Solidarité: A Quebec Diary

Stuart Lawrence stuartwl at SPAMwalrus.com
Tue Apr 24 19:06:39 MDT 2001


This is an excerpt of a good, detailed account of the protests in Quebec posted
on the Indy Media site; it's long but well worth reading. I have my own bit part
in this story as one of the "bangers."

Stuart
stuartwl at walrus.com

Solidarité: A Quebec Diary (LONG) (english)
by Shawn Ewald 11:35am Tue Apr 24 '01
shawn at wilshire.net

The following is my account of the Anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec
City; let me begin by saying that it was one of the most amazing and
inspiring events I've ever witnessed or participated in and it was a
clear victory for everyone who participated.

As for those who were not there and who have criticisms about the
violence, I only have this to say: We were there to do a job, and that
job was to stop or disrupt the summit by any means necessary.This was a
meeting where the lives and futures of everyone in north and south
america are being sold down the river wholesale -- what was done in
Quebec City was an act of collective self defense. There is no room for
discussion and there is no room for debate on that, in my opinion. I
certainly haven't the slightest interest in debating it. If you *were*
there and you saw the viciousness and brutality of the police and you
think the response was anything but appropriate, I have nothing to say to
you.

A20 Quebec City

The days march was organized by CLAC and CASA as were all of the
effective events of the weekend. CLAC and CASA are two anarchist/anti-
authoritarian groups from Montreal and Quebec City, respectively. Other
groups involved in the demonstrations were SalAMI (liberal anti-
globalization group), Alternatives (huge Canadian NGO) and Occupe (I'm
still unclear what they did); these groups, while having one hundred
times the resources of CLAC and CASA, did not do one tenth of the
organizing that CLAC and CASA did. It seemed that (SalAMI in particular)
spent more energy trying to marginalize CLAC and CASA and put a whole lot
of energy into organizing a futile "legal" march which led thousands of
union members away from the perimeter and into a stadium for an absurd
rally that doing any real organizing work on the ground.

One CAW member said about the "legal" march: "Why was the 'legal protest'
conducted miles away from the security perimeter? Had I known I was
marching towards a parking lot, I would have stayed home and done that at
the fucking mall."

This engagement in counterproductive activity by the larger organizations
left the field almost exclusively to CLAC, CASA, and affiliated groups.
Some of the work they did included: traveling across, Ontario, Quebec and
the northeastern US to do countless teach-ins on the demonstrations,
engaging and educating the community about the demonstrations and
countering the media disinformation through the CASA-affiliated anti-
poverty group Commite Populaire du St. Jean Baptiste, distributing 10,000
copies of a 4 page tabloid in the neighborhood where most of the action
was to occur (the neighborhoods of St. Jean Baptiste and Limoliou),
establish an "adopt-an-activist" program which encouraged local families
to put up visiting demonstrators (hundreds of demonstrators were housed
this way), and coordinate the more confrontational (and also more
effective) actions that would occur over the weekend.

In short, the most important work (organizing the effort to either stop
or disrupt the summit, and build community support) was done by CLAC and
CASA. In previous demonstrations, like Seattle and DC, decentralized
"anarchistic" tactics have been used to great effect, by groups like DAN
and the Mobilization for Global Justice, these groups also have a great
many anarchists and anti-authoritarians involved in them, but this time
the major organizing was fairly overtly done by anarchists and other
radical anti-authoritarians.

Friday began as a traditional march from Laval University, down Boulevard
Rene Levesque, to "The Wall", which seemed a rather inauspicious start to
what would become an astonishing afternoon and evening. But there were
practical reasons for this -- most of the housing provided for the
demonstration was on the Laval University campus. The over a mile long
march was not without incident: an altercation between a campus security
guard (who by all accounts provoked the incident) and a protester, in
which the campus security guard briefly drew his gun, was witnessed by
me, but overall it was a uneventful march. During the march is also where
I first heard the chant of the Quebecois radicals and black bloc members.
A simple and to the point chant that embodies what the entire weekend was
about: Sol! Sol! Sol! Sol-i-dar-i-té!

