I was born in Lachine, a suburb of Montreal in the province of Quebec. My family moved to west Etobicoke, Ontario in 1974 when I was 7 years old. I moved out when I was 20 years old, but it wasn’t until I was 23 that I moved downtown, where I’ve remained. For almost 20 years I lived within the boundaries of Bloor/Christie/St George and College, with a brief stint on Brunswick Avenue a few blocks north of Bloor. In 2007 I moved to Cabbagetown, east of Yonge for the first time. I fell in love with what’s known as West Riverdale, and I’m here to stay for a while.
This is my city. Especially the downtown. My various workplaces over the last 20 years, where I went to school (ah, OISE), my volunteer gigs, my credit union, all within this relatively small space in the larger city that I love so much.
Art, culture politics. In the late 1990s I read my written work for the first time in my life, to an audience as part of the Mayworks festival, at a venue on Church Street.
Why this preamble? Because today this was not my city. Today my city was taken over, today, I saw Toronto in a way that I have never seen it before, and it wasn’t good.
Saturday June 26, 2010
There are no streetcars running on my stretch of Carlton Street, so I walk to University Avenue. I pass Yonge Street and see my first set of police, standing around, not doing much, their riot helmuts dangling down one leg, and a large pouch strapped down their other leg. What’s in the pouch? Tear gas canisters? Extra rubber bullets? I will never know.
I arrive late to the march and rally, and join it in progress at University and College.
I march along with groups I would not otherwise associate with, for a variety of political reasons. My community is a fairly narrow group of groovy anti-oppression activists and artists. We aren’t organized and don’t have banners. So I tag along with Greenpeace (”Animal Rights Now!”), Steelworkers (”China China China, Out Out Out”) (later it was revealed that the “out” meant out of the tarsands, which I find odd given that the tarsands are in, um, Alberta.) Mentally rolling my eyes, I move ahead into other parts of the march.
I wiggle through some cultural-specific contingents, Cuba, Sikh activists, Venezuela. I’m looking for my people, as we walk south on University, past Gerrard, past Dundas. CUPE, a group of black-wearing anarchists. I smell a waft of pot in the crowd.
As we approach Queen Street I’m reminded that there was to be two marches, one that would go west on Queen, the other that would attempt to keep moving south on University.
As I reach the intersection at Queen Street, I’m faced with three rows of people. Right at Queen on the south border is a row of labour activists, progressives, in reflective vests, standing shoulder to shoulder. They are a rag-tag group, diverse in ethnicity, size, and are all volunteers. Their presentation is that of reluctant protectionists, and they look like anyone I would see at an organizing meeting.
Directly behind them are “regular” cops in dark blue, with bright yellow rain coats. They stand closer together.
My gaze travels a block south, maybe 100 or 200 feet away. There’s a row of cops, in black, shoulder to shoulder, with riot helmets on, visors down, and riot shields up, stand in a row. Almost all uniform in height, build and stand. It sends a chill down my spine. The armed agents of the state know what they’re doing.
Nobody tries to break through.
I run into Judy Rebick, and friends A, H and L. I stand with them awhile, watching the crowd go by, waving at friends and acquaintances I’ve met and worked with throughout the years.
L and I decide to join the march again. We walk west. We end up close to the university student group. They’re young and high energy. We love it. We reminisce about the 20 year gap between the peppy students around us and ourselves. We shout along with them: “This is what democracy looks like!”. And, when we pass rows of cops on the south sides of Simcoe Street, Peter Street, John Street, the crowd points at the police and shouts “This is what hypocrisy looks like!”.
A group stops at John Street, where the MuchMusic building sits, on the southeast corner. The group gets larger, and isn’t moving on, and it feels like something is going to happen. After a moment that looked like tear gas had been thrown, and people, L and I among them, began running west, away from John Street. It’s purely symbolic, and at a meta-level, puzzles me. Perhaps it’s all symbolic. It’s not like we are anywhere near the precious elites, far to the south of us at the Metro Convention Centre in Front Street. I muse, who, and what is being protected here?
We continue marching, and are stopped at Spadina.
