Going Down To Kananaskis: Fork in The Road for Our Movement (part 2)

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at tao.ca
Tue Jul 2 21:58:34 MDT 2002

(continued from part one)

   I arrived back in Calgary, again hitchhiking to the city. I had been told by
a friend that the CBC announced that the Alberta police were gearing up to rape
our constitutional rights to free movement: they were planning on stopping
people at the border between the provinces of BC and Alberta. As luck would have
it, when I finally got my ride that would take me across the provincial border,
I was in the car of a staff sergeant from the New Westminster Police Department.
I was Safely ensconced in his car with a story about heading to Regina in one of
the Prairie provinces to visit a friend (who I had warned about my cover story,
and memorised his phone number) and sit around writing poetry. Thus, I now knew
that should such a blockade be set up, I would get through. As it was almost two
weeks before the actual Summit was to begin, nothing of any note was there,
other than the giant "Welcome to Alberta, Wild Rose Country" sign. One more
quick ride later, and I was back in the same coffee shop where I had tracked
down summit activists two weeks before. Only, now people seemed to be even more
afraid and there were not any posters up on the lampposts. Calgary media were
asking people to report to the police any anti-G8 graffiti. They even set up a
"volunteer squadron" of anti-graffiti citizens' patrols. Even as the air was
relatively clear, the sun out and the wind blowing, the atmosphere felt utterly
suffocating. I made my way out to the university to try and link up with any
activities that might be going on out there. The organisers, it should be noted,
did a horrible job of keeping their websites up-to-date as far as organising was
concerned. It was easy for people who wanted to attend workshops to decipher
what was going on by visiting the internet, but it as extremely difficult to
find the actual planning. My hope was simply that this was a reflection of how
busy finalising things the local planners were- and from my later experiences,
this appeared to be the case.

   By the next afternoon I had stumbled across a couple of the good people in
the city I had met by this point. They alerted me to the logistics meeting going
on, in a cafeteria where the noise and echo was more disruptive than even the
"zamboni" clearing off the floors all around us. The meeting went well, being
facilitated by a man named Charles from the Pagan Cluster (of Starhawk fame)
already in Calgary. I asked what was actually to happen on the day of the summit
itself, now being referred to as J26. I was told that there was a plan for three
snake marches to leave from different meeting points across the outskirts of
downtown, and that these snake marches were to disrupt traffic during rush hour,
calling this a form of economic disruption. My reading of the term economic
disruption tells me that this is not a form of it, but that wasn't my primary
concern. It wasn't clear as to what our strategy actually was. I had previously
read a call to action that had come out over the internet to the same effect. I
couldn't- try as I might- see the actual target. Simply causing chaos in the
downtown core was not going to make a very clear point, even if our communiqués
detailed the different corporate "targets" that were to be passed by on the
march. Further, the march was organised under the banner of Quebec City and
similar, much larger marches: "diversity of tactics". People can argue all they
want about how that means different things to different people, and it means
respecting all forms of resistance. In our movement, in most cases at least, it
is code for "on this march, people are not being asked to refrain from engaging
in acts that can be construed as 'violent' by the police." Such a choice, made
when there were 6000 police from across the country (Ontario Provincial
Police[OPP], Calgary and Albertan police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and we
had no idea how many people were going to show up seemed to me to be begging for
a massive defeat. It seemed that possibly a sad satire of victories in places
like Seattle, but this time ending in chaotic mass arrests were going to befall
all of our organising. I decided to try and work to help avert the disaster. The
lack of a clearly defined strategy was even more disturbing than the lack of
clarity as to tactics. If we had a target that was so obviously correct- such as
that blasted Wall in Quebec City-that no matter what spin it was given our
message would get through regardless, then our physical safety would be the only
concern. As I said to some people there, I am personally fatalistic about my
physical safety, but the health and advancement of our movement has the entire
planet and all the inhabitants therein in the balance. We cannot afford to allow
ego to cloud our judgements. People who had been working on this project for
nearly a year had every reason to be tied to their original plans: They had put
heart and soul into this work, and it was conceived by them. However, for the
sake of any who might have emotional rather than rational reasons for wanting to
try something reckless without proper consideration as to the effect on the
morale of our movement, we needed to evaluate what was going on here. This is in
_no way_ a morality judgement, I personally am no pacifist; it is a practical
consideration. Smashing a Starbucks window is not even on the same radar screen
as compared to what is going to befall our city centres when the movement of the
working class to reclaim what is rightfully theirs begins in earnest. The
question is one of practicality and what works to our collective advancement in
"tearing the fortress down", making sure we do whatever necessary to make that
fateful eventuality come sooner, for we have no time to waste. Not a single day.

