Being only 20, and seeing as how my hippie parents stopped protesting things back in 1968, I hadn't, until last night, had the chance to get out and protest something big. The teacher of my War and Possibilities of Peace class informed us about the protests of the Presidential Debates that were going on before and during, outside of the UMASS Boston gates. He even let class out 10 minutes early so everyone who wanted to go could catch the commuter rail into Boston.

The protest surrounding Ralph Nader's right to debate (which I was marching in... Nader's right to debate, and Nader as a candidate can be discussed elsewhere on E2, like here) started in a park about a mile from the gates of UMASS and stayed there, gathering steam, until 7:15ish, at which point a small warning was given by the people with the bullhorn to the effect of "This isn't a permitted march, if you have a problem with the cops getting angry at you, get somewhere safe if/when they do." This was new information to me, but my friends and I decided to stick it out and see what happened.

A few minutes later, we started marching, taking over the entire south-bound side of the road and chanting random slogans whenever someone came up with one. I received a Nader gag at this point, but decided to wear it as an armband rather than a gag since I wanted to talk to my friends and yell stuff.

The most interesting part of the entire march section that I found was the random George W. Bush and Al Gore fans who decided to walk straight through our march in the opposite direction, yelling about how we all were idiots and their favorite candidate was the best. To which we replied with a resounding chant of "What are you afraid of? Let Ralph debate."

Even if I wasn't a fan of Nader's political position, I would still argue for his chance to answer questions at the debate. Indeed, I believe in Pat Buchanan's right to debate, even though I find his politics revolting.
In any case, after a few minutes of marching, we met up with another march coming from another direction (this was a planned meeting). They were marching to stop the use of the death penalty in America. We all marched down to the gates of UMASS and there was a peaceful demonstration held in the streets under the watchful eye of Boston's finest. The demonstration consisted of a drum circle, a rather talented trumpet player, a play put on in the street and the reading of names of people who had been put to death by the American justice system.

After this point, I had to leave but I want to clear one thing up; the police were using pepper spray that night. One of my friends who stayed later than I did was attempting to persuade protesters to use peace rather than force and was hit in the eye by a cop using pepper spray. I hear it hurts quite a bit. The police were provoked to that action, though, they just should have been a bit more careful about who they hit.
'No wise man has a policy,' said the Viceroy. 'A Policy is the blackmail levied on the Fool by the Unforseen.' ~ Rudyard Kipling, A Germ Destroyer (1888)

If Fate has removed you from influence in public affairs, stand your ground anyhow and help with the shouting . The efforts of a good citizen are never useless; by being heard and seen, by your expression, gesture, silent determination, by your very gait you are of service. ~ Seneca, On Tranquillity (ca. 55 AD)
       The day was humid and overcast, with a rapidly darkening sky, as the various protesting groups began to assemble in clumps, sitting on the grass, testing banners. Initial expectations were low at the small park in the centre of Ottawa on June 26, 2002. By noon, the park was ringed in on all sides with news trucks with their towering, extendible antennae and police cars, police vans, police bikes. The actual summit meeting of the G-8 leaders was occurring in Alberta, in a highly-remote mountain resort hemmed in by Patriot missle batteries and razor wire, several thousand kilometres away. Here in the sleepy capital, as the demonstrators assembled in another corner of the park, under a tree whose blossoms occasionally fluttered down in windy gusts, a five-year old girl had set up a lemonade stand (with the help of her mom): at 25¢ for a big plastic tumbler in that heat she was practically giving it away.

        Few editorialists or spectators made any intelligible connection between demonstrators with posters reading: Neoliberalism Is A Trap and headlines in all the Financial sections the same week: Elan executives resign as SEC subpoenas data, Regulators raid Vivendi, Bush Tangled in Web of Corporate Wrongdoing, Senate report accuses Enron board of complicity, Could Capitalists Actually Bring Down Capitalism? ... etc ... etc, ad nauseam. As the marchers later strolled noisily through the downtown offices, people peeked over their cubicle walls or down from their tower suites for a moment, saw no violence of any interest, then most shrugged and went back to their monitors. As you would expect, abject indifference and disinterest met the demonstrators with far more debilitating force than a water cannon or pepper spray.

