streets (except to focus on the hooligan aspect and thus justify the one billion security dollars). The police on the street who were following orders. And the protesters were fractured, again, legitimate and peaceful voices were drowned out by violence.
My apologies for evoking a cinematic image but that’s what it felt like, right from a movie. There was a scene in Children of Men where the main character walked through a war zone with the first child born in almost twenty years. Both sides, the so-called rebels and the government army, stopped fighting to witness this miracle walking by them. Once the baby was out of sight, the fighting immediately started up. The army and the rebels didn’t even seem to know what they were fighting for anymore. That moment when the baby was in view, they were all connected, and it was clear what was at stake. The moment was fleeting.
It might be fiction, but like those soldiers and rebels, have we lost our way?