   I had spoken directly with many different people involved in the plans, and
there were as many different interpretations as there were people to talk to. As
stated, there was no clearly defined target in Calgary, nothing other than the
timing coinciding with the meeting some 100 plus km away. Worse still, we had no
idea how many people would actually come out to these snake marches. There was
and remains no place in our movement for ego about trying to be every bit as
militant as the demonstrators in other flanks of our movement. It appeared that
the organisation of this particular demonstration was being done in a vacuum,
without paying attention to the reality of what was happening on-the-ground.  We
had very good reason to suspect that our numbers were going to be in the
hundreds, not the thousands, for the snake marches. Labour had pulled out of the
planning approximately a month before, citing safety concerns. Now, I am hardly
the one to think we should ever bow before TUB's- their number of betrayals of
the anti-capitalist leadership of our movement prior to this was so high I lost
count long ago. However, this was not the same as in the other cases, not even
close. In Calgary, the Trade Unions deserve the fullest marks at the end of all
the organising.

   In Quebec City, the smaller anti-capitalist marches were in the tens of
thousands. The organisers took great pains to accommodate everyone, through the
creation of "Red, Green and Yellow" zones. They were so clearly marked and set
far apart from one another as to have been able to accommodate people who could
not risk arrest or didn't want to eat tear gas, but who still wanted to march
under an anti-capitalist (and even anti-imperialist) banner. When the TUB's
deliberately diverted their march and took their rank and file to a parking lot
in the middle of nowhere, it was a grotesque paternalism being enforced on the
rank and file. The leadership, being dragged by the force of history that was
being created by the radicals in the forefront, could not risk having their own
members wander amongst those who might have a more clearly defined critique of
corporate globalisation, capitalism and imperialism than simply "working people
and their families need a raise" and other such blather spoken by TUB's all too
often. Worse still, these leaderships had a clear hostility to being associated
in the press with the anti-capitalist leadership that has emerged in our
movement. They would not demand that people have the right to take to the
streets, that capital and militarism are the main problems of the day, that the
FTAA was only a microcosm of the greater forces at work impoverishing us in the
Global North and murdering us in the Global South.  This amounts to more than a
betrayal- it amounts to doing the work of the capitalists themselves in glossing
over the glaring contradictions in this wretched system. When these TUB's follow
our anti-capitalist leadership to a demonstration, it is because they have no
other choice, and even within that situation they will resist to the bitter end
the radicals who have and will maintain a real critique of the dynamics of
economic, gender and racial power. We don't want more of the pie, we want to
control the pie-cutter; we do not want special treatment for minorites, women
and all sexual orientations, we want real freedom and diversity in equality.

   Calgary was not a situation where accommodation of different risk levels
could realistically be done, at least not very easily. The scenario planning
committee had a meeting, right after an open letter was written by one Rick
Collier (of the Communist Party of Canada) citing several concerns. Some
concerns I could not agree with at all- such as how he complained that blocking
traffic would disrupt the lives of ordinary workers-- but on the whole the
majority of what was in that widely circulated letter covered the bulk of the
issues that were causing many of us to lose sleep. There were only 6 days to go
until J26.