        So it was, with mutual animosity nicely bubbling amongst all leaders in each faction, that the international anti-globalization groups announced the "Take The Capital" protest to coincide with the G-8 Summit. You could almost feel the knee-jerk on the front page the next morning: most local editorialists, politicians and law enforcement ramped up their rhetoric. The public, fearing a repeat of Quebec City 2001 and subsequent loss of tourist dollars and retail sales, immediately followed suit. Letters to the editor and long rants in local media began to attack the protesters for even daring to come to the national seat of their government representatives, for daring to assemble in a group, for daring to exercise their freedom of expression, etc. 1

        The week since have been the same: calls for stock curb, cutting CEO profiteering, transparent corporate governance, more accountability. Not from the “anti-capitalist” forces (though they have been pushing these ideas since the MAI treaty in 1997). No, suddenly the head of Goldman & Sachs and most other trust companies has got religion and likes the idea. So while another round of CEOs scamper in to take the Fifth, the same pundits who bashed the protest movement a week before start lifting most of their ideas. Favourite quote of the week: corporate culture is exploiting democracy and "companies are just private fiefdoms." Some hippy protester talking about the new multinational feudalism? No: Thomas Caldwell, chairman of Caldwell Securities, though he could have taken the analogy from a protest group website. One of the most frustrating things about the whole globalization debate is that few outside the protest movement have any idea what the Washington Consensus is or care, while few inside these groups have ever read the business section of a newspaper, leaving both sides a helluvalot to learn.

One of the little-celebrated powers of presidents is to listen to their critics with just enough sympathy to ensure their silence. ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

What is good for the workers should be good for the bosses. ~ George W. Bush, in a speech this week, after revelations Dick Cheney and himself acted on insider information and received special corporate board loans & options.
        As the time for the march commencement approached, and as waves of new protesters with banners, drums, signs, bullhorns and cameras continued to pour into the centre of the park, all the news cameras (and police mini-cams) were now rolling. The wind suddenly picked up with dramatic gusts. Leaves and blossoms swirled through the air, an eddy of pink and green. The protesters interpreted the now dark sky as a favourable omen. The drumming began to quicken and the groups formed into an extended oblong ring which began to orbit the entire perimeter of the block, roughly two city blocks long. Bike police moved into formation at every street corner within four blocks of the park in every direction. Unmarked vans (who else but police actually drive brown Aerostars?) circled slowly on nearly every street.

        Then with a thunderclap, as a heavy cold rain began to fall and after nearly thirty minutes of slow circling, cries and screams rang out from the north end of the circle. 2 A small extension of the vast assembled crowd had extended off, amoeba-like, into the middle of a two-lane street. Cars and buses stopped and were engulfed as the yelling mounted and more people spilled out of the park. A group of ten plain clothers police officers had earlier moved quietly into the crowd to arrest a single suspect which they had identified from a distance. They were immediately engulfed by nearly twice as many protesters screaming Shame! Shame! and just as many fumbling news camera crews burdened with plastic enwrapped boom mics and lights. The police quickly released the man, suspected of breaking the conditions of his parole which had barred him from attending protests. The organizers seized the moment and its momentum, and began to lead the gathered groups onward from here, towards the city core only eight blocks away to the north of the park. The drumming, bell-ringing and incense waving intensified as, despite the deluge, the two thousand now gathered began their march in earnest. 3

        If you have never attended a large noisy rally or protest, never been in the middle of tightly packed, energetic and exuberently-political crowd, the first sensation one needs to understand is the sudden vivid jolt everyone feels: police, journalists, protesters, legal observers; everyone immediately looks like they`ve been administered a double espresso by way of a base of the skull mainline. Next observation: protest is loud like all get out. It might seem loud on TV or looking on from the sidelines, but pedalling along smack in the middle of a couple of thousand folks with a message is almost deafening. If you note the best part of a party is blaring the stereo before anyone arrives, then you can imagine how loud 2000 young ranters sound if you get them all heretical-like. That is how these groups are still effectively treated: like heretics, with the exception that the unorthodoxy they purport is economic rather than religious. In every other way, their descriptions by authorities and media follow the same general trajectory of vilification and denigration, being called unclean, youthfully ignorant, delusional. The Chartist & Luddite reformers in early industrial Britain, the first Suffragists in Canada, trade unionists in post-war Germany, civil rights protesters in the US - all economic or political heretics, many got shot at for their troubles. There are, of course, thugs on both sides. The Black Bloc, a tiny minority, are little more than skate punks accompanied by cheerleader girlfriends. But still, if you compare brutality, it is very difficult to logically equate a bit of spray-paint and chalk with the very real threat of pepper spray canisters, tasers and rubber bullets.

