June 27th, 2010

[URBAN NOTE] Today, in Toronto under the G20

By the time that I was ready to go on from work on of my co-workers, who lives in the area around the University of Toronto perhaps a half-hour's walk north of the G20 summit area, told me that someone set a police car on fire in front of her apartment.

The Globe and Mail's timeline suggests that the Black Bloc protesters had begun their work around 3 o'clock, breaking out of the crowd to start attacking different outlets--an American Eagle, a Starbucks, a Scotiabank--on Queen Street West and Yonge, too, as the below video shows. Yonge was unprotected by police.

All were eventually redirected north and east and the whole body of protesters being dispersed a bit after 7 o'clock. Long before that, the TTC had made the decision to halt all subway service below Bloor Street, along with the streetcars, and left only two bus routes bracketing the downtown running.

I like Aaron Wherry's description of Toronto as being in a state of "stupid chaos." Toronto is pretty far from succmbing to a provisional revolutionary government of any kind, most Torontonians simply staying away from the downtown core--I know a few people who have vacated the city entirely--and people who wanted to go somewhere managing, somehow, soccer fans hoping to see the Toronto FC perform being given a dedicated bus starting from Bathurst Station. Attendance at various events is still very depressed, notwithstanding reported hopes that business will not collapse, but even thrive.

Violence is being blamed on the "Black Bloc" protesters, belonging not to a movement so much as maintaining a tactic of being selectively invisible: "The crowd, dressed in their black uniforms, moves as a blob, its members indistinguishable from one another. One will run from the pack and lob a rock through a window, before disappearing back into the mob." Presumably it is the sort of tactic supposed to trigger generalized police attacks against crowds and further radicalization; again, given a profound lack of interest in revolution, I have no idea how this is going to work. The Black Bloc is a post-modern cellular group, "made up of smaller groups of 10 or so activists, keeping head counts and decision-making quick and easy. Directions are passed through the mob with codes — on Saturday, “umbrella” was a call to move to the frontline." While resistant to being taken over, as Wikipedia notes it is pretty easy for outsiders like police to subvert the tactic users, who are prone to go off in all directions anyway.

For the most part, their targets are specific and symbolic: As the crowd tore across Queen St., they hammered police cruisers, attacked banks and other corporate companies. Yet they left a record store, a local tavern and an independent hardware shop untouched.

“This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,” one man said.

Others pelted the Zanzibar strip bar with manikin limbs they had snatched from a nearby clothing store.

“This is all part of the sexist, male-dominated war machine we live in,” explained one member.

Factions within that group, however, appeared to just relish the mayhem. As the protest marched up Yonge St., they became more indiscriminate in what they damaged.

Two young activists sprinted onto Yonge-Dundas Square and battered the tourist information booth, sparking jeers from some crowd members.

On College St, a pack of masked protesters began to vandalize an empty BMW 4X4. A civilian car, albeit it an expensive civilian car.

“Stop it. They’re not our enemies,” one protester shouted.

The other retorted: “Yuppies are our enemy.”

I have to agree with people like the National Post's Don Martin, who criticized the Black Bloc folk for ruining things for the other protesters, and not incidentally repeating the obvious point that it is a bad idea to hold these kinds of summits in crowded city cores. Sarkozy promises that the next G8/G20 summit, in France, will cost a tenth. I can only hope someone will learn from Harper's foolish decision.
forums, me, non blog

[FORUM] What is your personal experience with street protests?

This is just a brief little [FORUM] post, but events make me wonder.

How many people have actually taken part in a street demonstration? More than one? Was it any particular cause that got you out, an outrage that pushed you out, or were you committed to a particular cause that just happened to take out you on one occasion or another (or others)?


[URBAN NOTE] Stonewall, 41 years later

Since Pride this weekend has been displaced by the G20, it took Joe. My. God. to remind me that today is the 41st anniversary of the eve of the Stonewall riots, the urban protests in New York City that--well--made it possible for me to live. In commemoration of the anniversary, Joe. reposted the New York Daily News article covering the events. It is condenscendingly homophobic, as one might expect for the time, but it marked the beginning of something very nice indeed.

The crowd began to get out of hand, eye witnesses said. Then, without warning, Queen Power exploded with all the fury of a gay atomic bomb. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.

