There is a thudding reverberation pulsing through the rain-filled sky between the office towers. Whistles, bullhorns, drums and chants echo up into the looming Ottawa offices, consulates and boardrooms. Silvery streaks of rain seem to hang in mid-air. The chop-chop drone of the low circling police helicopter rebounds against a maze of mirrored glass through which the protest winds. Just two blocks ahead, three thousand enthusiastic demonstrators announce their terms to the electronic ether and pockets of wary onlookers huddled around building lobbies. Fair Trade, Not Free Trade!; We Will Not Ask Permission To Be Free; End Global Apartheid; Participatory Economics! Energetic and earnest folk with a message for change. By contrast, my vantage is somewhat lagging, by roughly 100 metres & several gradients of sincerity. Just struggling to keep pace, at least a hundred uniformed officers from three levels of police jurisdiction are advancing close behind us. “Us” because I was only just managing to disentangle myself from both a slippery bike frame and even slippier argument. A young lady in her early twenties has taken me gently to task for righting a trashed paper† box:
One is ashamed of not being richer in heart and in everything else, and of having, after all judged humanity lower than it really is. ~ Céline, Journey To The End Of The Night, (1932)
Since it is no longer permissible to disparage any single faith or creed, let us start disparaging all of them. To be clear: an ideology is a belief system with an inadequate basis in reality; a religion is a belief system with no basis in reality whatsoever. ~ Martin Amis (The Guardian, June 1, 2002)
Yeah, but it’s the MEDIA. Like the Post, you know? Their coverage is SO biased. CanWest sucks!
Originally antagonistic, she now seems genuinely curious to hear a justification for tidying up after your fellow marchers. Certainly her point about monopolistic corporate media ownership with its rabidly-rightist editorial bent is rock solid. The co-owned National Post, Ottawa Citizen & Global News offer continuous examples of shoddy, jingoistic coverage, editorial censorship and all the problems endemic to concentration of information control. No argument there. Only problem is ...
But that waddint a box for either - so what’s the point? So the news tonight can show some kid tossing it about?
She smiles at that for some reason. The news cameras, which were filming us just a second ago, seeing there won`t be a confrontation between us, have already gone back to filming the police. She motions with her head to one of the withdrawing cameramen. She could be proving her point or mine.
They certainly won`t be showing you putting it back: “Local boy does good. Saves Box.”
She raises a black pennant and is grinning ear to ear now as I nod and ride off. She was right. One sanctimonious act does not deserve or forgive another. The protest continues, now winding its way through the streets and intersections around the trendy courtyard amphitheatre of the World Exchange Plaza and the poured-cement brutalism of the Public Library. Dancing foam dragons breathe symbolic fire over the heads of radical puppeteers, two narrow phalanxes of drummers beat out the march rhythm on empty water cooler jugs, red balloons and inflatable butterflies are pulled by the baby carriages of protesting moms. The wet banners and flags go up again over the shoulders of the chanting crowd:
Fund Our Schools Please! ~ Protect Our Environment! ~ Save Our Water! ~ Stop Drugging Our Food!
I read in the paper yesterday, between 1997-2000 small investors, government bureaus and the big banks plowed trillions into major telecom, biotech and net start-ups. In the last 24 months, thousands of those companies and their CEO`s have dissolved, vanished, along with $7 trillion US. Caught in the midst a swarm of environmentalists, labour rights activists and global justice advocates handing out leaflets or stickers at every corner, desperate to get their point across to anyone who could listen, I tried to imagine what these people could accomplish with seven trillion and what the world might look like. How many more lives improved rather than pockets lined? A few hours later, after the day`s marches have ended peacefully, the nightly local news is a glaring disappointment; the sheer obviousness of the commentary and lack of depth into issues gives it an unreal and hollow feel. The tired truth of television news coverage comes floating back from media studies class; that it tends to “flatten out” and deaden every experience, particularly complex events. There is little discussion and the only interviews are with police and people in cars. The only detailed footage fixates on the attempted arrest at the start of the march and a slow-motion of a single masked protester writing “Question Capitalism!” on the front of the Bank of Canada building. The fact it was written with pastel chalk & that it washed off in the rain almost immediately did not seem to bear mentioning. Determined to witness the real event as it unfolded for once ‡ as opposed to how it was framed by some intervening reporter, and despite all reservations and misgiving to the contrary, the next day in front of the heavily guarded American Embassy I found myself thinking, it is happening again.
The March of A Thousand Flags, June 27, 2002, begins in the expansive park and field across from the black iron gates and mirrored windows of the US embassy in the Market section of Ottawa. A wall of uniformed RCMP stand shoulder to shoulder just inside the cement blockades on the roadside along the back wall of the building. Police vans block traffic and each intersection. More news crews and bike cops edge along the periphery of the grounds itself, as the collected crowd grows by the minute. By one p.m. there are close to five thousand assembled. Fight the Power booms from a PA system at the head of the crowd; many more children and seniors seem to have joined the ranks of the students today. There are church groups, Raging Grannies, kids dressed as dolphins and turtles. The air was heaving wet, with clouds dark and low, as thunder signalled from the north. For the second day in a row, journalists grumbled as they water-proofed their cameras and donned their rain gear, telegraphing with tired sighs their professional preferences for dry, air-conditioned press conference gigs. Fat droplets of rain begin to plunk down through the viscous air and four thousand faces swivel and beam in unison as lighting licks the horizon.