        Three tense moments experienced: the first when a police helicopter, which had been swirling about the office towers for the two hours the march snaked through the downtown core, came in perilously low as the protest took a corner and blasted everyone with a horizontal sheet of high-propelled rain and pebbles. So right between the Bank of Canada building and the Supreme Court lawn, the demonstrators got literally and symbolically hosed by the agents of Law and Order, while the screaming whirr of rotor blades just thirty feet away, hanging in the air made my skin crawl nervously. Next, bad moment was seeing four linebacker sized RCMP walking shoulder to shoulder nudge two girls, pedalling right in front of me, off their bikes. No real violence, the police did not break stride or even look back as they plowed on, it was just an ugly little gesture. Finally, and this time it was some Black Bloc or ATTAC kid from out of town who had dragged a free community paper box out into the middle of a three lane downtown street and proceeded to stomp it. OI! The head of the march is now almost entirely out of sight. Stupidly getting off my bike, I dragged the purple box back onto the sidewalk. Bonehead play on my part. Immediately an anarcho-goth chick is in my face, both of us being videotaped by three different news crews. My face goes red before she even starts in. The pointlessness of the effort is flashed onto my receptors in block letters about six feet high:
Can I ask why you just did THAT?

      Bent over picking up my bike, I wonder if I am being baited or tested here. Maybe I look like an undercover cop, having done this. I look at her 24-hole Docs, not her, answering.

Cause some poor fucker is just gonna have to drag it back. Supposed to be a protest, not make work, right?

      ...
You must be from HERE, huh?

      A frosty cone of condescension gets me full in the face as I get on my feet. A camera on my left with a spotlight is making me squint. She looks like she weighs 83 lbs. soaking wet, which both of us are. Teeth grinding. I think to myself how I used to find this sort of girl extremely attractive: pale, half-smile, eyeliner and spiked hair. Now, with a boom mike over us, I can just barely keep from retching. Must be the onlookers.

No, actually, though I live here right now.

     She arches an eyebrow, almost a caricature when she cocks her head and puts her hand on her hip. For a moment, rain coming down between the office towers, helicopter still swooshing overhead, crowd getting away from us and a wall of police coming up behind, it could be a Jaime Hernandez strip. She sctually looks over a shoulder to see where the cameras are angled from.

Yeah, but it’s the MEDIA. Like the Post, you know? Their coverage is SO biased ...

      I steady myself for an earful gleaned from the Manufacturing Consent video she and her buddies watched before they drove down from Rosedale, and look back at the stupid paperbox, wondering if the guy who dragged it into the road had ever read any ex-laissez faire experts like George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz or John Gray4 , all having significantly come over to this girls "side". She is clearly waiting for an answer. Stupidly drawn into an taped shouting match with a syndicalist five years younger and a foot shorter, wearing a black scarf around her neck with a red, circled A crocheted into it, I breathe in deep as that vestige of objectivity evaporates into the downpour.

To Be Concluded.
Pictures at http://ottawa.indymedia.ca/2002/06/633.shtml.