One other thing was definitely worthy of note: from the beginning of the
demo at Laval until we reached the perimeter, I did not see a single cop
anywhere. This is interesting because, for months now the media has been
conducting a fear campaign on the citizens of Quebec, in an effort to get
them to fear and oppose the protester. What the absence of cops all along
the parade route told me, and should also tell the citizens of Quebec, is
that the authorities do not give a shit about them. There were thousands
of people in the streets that day, we could have burned and looted the
city, no problem, and not a single cop would've been around to stop us.
What's even more interesting is that the QC police department had nothing
to do with defending the summit, the summit defense was all done by
Quebec Provincial police and the RCMP and CSIS (the Canadian equivalent
of both the FBI and CIA).

About a block or so before we approached the perimeter, which was at the
intersection of Rene Levesque and Rue de l'Amerique-Francaise, people
were asked if they wanted to go left to the "green" non-violent/non-
dangerous action or forward to the "yellow" and "red" action, which was a
combination of militant non-violent CD and direct action against the wall
and the police. I don't know how many went left, some did, all I know is
that Lyn, Duff, Ben, Richard, David (one of the few members of NYC Ya
Basta! who got across the border), and myself went forward to the "red"
zone. Gretchen was in the crowd, but not with us at this point, she also
went forward.

It only took a few minutes for the black bloc to take down the fence on
l'Amerique-Francaise and not long after that for the first volley of tear
gas to be fired which, in turn, was responded to with volleys of rocks
and bottles from the protesters. And so it went for over two hours.

I was in the black bloc in DC for the April 16th 2000 WB/IMF
demonstrations and there the cop's weapon of choice was the boot and the
club. They didn't bother with tear gas too much. In DC, they were itching
to beat the crap out of protesters, run them over with motorcycles, and
trample them with horses and they did so every chance they could get. In
Seattle it was a bunch of incoherent violence by an incompetent police
force, but in Quebec City we were facing a seasoned and disciplined
police force (with a great deal of experience in crowd control) who use
extreme violence and terror tactics with skill. In retrospect,
everything they did had a degree of logic and strategy which most people
were unprepared for.

[I saw the cops response as relatively restrained on a scale of potential
severity; you can draw your own conclusions about the reasons for this
restraint. -- Stuart]

It was here on A20 where Lyn and I got our first dose of tear gas, it
would not be our last. We had bought Israeli gas masks in DC that we
never really ended up using for the reasons described above, and we
didn't bring them with us to Quebec because we assumed that they would be
confiscated at the border. So we were completely unprotected on A20. We
were right behind the black bloc, about 20 feet away from the front line
when the first round of tear gas was fired. Fortunately, the wind was on
our side for most of the day and blew the tear gas right back at the
cops, while the cannisters themselves were picked up and thrown back by
the black bloc and other protesters.

We didn't actually get hit until the second or third volley -- it hurt
like hell, of course, but when we walked away from the gas and faced the
wind, it didn't take long for us to recover. "That's not so bad", we
thought, but after each new dose it became harder and to recover from
it.

After about the first hour -- at this point Lyn and I had been totally
fucked up by the tear gas and took refuge behind an apartment building
for several minutes. When we emerged, the police brought in two water
cannon trucks BEHIND the protesters, attempting to trap them between
l'Amerique-Francaise and Turnbull, and to lure the black bloc away from
the wall. The last part of the plan worked, but not at all in the way
they expected. The black bloc and many many other protesters who were now
fighting mad after being tear gassed for over an hour, ferociously
attacked the water cannon trucks -- smashing the windows and attempting
to open the doors to drag the drivers from the trucks. The response from
the crowd must've been pretty shocking to the police because the trucks
made a hasty retreat and were never seen on the street again -- from that
point on, they kept the water cannons safely ensconced at various points
behind the perimeter fence.

