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It’s no secret that the Hamilton Police Department has been having some “money problems” lately. Budget discussions got so heated this year they threatened to take Council to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission if they didn’t get the increase they wanted. Hiring dozens of new officers while increasing pay and benefits can’t be cheap, I suppose, and so the HPD has found itself a corporate sponsor: Enbridge.
Last February the pipeline giant quietly handed over $34 910 to sponsor a new “ATV unit” for the Hamilton Police, as well as around $10 000 in 2010 . At the time it received little coverage (six lines) but since word started spreading on social media earlier this week it ignited a bit of a fury. A demonstration is planned for Central Station this morning to call attention to the deal and to present an official complaint in writing.
Enbridge, of course, is currently attempting the very controversial Line 9 pipeline reversal in an attempt to get Tar Sands oil east, a path which cuts right through Flamborough, which fell under the HPD’s domain with Amalgamation. As they attempt to finish repairs and get flows started through the ageing pipeline this summer, it seems only natural to expect the same kind of trouble seen with the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway plans reaching south and east from Alberta. Opposition to their plans has been stronger and started earlier here in Hamilton than most, with environmental activists, city councillors and nearby Six Nations all taking a critical stance. One (short) road blockade has already taken place, and it seems pretty likely that they’re expecting more – apparently of the off-road variety…
Hamilton’s not the only municipality along the route to see recent donations from Enbridge – the trend is now so blatant that the Montreal Gazette put together an interactive map. This follows a typical strategy of attempting to buy favour with gifts and sponsorships, to give the impression of generosity and “being a good corporate citizen”. In many smaller, more desperate jurisdictions, it can be quite effective at avoiding serious discussion or at least dividing communities. Most cheques, though, weren’t this large been this large and most have gone to Fire Departments or other services. Only in a few others have they directed their cheques to police. This suggests that Enbridge doesn’t have a lot of hope for winning over the public or council here, and have therefore decided to focus a little more directly on establishing a relationship with the (similarly unpopular) police.
It’s only natural to ask at this point, what Enbridge will expect in return, though the answer seems self-evident. The message is very clear. Should anything happen this summer along Hamilton’s chunk of the pipeline route, an aggressive police response isn’t likely to hurt their chances of getting more gas-guzzling toys in the future.
This sets a terrifying precedent. What other companies, I wonder, might be interested in this kind of “public-private partnership”? I’m sure US Steel, Porter Airlines, RBC, Marineland and many others would love to write similar cheques. Corporate sponsorship is an uncomfortable enough issue when cola companies sign deals with our schools or cigarette manufacturers buy naming rights to cultural events, but corporate donations to police forces raises the stakes in a frightening way. Police carry guns and hold the power to ruin people’s lives, we cannot afford to have them owe favours.
There is a long and ugly history associated with this kind of collusion, and it needs to be brought up. From police involvement with strikebreaking campaigns to the harassment of “undesirable elements” (homeless people, addicts, people of colour etc) from trendy business districts. In one particularly disturbing recent scandal which came to be known as “kids for cash“, an American judge was convicted of taking a million-dollar bribe from the builders of two nearby “juvenile detention centres” to fill them by awarding unusually harsh sentences to youths brought before him. Closer to home, the Toronto Police Association caused an uproar back in 2000 with a fundraising drive they named “Operation True Blue. With a telemarketing drive, they offered “windshield stickers” in exchange $100 “donations”, a move even the mayor couldn’t resist referring to as “paying protection”.
The real problem with donations of this kind really comes down to the size of the numbers involved. Much like donations to election campaigns, the amounts actually given are tiny, often a tiny fraction of what they’d spend on an advertisement or PR campaign for the same purpose. The windfalls, though, can be enormous, easily reaching into the millions or billions (especially for Enbridge) for government action in their favour, making it virtually irresistible. This is exactly why we (are supposed to) have such strong laws against this sort of thing. With this kind of money on the line, though, people are almost certainly going to try.
The real irony here is that Enbridge has probably accomplished the opposite of what they set out to do. A large public donation like this was unlikely to go unnoticed for long and it’s now going to put the police under extra scrutiny during any Enbridge-related enforcement. With any luck, it will set a precedent of a different sort, forbidding such nonsense in the future. Hamiltonians aren’t stupid, and its going to cost a lot more than that to buy our city.
A confession: the better part of a year ago, I promised Ryan of Raise the Hammer a photo-essay on Hamilton’s “Ghost Crosswalks”. Though I took plenty of pictures, I got caught up in other projects and never got around to it, something that’s been bugging me ever since. When, this past week, the issue of crosswalks came up in a big way, it seemed like time to make these pictures public.
“Ghost crosswalks” are the last remains of old painted crosswalks which have been left to fade by the city. It’s an ironic term with particular meaning in Hamilton after they became de-facto city policy. It’s rumoured that Hamilton’s long-standing head of traffic engineering, Hart Solomon (now retired), felt crossings without signals were a liability. Signs were removed and lines were allowed to fade. Even last summer I had trouble finding remaining examples which would still show up in photographs.
Solomon’s rein has a lot to do with why we have such and overbuilt road network today. He’s long been criticized for prioritizing automobile traffic above all else, leaving us with “urban highways” like Main and Cannon and treating bikes and pedestrians as an afterthought. These five-lane roads carve the city into blocks, making travel on foot an arduous, toxic and dangerous affair, especially for those with strollers or mobility issues.