Notes:
Needless to say, Ottawa is a very conservative city. As the national capital, seat of federal government and the centre of Canadian bureaucracy, citizens of the region have a vested interest in the status quo. They have no personal complaints, few political grievances. Recently ranked one of the most inexpensive major cities on the planet, and highest paid in Canada, people here have reaped all the benefits of the economic globalization agenda (cheap consumer imports, high-end knowledge industry wages, reasonable taxation) and seen few of its drawbacks (some loss of savings due to defrauded investment, some poisoned water due to utility privatization). People love parades but loathe protests, one being a spectacle, the other a challenge.
Wait. Come to think of it - the nastiest looks I caught given the protesters the whole time came not from police (who looked just cautious and observant), or journalists (who seemed just disappointed and annoyed about having to cover a rained-on event) or people in their cars (who honked and seemed pretty cool). The really nastiness came from the circle ladies from the 18th floor, the overfed qube denizens, who you could tell by their looks could care less about the politics. It was the youngness of these pissers that annoyed them, knowing in their hearts of hearts the only way they could walk for four hours consecutively would be with a gun barrel pressed to their temple. You could see it in the way they narrowed their eyes, especially at the girls: fear of youth and that rattling discomfort when normalcy buckles, even just a bit.
1 Reasons for opposing the anti-globalization protests seem to be as numerous as the causes for protest in the first place. After all, only trade unions and their members got hosed under the NAFTA and GATT agreements. And the bailout of the Mexican peso after currency speculation only cost the United States a six billion dollar bailout. In addition to the billions that went into the S&L rescue after corporate raiders giggled away with peoples accounts after deregulation. Oh and then Enron subsidiaries fleeced California for some more when that whole thing was privatized and deregulated. And now the telco deregulation has given us WorldCom, Qwest, Tyco, Global Crossing ... but one must dismiss all that (and insider trading by everyone from Martha Stewart to The President, oh and all that junk bond stuff and Union Carbide stuff in the 1980s, oh and the faulty tires on the Ford Explorers, oh and the price fixing scandals). Yay! Deregulation r00lz!
2 The overall cost in specialized training, labour, surveillance for the security of this single 1.5 day meeting with the eight world leaders finally totalled up to nearly $ 40 million dollars, or roughly $3 mil per hour of actual working time among them. The vast majority of this money is paid in overtime to law enforcement agents, in this case, nearly 4000 deployed or on standby in Ottawa alone (one for every single protester in estimated attendance), never mind the numbers at the actual summit site., it goes without saying these anti-globalization gigs are the sweetest overtime and supply procurement ops ever, far more popular with the general public at the moment, and with the protesters being at least 30% teenagers and 10% elderly, far lower-intensity than catching white-collar criminals or tracking down actual terrorists.
3 For the purposes of full-disclosure and media transparency, I will say right now I did not consider myself a protester. But I sure am not a journalist either (having been tossed from my programme in second year because I was too slack to get up for shorthand class and too shy to interview people). However I got a few reservations about the elephantine influence given to the corporate agenda by our semi-elected so-called representatives and, as the last few months seem to show, the criminal lengths to which many of those multinationals will go. However, I am not nor have ever been an activist. But a little of the free speech, right to assembly and all that democratic rot works for me. Besides, they shut my building down for 48 hours while the protesters came though town (yes, management here is that paranoid), so to my mind the marchers deserved at a least a few hours.
4 If you want a good look at the dangers of globalization by three heavy hitters who used to think it aces, I recommend Stiglitz`s Globalization and its Discontents, Grey`s False Dawn and Soros` On Globalization. Using such figures and their writings in discussions with proponents of deregulation and so forth will get you a lot further, as a rule. At least further than Chomsky or Bakunin, whom most conservatives will either have never heard of, or will stop listening if you mention them. Or you can simply bite down hard on a less nuanced, but still horribly honest commentators, like Michael Moore for example, who asked "will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn`t living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes?"

This is not so much one story as a number of small stories. This is the tale from which two how-tos you may have read were fashioned. I offer no such advice, just fragments.

Friday, April 20, 2001: (as Senso's daylog attests) the Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec City, Quebec, to further the passage of the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement. FTAA for short, or ZLEA in French. What is that? Essentially it's NAFTA extended to every country in the Western Hemisphere. It's neoliberalism; American corporate globalization extorting and dominating every culture it has the power to. It's something your leaders do that makes you so mad you want to yell at them really loud, even if you have to travel hundreds of miles. On this, over 50,000 people from rainforest protectors to unions agreed, and I won't waste any more time justifying the journey when the argument's been made here many times over.

I'd never done a demo before, and I believe there wasn't a weekend in February or March without teach-ins and meetings and discussions where I learned how to take care of myself, how to stay smart under pressure. A lot of them were through NYU, which I'd just graduated; others, the NYC People's Law Collective or the Direct Action Network. I talked to people living in Central America, people from Quebec, and people who'd done a recon tour of the city. I was terrifically grateful for the knowledge disease, this need to tirelessly spread info just for piece of mind. And when I got in the rental car on the morning of the 17th, I did feel a little safer.

Driving with me were Jack and Keith, friends for years, and Jack's girlfriend Jess. Keith had bussed down to DC for the inauguration protest back in January, but I think the rest of us were all green. We trusted each other. I can't say we expected to have fun but it almost ended up happening anyway.

