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G20 Weak End

June 28, 2010

Last Week is finally over. And what a week it has been. The G20 started with an earthquake and ended with a flood. And in between the chattering rhetoric of the delegates of the world, a whole lot of people, more than 600, found that protesting is not a right to be taken lightly. And social media took on a whole new light. 

On Saturday afternoon, I took to the streets with some fellow protesters for what was to begin as a friendly parade of competing interests. The one common thread between us all was the stupidity of a $1 billion photo-op when there are so many problems here, at home, that could use that money. Most of us could not even imagine what 1 billion dollars looks like. A small country? Feeding and clothing an entire nation for years? 

Yet, by the end of the weekend most of us knew what a billion dollars in armed security looks like. A lot like armed bullies, secret laws meant to keep ordinary people off of the streets, whole streets taken over by cops, and a large security fences.  

Beyond all this something got lost. The Saturday that started peacefully and made its rounds was exciting. We stood together behind common interests. We weren’t lunatics on the fringe. The real assembly, videoed here, got lost. 

Saturday afternoon began a little rainy. I found a friend with Green Peace and was leant a sign. Things looked good. My friend Chris took some pictures of cops getting ready. Even they seemed cheerful and happy for a photo.  

The route along Queen was directed by bicycle cops and somewhere at Queen and Spadina a group made a move to force the cops back. People began to get rowdy. Photographers, citizen journalists, and gawkers seemed to make up most of the crowd pushing around to get a look at the cop spectacle. The cops put on their masks, people began to back away, and soon a red flare went up behind us and there was a large commotion moving east. This is where the first cop car was destroyed. 

 A small contingent of cops, it seemed had unwittingly, found themselves between a large group of protesters and called in the riot police who charged in more forcefully than anyone expected. A few people fell in the scramble. I overheard some angry murmurs. There were a few scraped knees. That’s when I left, and my buddy stayed to photograph the ensuing chaos.  

I caught up again with him near the financial district. I heard someone mention agent provocateurs. The burned out cop car that is now headlining papers around the world had been carted away. Anyone who had committed the vandalism was long gone, but the cops were now agitated ad began blocking people in between the towers. I headed East to see tent city. It was also the only direction not blocked.  

Before we left we had a conversation with another onlooker who asked why everyone was congregating there. Chris explained:  

 

These people are free to move anywhere east or west, but because the cops are blocking the north and south access they want to go that way.  

That basically sums up the rest of the day. It became a shoving match, and the guys with sticks would obviously win.

Tent city seemed to far away at that point. We walked behind the cops as they marched into the deeper part of the city and thought we’d be safe behind them. When they stopped they formed a long line against the protesters ahead. But as the crowd gathered behind us they turned their attention to us. Another phalanx came in and made a line against us and began to tell us to move. They marched forward beating their shields. A girl with a bicycle lost her footing and a cop pushed her to the ground and began yelling at her. She laid there and looked like she was about to cry. Someone came and picked her up and the cops kept moving and shoving the couple. Another cop brought the girl her bicycle, and seemed to talk to the picky cop with his hand on his shoulder. 

Riot Police Getting Ready

After that we decided to move up Yonge and document the damage.  

  

We heard murmurs of tear gas and muzzle blasts at Queen’s Park and decided to return there. Our entrance was blocked by a few cops at Wellesly and Bay. We waited to see if they would leave, but soon more showed up. Once again they formed a line and began beating their clubs against their shields. No one moved this time. A few skateboarders sat in front to watch their chorus line. A cop in the middle began to yell, “Move or be arrested.” My friends and I stood on the sidewalk and thought we would be Ok there. It was a sidewalk. We had broken no laws. No one moved.  

Then the line of riot cops began to move forward. We began to inch back, soon they came charging at us like rhinos, loud and cumbersome and something quite fearful. A large line of fully geared cops. People then began running. A few once again got caught in the charge, but no arrests were made. It was decided to that we should all sit at the corner at Bay and Wellesly.  

We had been pushed back a city block.  

After a breather we found a route around the line and made it into Queen’s Park, by moving north and circling back. The display of cops was tremendous. It looked like every single one was there and getting ready. There were news vans lining the west end of the park. We called it a day and hoofed it back to our homes.  

We could see the cops were getting rowdy. They didn’t want anyone on the street, and we had been searched already without a real explanation.   

I decided to follow the rest of the action from Twitter feeds and was overwhelmed by the documentation. There was the usual assortment of people saying protesting is stupid and you deserve what you get. Then there were links to videos and news coming in faster than television or radio could deliver.  

I found this video denouncing citizen journalism, Social Media and the Protests. 

Could it be people don’t trust the poor job of professional journalists. Maybe people are beginning to question the media they are fed. Kudos to the journalists who have taken it upon themselves to tell the truth. And the journalists who think this is a bad idea and mention being frightened are the worst kind of journalists; afraid journalists can’t tell a real story.  

The anarchists posed less a threat to the civilians than the cops heavy handed response to what began as peaceful and was for the most part peaceful. With over 550 arrests in two days, one might come to the conclusion that maybe not every one of those arrests were warranted.  

Steve Paikin, a respected journalist, summed up the events that led to this event. The Agenda Blog  

The Ontario government, almost by stealth of night, passed a new regulation authorizing the police to act in ways which are inconsistent with our democratic traditions.  

Did the cops overstep our boundaries as citizens? Yes. Did the protesters overstep their boundaries to make a statement? Yes, but not as a whole, and arguably the actions of the citizens to resist the police were necessary. When you come face to face with the strength and stealth of the government you realize why changes are necessary.  

Why don’t more people resist or denounce outrageous spending and outrage at our environmental disasters?  “Because it doesn’t make a difference,” said my fifteen year old friend.  

Maybe not when their is secret legislation like the Public Works Act that allows for unprecedented search and seizure.  

Lucky for us the bloggers and journalists kept a tally of what was going on. A journalist with AMC documented a few highlights in the article “The Erosion of “Rights”: a quick descent”  .  

Judy Rebick’s blog, titled “Toronto is burning! Or is it?” questions just what exactly are we seeing on TV?  

For people sitting at home and watching TV news last night, Toronto was burning… Most of the 400 protesters arrested last night and others who may have avoided arrest didn’t see that violence.  

Toronto wasn’t on fire. The skirmishes were minimum. The police presence was overwhelming. And at the end of it what was left. Nothing. What did the leaders debate? What were protesters protesting? Does it matter. Because if it bleeds it leads and no one heard a thing.  

Out in the UK, the Guardian had this to say about the pointlessness of G20 from John Hilary, “May Toronto’s G20 be the last,”   

The security operation on the streets of Toronto has provided Canadians with the greatest single talking point of the G20 gathering this weekend… The fact that so much attention has been directed towards the policing is largely due to the lack of anything newsworthy coming out of the summit itself.  

Now that G20 is over what is left are few broken windows and a lack of faith in our free and democratic society. A friend poignantly posted on his Facebook wall: 

a little surprised that people are surprised they were arrested over the weekend for being at the G20 protests. I mean really? If you want to live in a less ‘fascist’ country, feel free to find one. 

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