The police gradually managed to occupy one side of the block, they chased
people across the street and beat many of them. They were forced back and
then the whole thing was repeated.

We stayed for another hour, mostly avoiding the gas as much as possible
now. Literally hundreds of people heard about what was going down on
radio and TV came down and started participating and observing at this
point. Among the observers, there were looks of horror and outrage, not
at the protesters, but at the brutality of the police....

It was during the first two hours of the battle of Rene Levesque (I'm not
sure exactly when), we would later learn, that the police (most likely
CSIS) literally kidnapped Jaggi Singh, one of the most visible and effective
spokepeople for the actions. The police who kidnapped him were dressed as
protesters. They swarmed around him, beat the crap out of him, and threw
him into an unmarked car which quickly sped away. At the time, Jaggi was
near the "green" zone, which was being mercilessly gassed as well,
attempting to calm the crowd and prevent a panicked stampede. No one knew
where Jaggi was being held all that night, as of this writing he still
has not been released....

We ran into a man and a woman with a
bullhorn, who were asking if anyone had a copy of the Canadian
constitution. As luck would have it, Lyn and I were both handed a copy by
a legal observer when we were applying for our press credentials with
CMAQ this morning...Lyn handed them her copy.

The man attempted a reading first, it was OK. But the woman then took the
bullhorn and walked right up to the police line and read it with searing
rage in her voice as I stood next to her and recorded. She was not
halfway through when a riot cop began to point his tear gas gun directly
at her. People in the crowd began to scream "don't shoot!". The cop
slowly began to lower his gun just as the cop next to him began to lob
one tear gas grenade after another into the crowd. I and others began to
scream "Walk!... Marche!..." to prevent people from trampling each other
in a panic as we all tried to move out of the thick blinding cloud of
tear gas as quickly as possible. When I got to the bottom of the hill I
looked back and saw an impenetrable cloud of CS gas completely consumed
the narrow residential street we had just occupied. This was the first of
countless gassings of exclusively residential streets I would see over
the next two days.

There was so much gas that people were driven blocks away seeking
breathable air. This was enough for us. We regrouped with our friends and
headed back to Pierre's place to recuperated. I would later find out that
the street battle would continue until dawn with angry locals picking up
where the exhausted protesters had left off.

A21 Quebec City

The next day's assembly point was on Charest at noon. This was the big
day. Yesterday we had 15000 to 20000 in the streets, today we had 60000
union marchers alone according to the organizers and 10000 to 15000
protesters and angry locals over the course of the day. This would be a
day of amazing courage and (for most of the union marchers who get led
away from the action) disappointment and frustration.

Lyn and I were prepared today. We had bought goggles, cloth to cover our
faces, and vinegar to cut the tear gas. Today, we were running with the
black bloc. We found a portion of the black bloc a few blocks down from
the park between L'Eglise and Couronne were we would ascend to Cote
d'Abraham and into the most ferocious and brave street battle I have ever
seen, much less participated in.

There was a rented delivery truck that had huge speakers out the back
pumping reggae, funk, and hip-hop. It would end up at the park as part of
the "Temporary Autonomous Zone" (more on that later). There were a couple
bank windows that got broken, no big deal, overall. Meanwhile, a group of
protesters, sometime before noon, had occupied the freeway onramp and
offramp off of Cote d'Abraham and began a massive drum session on the
freeway guardrails that could be heard for blocks away. Apparently, those
ramps were close to the meeting site and they were attempting to disrupt
or inconvenience the summit by drumming all day and all night, which they
did. As far as I can tell, the drumming started before noon and did not
end until it was viciously dispersed around 4AM. The whole time, these
people were under direct attack with teargas, water cannons and plastic
bullets. The black block came to defend them and draw fire away from
them.