Irrelevant Interjection Designed Solely to Appeal to Noders.
Readers Looking for Violence Please Skip Ahead.

About a week earlier, Keith and Jack, who were roommates at the time, had turned me on to E2. I did what I think everybody does, which is to become immediately infatuated with the interface, crapflood a ton of GTKY rants, and get them righteously nuked by dannye with no shortage of harsh words. If you're reading this, Dan, I thank you for it. You made me a better writer and impressed upon me how dear this place is to its users. And when I came back, I did it months later under a new account (this one), with a commitment to quality factuals. What I'm getting at is that during this car ride, when I should have been focusing on the unknown danger ahead, I was feeling honest-to-Satan guilt about having dumped shit all over this site, and I was planning my redemption.

At around 1 am on the 18th, I was at the wheel, headed north through the dark forests of Vermont. Tired. When you don't know what's ahead of you you live a little longer in each moment. Everyone else was dozing. I remember New York music to keep home with us. Keith stirred. He pointed at the horizon.

"What's that weird glow? Is that the northern lights?"

"Uh, I don't know. I didn't mention it because I thought I was hallucinating."

We pulled over near a hunched barn and all got out. Yep, sure enough, twinklies. There's a song we knew, written right around there, about that very thing. "I never ever saw the northern lights...never ever saw the stars so bright." Bet your sweet bippy we sang it.

In the morning we arrived in Burlington and it took me all of ten minutes to fall in love with it. Having grown up in New Hampshire (State Motto: LIVE FREE OR DIE), I was stunned how different the sister states felt beneath the surface, and a little ashamed I'd never visited. After you pass the UVM campus you hit the town's main drag of bars and shops, all on a hill overlooking a gorgeous lake. On the other side of the lake are mountains, a little fort where the sun hides every dusk. We checked out the old haunts of that same band and ate great food with friendly college kids. I wasn't ready to leave after a day. I wanted this to be my vacation.

But at 6 we gathered in the campus Bell Tower for the Convergence. This is where and when the contingents from Boston, New York, and Points West meet up and get redistributed on busses. We sat up in the round balcony and among the hundred and fifty or so below me I kept spotting folks I'd met in the past few months. It felt like the closing number of a hippie/punk musical. But nobody sang. Instead they began to discuss and debate the matter of The Border.

It was common knowledge the security lockdown would be heavy. "The man" (for lack of a more accurate and less fun term) didn't want Quebec City to be turn out like the massive WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. Hence the whole idea of the Canadian venue: getting a big armed fence in between us and our target.

The bus organizers were convinced they could safely cross the border by entering and exiting a Native American reservation sitting right on it -- technically belonging to neither nation! We all stayed silent as a DAN rep talked on a cell phone to one of the reservation's officials, and as he relayed the speech coming through piece by piece. Yes, they would be happy to allow us passage, to help us against the governments that had fucked them over so many times.

But did the poetic justice outweigh the extra risks? It was possible the same border guards would just set up on the Canada side of the reservation. Some people wanted to stage a separate action on the reservation's behalf. Others were concerned we were only using them for their land, essentially the way white oppressors always had (which I thought was quite clear). Eventually the four of us got tired of the back and forth and we tiptoed and nudged our way out. It was irrelevant.

We had a better plan. We were incognito as rock-climbing Montreal tourists.

(And as it turned out, we were right. Setting up a cordon on the Canada side of the reservation was exactly what the cops did. We later met up with that DAN rep - no advance contact, just happened to be walking next to him at the march - to discover that only a small fraction of the total number of busses had made it through.)

Long before we hit the road, we had dug out the map and pinpointed the smallest border crossing we could find. Less guards to have to lie to. This part made me nauseatedly nervous. I was the last of the four to get out of the car, walk into the guard station alone, and give the alibi to this woman, who didn't want to be in that place any more than me. I wondered from her face what they'd been telling her on the radio. Molotov cocktails?

I have no poker face, but she had no polygraph. And we passed. They didn't even look in the trunk. ("No, those motorcycle helmets are for rock climbing. They are definitley not protection against tear gas grenades and rubber bullets.")