There have been some recent successful efforts to reverse this process, like the battle for a stop-light at Aberdeen and Kent where the first requests only gained a sign telling pedestrians to “cross at the lights” (a 400m detour to Queen or Locke). The downside is that it took a long and sustained effort from some of the most influential neighbourhoods in the lower city. With hundreds more crossings, often in very poor neighbourhoods who’re only now seeing our lead pipes replaced, it’s hard to imagine more than a hand-full seeing lights installed before the end of the decade, especially where they’re needed most.
Long-standing frustration boiled over last week when a group of residents inspired by a recent speech on “Tactical Urbanism” decided to take a little initiative of their own. At Locke and Herkimer they used a few traffic pylons (their adopted symbol) to create “bump-outs” in an attempt to calm traffic and give kids from the nearby school more space to stand. Then, in an even more daring act of guerilla civic planning, somebody installed a crosswalk at Cannon & Mary (I’m told they “painted” it with cornstarch). Cheeky and poignant, it was direct action at its finest, albeit pretty tame by even the standards of teenage pranks.
Then the city found out.
Public Works General Manager Gerry Davis freaked out. They contacted police, sent a memo to council and declared the work of Tactical Urbanism supporters to be “illegal, potentially unsafe and adding to the city’s cost of maintenance and repair”. The ad-hoc crosswalk was painted over with black and the cones vanished.
After years of letting cross-walks fade, they’re now seeking to criminalize the very act of painting crosswalks. Not surprising, I suppose, after their crackdown on jaywalking, it’s pretty clear that they’re more interested in punishment and blame than addressing their own shortcomings as traffic engineers. Beyond that, there’s the matter of control. Authority never likes being challenged and can often be prone to ‘overreact’ when it feels that’s happening. City bureaucracies operate on the premise of total control over their domain. Residents taking this kind of initiative can be a terrifying prospect for staffers, threatening their already tenuous hold on chaotic city life.
The Public Works department, of course, is already having a rough week. The ongoing “time-theft” scandal, which saw 29 front-line workers fired for severe slacking last January, has now focused its attention a little further up the ladder. Of 28 supervisors, 16 found themselves under investigation – of those, four have now taken early retirement and a fifth quit outright. Others may be facing suspensions. This only confirms a long-standing image of the department’s work-ethic (or lack thereof), provoking another firestorm of public criticism, which I have no doubt is contributing to a bit of a siege mentality down at 77 James North.
In the face of years all this embarrassing inaction, it isn’t surprising that a few vigilantes have taken it upon themselves. Gerry Davis may feel this is dangerous, but letting crosswalks fade has consequences of its own. In 2007 an elderly couple was struck and killed at a notorious “ghost crosswalk” in Stoney Creek. As one neighbour complained, it had been a school crossing before the city removed the signs and crossing guard then left the painted lines to fade. One has to wonder how many more have been hurt or killed over the years at these crossings, or if it’s ever even been studied.
In this case, as in too many others, bad traffic engineering can kill. Focusing on the free and easy flow of automobile traffic to the exclusion of all other road users has not produced a safer or more prosperous city. The neglect shown for pedestrians revels a whole host of prejudices: classism, sexism, ageism and ableism, which suggest that some road users just aren’t as “important” as others. In spite of this, people still need to travel the city, even those with walkers, wheelchairs, strollers or scooters. They will cross streets wherever they can, because the only other option is turning around and going back home. If this means a regular risk of injury or death, that’s just something we’ve come to accept as part of modern urban life.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Making a trip to the doctor, day care or convenience store doesn’t need to mean a pulse-pounding, real-life game of Frogger. Neighbourhood planning must first reflect those who live and spend time along those streets, and only then give though to matters like the efficient flow of traffic to and from suburban bedroom communities. Through acts like Intersection Repair, which helped inspire Tactical Urbanism, neighbourhoods have had amazing success redesigning and repainting their own streets, going so far as to install benches and bookshelves along the sides of elaborate road-murals. Most inspiring of all, city departments learned to live with it. Let’s hope that recent actions mark the beginning, not the end, of ‘autonomous civic engineering’ around our city, or at least spark a little serious soul-searching amongst those who do it for a living. After all, there’s little point making a city an easy place to drive at the price of making it a safe place to walk.
Late this morning a group of protesters halted traffic on Highway Six to call attention to the pending reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 oil pipeline. Choosing the spot where Line 9 passes under the road (around 7th Concession), they unfurled a fake oil, spill and backed up traffic “for miles”. At least six OPP cruisers were reported at the scene, though so far no arrests/tickets have been reported.
The brief blockade, intended to last 90 minutes for the 90+ “significant” spills Enbridge averages each year, came out of a collaborative effort of Hamilton, Guelph, K-W and Six Nations activists. Hwy 6 was chosen as one of the region’s busiest roads as well as for its proximity to the pipeline’s Westover terminal. Along with signs, a fake pipeline and mock oil spill, they brought muffins to pass out to drivers as an apology for the inconvenience. All reports (so far) suggest high spirits, great weather and no real trouble.
Line 9, a 38-year-old oil pipeline runs from Montreal to Windsor, following roughly parallel to highway 401. Envridge is currently seeking permission to reverse the flows as a part of wider plans to find new export routes for Tar Sands oil. In Hamilton it runs through the Beverly Swamp – the region’s largest watershed – before entering the densely populated Greater Toronto Area. Thanks to Harper’s campaign of environmental deregulation it’s overseen only by the National Energy Board. The NEB has now come under fire due to the new, long and convoluted application process for citizens participation, which few managed to finish by the deadline. Even Hamilton’s City Council voiced concerns, though their request for a full environmental assessment has since been rejected by Minister Kent (ironic, eh?).
