Wednesday, July 7, 2010

G20 Toronto Song of Peace and Redemption

"You will not recognize Canada when I get through with it."
- Prime Minister Harper
This is one of the few things PM Harper has said which I hold to be true. Over the past three weeks, I marched on eight demonstrations, until Sunday, when I collapsed from heat exhaustion. I no longer recognize Toronto, or Canada, because of PM Harper's actions, and for the last two days, I have been disoriented as if I have been caught in a tornado, and landed head first and upside down in a city which I do not comprehend. This new city is a militarized state which can suspend civil liberties to impose a summit, with a history of violence, to enable a group of self-selected economic leaders to streamline economic revenues into the hands of the corporate elite, and exclude the rights of civil society to share in this profit. I was so politically naive, I had not even heard of the Black Bloc until days into the People's Summit workshops.

I marched for hours beside youth who had degrees in International Studies, organic farmers, grandmothers, trade unionists, First Nations leaders, and media activists. I had involved conversations about the International Monetary Fund, food security, child poverty, privatization of public assets and natural resources, and the pollution of native lands and waters through mining. We knew why we marched, and in great detail, but later, not why we were arrested for Breach of the Peace. And we watched the cameras watching us, and cameras became the protectors of pacifists, like myself, who wanted to nothing to do with the riot police, but wanted to bear witness to the brutality perpetrated on others, who were often non-confrontational as well. This 6 km, $5.5 million, zinc-bathed steel fence was commissioned by the government from SNC-Lavalin, which is paying $1 for the right of way to run 140 diesel trains daily in the Air Rail Link through west-end Toronto. (This is my nod to what I am supposed to be writing about in this column exclusively, and how everything is interconnected in terms of government contracts in the military-industrial complex.)

Although CSIS had ascertained that there was no terrorist threat for either the G8 or G20 Summits, on June 14th, Premier McGuinty secretly revived and passed a war bill from 1939, the Public Works Protection Act, to enable Chief Bill Blair to draw an invisible 5 meter line to mark an area outside this 3 meter high fence. This fence protecting the red zone of the G20 Summit became a net to catch protesters, who passed within this outlawed area, and police were able to invoke the Public Works Protection Act during their arrest. It was only after the G20 that the public was made aware that only protesters who were behind the fence could be lawfully detained by the police, and this law had no legitimate power, thus was used to suspend civil rights arbitrarily.

The media has completely ignored our stories of non-violent, educated resistance, and this possibility for equitable coverage was superseded by the Black Bloc burning police cars, and smashing store windows, with still less damage than the hockey riots in Montreal in April 2008, after the Montreal Canadiens playoff victory over the Boston Bruins. With the Black Bloc's direct actions, they took away our rights to be heard, and as a media activist and pacifist, I believe the citizen who sang the G20 Song for Peace has infinitely more value than the erasing of our social message by hammers, combat boots, and tossed lighters.

This elderly gentleman represents to me what I love about Toronto - he had the courage to sing his own peace song, alone, with a bullhorn, with his revised lyrics to Woody Guthrie's 'This Land is Your Land', because he fought for our rights in the Second World War, and was saddened to see our rights taken away by the state, police chief Bill Blair, and Premier McGuinty. At the top of this chain of command is PM Harper, who decided to hold the G20 Summit in the center of Toronto, despite the formal request by Mayor Miller to hold the Summit in the walled Canadian National Exhibition Stadium. This courageous singer can show his face, and walk alone to represent civil society's unrepresented majority, whereas the Black Bloc chooses to remain anonymous, and run in a pack.

I believe in ingenious protest, and the creation of visual metaphors to engage the media to compete for the small amount of air time allocated to the opposing discourse, as the amalgamated, corporate controlled media has swung far more right than the average Canadian citizen. All the mainstream news media - radio, print and TV - completely ignored the Shout out for Global Justice held by the Council of Canadians, and the People's Summit forum held at Ryerson, and other social forums held over the month leading up to the Summits. The CRTC should be notified that this complete lack of coverage on social justice policy was inequitable- they allowed the Black Bloc to dominate the media, as much as the police did by allowing the police cars to burn for 1.5 hours for the international photo op. Where were the riot police's water cannons then? Were they only to silence citizens? Based upon the Miami Model, military tactics learned from oppressive regimes, police brutality and kettling were used to corral protesters during a non-violent event that was promised to be in a Free Speech Zone, located in front of our provincial legislative buildings in Queen's Park. The irony of it all.

During the past two weeks, I have analyzed the mainstream media deficit regarding alternative social policy forums, and could not turn my eyes away in horror. During the union march on Saturday, I marched with two vibrant young women, and sang the Star Wars battle theme as we passed the police, who were outfitted in full Darth Vader riot regalia. We saw the visor of the leader of the squad tremble, and realized that he was giggling at our shaky, out of tune rendition.

An hour later, the Black Bloc rampaged, a small percentage of vandals who have criminalized the term 'protesters' for a new generation of educated, engaged citizens, and hijacked our rights to be heard by the mainstream media. The Black Bloc played right into the hands of PM Harper, and helped him justify the $1.5 billion cost for security, spoiling the event for the rest of us. During the Saturday play by play on CityTV, police Chief Blair felt it necessary to hold Sid Ryan, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, accountable for encouraging families to bring their children to Saturday's union march, as if Sid Ryan could control the Black Bloc. This was a passing of the buck for police responsibility, and a deliberate undercutting of the labour movement by Chief Blair, I think.

As a civil society response to this suspension of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and arresting of 1079 protesters during the G20 Summit, six of us have built a repository of citizen media, The Real G8/G20, to privilege our different perspectives, and focus on the Bolivian call to arms from Cochabamba for the rights of Mother Earth. This online forum is designed to enable the ongoing transformational, social policy making and activism that arose during the Summits, but was sidetracked by violence, and the media preference for sensationalism. For all of those who had the courage to protest peacefully, and want to add to the discourse of social, environmental, trade, and water justice to add Toronto's official voice to the People's Agreement of Cochabamba, I salute you with my metal water bottle.

As one of my fellow protesters said to me on Saturday, "We are the people who will not look away". These are the people I valorize by writing this column, and by volunteering to organize this online forum. I encourage you to submit material to the The Real G8/G20, and add to a movement which sets its own social policy and media representation beyond a police state, and militarized civil society. As Dr. Vandana Shiva said, as she threw her sari over her shoulder as she walked off the stage at the Shout Out for Social Justice, "This too shall pass". We must make it go away together.

Highly Recommended References:

G20 Toronto Song of Peace (A special thank you for the citizen who sang this, and the person who posted this video.)
People's Summit, link at
Mary Ormsby, 'Fortress Toronto: Secrets of the fence', link at
Public Works Protection Act, link to
Linda McQuaig, 'Police, bankers exempt from austerity', link at
CRTC Complaint and Inquiry Form, link at
Catherine Porter, 'When police stick to phony script', link at
Star Wars battle theme, link at
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, link at
People's Agreement of Cochabamba, link at
The Real G8/G20 Submit Content, link at
Dr. Vandana Shiva at the 'Shout Out for Global Justice', link at