What followed was astonishing. The people who took part in that defense
(men, women, black, white, asian, First Nations, Quebecquois, Anglaise)
showed incredible guts, ferocity and tenacity. Barrages of teargas,
plastic bullets, and water cannon blasts were met with storms of bricks
and stones, flaming debris, and teargas cannisters flung back in the
cops faces. The "bangers", as we were calling them, on the freeway and
the defenders took shifts -- it was an informal system. someone got tired
or hurt and there would just be someone around to take their place -- at
least for the whole time I was there. This battle went on for literally
HOURS.

The people I was with either got tired, got hurt or got too much gas (I
made the dumb mistake of trying to kick a tear gas cannister after it had
been going a few seconds. Vinegar on a piece of cloth will protect you
from CS gas pretty well, but not if you're foolish enough to walk into a
cloud of it) and we decided to move on down to St. Jean, we were hearing
that the fighting was also getting fierce. As we made our way over we say
some equally amazing things. Specifically, the decency and generosity of
the citizens of Quebec City.

The following are just a few incidents that are not necessarily in
chronological order: a lovely middle-aged woman hanging a water hose out
her second storey window and smiling on the crowd below as they rinsed
their eyes and filled water bottles. A shopkeeper out in the street
around the corner doing the same thing. A grandfather with his children
and grandchildren sitting out on his stoop; as we pass by he says "Mais
oui! Mais oui! C'est Admirable!". Seeking shelter in a neighborhood bar
and having the the bartender remind us that there's ice cold water from
the bathroom faucet; friendly banter with the local patrons in broken
french and english. The black bloc marching down a street to the cheers
of protesters and locals alike.

We spent the day making our way to Rene Levesque and back, a few of my
experiences:

St. Jean:
Helping to unsuccessfully to pull down a portion of the fence on St. Jean
(oh well, a portion did get successfully pulled down at least). Seeing a
little neighborhood boy get gassed by cops behind the fence and not being
able to do much about it. Hearing a report that the meetings have been
delayed due to the protests and everyone cheering, protester and local
alike.

Rene Levesque:
People playing frisbee and tossing teargas cannisters back at the cops.

When we made it back to Cote d'Abraham it was dark or getting there, we
came round the bottom of Cote d'Abraham, we had no idea that the cops
were pushing their way down the winding hill above. We decided to stop at
the back end of CMAQ (the Indymedia-affiliated media center), which was
on Saint-Vallire and take a break and have a smoke or two. To understand
what happens next, you have to realize that Cote d'Abraham is a winding
road that wraps around a steep hillside. The front of CMAQ building is
two storeys high and the back of CMAQ is five storeys high,
approximately. On the side of the CMAQ building, their is a long, steep
staircase that leads from Cote d'Abraham down to Saint-Vallier, where we
sat on the curb an relaxed and chatted, many locals were gathering and
mingling with the activists. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, people
come running and screaming down the stairs with a cloud of teargas
trailing behind them. The cops have managed to push the line about two
blocks down the hill, yet the "bangers" are still occupying the freeway
entrance and going strong.

For some reason, the building in which CMAQ is housed has no functioning
ventilation system, they have to close all the doors and stop up the
cracks to prevent gas from getting in. Meanwhile outside, the locals and
the activists start screaming at the cops and, the locals in particular,
start throwing bottles and rocks up at the cops and get another round of
teargas for their troubles. It take what seems like an hour for the cops
to back off, but by this time the proverbial camel's back has been
broken. It's saturday night, and the bars and streets are filled with the
angry working-class whites, blacks and south asians that populate the
neighborhoods of St. Jean-Baptiste and Limoilou that have been
perpetually gassed for the whole day. We go grab a bite to eat way down
the street on Charest since nothing is happening, it seems.

Meanwhile, further down the hill from Cote d'Abraham, at the park on the
corner of Coronne and Charest, a bonfire has been going for a while now,
there's more locals than activists down there and a big ol' party is
going on. The fire gets bigger and bigger, people drinking hard, smoking
dope, the sound system is pumping out hip-hop and people are having a
good time. People are getting more shit from the cops on Cote d'Abraham,
and the locals go down to get their friends at the party, activists get
their people together several blocks down and start a spontaneous march
down Charest which meets up with the locals and other activists at the
park. We come back down Charest just in time to follow the activists
coming out from under a freeway underpass chanting "Sol! Sol! Sol!
Sol-i-dar-i-té!".

