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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.
Quebec’s students have returned to the streets. At a recent “education summit”, the new provincial government of Pauline Marois has announced plans to raise tuition at an indexed rate of around 3% per year, provoking a march of around five thousand by the end of the day. Last night, the tradition of night-marches was re-ignited when thousand again took to the streets of Montreal, encountering an army of police with horses, helicopters and riot gear and resulting in at least fifty arrests.
Last year, the “Maple Spring” in which striking and protesting students managed to defeat a tuition hike and helped bring down the Charest government captured the world’s attention. At the time, Marois and the PQ supported the protests, and used her first day in office to announce a freeze on tuition. Students saw this as a betrayal, and before long chants of “Partie Quebecois? Partie Bourgeoisie!” were ringing out in the streets. At this, Maclean’s and the National Post seem oddly overjoyed, if only to see the separatists squirm.
Marois actions are also coming under scrutiny from a financial point of view. While the increased fees will bring in around $12 million, they come along with cuts ten times that large. The crisis in funding for Quebec’s universities is going to get worse, not better, in spite of these new fees. Similarly, her lack of action on Plan Nord and mining taxes has drawn fire, another issue on which both the PQ and students criticized Charest last year. Last month’s Plan Nord confrence resulted in at least 36 arrests, another episode deeply reminiscent of last year’s showdown.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss. It’s as if Charest never left, except that Marois herself had marched with the students and worn their symbolic red square. Last year’s election accomplished what armies of riot cops had, for months, failed to do. It effectively ended the protests, giving a sense of at least partial victory (and utter, crushing defeat for Charest). This betrayal threatens to shatter that illusion, and to bring the movement back out in full force. Tomorrow night, another march is scheduled, this time in Quebec City, and it isn’t likely to be the last.
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.
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.
As an unprecedented wave of indigenous resistance surges across the country and the Prime Minister finally prepares to meet with hunger-striking Chief Theresa Spence, we’re starting to witness a backlash. Though initially caught unaware, the pundits and trolls are now coming out in force.
Yesterday, an audit of Attawapiskat’s finances (2005-2011) was leaked to the press. Obviously timed to diminish support and sympathy for the reserve and it’s chief, it examined the band’s finances between 2005 and 2011 when Chief Spence gained national attention by declaring a state of emergency over a housing crisis on the reserve. In response, Harper accused the band of squandering funds and placed the band under “third party management”, a move later deemed illegal by courts.
Spence has dismissed this audit as a “distraction“, but in many ways the damage is done. Canada’s editorial class is taking the opportunity to re-frame the issue along more traditional lines, and the past few days have seen an explosion of negative press. Andrew Coyne claims that Idle No More is little more than a conflict between “modernizers” and “traditionalists” on reserves. John Ivison of the National Post states “whatever the Canadian state cedes to Theresa Spence, it will never be enough”. And of course Christie Blatchford has weighed in condemning police for endangering “the rule of law” by not arresting rail blockaders in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley.
These pundits and the horde of trolls which fills the comment sections below their articles make up the Canadian state’s front line of defence against threats like this. After the failure of massive police/military mobilizations to stop demonstrations in the 1990s (Oka, Ipperwash, Gustafson Lake, etc), we’ve seen a shift toward somewhat gentler physical responses. This has left reactionary pundits to ‘hold the line’, but also fuelled their claims of “special treatment” and “lawlessness”. The narratives they present are fairly consistent if shockingly ignorant, and this new leaked audit fits perfectly into their tales.
Too Many Chiefs?
Of the stereotypes and clichés used to dismiss First Nations protests, the notion of a wealthy and corrupt leadership which keeps everybody else in poverty plays an incredibly important role. With Band Councils presented as “the real bad guys”, pundits can shift attention away from the government. What they don’t mention is that Band Councils are government institutions, imposed by the Indian Act to replace “traditional” leadership. Such critiques are often put forward by activists themselves, and generally fall on deaf ears. Many have questioned what gives Theresa Spence the authority to go on her hunger strike, but can anybody imagine the National Post giving her the same kind of scrutiny if she were simply trying to sell off her reserve’s timber and mineral rights to some big corporation?
