After the storming of the Wall (part 4)
mstainsby at SPAMtao.ca
Wed May 2 18:33:34 MDT 2001
There were a few anecdotes I heard from others that are worth sharing. Apparently
there was a much larger rave-like event that took place under an overpass, where
"Food Not Bombs" had been serving free meals. The people there had built an
absolutely monstrous sized bonfire, but done little else but drink and dance and be
loud. The police had apparently launched tear gas from hundreds of metres above on
the hills of Old Quebec into the party atmosphere. Why this was done was only logical
if seen as a part of how the police wanted to teach the crowds a lesson, particularly
the young people. But the lessons they had taught earlier in the day to parts of the
student march (ostensibly a "green march") were ones that I'm still wondering about.
According to the comrade from the IS that I spoke to later that night, at one point
that same over pass the rave was under held students against the FTAA aloft on top.
The police apparently cut off one side by making a line, and did a false charge at
the crowd from the other end. This all after launching gas into this crowd, forcing
panic that led one student to think his best odds were off the overpass and jumped.
The person who relayed the story had no idea what was the jumper's fate, either in
landing on either concrete or grass- nor did she know if he survived. If he landed on
concrete, my question becomes simply: Would the police and the media tell us if there
were a death? It is hard to imagine they could keep this under wraps, and far be it
from me to start an unsubstantiated rumour. Nonetheless, the woman who told me the
story was visibly quite shaken by the event.
On my three day bus ride home from Quebec City I had several run-ins with people who
were not there, and had questions about the whole thing. I was mentally prepared for
the usual dollop of questions regarding the violent protesters, as opposed to the
peaceful "legitimate" ones. This didn't happen, to my own personal shock. In fact, it
still isn't happening to me as I write these lines a week later. Among the people
were questions such as "So what is so bad about Free Trade, anyway? I thought it was
a good thing." These types of questions are precisely the ones we need to have people
ask, and -let us all be frank- such questions simply are a result of the
Anarchist-motivated resistance so far. And that, that is the positive role with which
such tactics are playing in our movement as a whole. There is a place for this, and
that place has presented itself very well indeed. They are a demonstration that we
are not going to be ignored any longer. That angle- the one that is exemplified by
"Ya Basta!"- is the other part of the popular response I have received across the
country and at home. Only nervous comrades and other radicals are expressing to me
doubts about the appropriateness of the attack on the fence, or even the police. What
continues to be a bad line is the one of property destruction. It has an air of
wanton destruction for the sake of it- rather than the politics that inspire it- and
tends to see these politics lost in their own images.
One individual, who at first I thought was an exception but has turned out to be the
rule, was a man I estimate to be in his late 40's. I met him shortly after boarding
the bus for home. He has been a civil-disobedience activist all of his adult life,
believing as he said himself that non-violence in all circumstances was the way to
go. He was a very gentle man, quite unassuming and quiet (he also fed me Tylenol 3's
for my back whenever I asked, making the ride home that much better). He was
representative of what, to my thinking, is the grand impact of the days in Quebec.
People have, even large numbers who were not there, lost illusions. Seattle was,
after all, something that happened in the US- and "we all know" what those Americans
are like. But sweet, polite, forgiving Canada sent a ballistic message right to the
temple of so many people. And we must seize this lesson and move on it.
The impact this will have on Social Democrats will tell much of the tale. It felt to
me as if the events really showed the irrelevancy of parliamentary games. Surely the
language used by all the party's members (save for Svend Robinson- perhaps the last
true socialist in the party) was that of the state. They may have come out to this
gathering of activists, but they seemed to have no place whatsoever. It remains to be
seen what will happen to the party in the aftermath, and no doubt they will continue
to try and make political capital out of the protests. Nonetheless, it seems as if
the party had tried to garner relevance out of the Quebec crowd and perhaps will get
the opposite effect- third way rhetoric sounds very scripted right now.
The rank and file of the New Democrats are the main group that new organising will be
focused on. Today there are many very good comrades in the party- for lack of
anywhere else to go in their mind. Now is a great time to give them something, and
divorce it from Ottawa-based games.
The Council of Canadians earned some respect from me. I saw a few members in suits
running around at the front, holding their Council-printed signs and getting gassed.