Today’s action represents the beginning of a third front of direct actions against the Tar Sands and associated pipelines, joining the Unis’tot’en in British Columbia (Gateway) and Tar Sands Blockaders across multiple states (Keystone XL). Unlike those proposals, though, the “eastern route” re-purposes existing pipes, meaning there’s few if any construction sites to block. With only months left before hearings and “integrity digs” finish, time to prevent the pumping of bitumen through our region is rapidly running out, prompting opponents to ‘step up their game’ and start looking for other options. Line 9 crosses hundreds of other major roads along its route, all offering their own opportunities to draw attention and cause disruption. What’s so brilliant about this tactic, of course, isn’t that it creates chaos but that it doesn’t need to create much – every time any one of these crossings sees a blockade, it calls attention to every other one and the risk that soon enough people in real HAZMAT suits might be blocking traffic to clean up a real spill.
Postscript: Since Posting this, I’ve done a lot of driving, including going to Guelph and back along this very stretch of Highway 6. Heading out, I spent forty minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to find a detour after a garbage truck ended up on its side on the 401. Heading back much later I saw nary a car until running into a full-blown roadblock, this time for another truck crash (involving several cars and a fertilizer truck), prompting another adventure down sideroads. For all those angry about blocked roads, I hope this gives a little context regarding how often major traffic disruptions take place.
It was one hell of a Mayday, and I’m only starting to recover. After two marches and a block party, I feel like I could sleep for days. With great weather and high spirits, Hamilton saw a day of actions which took the lower city by storm.
Events kicked off with the Anti-capitalist march, which converged mid-day at King and MacNab. The turnout was great – well over a hundred ranging in age from small kids to seniors, with a lot of new faces. With signs, banners, flags and a pumping soundsystem, we marched up through the bus terminal toward Main, then rallied at the corner opposite the Drake International office for a speech about temp agencies. We then continued along Main and attempted to turn left onto James, which is where trouble started.
A wall of police on horseback blocked our way as others with bikes and a van circled around. Those at the front tried to push through, but the horses pushed back, driving the banner and crowd back into the intersection, followed by a much longer standoff before the decision was made to continue down Main instead. Moments later, the police were caught off-guard when marchers took an abrupt left-turn into the parking lot.
This kicked-off a game of cat-and-mouse with police, who scrambled to re-deploy and corral us away from the core at every intersection. From the parking lot we cut up the alleyway onto Hughson, stalling again at King when met by the next large group of cops. Marching further north, we went a few blocks before spontaneously doubling-back up Hughson, onto Rebecca then over to James. Next we stopped at James and Wilson for another speech, this time about the effects of Payday loans, in front of an outlet on either side of the street. For the last leg we went eastward along Wilson for one last long stop in front of a wall of cops at Mary before finally settling on the grass of Beasley Park. Police then surrounded the park, confronting people they’d singled out for tickets (obstructing traffic, etc) as they tried to leave.
All in all, hundreds of dollars in tickets were given out and one kid was arrested for missing his last court date. At least a hundred was raised by passing a hat, but look for more fund-raising soon.
Following a brief rest in the park, a bundle of free bus tickets were distributed and a few dozen of us boarded HSR busses bound for Centre Mall to join up with the Steelworkers’ rally. Behind the 1005′s union hall we heard speeches from Union leadership and the Mayor, mostly related to the lockout of US Steel’s recent lock-out of workers at their Lake Erie facilities. As they finished, a few hundred took to Kennilworth, Barton and Ottawa, for a second march, this time with a much smaller and more polite police presence before returning to the union hall for a barbecue and social.
As we bussed back to Beasley Park, we found the Block Party kicking off and crews setting up a sound-system, decorations and food servings. By this point police had virtually disappeared, with only a few small bike-patrols riding through intermittently. The park quickly began to fill with a mix of neighbourhood residents, local activists and more kids than I could count. The crowd quickly grew to a few hundred with line-ups for free food stretching across half the park. Soon the DJ was replaced by the sounds of Klyde Broox, Lee Reed and Mother Tareka performing live, with festivities continuing until around nightfall.
As we retreated for a truly massive victory party at our hidden rebel base, there was no dispute, the day’s events were a pretty phenomenal success. Once again we managed to strike a balance between a militant presence in the streets and an engaging presence in the community without compromising either, proving once again that they aren’t exclusive goals. That being said, I’m quite glad we decided to put a little more time between between the two this year, a few dozen angry cops wouldn’t have done much for the party vibes.
Like last year, both downtown actions were organized by the re-formed “May 1st Committee”, an ad-hoc assembly of local anarchist talent. Unlike last year, we managed to pull it off with a a smaller and younger crew, many of whom were first-timers, and we didn’t start till the beginning of April. As hectic as this was at times, it represents exactly what I love about organizing with anarchists, a process which is almost totally informal yet frighteningly efficient. The biggest drawback, ironically, is the difficulties in corresponding with more bureaucratic organizations (unions, neighbourhood associations, etc) who tend to operate on a very different time-scale. That said, we do regularly correspond with both, and for anybody who’s wondering – yes, we did check first with the Beasley Neighbourhood Association about using the park, just like last year. What we didn’t file for was a march permit, as asking permission from the state would totally defeat the point of a protest.
Looking back, I’m particularly proud that we managed to get various promotional materials translated into French, Spanish and Arabic. That was much easier than I ever imagined, and is something we should all be in the habit of doing wherever possible. Also, it was nice to fulfil our ambitions of bringing a posse down to join the Steelworkers’ rally, something we intended to do last year but were a little too busy to manage in any organized fashion. Finally, like last year, I’m really glad people took the time to knock on doors and not simply rely on impersonal promotions like posters and social media. This kind of groundwork isn’t “exciting” like Greek riot porn, but the efforts shouldn’t be forgotten – it’s a crucial part of actually reaching the people around us, rather than just creating another spectacle to gawk at. If a bunch of us kids could pull it off, then so can you.