If there is corruption on reserves (and there is), we should pay attention to where it tends to take hold – particularly those institutions most closely linked to the Department of Indian Affairs (“and Northern Development”). This is still one of the world’s most legendarily restrictive bureaucracies, and had to sign off on these expenditures at every step of the way. Attawapiskat has been under “co-management” for most of the last decade, while Theresa Spence was only elected in 2010. Much has been said about highly paid Band Council officials, but just like “wealthy union bureaucrats”, this critical light rarely shines on those they sit across the table from.
Regardless, there’s a very simple reason that “overpaid Chiefs” don’t explain the Attawapiskat housing crisis or any other case like it – there was never enough money coming in to prevent it, even if all the local authorities worked for free. With a yearly paycheque coming in around $70 grand, Theresa Spence has not yet been paid enough since taking office to put up a single house (around $250 000 given transport costs).
Along with this comes the distortions of indigenous politics and the division between “modernizers” and “traditionalists” (as Coyne puts it). This division is real and crucial to understanding reserve politics. Instead of examining that context, though, pundits like Coyne tend to characterize it as the same old “progress” debate. Left out entirely is the history of attempts to “modernize” reserves, well over a century old, filled with abuses of human rights not to mention being a spectacular failure. Toronto-style economic strategies have never worked in Canada’s North, despite decades of attempts to impose them. “Traditional” strategies, on the other hand, have a well-document and growing legacy of success in areas from governance to justice and health care. In the “Fourth World”, much like the Third, aid and development strategies which disregard local culture, custom and opinion tend to offend more than anything else.
The True North…
I don’t know how many of these columnists have been very far north in this country (no, not Muskoka and Huntsville), but it isn’t like Southern Ontario. Admittedly, I haven’t been as far as Attawapiskat, but I’ve spent enough time bumming around to get some perspective. For most of this country’s landmass, a “big city” has a church, a post office a general store. <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attawapiskat_First_Nation”>Their reserve</a> is a thousand kilometres north of Toronto, accessible mainly by air and has just under two thousand residents. Their roads are dirt, they speak mostly Cree and they’ve been mired for years in a housing crisis as well as all the other usual ailments of northern indigenous communities. Is anybody really surprised that they’ve had trouble finding a good accountant? Does anybody seriously think that accountants are what they need right now?
There’s one final point which needs making about the characterizations of Chief Spence, Idle No More and other indigenous resistance making the news right now: this is a movement. Theresa Spence does not speak for Idle No More, nor does any other official representative as organizers have already stated. Others involved include groups as diverse as land defenders in Unist’ot’en and the Assembly of First Nations. Coyne and others have, as usual, dismissed the lack of a single leader or central authority as a sign of incoherence. The implication they make is that only such kinds of top-down authority can be legitimate, which of course goes against most history and principles of both indigenous nations and social movements.
One “leader”, even one as noble as Spence, could be bought off or taken out. With a diverse and decentralized movement presenting many kinds of pressure in many places, Harper has little choice but to face the issue itself, rather than a few representatives. John Ivison is right about one thing – there’s no amount which could be given to Chief Spence to stop this movement. What Coyne, Ivison, Blatchford and others don’t seem to grasp is that this movement isn’t after anything so simple.
Just over a year ago, an almost simultaneous set of police raids shut down protest encampments associated with the “Occupy” movement across the United States. At the time speculation raged about behind-the-scenes coordination, but very little substantial evidence had come forward to back up the accusations. Then, just before Christmas, as if as a gift, we suddenly got a glimpse inside the workings of this insidious machine.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, an American civil rights group, released documents they just obtained through the Freedom of Information Act detailing the official response to Occupy Wall Street. These documents, which they’ve provided online, detail hostile and coordinated efforts to portray the movement as a “criminal and terrorist threat” beginning a month before the encampment itself. In a linked effort by the FBI, Homeland Security, police forces, regional “fusion centres” and private security, sometimes united into a single entity: the Domestic Security Alliance Council. The activities of this shadowy alliance included surveillance, meeting with financial industry and school officials and even planning the evictions. One (heavily redacted) page even describes a plot to kill protest leaders with snipers, “if deemed necessary”, though it gives few other details.