Perhaps a torch was passed among the "respectable" representatives of the Canadian
left. The CBC offered Maude Barlow (leader of the Council) many opportunities to come
down against the "violent" demonstrators and to instead praise the legal, peaceful
ones. She did no such thing and sounded angry and ready for confrontation. The
Council is strongest in the East of Canada, so all such influence must be measured
with caution for those of us here dangling our toes in the Pacific. The politics of
the Council do not provide what I would call any real answer- there is a deep
reflection towards the "good Canada" of yesterday, and seems related to the
left-populism of Ralph Nader and his Greens in the United States. Nonetheless, the
people here are not parliamentarians, nor are they old and worn out like the NDP
increasing feels and looks. Perhaps, as far as coalition politics are concerned, this
is the great impact of their positive role.
How do we seize on this buzz across the country? We need to strike while the iron's
hot. Right now, the weakness for capitalism here is in democratic practice. The first
step is to find among our people some that are able to organise a coalition of the
groups who are getting the most positive responses from this outburst. This is a very
diverse bunch- but basically it means all those who put the advance of the struggle
above polemics within it. What is the enduring pulsation of people is the feeling
they can go after the people who run the world. That must be grabbed. If such forces
are to emerge that can actually pool together a singular demand, perhaps we might
succeed in taking a page from our one ally inside the negotiating table- Hugo Chávez.
Chávez is proposing that his country will hold a referendum on entry into the FTAA.
He also demanded the inclusion of "participatory" rather than representative beside
the word democracy in the declaration. These demands left the document with a
solitary asterix on them- his dissent. In a recent speech to commemorate May Day,
Fidel Castro- the only head of state not invited to Quebec City- did the same,
calling for a plebiscite on the FTAA as well.
The Canadian ruling class held a referendum once- and they were summarily humiliated
by it. The population rejected their proposals wholeheartedly (proposals for a
constitution). It seems to be self-evident that the main reasons so many sympathise
with the demonstrators in Quebec are that the bourgeois have lost their claims to the
mantle of democracy, if only for a short time. We should seriously think about what
that Wall represents- it is something that comes from a long trickle of lies, similar
to a creek that builds a canyon. People have an internal knowledge that this system
really isn't for or about them. Thus, it is time for us to attempt to go for the
jugular- in the battle of ideas. The ruling class is increasingly exhausted in their
search for legitimacy. We, on the other hand, are fresh and new. We can speak with
the optimism of a new and better world, and do it now! I cannot stress this enough-
time is of the essence.
The beauty of a possible referendum call is multi-faceted- one is the simple fact
that the ruling class can never grant such a referendum. Trade agreements like the
FTAA are the very heart of global capitals' current agenda. Within that agenda is the
maintenance of the democratic façade. They cannot give up either- yet a demand for a
referendum forces them to drop one. If I were a betting man, I'd give great odds they
would have to refuse the referendum in place of their class interests. After all, I'm
a stodgy old Marxist- and I tend to think the Bourgeoisie acts in their own class
interests above all else, every time.
It carries an implicit solidarity with the left in South America. After all, we aren
't demanding anything other than that we in the North act simply as democratic as
Venezuela. Chávez' call is similar to the same kind of politics as enumerated by
Anarchists here- the right of self-determination. So long as we can bring people on
board who have diverse feelings about where this is leading- then we can do something
with it immediately. A demand for something that the ruling class cannot possibly
give is revolutionary. Yet it contains as allies, heads of state.
What often has Social Democrats in a place that makes compromise different is a
belief that democratic change of really significant proportions is still possible. So
my challenge to those rank and file types- both in and out the NDP- let us challenge
the ruling class to prove it. We have nothing to lose and much to gain from a unified
These are proposals for thought for a further heightening of the anti-globalisation
movement. Primarily, these are only simple steps to be taken yet they will go a long
way if we can unify any serious forces around such demands. One thing that is needed
immediately is an end to worrying about direct action. In my time since returning
home, many of my friends and acquaintances who are not usually interested in politics
have taken the time to congratulate me, to thank the demonstrators in Quebec. They
are talking as if the protests really did represent them. They are not interested in
debates about bricks. If this is so, why on earth should we be? It is time for a
moratorium on critiques that go beyond friendly criticisms. A while back I saw an
interview with Mohammed Ali while he was standing beside Stokely Carmichael (later
named Kwame Ture). The reporter asked Ali if there were any differences between the
Nation of Islam and the Panthers. His response was "Yes- but these are differences
between brothers, and they are not for you to hear." Such an attitude must be grasped
now by all of us, if we are to be serious. After all, A better world IS possible. And
now, so it seems, a lot of people know this. This is the great change.