What would I like to see next year, and for future Maydays? More than anything else, I’d like to see festivities spread to more neighbourhoods, streets and parks. There’s no reason any borough in our city should be denied the chance to celebrate in their own way. The issues may vary, from closing schools and vanishing greenspace and countless others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stand together as a city. Each time we do this it gets easier and a time will come, I hope, where the “M1 Committee” isn’t needed at all. People tend to learn fastest by doing, and as the simple formula of meet, march and party becomes more routine, it opens up opportunities for others to take the initiative, just as we have.
Coverage in the media was even worse than normal, and limited largely to an ultra-brief and largely inaccurate clip from CHCH (their crew left almost as soon as the march began), and a Spec article which focused mainly on the labour speeches and left out the downtown actions entirely. The CBC did better, but was also very brief and only mentioned the first march (though, at least with better context). There was no mention in any of the confrontations with police or message of the downtown march (articulated with speeches and handouts). This only goes to show how limited the corporate media can be as a source for this kind of thing, but I suppose that’s why I spend so much time typing away here.
As for the actions of police, they were totally unprecedented, and represent a frightening trend toward escalation at our usually-very-tame protests. Hamilton rarely sees arrests or tickets (save one last September), even though marches almost never seek the “required” permits. In over a decade, I’ve never seen cops try to block a march’s way or corral one this way, except to perhaps keep lanes of traffic open. Despite all the diversions, we never strayed much from our original planned route and managed to reach both Main & McNab and James and Wilson without much trouble. What wasn’t planned was being corralled through a schoolyard just as kids were about to be let out – a strange choice if the police were really so concerned with “safety”.
An enormous amount of police effort was put into keeping the march away from King & James, but only at the expense of diverting us onto streets like Main or Wilson which were at least as busy. Overall it came off as both hostile and petty – and I really hope the it doesn’t continue, but all things considered, it didn’t do much to dampen spirits. Instead, it instilled an atmosphere of confrontation and defiance in the march. From that first encounter with the horses, everyone I spoke to was outraged that cops would turn on a totally peaceful march filled with kids. This, in turn, only fuelled desires to march on in spite of them (and largely made our point for us). As for traffic disruptions, this large and confrontational police presence blocked far more traffic, for longer, than we ever could have on our own.
Across Canada and the world, many other cities made news. Montreal had almost 500 mass-arrested in the latest blatant round-up of protesters, there were riots in Berlin, Istanbul and Seattle (to name a few) and Greece had a general strike. Toronto had thousands marching, as did Barcelona, Manila, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Mexico City and Dhaka, Bangledesh. With the world still reeling from the deaths of over four hundred workers as an eight-story sweatshop complex collapsed in a Dhaka suburb and the continuing train-wreck that is austerity-stricken Europe, it’s becoming clear that Mayday and the struggles associated with it are still just as relevant in the 21st century as they were back in the 1870s and 80s. Today, like then, it’s a day of remembrance for all those who’ve died so that we can go home at 5pm, enjoy workplaces with fire exits, or even hold an open meeting of “workers” at all. It’s a day for both defiance and celebration, in the name of all the victory’s we’ve won so far, and all those we have yet to win.
A big (non-implicating) thanks to Food Not Bombs, the USW 1005, CUPE, SACHA, the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, Jared the Weenie Man, Steel City Solidarity and even the Young Communist League – I know ya don’t all agree with our politics, but solidarity’s always refreshing. A big congratulations, as well, to all the folks, houses and families who helped make Wednesday happen. You’re all amazing, inspiring, and have helped renew my faith in this old, embattled city.
Disclaimer: This post represents the viewpoint of “Undustrial” and not the M1 Committee as a whole. A more official collective report-back is on its way and I’ll repost it when it arrives.
Update: It arrived. Read the full, committee-approved reportback, posted today (May 6) on the Toronto Media Coop.
A note to my dear readers – I’ve been very busy over the past two weeks and haven’t been able to post much – for that I’m sorry. While writing has always been one of my biggest passions, it sometimes has to take a back seat to real-world action and organizing. There would be little point to writing about these issues if I weren’t willing to put in some real-world effort to change things, nor would there be much point in reading my words if I didn’t have years of experiences to base my insights on. As such, I’ve done a lot of organizing lately and haven’t had a lot of time for blogging. The last weeks of April are to anarchists what the last few weeks before Christmas are for most – a mad, hellish scramble to get everything together for the big day. Which day, you ask?
This coming Wednesday, the world will once again celebrate “International Workers Day”, commonly known as Mayday. For well over a century now it’s stood as a time to celebrate workplace resistance, and it’s been making something of a comeback of late. As mass-movements around economic justice start to re-emerged, so did the kind of large-scale strikes and street actions historically seen around Mayday. Last year saw enormous celebrations spanning several continents, some of the largest celebrations in memory. This year, we see if such festivities can, again, become a tradition.
