Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Open letter about the G20 Protest

The original Facebook note

This weekend, I was afraid in what I consider the greatest city in one of the safest, most free countries in the entire world. I ran away from people who were hired, I am told, to protect me, to protect my friends, to protect my neighbours. The only time I ever saw human beings threatened or hurt was at the hand of these "protectors".

I am sharing my weekend experience because too much of what I see and hear is warped for political reasons or simply false. I participated in a number of peaceful demonstrations throughout the weekend, beginning with the large peaceful People First Rally at Queen's Park boasting around 25,000 people who wanted to share their calls for a better world. After a less peaceful evening, I sat at Wellesley and Bay with a small group as a man did spoken word poetry calling for peace. Sunday afternoon I sat at a prayer vigil at King and Bay and spoke for hours with mostly nice police officers at Queen and Cameron in the rain that night. On Monday, I was part of a passionate but peaceful demonstration against what I experienced when the demonstrations I was a part of were not permitted to remain peaceful by overzealous police behaviour.

I went to Queen's Park, our designated peaceful protest area, on Saturday afternoon to make a statement to G20 leaders. Along with many others, I stood against the excessive powers given to corporations and the agreements between nations that protect rich/corporate interests while neglecting the interests of human beings and environment. We marched peacefully south on University and west on Queen. At Queen and Spadina, things were tense with some protesters going north, others east, and many of us remaining in the area on Queen St deciding where to head next. While there was property damage (an abandoned police car with a broken windshield) it was hardly the chaos that it was portrayed as. My friends and I walked to Yonge and north as we regrouped, deciding what to do. We saw corporate windows smashed but, again, no chaos. Protesters and average civilians making their way around the city wandered the streets calmly.

According to the media, at this point the city was burning. We are on Queen St West as cars are burning after windows had been broken on Yonge. Despite these acts of vandalism, there was NOT chaos. The city was not being taken over by vandals.
We decided to head back to Queen's Park to join friends who had returned there to peacefully continue to demonstrate. We were told as we approached the Park by a riot police officer that the Riot Act had been read, which our friends inside had not heard at all. We heard the media reporting no tear gas had been used although a friend confirmed that she was hit with tear gas prior to that report. We joined our friends, still carrying our signs (literally mounted on pool noodles so as to not be threatening), standing on the east side of the Park midway between riot police and the legislature building. Out of nowhere, as a man slept on the lawn and people ate dinner on the grass, we were charged at by horses and riot police. Through two advances forwards where we had to run at full speed lest we be hit by batons or horses, they split the crowd down the middle and cut off the protesters in front of us. Perhaps they were not being so peaceful, we could not see them. Once separated, our 100% peaceful quarter of the Park was still charged at by riot police at least 3 more times. Confused, we stuck around, since this was our protest area. In the video footage we took, the confusion is evident as we ask "Well where are we supposed to go?" and "You told us to come here!" (I have posted footage on YouTube, click to view)

The emphasis placed in our world today on protecting capital interests was obvious Saturday evening when the media was not with peaceful protesters as we were attacked at Queen's Park but busy filming damage to property. Images of things, police cars and windows, were broadcast repeatedly while footage of protesters being chased by riot police and mounted police out of what was supposedly our space, was absent.

Early Sunday morning, I watched a friend get arrested outside the Novotel Hotel. Around 5 feet tall, a small woman, she had no fewer than five police officers around her, arresting her. How is this protecting the public? Intimidating a young woman who was demonstrating for labour rights that police officers, for example, enjoy but others are denied is cruel and unnecessary. (She was let free 12 hours later without charge or trust in the Canadian justice system.)

Later Sunday morning, I marched with fewer than 100 others to the detention centre to support those being released without charge and calling for more rapid processing of people being detained. Organizers walked through the crowd where we gathered at Jimmie Simpson Park to remind us to keep things peaceful and to listen to all police orders. The atmosphere was light as we marched down Logan and Pape, ringing our bicycle bells, singing and chanting. The mainstream media was present, wanting to interview detainees as they were released.

A few people were released and were greeted with water, snacks and cheers of support from the crowd. A man played bass guitar at the front of the group and we sang and chanted along. Literally, minutes after singing Kumbaya, two unmarked vans filled with undercover police officers drove into the crowd and threw people into the vans. Those of us who remained sat on the ground to show we were being peaceful and not wanting to cause trouble or fight to get the alleged anarchists back. We were sitting for only a couple of minutes when riot police began to charge. We stood up and backed up as instructed. We were not given instructions to disburse, only to back up (screamed in our faces as we were threatened with batons). Completely terrified, we backed up as police fired rubber bullets and smoke bombs. (Watch the raw footage that CTV captured. Added August 26, 2010: We were able to recover our footage that we had lost off Tiana's digital camera)

After police vans had taken away alleged anarchists, we sat in the street to show that we would not retaliate. Less than 1 minute after this photo was taken, the riot police charged, sending us back up the street, shooting rubber bullets, into a row of riot police who were wearing tear gas masks lined up on Queen St East.
Fortunately, the footage of these actions was captured by multiple news outlets. What was not captured was the sitting down of protesters as we did not fight to get those detained back. Again, as on Saturday night at Queen's Park, those who were identified as threats by police had already been removed/separated from our group and yet the riot police continued to charge, continued to be the ones perpetrating violence against their fellow human beings and continued to strike fear in the hearts of Torontonians and visitors alike.

I am absolutely against the vandalism that took place this past weekend. However, the media and the public's obsession with damaged property is evidence of the problems of the world we live in. Where our rights and quality of life are secondary to financial considerations. Hunger, poverty, injustice and the destruction of the planet that we live on are not on the front pages. This mentality was able to completely detract from the messages of protesters calling on their leaders and other leaders who have real power in the world to care about the average person and the environment that surrounds us all. I sat with priests and nuns on Sunday who had messages for world leaders about the rights of people in their countries and who trade with their countries and for how they protect the Earth. No one heard that. People keep blaming the violent protesters for "ruining it for everyone". No, the media chose to not report on the messages that the actual protesters had to say. The public chose to fall for the show of vandalism as the story of the day. The police played their part in distracting us all very well by keeping the protesters afraid and giving the media something to talk about other than the real issues.

Wake up, Canada. Stop being entertained by dramatic images of property and open your eyes to the oppression your own government is conducting and endorsing. Realize that those who endorse anarchy are encouraged by your attention, not deterred by your disgust. Look at how the rights of people in your own country were violated this past weekend and then think about the rights of those around the world to liberty, justice and a decent standard of living. Think about the future of our planet and our individual and collective responsibility to take care of it. The status quo is not okay. People and planet must come before the interests of profit.