The corporate media also know they are in trouble. The forms of attacks on the
protests- all angles- have been putrid and dripping with contempt. The CBC, hardly a
bastion of even the centre let alone the left- was attacked for "hours of pandering
to hooliganism" by the National Post, after the first day. Then there was a story
which read "some of the protesters are violent- the rest are idiots". Lines
reminiscent of the 60's started showing up- "when the water cannons came out, some of
the demonstrators got their first bath in weeks". Then there was an entire article
devoted to how April 20 is a national pot-protesters day, and that people were
wandering around selling and using all kinds of drugs (a total lie- I didn't smell
pot at all, except for once at the spontaneous rave). According to this "journalist",
people were selling LSD for $25 a hit (this was indicative of the honesty of the
article- LSD has a street value of five bucks). These are only a smattering of the
responses. Needless to say, they verged on the hysterical. The press barons have
given no quarter in appreciating the significance of the protests. This conveys a
deep fear- one I didn't expect to see spread out on their pages anywhere near so
The last few days as I walk around Vancouver, I've been trying to figure out why I
feel different. What is this feeling? Is it pride? No, I've been proud of being an
activist and an anti-capitalist Marxist for a long time- and proud of my comrades for
actions I witnessed or was a part of before. That isn't a new feeling. Is it
confidence? I've been confident in the justness of our cause as long as I've been a
part of it. It took me awhile to come up with a word for it- but I finally figured
out what that word is. Relevance. Never before in the five years I've been a
self-described revolutionary has being such seemed to actually be as immediately
relevant as it does now. It is that- the feeling that we have something to offer and
that people are going to be interested in what we have to say- that is new, different
and utterly intoxicating.
I decided to test out a lot of these feelings by attending the May Day march in
Vancouver more as an observer than as a participant. The organising started quite
late, mainly because of other work being done- particularly around the FTAA and a
solidarity demo held here (which pulled in some 6 000 people at the Peace Arch border
crossing). I figured I was wrong if the demo pulled in some 150-200 people. The
numbers, as reported by the CBC were around 600- so the "swell" I was hoping to see
was evident- the numbers were only slightly less than last year, where many months of
planning went into the demonstration. The difference was the tone- many little
discussions of "what is to be done?" were erupting. Beyond that, I felt an anger in
the crowd. The police have now changed as well. At the end of the demonstration, two
women who had been postering in favour of the striking transit workers were arrested
for this. Others blocked the paddy-wagon, calling this a political arrest. For their
troubles (with linked arms and expecting to be carried off of the road) they were
attacked with bikes used as rams and pepper sprayed. Things have changed- on both
sides. But the change is still chaotic- now it needs direction.
The look I have been receiving from strangers and friends alike is not the one I got
upon the return from Seattle. After Nov. 30, 1999 people were interested, wanted to
hear the story and thought it was neat that "youth" were doing this sort of thing
again. The look I get this time is a thanking one. People have a respect for those of
us who are doing this. I have never been granted instant respect by a stranger simply
because I was an activist before. It has frankly always been the opposite. That
change, while it feels very nice, says a lot more about the people who now have this
respect than it does anything about me.
The events of the last week can fizzle quickly. We have a decision to make, made by
our actions, as to whether or not to grasp it and make it something more. The
democrats have lost their claim to democracy. We have now the only democratic answer
to both political life and economic and environmental survival. We can start looking
for our friends, and stop treating one another as enemies. Most importantly, we must
keep the vision where it belongs, and in the only arena where it can have an effect.
We must keep and nurture this struggle as an international struggle. The salute the
Quebec demonstrators received from Fidel Castro was indicative of the form of
struggle we are engaged in. It reminded me of a statement that Cuba's Communist Party
released a few years ago, which more than ever seems prophetic: "The struggle against
the kind of domination imposed by globalised imperialism must also be globalised".
Truer words have rarely been spoken.
In the contradiction lies the hope.
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