Mayday’s origins trace back to May to at least 1886. On the first of that month, a general strike that had been planned for years swept across much of the United States, demanding an eight-hour workday. This met with cops, scabs and strikebreakers, and by the third several workers had been gunned down by police outside the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. This inflamed tensions and prompted several notorious anarchists to call a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square the next night where they gave fiery, revolutionary speeches to a crowd of a few hundred or thousand. As the last one ended, police charged and a massive battled ensued killing several and injuring dozens. In the fray a bomb was thrown at police, and while it’s unclear to this day who (or even which side) was responsible, authorities decided to round up group of organizers including August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Adolf Fischer, Albert Parsons and others. Their trial became an international sensation – lacking evidence relating to the bomb itself, they were prosecuted on the basis of their anarchists beliefs, speeches and pamphlets, with prosecutors arguing that their fiery rhetoric had inflamed the crowds.Following the notoriously rigged trial they were found guilty and several were publicly executed. This shocked and angered workers and movements worldwide, and by the end of the century yearly demonstrations in May had become a tradition.
For Hamiltonians, this story hits home in a few fascinating ways. Since the very beginning, Hamilton has been an important centre of the labour movment. The Nine-Hours movement began here in 1869, and quickly swept across a young Canada with the demand for a shorter workday. In May of 1872, we held one of the continent’s first “general strikes” to demand it and marched on the Crystal Palace (now Victoria Park). Combined with the legendary Toronto Printer’s Strike in the same year, they (largely) succeeded. It’s even been alleged (and I’m desperately searching for a real source on this) that Hamilton was an inspiration to the American strikes a decade later which led to the Haymarket affair. True or not, it’s certainly plausible as we’ve long been connected through organizations like the Knights of Labour to cities like Chicago. In the years that followed, the “Crystal Gardens” became a site of yearly remembrance ceremonies for the Martyrs. Next time you’re in Victoria Park, take a moment to read the plaque and think about the generations who’ve echoed that first springtime march up King Street.
Over the generations, Mayday has taken on many different meanings as struggles evolved. In some places, like the former USSR, it became a nation patriotic spectacle. In others, like the US, it was recently the day chosen for a coordinated national action of millions protesting immigration law. In the last few years, as economic collapse and austerity drives have swept the globe, as well as “Occupy” and similar movements overseas, it’s began again to resemble it’s roots in poor, working and radical populations. What’s stayed constant in spite of over a century of changing demands is the underlying theme – that this is about much more than whatever we’re demanding at the moment.
In Hamilton, there’s a number of events and actions planned, along much the same lines as last year. The Anticapitalist March will be meeting up at the McNab St Bus Terminal (King & MacNab) for 12:30, then leaving for an early-afternoon stroll around the downtown core. If that isn’t enough marching for you, the Steelworkers will be assembling at 3:30 for a march around the industrial core followed by a BBQ, beginning at their union hall (350 Kennilworth North, across from the former Centre Mall). Barbeque and Block Party festivities downtown, like last year, will happen in Beasley Park beginning at 5pm, with food, music and games for the kids.
I’m sure there’s other events, too, which I’m leaving out, and I’d heartily encourage anybody else wishes to take a little initiative and start their own rally, march or block party. Mayday belongs to everybody – it’s our day, and any success will be measured by how many actions we see, not just the turnout at any particular one. Whether you’re angry about pipelines, school closures, robocalls, broken treaties, lockouts, austerity, “Free Trade” or deportations, Mayday is a time forge connections between ourselves and the issues we’re passionate about – in short, to build and celebrate a movement. This Wednesday, let’s keep the 141-year historygoing and show that ole’ Steeltown still has a little fight left in her.
See ya there.
Yesterday, Peter Mercanti gave his presentation to council, pledging a $200 million casino/hotel/entertainment complex for the downtown core. RockHammer Inc., formed by the Carmen’s Group and LIUNA for the purpose of bringing a Hard Rock-franchised casino to Hamilton, is pledging to bring a Canadian Rock Museum/venue, a 280-room hotel and 1200 slot machines, as well as promising 1200 full-time, living wage jobs and a jointly sponsored gambling addiction treatment program with Mission Services.
If this deal does go through, I sincerely hope Council gets the jobs figure in writing. After decades of growth in precarious employment, particularly in the service sector, claims like that require a certain ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Seriously – a $200 million investment being planned without part-time employees or wages much under $15/hour? In this labour market, where people line up to apply at $10.25? Harder to believe is that these conditions would last if they were implemented, instead of facing cutbacks at the first sign of hard times, or simply firing workers en-mass and re-hiring them at a much lower wage (as happened at the Sheraton). As much as I’d love to see 1200 new well-paying service sector jobs in the core, we’ve all heard promises like this before.
As for the treatment program, word at the moment (hopefully confirmed Thursday) is that Mission Services was somewhat surprised by this announcement.
These pledges, of course, are coming right after this weekend’s statement from the Rountable for Poverty Reduction opposing a downtown casino, focused largely around concerns of low wages and addictions. They’re the latest of many influential groups and individuals to sign onto the NO! campaign, including everyone from the Hamilton Arts Council to Redeemer University and the Pan-Orthodox Association. I’ve honestly never seen downtown so united over any issue, and frankly, only two people I know from the lower city have dared say otherwise (one is the mayor).
Mercanti, of course, took the opportunity to respond to criticism. Within hours, his quote had created yet another avalanche of social media mockery (see pictures). The elitist tone of his statement was amazingly telling: “they get almost all the same weight as the people who really count”. It shows the blatant hostility for civic engagement which has long been a part of our political process. If the Poverty Roundtable, Arts Council, Orthodox Church, Redeemer College and Sam Merulla don’t “count”, who does?
This is, again, a reminder that classist caricatures of dissent are usually bullshit. Who are these people? The Poverty Roundtable, among a lot of amazing community activists, includes on it’s board names such as Terry Cooke, Howard Elliot and Mark Chamberlain. Architect David Premi (who redesigned the Library/Farmers Market and is currently attempting to redevelop a block along King St.) is the current President of the Arts Council Board. Were I to make a list of “elites” in our city, they’d all make the cut.
