Sunday, June 27, 2010

G20 Protest and the problem with anarchy

This Post has nothing to do with music/art/culture (well, except for activism, which is a sort of culture), but I was there, and thought I should say a few words about what I saw and experienced.
anarchy (countable and uncountable; plural anarchies)
  1. (uncountable) The state of a society being without authoritarians or a governing body.
  2. (uncountable) Anarchism; the political theory that a community is best organized by the voluntary cooperation of individuals, rather than by a government, which is regarded as being coercive by nature.
  3. (countable) A chaotic and confusing absence of any form of political authority or government.
  4. confusion in general; disorder
This past weekend there was chaos in the streets of downtown Toronto. I was there for a large part of Saturday, but got out when things started to turn really ugly. For a more detailed account of how the protest march on Saturday turned from relatively quiet and peaceful to violent and absurd, see Zalina Alvi's post from earlier today.

You know, I wrote this whole thing about the protest and the aftermath of the violence caused in large part by a group known as the Black Bloc (read Zalina's post on why this is a group and not just a tactic), but now I'm thinking that I just don't know what to say. I saw some surprising things yesterday (including some rent-a-cops drive-by pepper spraying some completely innocent bystanders at Queen's Park). I have to admit, I was hoping for something interesting to happen, but I honestly didn't think it would. I've been to other demonstrations in Toronto (always as an observer - I'm not much for chants and flag waving) and nothing even close to this has ever happened. It's something I wasn't expecting. In fact, I think that most Torontonians weren't really expecting this much damage and chaos to occur, despite G20/G8's previous record for attracting these types of shit-disturbers.

But, to be completely honest, part of me would have been disappointed if everything had gone to plan and everyone had behaved like civilized human beings. Despite my passive leanings, I do find these G8/G20 meetings to be little more than planning sessions on how to best keep the poor poor and the rich rich. But I'm also not a complete idiot who thinks that destroying a few Starbuck's and throwing feces into an American Apparel shop will get any message across to "The Man" besides "I'm a twat." In fact, I know that that kind of wanton destruction only pulls focus away from the actual issues at hand.

I posted the definition of Anarchy because I think the so-called anarchists from yesterday (the Black Bloc people, as they've become known) really need to read it more carefully. By definition, there wasn't any anarchy yesterday - just a group of people taking advantage of a larger group of people to disobey the law and break things they don't own. In all likelihood the Black Bloc people aren't even from Toronto, so they don't care at all that it's us who will have to pick up the tab for their "political statement." I particularly want to point out the "political theory that a community is best organized by the voluntary cooperation of individuals, rather than by a government" part, because it's this concept that these people really don't seem to get. "The voluntary cooperation of individuals." I guess it's only the anarchists that matter in this situation, huh? It's not like there were thousands of people there who wanted their voices to be heard above the din of glass smashing and riot police beating their shields? Anyway, the whole thing turned out to be a mess, and no one got any message across at all. We all just got a bunch of headlines and a regrettable entry into the Toronto history books. This was a missed opportunity to have Toronto be seen as something other than the possessor of the world's second tallest free-standing phallic symbol. And that's not just the Black Bloc's fault.

I'm a little miffed that, despite stating that they knew about the Black Bloc group and their tactics, the 1 billion dollar security force did absolutely nothing to stop them from creating havoc in downtown Toronto. If they knew who these people were and what they were going to do, why didn't they do anything to prevent it? In fact, why didn't the protest leaders do anything to prevent it? There's no reason why this couldn't have been avoided. Certainly, in this social-media-savvy age, there are better ways to protest things than marching around a city, yelling at police officers who aren't listening to you anyway. Social pressure online, in many ways, can be more powerful than the physical presence of protesters. Maybe this is an avenue that future protests should look into.

The arrest count is over 600 for the week (I saw earlier that there was 224 arrest today - not sure what the official number is now). From what I've heard there has been no vandalism today (or at least, no where near the level of chaos as yesterday), so why so much aggression? And the photos pouring in from the boxed in protesters at Queen and Spadina from Sunday are chilling. No doubt, we will be left with a lot of questions in the days to come - and very few satisfying answers.

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