Our host was a gentleman named Pierre who had offered space on an email listserve. He didn't feel safe being part of the demo himself (he was early 50s, his kids had grown and moved out) but he was angry at the coward and liar who'd militarized his beautiful city and he was eager to help. He insisted on taking us all out to dinner (where, just like at home, we could not agree on a restaurant) and we stayed up late making shields out of plastic wastebaskets and duct tape, and a sign stating we'd come all the way from Brooklyn.

Got up early to trek to the university some three miles away for the Anti-Capitalist Convergence. Here, we'd rally, then march. It was a lot of "hurry up and wait", but I got so excited looking at how our numbers had grown just from the students who attended there. These kids want to learn, they want to be right, they want The Real World to be a just place before they get there. Why couldn't I have gotten sucked into activism back in school, instead of playing 84 hours of Nintendo a day?

I can't say quite how many were in the march. Thousands. I couldn't see the front or the back. The neighborhoods we went through were mostly residential at the start; one-story houses with big lawns just like American suburbia. Moms and kids and grandpas stood in their doorways or sat on porches wondering where the hell all of us came from, and I think hoping we weren't going to hurt anything. No ma'am, not me. When this happens in your neighborhood, you realize there's a lot going on in the world you know fuck-all about. And that's still true for me.

The day was unquestionably gorgeous. April in Canada, we thought, it'll be FREEZING! No. We were wearing far too many layers, and mine were saturated with moisture. For my windproof (gasproof) layer I'd chosen black. My helmet, likewise. Not wise. This is where I learned Very Important Lesson #1:

Do not dress Black Bloc unless you're prepared to do Black Bloc shit.

A kerchief-masked kid poked me and offered a hockey puck. I stared at it like a child who's never played the sport. What the hell was I supposed to want that for? Is this some bizarre Canadian drug ritual? "No thanks, man, I'm good." He shrugged and faded into the rest of the black-clad crew. A few minutes later we passed an old man bleeding from the head as a cop tried to console him. One of us did that. One of me.

We passed a Shell gas station and they swarmed. Not just because it was Big Oil, but because back in the 80s Shell used American troops to quell an African uprising or two. And so they spray painted As with circles around them and smashed all the glass they could. I could see a worker inside, terrified. And as the weekend wore on every bank in the area had broken windows. I don't know what this accomplishes besides fueling negative media portrayals.

So anyway: The Color Code. This was a method developed to align strategies, which we'd known about for months. Keep in mind it's a thought scheme, no one is wearing these stoplight colors. Green is no risk, fully peaceful. Red is "diversity of tactics", which basically means break stuff and get arrested. Yellow is in between. Yellow also offers support to red. That was us. And most of the crowd as well. And as we came into the more urban parts of hte city, we passed a van, and standing on top was a girl with a megaphone: "GREEN, go that way. YELLOW and RED, the fence is right in front of you!" *cheer*

The fence, yes, we all knew about the fence. See, the reason why Quebec City in particular was chosen was because it's the only city in North America that still has a massive stone wall built to keep out invaders. Much of the rest of the Old City, as the residents refer to it, is surrounded by hundred-foot cliffs going down to the sea. And what little left is connected by modern roads and such had been walled off two weeks previous by a 14 foot high chainlink fence. With countless cops in riot gear, pulled from duties all over Canada, standing right behind it.

Could we get through, and into the hotels where Bush and the others were meeting? Could we make enough noise to break it up? Absolutely no one was betting on it. We would have considered it a terrific blow for our side if, at any point during the weekend, we could have made the smallest breach.

The fence came down in about ten minutes.

Just the section in front of us, you understand, but it felt like a miracle. Some maniac, some hero, climbed up to the top and wedged himself in where two sections overlapped. He kicked it apart with his whole body, rocking back and forth and egging us on as ropes emerged and helped to pull. Were we going through? Yes. We thought we were. And we had moved far enough forward to actually be standing on the fence, when the grenades started to fly.

PHOONT is the sound you hear, just like in Terminator 2, and the canister arcs up, explodes in midair (which is usually when you spot it), then descends toward you. There's a temptation to shout "INCOMING!!!" like you're diving in a foxhole, but all this will do is sow panic and you need calm. If you are very brave, once it lands, you can pick it up and hurl it back at the cops. This is not a violent action, as the cops all have gas masks. (Someone is always very brave. Keith did two, contaminating his glove.) I think it was the third grenade that landed five feet away from where we'd been standing. This is when I learned Very Important Lesson #2:

Prepare for tear gas BEFORE it happens.