No one announces the march commencement. Like the day before, police make an initial early gambit to establish their presence: this time they threaten to tow a van which one of the Montreal groups have rigged with loudspeakers. About 100 of the Québec syndicalist-Subcommandante Marcos kids break off in a panic to save their wheels (and who knows what else) from impoundment. There seems now only a vague route planned, winding around the functionalist barriers of the American Embassy onto the Department of National Defence headquarters and finally to Parliament Hill. As the long parade of banners, umbrellas, flags, puppets and signs dance themselves hastily into a start position, uniformed RCMP and OPP brandish digital mini-cams, moving to flank both sides of the intersection with unmarked vans and fifteen officers each. The marchers swell into the street regardless, stretching almost a quarter-mile into the park, but now congregating 100 ft. from the northeast corner of the embassy, now raising a sea of placards:
Jews for A Free Palestine, ATTAC: Quebec, Solidatite avec Palestine, Justice Knows No Borders, No One Is Illegal: Open the borders!, Stop Violating Human Rights, IWW: Global Resistance, Women of Colour Coalition, Arrest Kissinger, People Before Profit! The brown solid marble walls, re-enforced gates and the mirrored glass minarets of the embassy loom stoically nearby while clearly-marked Legal Observers circulate throughout the crowd. From atop the War Monument across the street, while shutter-bugging, I can see a guy from high school offering two RCMP in bullet-proof vests what looks like the Socialist Worker 1 , his expression an ironic, obsequent smirk.
The singing, the chanting, the dancing. The Black Bloc in smiling behind their masks marching arm in arm with the Raging Grannies in colourful wide-brimmed sunhats. The man in Dubya costume with the sign “Come for the Cronyism, Stay for the Bombing!” The stone faces of the RCMP, the confused looks of the passers-by, the bored faces of the camera crews. That is when the futility of it all settles over the scene - that even with a few thousand here and there - no one takes this very seriously. Despite every idea and demand being echoed by another headline: even the New York Times admits 100s of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even the Washington Post documents the corporate malfeasance & insider trading of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, even the Wall Street Journal decries the immorality found in boardrooms across the continent. 2 These are hardly publications run by radicals, even the Establishment has joined the tragic chorus. But it matters not a whit, because no one truly cares. They yell, shout, scream for us to wake up, their arms and fists raised to heaven, clenched in slo-mo as the rain comes down. I can almost hear their voices drowned out, mouthing in silence ( the first movement of Bach`s Mass in B Minor in my head). It is precisely that shimmering air of futility that makes the gesture of protest meaningful, even more important, and certainly more poignant. Most of us are stunned almost insensate by the sea change over the past year; we have trouble integrating it all. It seems like everything we were being warned about - political corruption, terrorist conspiracy, sectarian violence, corporate pillage, citizen surveillance, military propaganda - that whole familiar lament from the fringe; in the past year, like some bloody Jacobean revenge play, it all came true.3 That is why so many dismiss the protesters even more vehemently than before. Not out of self-assuredness. It's because no one likes to hear I told you so.
Back to Start
Pictures: http://ottawa.indymedia.ca/2002/06/381.shtml (guy in white t-shirt on bike= your faithful recorder)
As your askew commentator, I'm compelled to make an additional embarrassing admission, namely that my first and only major run-in and interrogation by agents of law and order stemmed from a summer of bored malfeasance, recklessness, theft and general nonsense, one of the first incidents of which was torching a newspaper box.
(for challenging my tone about the protesters and making me think long and hard about my own political apathy
) and Cletus the Foetus
(for tempering my economic misgivings): a huge advantage to Everything
as a reporting tool is that you get well-balanced editorial criticism
from am extremely diverse range of opinion, making for balanced explication
. Editorial board
s of commercial news agencies would be so lucky.
A different guy the day before was hawking these in the park where the protest began: and I would have liked one to help with the write-up, but I did not have the “suggested donation” of a dollar. Now suddenly they are free - to the police. Staggering.
New York Times. Week in Review. Sunday, July 21, 2001
. “Citizen Snoops Wanted (Call Toll-Free)” p.1 about the citizen-informant TIPS Programme
; p. 14, “The Incredible Shrinking Stock Market: More than $7 Trillion, Gone”; p. 3, “The Global Cost of Crony Capitalism
.” Front page headline: “Flaws in U.S. Air War Left Hundreds of Civilians Dead.” URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/21/international/asia/21CIVI.html. Who know what lies ahead as AOL-TimeWarner
is forced to open its books, and the Bush Administration pump-prep the world for Gulf War II
, just conveniently around the corner as he lags in the polls going into mid-term elections.
The United Nations
now reports by 2050
, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries what cannot meet the daily requirement of 50L of water per person to meet basic needs, while "the world's richest countries, with 20% of global population, account for 86% of total private consumption; the poorest 20% of the world's people account for just 1.3%. See State of the World