As the Guardian’s Naomi Wolfe states, this has reached Orwellian levels. The amount of tracking, surveillance and straight-up brutality involved evokes memories of the Red Scares, Palmer Raids and COINTELPRO. Given how heavily censored these releases are, everyone’s simply using the term “tip of the iceberg”, leaving open the question of how far this conspiracy (yes, conspiracy) actually went.
It’s hard to say whether these evictions were the definite cause of the movement’s eventual decline, but they certainly marked an important turning point. The loss of a physical presence in urban cores was a crushing blow, and not one which could be replaced though a presence online or in the media. What followed was months of decline marked by (now legendary) levels of interpersonal squabbling. Only time and further disclosures will tell if these squabbes, too, were engineered from above (like so many in the COINTELPRO era).
What does this mean for activists, organizers, and anybody who might someday become one?
First, it shows clearly that the government response to political mobilizations is primarily ideological. Occupy was labeled “criminal” and “terrorist” long before any actions took place, to say nothing of actual “crime” or “violence”. Contrast this with any number of white supremacist, pro-life or anti-immigrant groups who not only advocate violence but also actually kill people and bomb things on a regular basis, and the focus becomes pretty clear. Brutal violence against marginalized groups doesn’t threaten the establishment (if done right, it re-enforces it). Legal, nonviolent protest directed against dominant groups, on the other hand, does.
We will never be polite, well-behaved or “nonviolent” enough to avoid these risks. Attempting to be only sets a rising standard of absolutely perfect behavior from demonstrators which ultimately makes it easier to justify attacks on peaceful crowds. No matter how we present it, any serious public discussion of liberation is going to threaten those in power, especially if it “gets popular”. Blaming the victims only pits us against each other and prevents an objective discussion of practical safety precautions.
Second, it makes an important cautionary point about surveillance and security. Long before things “turn ugly” (if they ever do), police and their allies are on the scene. They may claim to be there “for our safety”, to direct traffic to deal with “troublemakers”, but those are only secondary goals. Their primary goal is to film, record and write down every bit of data they can find about those involved, especially the “leaders”, often with the help of naive participants. The information they gather never goes away, and it almost always comes back to haunt people no matter how “peaceful” the campaign. The only way to reduce these risks is to make basic precautions a part of all activism, not just the actions we consider “risky”.
The third and (arguably) most important point is one about “paranoia”. If these documents show anything, it’s that there’s nothing irrational about being wary or cautious of undercover agents and big government conspiracies. I’ve involved with protests for over a decade now, and in that time I’ve seen things I would never have believed existed outside Communist China. “Snatch squads”, agent provocateurs, snipers, beatings and worse. These aren’t just anecdotes, either – they’re verified. Every time protesters are put on trial the state is forced to hand over stacks of “court disclosure” to their legal teams, usually confirming our worst fears and then some. Given that my own name has turned up in trail documents after protests I never so much as passed on a flier for, I always smile a bit on the inside when people tell me I’m being “paranoid”.
Take it from someone who’s had a (very tiny) glimpse – there are few, if any, limits to how far these people will go to keep their wealth and power. If people want to talk about paranoia and “conspiracy theories”, how about we start with a look at the conspiracy charges which are so regularly used against protesters? What’s so interesting in these cases isn’t just what the state does, but the justifications it gives. Always, there’s a presumed threat that protesters are right on the verge of an IRA-style insurrection. There’s always a hidden “arms cache” behind the peaceful blockade, rioters hidden in the march and mad bombers working away in the shadows. For all the threats though, and excepting certain entrapment plots, it’s been a decade or two since any attack of the sort in Canada or America, at least from the likes of Occupy.
These fictitious threats aren’t just symptoms of a hostile and militaristic bureaucracy, they’re an important part of how it works. From self-styled “terrorism experts” to the CIA and top Pentagon brass, far too many are now being paid directly in relation to how dire a terrorist threat they dream up. In many ways (as we saw with the Iraq’s “WMDs”), it becomes like theatre. On the domestic front, these efforts serve not only to promote big budgets for police and other security forces, but also to demonize protesters, the poor, immigrants, natives, people of colour or others while demonstrating a “need” for those who oppress them. Like the divorce lawyer who won’t stop egging you on, it’s a sales pitch and we’d be wise to recognize it as such.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a tale of bureaucrats and cops wasting money on commando gear. Real people are involved, and the consequences for them, their families and communities can be devastating. I’ve seen people followed home by private security consultants, snipers on rooftops, agent provocateurs, even the occasional Kafka-esque arrests and incarceration…and that’s just in Hamilton.
