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

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at tao.ca
Tue Jul 2 22:07:39 MDT 2002


   The final decisions as to how the J26 march was going to be organised and how
communications were to be handled were made in primarily closed meetings. This,
to a certain extent, made sense. However, from there what became clearer and
clearer was that we are- at least in the pressure cooker of such a brutally
repressive and surveillanced atmosphere- _*starting to cave into an internal
culture of fear and paranoia*_. With the breaking up of the Black Panthers being
only the most glaring and obvious example, we need to be far more concerned
about this than I suspect we are. This is a disease that comes out of very real
repression coming from above. With the new "anti-terror" bills in place in
Canada, the United States and elsewhere, we must take this very seriously and
have a look at how it played out in Calgary and quickly learn these lessons. If
we do not, we might very well end up suffocating under the new pressures we are
being faced with. This is urgent.

   What we need to know first, is something most of us already say we do. All of
our organising is monitored especially when it comes to challenging these large
summits. Any decision we make is most likely known by the police in a matter of
a few minutes after that choice is made. When we say we already know that, we
need to operate openly. A situation erupted in one of the spokescouncil meetings
where the plans for the J26 march were being detailed to the crowd. It went like
this. Many people, including me, were concerned that the overwhelming police
presence in the city was going to mean that no one was allowed out of our
starting place. I personally thought for some time that we wouldn't even get out
of the park where we were set to begin, but that we would be initially
surrounded and we would not be allowed to move. The police had been issuing
threats, the march looked small and at this point, there was not a labour
contingent ready to call out their members to the march (yet). "What was the
contingency plan?" a woman asked. "We, for reasons of security are unable to
tell you that", came the answer. The woman pressed that she didn't feel safe
being told that "something" was in place, but that we couldn't know what it was.
The answer came back, that well, there is a contingency plan if the police
surround us, but for reasons of security we can't tell you. "we have a plan in
place, we have worked to make this a safe march, but if you don't trust us,
maybe you shouldn't come." The room went into a booing and hissing situation.
Remember what was said at the beginning of this, that anything we plan the
police know. Exact, absolute details were not called for here, but to absolutely
deny people this information means:

A) the activists on the march will be confused and less likely to participate,
and in any case ill-equipped to do so,
B) The only people who will know what is going on are the police and the small
coterie of organisers,
C) We will achieve the job of dividing and confusing the march (or any similar
event), without any help from the police. Who needs a plant when we break down
our own communications ourselves, before we even take to the streets?

   This is only one example of the sorts of actions taken, ostensibly for
security, that end up being a comical farce, if it were not so deadly serious.
The police will always be able to listen in on radio communications, yet during
the march people who spoke to our communications team were rebuffed, including
an incident where one organiser was explaining something to a woman while
another was chastising them for sharing information about what was going on.
Another example was that several of the organisers took to "street names" during
the different events. I've got news for people: When we organise things,
particularly of this level of scrutiny, then they already know who you are. This
kind of behaviour again contributes to confusion during demonstrations and
similar actions. We need to be open, honest and communicative and simply assume
what we are doing is well known. When we took to the streets in Calgary at
everything except the "Family March" we were already breaking illegitimate laws.
None of the other actions were sanctioned. Yet we advertised our intentions to
go to the streets. That, obviously, was the correct thing to do. We must stay
open and honest and disclose as much as we possibly can- if we don't, it's at
our own peril, and not the other way around. They are the only ones who have
anything to hide. If we say we know that, but we act like we don't, then we need
to give this serious attention.

   I had arranged to be picked up by a comrade so as to not walk alone to the
snake march. Walking alone to an unsanctioned event is simply not a smart move,
people who are seen as organisers get picked off and "detained" when they are
alone. Avoiding paranoia is not an invitation to recklessness. My ride showed up
a short time after 6am and we were at the march thereafter.

   The snake march gathered in Fort Calgary and upon my arrival I noticed huge
amounts of union banners, particularly the CEP and the CAW. Once I saw this, I
knew the march would get out of the park. The police may attack and beat on
"uncouth" protesters, but they are loathe to get seen beating or gassing trade
unionists. My anxiety dropped rapidly, and shortly after we "huddled up" to get
our communications straight, the snake march got off of the ground. Aside from a
few hitches, being held up at several intersections and the like-- there was
never a time when the snake march was anything other than a loud, wandering band
of activists, unionists, people marching simply because of the fact they had
been told not to. There was another thing that had brought out a few people to
this march in particular, a letter sent home by the Calgary School Board to all
students in the public schools. It read:

"If you see a demonstration, get out of the area immediately.
Do not stand and watch.
Do not engage any demonstrators in discussion or debate.
If you feel at any time that you are in trouble, approach an adult you can
trust."

   This letter infuriated many numbers of people, and it was quite the opposite
to encouraging youth to think critically, as the school system likes to pretend
it is about. A few parents had come out because of this letter (an unexpected
bonus). The language and conduct guidelines were (my guess is, deliberately) of
the same chatter that is used for warning children about pedophiles and
abductors. It sent a chill through me to see this, reprinted in the _Calgary
Sun_.