   Being someone who has worked on projects for months at a time before having
some jackass wander in at the last minute to tell people what needed to be
changed, I was very cautious, as were most people, about making my concerns
loudly known. No one "knew better", but only had less attached vantagepoints,
being only partially inside and partially out. All of the people like myself who
heard of the scenario-planning meeting and had major concerns about where all of
this was heading went directly into this meeting. Rick read out his letter,
which called for one march, the march not to start at 6am but 9 and for people
to give real new consideration to the numbers of people likely to attend, and to
base their conduct (or at least, plans for it) on these considerations.
Approximately 85% of the room stated similar points, my main one being the grave
concern about how we did not appear to the outside to have a strategy. We seemed
to the outside to have no other plan than to "fuck shit up". That isn't
revolution- that's a stunt, to be blunt. We needed a target. Several other
people pointed out that almost no activism in Calgary ever takes place, and that
to have a political disaster would irreparably harm an already almost dormant
city, so militance should not take place at all. Although I don't think that
would be true if a more militant action could have been more direct, obvious and
successful, it certainly would be if there had been a small but ultimately
crushed action that served no purpose but to allow a few people to vent
righteous anger.

   The planning committee took these concerns very seriously, and held an
emergency meeting the following morning. The commitment to inclusivity was very
clear, as all meetings, both semi-closed scenario planning meetings and larger,
public (except to the media) spokescouncils were run via consensus. Many people
complained about the amount of the work being done behind closed doors, but I
think these people should give it a rest in many cases. The action that finally
took shape came from a proposal at the next night's spokescouncil meeting, which
was the first time I actually felt extremely elated after a 200 or so person
assembly run via consensus. The enormity of the situation and the importance and
gravity of keeping ourselves tight made for one of the most positive meetings I'
ve ever participated in. The original time of 6am was kept according to plan,
but the march had one starting place and only was to be one march. Further
still, to allay concerns about personal safety of some who couldn't physically
fight cops, the organisers strongly urged people to operate where only after
10am- the designated "official" end of the march-could so-called "red" high risk
actions be carried out. This was a personal great relief to me, as my mother- a
retired school teacher in her early sixities who has radicalised herself in the
last three-odd years-had already announced to me her intention to take part in
the snake march. I did not want to be in the very odd, uncomfortable position of
asking her to stay away from the march. As I pointed out to a few of the people
on the scenario planning committee, a 61 year old woman with a bad back taking
part in an illegal snake march is already far more radical than anything any of
us young'uns could do. More on that later.

   Sunday June 23rd was the scheduled Labour-led march, the "Family March". The
event got a permit a little less than two weeks before the actual event took
place. There isn't much to report on about the actual event, other than it was
spirited, and saw between 3500-4000 people in attendance. Personally, since the
unions had announced their willingness to march without a permit, I was upset
that they received one- it would have been very good to see them take the lead
in defying the attempts to crush our movement through bylaws and attacks on our
civil liberties. The atmosphere and the respect given from all the different
strands of demonstrators to one another probably helped give labour the
confidence to do what they did in response to the re-planning and re-working of
the J26 snake march.

   On the 23rd, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Calgary District and Labour
Council, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Communications, Energy and
Paperworkers Union, the Canadian Auto Workers Union and around 40 steelworkers
who flew out from Toronto (rather than go to Ottawa, because "Calgary needed the
numbers") endorsed the snake march and announced their intentions to bring out
their members. Many other unionists announced their intentions to bring out
fellow workers, including leadership of the Alberta Nurses. The gravity of what
it would mean to all aspects of the social movements, should J26 go badly,
seemed to mean to these unions they could "risk" participation in the snake
march. The CEP also donated $3000 to the legal team to help pay for the bail of
four of our activist friends who had been arrested. Now, this was probably
indicative of how small the event was in comparison to actions like Quebec City
and how having a successful small march allowed people more room to wiggle in
the province of Alberta, but the CEP, CAW and CLC contingents were acting in a
principled solidarity fashion. There was almost no likelihood at this point of a
physically confrontational march, and therein lies the main reasons they came
out- but to see co-operation between anti-capitalist organisers and the trade
union movement was very positive and these TUB's deserve full marks on this day
of solidarity. It also goes to show that if the anti-capitalists continue to
take the lead in organising and persevering to create a movement with that front
and centre, eventually the TUB's will have to follow. This remains our strategy
in building an anti-capitalist movement that can include the organised working
class: Radical anti-capitalists of all stripes must continue to create the space
that ultimately the workers movement will have to move into, as the struggle
becomes more acute. If leadership and planning of the movement is surrendered to
TUB's, NGO's and social democrats, it will whither and die. If a grassroots
movement organises and shows the way forward, TUB's belatedly will have to come
on board. I don't think there is anyway that Bono will join us, however. But
Bono: We'll do it- "With or Without You."