What this suggests is that the usual in-crowd/old-boys stereotype of power in this city is a bit simplistic. Rather than one big conspiracy meeting around a table, our elites (like most) are comprised of many competing groups with their own spheres of influence. Mercanti and Mancinelli are very notable members from one of the most established of these groups, but they’re starting to learn that the economic and cultural revitalization which is sweeping downtown has changed the political terrain as well. Coupled with the rise of social media, this is severely complicating a proposal which likely would have sailed through council a decade ago.
When it comes to Hamilton’s political culture, I’d have to say that’s a positive development (pun intended).
The casino proposal struck a nerve downtown, and it’s provoking quite the reaction. Behind the (no longer) presumed consensus, we’re getting a startling look at how insular, indifferent and utterly cold-hearted Hamilton’s development process really is. While this is hardly the first proposal with life-shattering implications for people in the core (evictions, expropriations, etc), we don’t often have experts stating directly that deaths will result| from a business endeavor. Even if it’s defeated, it still points toward a glaring need to change the way these decisions are made. One need only look around the many concrete moonscapes of Main, King and Wilson to see the legacy of decisions made by “people who count”, and it doesn’t take a three-fingered four-year-old to count the number of successful downtown megaprojects so far. Instead, how about listening (for once) to those of us who actually live, work and spend our time downtown?
Two years ago today, Andreas Chinnery was shot and killed by police responding to a noise complaint at his Barton St. E. apartment. Finding him home alone, distraught and allegedly brandishing a bat, police claim they fired in self-defense. Since that day, Andreas’ family has been demanding answers and an apology from the Hamilton Police Department and despite news coverage, legal actions and numerous marches downtown, they’re still waiting.
This past October, Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit finally announced a (mandatory) inquest into the shooting, though it’s currently on hold until the spring. The Chinnery family’s lawyer has criticized these proceedings, complaining that both officers (shooter and witness) have the same lawyer, though the coroner has yet to rule on whether this is a conflict of interest. Yesterday, the family announced that they’re also launching a lawsuit against the police for $650 000 in damages.
In many ways, Andreas’ death has come to symbolize growing concerns about police violence and accountability in Hamilton. A year ago the Ontario Ombudsman threatened yet another review if police don’t start cooperating with SIU investigations, citing a string of incidents with Hamilton police (including Andreas’ death) as an example. Other cases, such as the severe beating of Po La Hay, a refugee living in a Sanford Ave. apartment which mistakenly became the target of a 2010 drug raid. Constable Ryan Tocher was acquitted of excessive forces charges the following year when the other four officers present in the apartment were “unable or unwilling” to identify the officer who “stomped” him, prompting the judge to lambaste Hamilton Police for a defense that “raises the spectre of a cover-up“. Ryan Tocher, by the way, has also been now been investigated for the shooting deaths of two South Asian men in addition to this incident.
Elsewhere in Canada, prison guards from Kitchener, Ontario have seen charges dropped over the 2007 death of Ashley Smith in their custody, also finally now seeing an inquest. Smith choked to death in her cell as guards watched after tying a ligature around her neck, a common occurrence during her lengthy stay in solitary confinement. In Saskatoon, two weeks ago, another prisoner was found dead, this time at the Regional Psychiatric Facility. Kinew James had reportedly been demanding for medical attention for over an hour or more before dying of a heart attack in her cell. James, a recent inmate of the same Grand Valley Institution for Women that Ashley Smith had died in, was transferred last fall after coming forward about guards exchanging drugs and other contraband with inmates for sexual favours. A day after James died in her cell, corrections officials and Waterloo Regional Police announced that the allegations were “unfounded” and no charges would be laid.
Earlier this afternoon, the Chinnery family held a demonstration along with around fifty supporters. Beginning at City Hall with speeches, the rally marched through downtown chanting toward the Central Police Station where a second round of speeches were held. Activists raised many questions, including why there aren’t more mental health and crisis intervention professionals available as first responders, and whether a teenager on the West Mountain would have been treated the same way. After dispersing from the Central station, a smaller group headed for a second rally outside the east-end station which sent the officers two years ago.
This formula has now become familiar, for rallies over the death of Andreas Chinnery, the “Project Marvel” raid on the Markland family and other cases. They’re a reminder that whatever the SIU and courts decide, the community won’t forget these injustices. Until the department cleans up its act, they’re going to keep happening.
Grand Valley also saw a crowd of demonstrators lining their fence earlier this week, protesting over the fate of Kinew James, the sex scandal and other concerns about treatment of women inside. Prison demonstrations like this have also become quite common over the past few years and Hamilton’s seen more than a few (most recently at New Years and during the guards’ job action).
Actions like this signal a shift in the way people view our justice system. The recent police budget controversy would have been almost unthinkable a few years ago, but now even suburban councilors want to know where their endless 5%/year increases are going. While cops and guards are getting away with murder, the rest of us are facing harsher prison sentences and a growing prison population thanks to the Harper government. Dare I say this constitutes two-tiered-justice, or that this hug-a-thug approach to violent offenders needs to stop?
It’s been two years since Andreas Chinnery was taken from us. It didn’t have to happen, but it hasn’t happened in vain. I can’t imagine what his family has gone through over these two years, but their continuing efforts to seek justice are an inspiration to all of us. Together, we can ensure that this kind of tragedy never happens again, and that young victims like Andreas are never forgotten.