   The march had, as previously stated, been organised under the banner of
"diversity of tactics". As well, there were large numbers of anarchists who had
made the trek out to the summit and had things other than a walk through
downtown on their collective minds. A large bloc, perhaps 50-75 of them, were
marching under a banner (in black, of course) that read "against capital,
against the state" with a circle @ under it. The fact that they respected the
call for a relatively "peaceful" march through downtown until 10am, even with
their preferred cover of the large crowd and their own numbers being
significant, was a sign to me of their growth. They put the interests of the
march ahead of their own desires, and they also knew how to make a tactical
choice not to engage police, who had not appeared in riot gear (something that
also lightened people's fears right from the start). When the march itself ended
(shortly after Starhawk and the Pagan cluster had asked us to stop by City Hall
so they could do a "spiral dance") by the Harry Hayes building, a huge federal
office building, the crowd was told where different safety levels had been laid
out. At this point, cutting their losses, the Black Bloc-types marched around
the city and several anarchists tried to engage the police in a game of
"anarchist soccer" (the anarchists won by forfeit) in the streets. Two arrests
occurred later when the group tried to rush and occupy a McDonald's restaurant,
which was a very mild (although foolhardy) result of the end of the J26 snake
march and associated actions.

   There was a "Di-in" action that started at noon. The idea was to get people
to the Olympic Plaza downtown to "die", lying down and remaining perfectly still
for a half an hour to demonstrate and highlight the number of people dying of
AIDS for lack of care and funds throughout Africa. It was also to highlight the
total hypocrisy of the NEPAD initiative, that speaks in favour of "helping"
Africa but didn't even make the AIDS crisis an agenda item at their talks, much
less have any real way to address the issues. A few years ago, Nelson Mandela
tried to implement generic drugs that would reduce the cost of treatments from
astronomical to almost affordable, a mild reform. His government was threatened
with sanctions and his ANC successor Thabo Mbeki has since become the architect
of the neo-colonial NEPAD program. This "initiative" didn't even achieve stage
one of their pathetic goals. As African speakers at the end of the labour march
pointed out, Africa owes no one, Africa is owed- owed for colonialism, owed for
slavery, owed for the AIDS epidemic and the IMF "restructuring" programs that
have exacerbated absolute poverty and furthered landlessness and starvation.
This is the real African debt, owed by imperialism, yet at the end of the summit
African (mis)leaders were given even less that than the pittance of crumbs being
discussed in the lead up to the summit itself inside the K-Country fortress. The
"Di-in" was to raise these issues, and participation meant lying in the sun on a
day where record heat prevailed (36 degrees celcius). Aside from sunburnt legs,
this wasn't a problem at all.

   After this, my friend and I were exhausted. But the day was not really even
half over. The previous day, an "action" called the "People's Picnic" had been
sanctioned, though a few days before the mayor "Bronco" was actually threatening
a labour sponsored event with mass arrests for eating outdoors in a park. The
rhetoric coming out of officialdom really took the cake so many times. but I
digress. Arriving at the picnic hot, exhausted (being a runner at a march meant
that I had personally covered the ground of approximately 18 snake marches),
hungry and badly sunburnt (one of these years, I'll actually buy sunblock) my
friend and I got in the line up for food. It was clearly a labour event, as
there was far more meat-based fare than if it had been done by the activists,
who are more and more seeing a need for a vegetarian lifestyle. A veggie-burger
later, I was trying to find my mother to discuss the days events.

  I arrived in Calgary about a week before my mother, and by the time she
arrived in town I had already inserted myself as much as possible into the
organising being done by the different anti-capitalist collectives and
organisations. So, when my mom arrived, I asked her to come to the convergence
centre where people were arriving, planning and congregating for most of the
day. It was an extreme pleasure for me to "show her off" to the comrades there
who had already become friends. As I introduced her to as many people as I
could, I began to realise the importance even more strongly of our movement
making cross-generational links. People I introduced her to mentioned to me I
was lucky to have that; that my mother being willing to make an eight hour drive
was "really fucking cool" (she overheard that comment, and retorted "That's
alright, I _am_ really fucking cool!"). Our movement runs a real danger of
falling into a trap similar to what took place throughout the sixties: being
looked at as a "youth" phenomenon. We don't have the "baby boom" dynamic of
numbers, but we still need to make sure this does not befall us. People who may
be physically weaker are often far stronger in spirit; I heard my mother say to
me at the end of all of the weeks events about how she now felt in heart and not
just her mind, a part of something bigger than herself absolutely. She also
stated that she was now thinking in terms of "we", not "I" was one of the
highlights for me on a personal level I wish I could share with every one of my
counterparts. At the end, she bought me a beer and toasted the revolution (which
I'll admit, made me squirm- this is still my mother, no matter how old I get).
Having her take part in these demonstrations and doing so not at all because I
asked her to (she informed me that she was going quite matter of factly, almost
as if to say "try and stop me") was a microcosm of the kind of outreach our
movement must undertake- and do so immediately. This will also add a great
strength to what we accomplish. Apparently, after the day I introduced her
around, for the rest of the week many 20 and 30-somethings kept calling her
 "mom". The matriarch of the revolution? Perhaps.