By the time we get to the park, we've been listening to the radio
communication going on. I find the CMAQ channel and tell them what's
going on, which results in me doing comms for CMAQ from 11PM to 4AM as
the locals get their revenge on the cops the whole night. By the time we
reach the park, the whole intersection of Charest and Couronne belongs to
the locals and the activists, and the bonfire grows over the night to be
easily 20 feet wide and ten foot high flames practically in the middle of
the street.

Another amazing street battle occurs on Cote d'Abraham, this time with
the benefit of the full resourcefulness of the locals. At one point, they
pull a sturdy seel fence seemingly out of thin air and march up Cote
d'Abraham to charge the cop line near the top of the hill. The battle
rages back and forth from about 11:30pm to 4am when the cops finally get
the advantage and drive everyone down into the park. Meanwhile, we hear
that there are still battles going on at St. Jean and Rene Levesque, but
it's over for us. The cops are viciously dispersing people now that they
have complete advantage, there's not going to be another comeback on this
side of the hill.

We go home and sit up with Melanie and share war stories and plan to
attend the final CLAC/CASA meeting tomorrow at Laval University. Pierre's
other friends have shown up after all and they tell us how proud they are
of the militant Quebecois activists who protested and fought. We've all
heard a rumor that the Canadian army might be brought in (this is a rumor
that had been floating around for awhile), but they're doubtful. They say
if the army is brought in, there will be a revolution. Quebecois hate the
army. They still remember what the army did in the 70's during the
Quebecois civil rights struggles.

A22 Quebec City: Aftermath

On sunday morning, we learn that something like 455 people have been
arrested and only approximately 300 are accounted for, we also learn from
other sources that at least 4 people have "disappeared" without a trace
--
they don't know if they've been jailed or are voluntarily laying low.

There is a meeting where it is resolved to do a solidarity march for the
jailed protesters to the Ministry of Justice. It is small but
interesting. Laval is located in the upscale suburb of Saint-Foy -- a
largely nondescript sea of shopping malls and expensive cars -- a stark
contrast to the beauty of Quebec City. Nonetheless, the commuters and
passers by are supportive, and they are visibly disturbed by the line of
riot cops that follow our little march of 300 people along the way. A
press conference is held in front of the ministry and a statement is made
in French and English. We nreturn to Laval and hug and kiss Melanie
goodbye, and resolve to see her again the the summer.

We ran into Nicholas, a CASA organizer, earlier today at the meeting and
agreed to meet him for an interview in the evening.

Nicholas is very much involved with Comite Populaire du St. Jean-
Baptiste, an anti-poverty group that serves the St. Jean-Baptiste
neighborhood of Quebec City. He and his fellow local activists were
largely responsible for the outreach done in the community and with the
local merchants prior to the demonstrations. He tells us that ordinarily,
he doesn't give a shit about these big demonstrations, but this one was
in his town, so he did the work to make it a success.

He thinks that his fellow anarchists should be doing more work in their
own communities. That's where were going to make a real difference. He
thinks all this globalization shit is a "fad", it's the capitalists
displaying their arrogance. They think they've won, so they're rubbing
our noses in it, once they get enough resistance, they'll go back
underground again (in a sense) but nothing will really change.

After seeing the incredible effectiveness of his an others' local
organizing work around the demonstrations, I can't help but agree with
him. But I'd agree with him anyway, simply because he's right. The anti-
capitalist movement (distinct in many ways from the anti-globalization
movement) has allot of work cut out for it.

Quebec was the biggest first-world success for the fight against
gloablization to date, and there's not likely to be a bigger success for
a long while. But you can't let that energy you've brought home
dissipate, you've got to take it and put it into your community were the
real fight must begin.

Full article at:
http://indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=36221&group=webcast








More information about the Marxism mailing list