Yesterday marked the dawn of the Steel City’s newest publication: The Martello. Joining the growing crowd of independent papers and pages which have sprung up over the past decade (H Mag, Hamiltonian, Raise the Hammer, Bay Observer, etc), and following in the footsteps of recent radical rags like Mayday and The Hammer/IMC Hamilton, it’s set to become the city’s newest voice of anti-establishment acrimony.
There’s been a lot of talk amongst Hamilton’s radicals about a new publication since the demise of Mayday Magazine a few years ago, though this is the first to reach “launch day”. The Martello (Italian for “hammer”) began as an anonymous, somewhat collective Facebook page in in March 2011, as a way of posting news and events to the social network, and it’s been growing steadily since. The jump to a full-on website, and hopefully soon a print edition, has been in the works for a couple of months, as authors, artists and other contributors assembled in living rooms and pubs to prepare for the big day.
Bearing an explicit and uncompromising anarchist perspective, the Martello plans to follow in the footsteps of pages like Anarchist News, Modesto Anarcho or the legendary Inconsiderate Audio. This low-brow and generally anti-social tone was chosen because it fits Hamilton, and to avoid the trap of overly wordy lefty/academic writing which is often totally indecipherable to anyone without a university education. The term “pissed off news” captures this well – Hamilton is dirty, poor and incredibly fucked up, and that’s something we’re all going to have to stop sugar-coating if we ever want to see things change.
Expect to see a lot more in the coming days and weeks, including some exclusive content from yours truly. Anybody looking to contribute articles, essays, interviews, photos, artwork, events or other content should contact martello[at]riseup.net
So far, I’ve stayed fairly quiet regarding Hamilton’s casino debate. This isn’t due to indifference – like most downtown, I have absolutely no desire to see a casino in our core, but I didn’t feel there was much I could add which others hadn’t. Opposition, so far, has been incredibly well organized, featuring an “everybody who is anybody” assortment of characters from downtown and the arts community, slick printed signs and a horrendous amount of legwork. Matt Jelly, Ned Nolan and others should be proud of the work they’ve done to put this all together, win or lose, they’ve fought a very good fight.
Hamilton does not need a casino. Hamilton needs to break the cycle of totally disregarding the social and environmental consequences of its projects then wondering why we have an “image problem”. Gambling fetishizes unearned wealth in a way which sickly mirrors capitalism, with the odds of success reversed. It thrives in the poorest communities not because they have money, but because there’s no other options. For many, it’s the only retirement plan they can imagine having access to. Cloak it in pseudo-socialist rhetoric about funding social programs if ya like, but we all know who the real winners will be, and PJ Mercanti isn’t exactly “poor”…
All of which brings me to the latest dust-up between our city’s leading opinionators. Yesterday, Matt Jelly put up a blog post calling Bill Kelly, Larry DiIanni and others on their “bullshit” for their attacks on the “CasiNO” activists and other “usual suspects”. I’m bringing this up both because these are absolutely standard responses to criticism from community members, and because, in this case, they’re hilariously misapplied.
Usual suspect. Rabblerouser. The Vocal Minority. Nimby. Obstructionists. The Anti-everything crowd. This is the dogwhistle language of civic engagement in Hamilton, Ontario.
The first time you speak up, as a citizen, you’re rightly considered a concerned citizen. But if you then continue to pay attention, attend meetings, write councillors regularly or make citizen delegations to City Council, you’re branded by one of the above terms, or worse. While I’ve gotten used to this treatment and it doesn’t bother me, I do worry about uninitiated citizens who may be confronting it for the first time.
The comments in question are pretty routine, both for Hamilton’s lackluster tradition of “engagement” and from individuals like Kelly and DiIanni in particular. They include standard classist invectives, implying that opponents are unemployed, broke and live in their parents’ basements. They equate grassroots groups (with social media!) and paid lobbyists (like DiIanni). And, as usual, they throw around a lot of language like “usual suspects” and “vocal minority” in order to marginalize the movement.
Contrast this picture with my earlier description of CasiNO activists, “everybody who is anybody”. I’ve seen their meetings – lawyers, businesspeople, trend-setters, musicians, etc it’s the kind of crowd that makes an anarchist squirm. If people want to characterize this crowd as unemployed, I’m going to have to ‘call bullshit’ as well.
One has to ask, of course, why unemployment would disqualify somebody from free speech rights, especially on an issue which so obviously relates to poverty? Why take anything said by such bigots seriously?
As for the allegation that a “vocal minority” has undue influence on city politics, that’s true. It includes radio hosts like Bill Kelly and lobbyists like Larry DiIanni who sell their experience on council to the highest bidder, and are paid to chime in on almost every issue. They don’t have to worry, as most of us do, about balancing their day job and political involvement, since it is their day job.
That must be nice.
I won’t deny, of course, that some members of the public have a lot more influence than others. Over the last few years, the ‘James North’ artist community and associated groups/individuals have become one of the most prominent voices in public discussions, and they’ve made their share of enemies (even among activists). Class plays an important role here, too, and we should always cast a critical eye on the kinds of privilege which allow some voices to speak louder than others.
This wouldn’t be the first issue where pundits and trolls have feigned blue-collar sentiment in the hopes of portraying urban activists as “different” and “alien” from “ordinary” Hamiltonians. This plays on a lot of very real frustrations felt by those who, thanks to class and geography, almost never get that kind of voice. It’s hard to take though criticisms seriously, though, when they come along with shouts of “get a job”.