What I thought was a westward route to Trinity Bellwoods Park along Queen has been changed. This info is shared with L and I by a helpful passerby activist sweet young thing. She tells us the new route is back up Spadina to College, and then east on College back to University Avenue at Queen’s Park. We walk south a bit on Spadina, and bump directly into a line of black-clad riot-ready garbed police, standing just north of Richmond Street. Dead end. We realize if something’s going to go down in this location, this will be the place. Recognizing our age, vulnerability and dislike of violence of any kind, we retreat to just north of Queen Street, standing in the middle of the streetcar tracks on Spadina. We ponder the uniqueness of this, streetcar tracks and cobblestones under our feet, while talking about diversity of tactics, anti-oppression and the power of the state to shut down a city.
We walk a bit north, running into people we know. As we head past rabble.ca headquarters at 215 Spadina, the cleared southbound lanes of Spadina are filled with cops on bikes, heading south. The dwindling crowd yells “Shame” at them.
Odd moment #1: Walking through Chinatown, slight behind a group of native Tibetans, decrying the occupation and oppression of Tibet, by China. In Chinatown.
L and I are feeling a bit peckish, so we stop at Spadina and Dundas for noodles. It’s a Toronto tradition.
Odd moment #2: As L and I have a quick snack, a group of activists with signs indicating objection to China’s human rights violations with respect to Vietnam.
After fabulous Cantonese nourishment, I’ve left L and walk north on Spadina to College. Cars are now moving along Dundas, so I erroneously assume that College Street is also open. It isn’t. I walk east on College, figuring I can walk home from there. As I approach University I see an odd sight. I see a row of black-clad police, but they’re facing the other way. As I stand and watch, people are moving towards me, then a surge of people seem to break through the row of police. Where are they breaking through to? The other side where I’m standing? Nothing is happening here. My earlier thought: who and what is being protected, comes back to me.
Finally I realize that it’s about containment, and cutting off escape routes. And of course, power and control.
I stand on the sidewalk and watch, and wait.
Within 5 minutes, a phalanx of cops on motorcycles zoom in from the west, surrounding a large Greyhound-type bus, with the words “Police” on it. As I watch the bus pulls up to the line of cops already there, and dozens more pour out of the bus, shields and helmets and visors on. My heart pounds.
I find an alternative route home, and only then do I hear about the Black Bloc and the vandalism that has taken place on Yonge Street.
While I don’t disapprove of the use of violence in resisting acts of violence by the state (for example all tactics used by Aboriginal people in defending unceded land, and disputed land treaties) I find the symbolic use of violence, such as brick throwing, to be acts of ego and machismo, rather than acts of solidarity and purpose.
And let’s be clear, the propaganda of “protecting” the world leaders was bullshit from the beginning, which we already knew. The teensy amounts of “violence” happened far away from the precious untouchable G8/G20 fuckwads leaders.
It’s also continually fascinating to me that these, relatively speaking, small acts of violence, are held up to be oh so very serious, and of great and grave concern. I’m listening to CBC radio news right now and the talk is of property damage, police cars set on fire, “rampaging” Black Bloc activists, ”criminals” and “troublemakers” (not in reference to G8/G20 leaders) and traffic on the 427 due to the motorcades of the G8 whatevers coming down from Muskoka.
The violence done by the states of the G8 isn’t talked about on the CBC. There is no mention of the violence of war, the violence of state-imposed poverty, the violence of banks and the obscene profits made on the backs of poor and working people.
The Black Bloc, as reported by the CBC, carried bricks, golf balls and sticks. Please read that again.
Oooooooh. So scary and threatening to the machinations of the state.
While I don’t support the burning of cars and the destroying or vandalism of property of small business owners on Yonge Street and elsewhere, I continue to assert that violence against people, on a mass scale, that the G8 leaders and to a lesser extent the G20 leaders are responsible for, is far far worse. This doesn’t make the front page news, this doesn’t make people cluck their tongues in judgement.
Did the Black Bloc, or whoever, break the law? Sure they did.
Has the U.S. broken international law, with every war waged since the end of World War Two? Has Canada broken a number of laws relating to Aboriginal people, proroguing Parliament, and calling illegal elections? Abso-fucking-lutely. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the anger?
It’s outrageous to me that the news now becomes about a handful of insignificant activists. The messages of injustice, illegal state activities, and the enforcement of illegal legislation (the 5-meter rule) that was passed without due process by the McGuinty government less than a month ago.
This is the outrage. Right now, today.
Fuck you, G8/ G20.
Fuck you, Stephen Harper.