Preparation in this case being goggles and bandanas doused in apple cider vinegar over the mouth and nose. Both of which do help a good deal. But we'd said, "Oh, we'll put all that stuff on when the shit starts." Please do yourself a favor and examine the flaw in that logic. When the shit starts it is the shit that hurts. Everything will be crazy and you will have no time. Stupid, stupid kids. Arg.

So I got a lungful and so did the other three. We turned around and walked as quickly as we could toward the grass, coughing. I really didn't find my tear ducts stimulated, which is why you'll hear me call it "CS gas" in person, but I think an even better name would be "lung sand". Really what it does is burn your throat and sinuses to where you can't think. If you're lucky enough not to breathe it, all it will do is irritate your exposed skin and stick to your clothes.

And now we were faced with two lines of advancing riot cops, one from out of the fence, one from across the park square to the left. They beat on their shields with their batons as they approach: THRDRDRDUMP THDDRDRDUMP THRRDDRRUMP. We were not going to get detained (or beaten). Nothing to do but retreat.

We went back about three or four blocks to the same row of restaurants we'd been at last night. (Pierre's flat was only another two blocks away.) Almost all of these cafes had outdoor seating, upscale diners laughing, oblivious to what was going on half a mile away. Well, at least we're safe here, I thought. Those people we just passed who sat on their own stoops, red-faced, sucking up the gas, incredulous to this attack from their supposed protectors outside their front doors, well, they were different. This was a business situation, commerce. And there could be no point in driving us back this far.

But no. Soon enough there was gas in the street, and all the cluelessly innocent diners in a coughing storm. As we rounded the corner away from it, one older man pointed at Jack and I and yelled raspily. It was all our fault.

"You stupid Americans! The Canadian police are gonna kick your fucking ass!"

"Hey man, I'm from New York City. Canadian police couldn't scare me if they were ten feet tall." I didn't say.

All of the encounters with gas led us to conclude something we agreed upon in the car on the way home, which shall henceforth be dubbed Very Important Lesson #3:

Just buy a gas mask, otherwise you're tactically useless.

And useless was how we began to feel as we wandered in a cluster for the rest of the afternoon. The crowd by the breach was in a holding pattern. Once every hour or so, move up to the wall, get gassed back and flushed out. It was a victory for no one. When dusk came, they rebuilt the fence there, stronger. By that time, we'd walked the whole perimeter. We shouted angry things at the cops playing statue. If you're being paid to fight, and I travelled from another country on my own dollar, who has the moral high ground? Surely the mere fact that no one shows up in the streets to help you should prove that. We shouted because we were angry. We felt ineffective.

We retired to Pierre's to sleep, the noises of grenade launchers and police helicopters still loud in the night. Another young man he was hosting, a reporter for indymedia, showed us a rubber bullet he'd picked up. They're much larger than the metal variety, about the size of a jar in a spice rack, and mostly made of plastic. One could easily break your arm.

Saturday went much the same way as Friday. Bus to the uni, march, and this time the fence did not go down. We had the gas situation down better. By Saturday evening, the air around the section of Rene Leveque (the large road we marched down) was less than breatheable for blocks, long after the shelling had stopped. It stung. It was saturated, poisoned. We patrolled the rest of the wall instead. We got some rope and flirted with a fantasy of bringing it down, but we had no way to organize significant numbers. The push and pull continued. No one got inside, but we didn't see any arrests either. Sunday morning we drove away.

I felt like my week had lasted a month. Because every moment was something I'd never done before. Not to mention an all new level of personal danger. All this brain input. It took a great deal of digestion. It was a pretty quiet drive back. There was also the factor that we couldn't help feeling like failures.

But would I go again? Hell yes, I'm marching for peace tomorrow. We don't fight because we know we'll win. It doesn't even matter if we don't have a chance. We do it because there are things worth fighting for, because if we didn't we couldn't sleep. I'm sure Shakespeare or MacArthur or someone said that more eloquently. We don't have much time. The assholes are taking over. Vernacular will have to do.




This was written in a great hurry. I may have neglected important details and I may have included inessential ones. Suggestions and comments welcome.

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