If I had seen anything resembling authentic, grassroots, local organizing in favour of a Casino I might be more sympathetic. Instead I’ve seen a familiar parade of old-guard elites. Most of the “yes” side Thursday night seemingly hailed from Carmen’s, a suburban banquet centre owned by PJ Mercanti, who’s seeking to build the casino in question. Carmen’s serves as one of the main meeting places for Hamilton’s upper crust, a crowd which makes James North gallery owners look like Labourready temps in comparison. Public support seems to come mainly from the suburbs at this point, which itself says worlds. On this issue, at least, I wouldn’t characterize the “usual suspects” as a vocal minority.
What’s being said about Hamilton’s “dissidents” absolutely pales in comparison to what’s now being said about Idle No More or Quebec’s striking students last year, but it reflects many of same strategies. Central to these schemes is portraying “activists” as different from the general public and as an unwelcome, outside influence on the proper functioning of the political system. Not that long ago, the word “foreign” was a standard part of this picture, which shows pretty blatantly what kind of picture they’re trying to paint. Now terms like “special interest”, “NIMBY” or “extremist” are used. Implied, is a unified “normal” public which totally supports those now in power – that’s “democracy”, and it has to be protected from free speech.
Frankly, I’ll take “rabble rousers”, “obstructionists”, “radicals”, and “extremists” over “pundits”, “trolls” or “shills” any day.
Within the past week, Canada witnessed an explosion of activism. While things have hardly been quiet for the past year or so, they’re now starting to snowball. Protests are now almost a daily occurrence in many parts of the country, and momentum on many issues is only continuing to grow.
Idle No More
Wednesday, indigenous protesters once again got the country’s attention with a national Day of Action held by Idle No More and others. Numerous roads and rail lines were shut down as a part of the growing protest movement. Actions took place at the Ambassador Bridge (Windsor-Detroit), Sault St. Marie border crossing, Westmoreland Bridge (Fredricton) Trans-Canada highway (Banff), Queen Elizabeth II highway (Calgary), Highway 400 (Barrie), Highway 117 (Quebec), rail blockades by Kingston, Portage la Prarie (by AIM!) and Gitwangak (BC), and rallies downtown in Toronto, Ottawa, Iqaluit and many others.
These actions mark a shift away from less disruptive spectacles like flash mobs and round dances which have characterized most of the Idle No More actions over the past month. They’ve evoked controversy both within and outside the movement. Finance Minister Flahrety, echoed by many editorials, has expressed concerns about possible threats to Canada’s economy. Meanwhile, Sylvia McAdam, one of the founding members of Idle No More, questions the use blockades for portraying “a message of aggressiveness”, which contradicts the movement’s peaceful character. Others, have responded that these actions have been, in fact, completely peaceful and that militancy has often played an incredibly important role in such social movements.
A busy week of demonstrations took place in Vancouver against Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. The largest event was a night march with thousands, which even featured a small (~20 people) black bloc, which got a lot of attention despite not smashing or disrupting anything. In contrast, six young demonstrators, clad in colourful tee-shirts from a moderate environmental group, were arrested yesterday after briefly managing to sneak inside and disrupt meetings, yet received surprisingly little criticism for “militance”.
Closer to Home
Locally, around 70 people gathered Wednesday morning in Cayuga to support Theresa Toad Jaimeson, facing a court date relating to one of Gary McHale’s last forays onto the Reclamation Site in Caledonia, where a former development has been occupied since 2006.
In Hamilton itself the same morning, a crowd of around 30 community members held a picket outside Sir John A MacDonald Secondary in support of teachers in their labour dispute with the province. Briefly delaying traffic outside the parking lot, they handed out fliers explaining that “we’re here because teachers can’t be”.
Last night a large crowd descended on City Hall to voice their opposition to a Casino downtown (also, a small handfull of “yes” demonstrators). After rallying in the snow (complete with racehorces!) and hearing speeches, the crowd headed inside for the meeting, where a number of representatives spoke to council. This latest hair-brained “revitalization” scheme has drawn an incredible amount of fire from the downtown community, particularly James North, fearing the social effects of gambling addictions, because of the dismissive attitude toward downtown from proponents and out of fear for the fate of Flamborough Downs and it’s horses (currently OLG’s only permitted slots in the area).
The New Canada
Our country, it seems, has lost some of our innocence. After the G20, after Occupy, and especially after the Quebec Student Strike, we’re no longer quite as shocked by protests. As turnouts grow and issues multiply, so does the number of people involved. Protesting becomes less alien, and more accessible to a wider number of people, who now have a lot less trouble imagine themselves marching with a sign. Protest is once again becoming part of our culture and political process, and it’s about damn time.
In recent years, the decisions made by the Canadian government have become increasingly distant and disturbing. Harper alone has targeted First Peoples, workers, the environment, refugees, prisoners, pilots, railroaders, postal workers, the internet, NGOs, scientists and most recently, Mali. Our international reputation is in shambles. He may even have stolen the election, but nobody seems to want to talk about that. Just like there’s very little mention that Ontario has now been operating without a parliament for three months. Quebec’s government, it now turns out, was corrupt to its core, and even here, Mayors just keep coming up on “conflict of interest” charges. Then there’s the austerity schemes, the development plans and the total disregard for treaty commitments and democracy.
If these problems – the colonialism, the corruption, the grandiose but toxic boondoggle projects – show one thing, it’s that we’ve all been idle for far too long. Without the watchful (and occasionally wrathful) eye of the public, power will inevitably corrupt, and it has. This system cannot function, though, without the daily cooperation of tens of millions of people, something which is no longer guaranteed. The legendary patience and politeness of this land’s inhabitants have worn thin, but not our determination.
This is what democracy looks like.