   People from all over the continent, albeit in small numbers, continued to
arrive in Calgary for the two days time between the Labour "Family Walk" and the
J26 action. In the intervening days, on June 25th, there was another
demonstration that, whether deliberately or not, was to set the tone for the
main J26 action. It was the "Showdown at the Hoe-down", a mass gathering outside
of the site that was (ostensibly) where several of the delegates for the G8 were
meeting the press and being "welcomed Calgary style", in a sickly western themed
posh gala. People were to meet at Memorial Park and march a short distance to
the outside of the Roundup Centre, where a street party was to be held. This
gathering ended up with some 2000 people in attendance. At first, what evolved
was precisely that: we held the street that was adjacent to the Roundup Centre
and DJ's set up a stage, allowing me to dance to several house and even Drum and
Bass sets. A trampoline was set up, police presence was minimal and I joked to
the medic team that they would probably be needed at the trampoline before long.
This persisted in being the basics of the gathering for well over an hour. Then
a large contingent of the demonstrators decided they wanted to get closer to a
line of police behind another one of those all-too-familiar fences that are
being built up by capitalists to keep out the people. This involved walking down
the street and into a parking lot- where people were hemmed inside by barriers.
At first, people seemed quite content to be right at the fence, and Emma Goldman
's old refrain: "If I can't dance in your revolution, I don't wanna come!"
(personally, while the sentiment is okay, I'm really tired of hearing that quote
everywhere) was chanted over and over while people danced in front of the fence.
Then something I'm personally convinced was an operation by provocateurs began.
Two drunken idiots started yanking at the fence, yelling with all their
passionate idiocy, the need to tear it down. Almost immediately, I spotted a
group of around 20 or so Black Bloc-type anarchists make a snake-like link up of
themselves and leave the area immediately, arm in arm. When these sorts-- no
strangers to physical conflict nor do they shirk from it-- decide to leave a
situation, that tells me there is something really fishy going on. The tone and
mood of the crowd shifted very fast and it became ominous as to what was
actually going on.

   My personal concerns over what was happening took a few different thought
patterns: A group calling themselves "the anti-globalism action network": a
front for a neo-Nazi, White Nationalist organisation with connections to Tom
Metzger and William Pierce had been making attempts to work inside the
anti-globalisation movement. They had issued a communiqué in several places and
cities and even passed themselves off as a "legitimate" group enough to get into
the _Calgary Sun_. They had already been spotted at the G6B People's Summit,
trying to set up a table and hand out their trash. They had issued veiled
threats to make violent conflicts and I was wondering if this was their "big
move". A lot of the people congregated there believed these were police. The
task became, since it was going to directly effect what we were able to do in
the snake march the following day, to calm down this idiotic outburst and let
people see what was happening: we were being set up. After much yelling, a few
people putting themselves in between the boneheads and the fence (and the media
jumped all over this, but of course), a friend got on the bullhorn and managed
to get people back out onto the street where the street party was happening. End
of mini-crisis and disaster averted. The party began to break up in a trickle
from there and I went back to the house where I was staying to get up early
(5am, to be exact) and do "runner" work in the snake march.

Macdonald Stainsby
In the contradiction lies the hope.
                                     --Bertholt Brecht

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