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.
'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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
† 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?"