Urged on by cries of "C'mon girls, lets go get'em," the defenders of Stonewall launched an attack. The cops called for assistance. To the rescue came the Tactical Patrol Force.

Flushed with the excitement of battle, a fellow called Gloria pranced around like Wonder Woman, while several Florence Nightingales administered first aid to the fallen warriors. There were some assorted scratches and bruises, but nothing serious was suffered by the honeys turned Madwoman of Chaillot.

Official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests. The War of the Roses lasted about 2 hours from about midnight to 2 a.m. There was a return bout Wednesday night.

Two veterans recently recalled the battle and issued a warning to the cops. "If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war."

Both said they were refugees from Indiana and had come to New York where they could live together happily ever after. They were in their early 20's. They preferred to be called by their married names, Bruce and Nan.

"I don't like your paper," Nan lisped matter-of-factly. "It's anti-fag and pro-cop."

"I'll bet you didn't see what they did to the Stonewall. Did the pigs tell you that they smashed everything in sight? Did you ask them why they stole money out of the cash register and then smashed it with a sledge hammer? Did you ask them why it took them two years to discover that the Stonewall didn't have a liquor license."

[LINK] "Measures of War"

Fittingly, for this weekend's Historicist feature at Torontoist, Jamie Bradburn discussed Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's 1970 invocation of the War Measures Act in response to the October Crisis, when the Front de Libération du Québec took hostages to forward its separatist cause and Canadians thought their country was about to teeter.

It turns out that the October Crisis has some Toronto connections.

After the federal government invoked the act without parliamentary debate on October 16, Toronto’s evening newspapers swung into multiple-edition mode. Each successive copy of that night’s Star and Telegram featured the day’s debates in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park, along with the evolving responses of local law enforcement officials. Early editorials backed parts of the act that were absolutely necessary to maintain calm and curb the FLQ and wished for a speedy revocation. While all of the papers expressed reservations about rights suspension, the Star was the most critical in its views, as it believed that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau should have gone to the House of Commons first and provided a full explanation as to why his tactics suddenly changed from strict negotiations over the release of the hostages to bringing in the act. The general reservations among local media were summed up at the end of the Globe and Mail's editorial the following day: "It will be up to the government now to prove that it invoked the War Measures Act in order to eliminate a gang of terrorists and not to destroy its political enemies."

At Queen’s Park, Ontario Premier John Robarts was quickly provided with round-the-clock guard in the wake of statements from a group of prominent Quebeckers that urged him to keep his nose out of Quebec’s affairs after he commented that the FLQ was a national concern. Robarts indicated that he had been consulted before the act was imposed and, while conceding its powers could be harmful if misused, felt full confidence in the federal government. On the opposition benches, the Liberals raised no fuss, while NDP leader Stephen Lewis felt the act was unnecessary unless Trudeau could prove that an armed insurrection was imminent and asked for daily reports on any arrests that were made in the province. Ontario Attorney General Arthur Wishart refused any comment until it was clear what, if any, responsibilities local police forces and the OPP had to enforce the emergency measures.

[. . .]

While there wasn’t a mass rally at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, several of its students went to Nathan Phillips Square the same day to shout down anti–War Measures Act demonstrators from Rochdale College. Clad in school jackets, the Ryerson contingent waved flags and pictures of Trudeau while calling out points made by the Rochdalians in back-and-forth volleys that, when reading the account in the Globe and Mail, sound like an argument between primary school pupils (including cries for the Rochdalians to take a bath, names like "white honky" tossed around, comparisons to abortions, and debates as to time protesters spent in Quebec).

[. . .]

Over the month that the War Measures Act remained in effect, most incidents related to it in Toronto were either debates or problems with the printing and distribution of publications that included FLQ manifestos, as the Varsity discovered in early November. When the paper’s printer refused to touch one offending article, the editors replaced it with a photo of gagged man with "censored" written across the tape, captioned "guess what folks." On a visit to Oakwood Collegiate around that time, federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield was confronted by a student who felt Stanfield’s initial questioning of the act hadn’t helped the country. Stanfield admitted he was a "little disturbed" by the depths of the lack of regard for civil rights suspended by the act.