   I never found my mother at the People's Picnic, but I had to leave fairly
quickly: a final event, organised as a symbolic one by two comrades from the
Toronto chapter of the International Socialists, was about to get underway. The
idea had been put forward and organised earlier in the week to go on a caravan
out to Kananaskis, and drive in as far as possible before being turned around by
the military. The military of Canada had been positioned in K-Country, with the
right to shoot to kill and nearly three times as many troops as in the entire
Afghan operation of the "War on Terror". They had anti-aircraft guns across the
mountainside. There were 22 checkpoints along the highway and many more RCMP
officers. Each checkpoint had another breathtakingly large fence-like wall. The
operation to put radio collars on bears to avoid seeing them get shot (mistaken
for "protesters", no doubt) ended up killing two grizzlies. One would hope that
the outrage expressed by some over this would have been as high if they had shot
G8 dissenters. At any rate, the security operation was a massive violation,
unprecedented, in fact, of our civil rights. People didn't want to leave this
unchallenged. The caravan was planned and 30 vehicles, containing under 100
people, had signed up to make the hour long drive from Calgary in a convoy,
going at 80km an hour, driving the entire way with the hazard lights of each
vehicle on, so as to be able to identify one another. No one, it was agreed at
the planning meetings, was to be planning to even get themselves symbolically
arrested trying to breach a part of the perimeter. This was to be a no-risk
event.

   Things have a funny way of changing. When the caravan got under way, I saw
something that is always a beautiful sight. Mass spontaneity. The caravan
touched a nerve in many people's hearts, and when the announcement at the People
's Picnic was made that it was about to leave, the buzz spread quickly and soon
there were over 100 cars making their ways down the highway. The police sent an
escort due to the amount of congestion (and, no doubt, to watch for
 "terrorists"). These cars contained over 400 people, perhaps as many as 500. We
arrived there in over an hour and a half, though the drive shouldn't take so
long. Our police escort took us down to only 60 clicks. People are not willing
to be shut out of these meetings, people are not willing to lie down for the
state when they tell us to go home, and people are not interested in being told
they don't have rights. The reason for so much interest in this action was
clear: Anger. How dare they try to keep us out of our public spaces? How dare
they protect terrorists with fences from hippies with dances? That kind of anger
made the small stunt shift to a mass gathering, a people's movement. The
organisers, who should be commended beyond the heights of the mountains
surrounding the Kananaskis Valley for pulling together the action itself, never
understood the shift in character. Or, if they did, they did not like it and
were trying to reign in the aspirations of the people- something intolerable
when the majority make a feeling clear.

   The feeling in this crowd was simple: we are now "negotiating" with the
police to get into the first checkpoint. From there, we want to try our luck at
getting to the second one. Well, after an hour and a half in the baking record
heat, we went to the first checkpoint. As soon as the convoy stopped, people
poured out of their cars and amassed in front of the fence. It was about 30 feet
high, and it stretched into the edge of the mountain face. There was a line of
police in front of this barricade, all on bicycles, even with some guarding the
ditches around the edge. There were 22 checkpoints, and one assumes they all
looked like this. With the people in the streets to discuss what to do next,
several police cars pulled up behind the several hundred people gathered around,
listening to Starhawk and Gordon Christie (among others) tell us our options and
to try to facilitate a deeply divided crowd. The organisers reminded us of the
original plan for zero-conflict, but to Hell with that, many of us thought: we
are trying to meet and see the leaders making decisions that effect billions of
people. We want to press on, and the cop cars are now a negotiating tactic- they
get through if we do. Personally, thinking of the fact that there were over 20
more checkpoints like this one to get through, I wasn't too hopeful at the
tactics being discussed here. Nonetheless, the crowds' determination was far
more important than the aspirations of the few who wanted the whole project
abandoned. Then, when Starhawk was asking the crowd if we should let the cop
cars through, the call came out *"They are not cops, they are delegates!"* and a
buzz went through me I hadn't felt in many months. That buzz was power. We had,
so it seemed, functionaries from Japan and the United States (of all places)
blocked and unable to get through. Maybe, just maybe, we can stop these
murderers from carrying out their meetings without a hitch. What a drug that
feeling is, the simple power of having control over them. There is not much like
it I have ever tasted. It was the first time I had felt that rush since the FTAA
summit, there had been nothing like that in Calgary.

   As quickly as the feeling came on, it was gone. Before we could decide
whether to try to hold them in, they backed up and went out to the Highway One,
where they would have undoubtedly gone down one of the back roads into
K-Country. Just like that, the action had gone from stunt to movement, to
militant action, back down all the way to stunt. At this point, the debates on
the ground seemed lifeless and our caravan vehicle decided to round our people
up and head back to Cowtown. What almost happened there reminded me in my gut of
what had not happened in Calgary- we were never a threat of any sort. Not
politically, not physically, not with our voices. This was our greatest loss.

   In many ways, simply getting through all the actions in Calgary without a
massive defeat on the ground was a victory, but only a small one, and one
primarily for the local activists. If I lived in Calgary, this would now look
like a new dawn. But it isn't that clear for the rest of us.

(completed part 4)


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