Take it from someone who’s spent a lot of time supporting a lot of friends in a lot of courtrooms – this shit gets real. Nothing makes you look guilty like being the focus of an investigation, no matter how little they find. Binders of pictures and days of recordings show you’re clearly a person of interest. If they cannot find the protesters responsible for a crime, they will arrest the first bunch within arm’s reach. If there are no “leaders”, they will appoint some. If nobody commits any “crime” or “violence”, some will be invented, inferred, or blown entirely out of proportion (like chalking). If you’re poor, you’ll find yourself in criminal court. If you’re wealthier, they’ll launch a lawsuit large enough threaten your home. You’ll probably win at trial, but not before a hellish year or two of bail conditions, legal fees and sleepless nights. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen this happen. Don’t just let it happen to you.
Looking back on my time in early local Occupy assemblies, I was often “that guy” who wouldn’t stop bringing this stuff up. In retrospect, I wish I’d tried harder. I’m sorry to say, if you were publicly associated with Occupy in any way, you’re likely now lists which may never see the light of day. If Occupy suffered more than most, it wasn’t because people were too radical or hostile with police, but too friendly. Everywhere there was a prevailing attitude that “the cops are on our side” and “you only have something to fear if you’re doing something wrong”. Some were even accused of being terrorists or infiltrators for suggesting otherwise. Many seasoned veterans just walked away. This wasn’t just a local issue, it came up almost everywhere, but perhaps not often enough.
In this case, the state didn’t just “take a side”, it launched a counter-insurgency campaign. From the outset, it saw the danger – and open, public critique of the economy backed by a mass, in-the-streets movement. In that instant, things like “free speech” and “public discourse” ceased to matter – it was war, and they couldn’t afford to wait and see how things played out.
The worst possible lesson to take from all this would be to stay home. If we do that, they win by default. Worse yet, we prove that these tactics work, ensuring they’ll be used again the next time people take to the streets. This kind of response from authorities shows we’re doing something right. Nobody suggested that changing the world would be safe or easy, but neither, obviously, is the alternative.
Earlier this afternoon, the latest local demonstration in support of the Idle No More movement, shut down the southbound half of the 403 for over an hour. Beginning at Dundurn Plaza, a few hundred protesters gathered then (with the help of police) took over King St and marched onto the on-ramp and then down onto the highway itself, marching until the next exit, then back along Main West to the plaza. The atmosphere was festive and cheerful – there were prayers and sweetgrass, drumming and round-dancing, and of course a prevailing sense of relief at the lack of mass-arrests.
The demo, planned mostly over the last week and largely on Facebook (with one meeting which cops attended), called for one of the boldest plans in recent memory. None of us knew what to expect when we showed up, and there’s little doubt that turnout was limited by these fears. Despite this, hundreds appeared, including elders and families with children, and relations with the few authorities present flowed pretty smoothly, all things considered.
This was the third big demonstration Hamilton’s seen (after the Limeridge Mall flashmob and march downtown), and I’m told the other two were even larger. It was the first I’d seen in person, and the energy really impressed me. There was a large and diverse collection faces, with a great may who obviously weren’t regular attendees at demonstrations, as well as many old friends. Even the weather was surprisingly pleasant, and nearly everyone seemed to leave inspired.
Across Canada, similar actions shut down roads, railway tracks and border crossings in Sarnia, Tyendinega and many other locations, continuing the inertia built up over the past few weeks. Harper has finally promised to meet with Chief Spence next Friday, but she’s vowed to continue her hunger strike until (at least) then.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is notorious for abuse of workers, ferocious anti-union policies, embracing sweatshop labour, paying poverty wages, crushing local economies, exploiting illegal migrant labour among many other complaints. The company has come to symbolise the “new economy” of globalized production, precarious work and big-box retail, as well as becoming a focal point for opposition to it. Many communities have fought hard against the development of new Wal-Marts, such as the infamous years-long battle in nearby Guelph, though few have managed to stop the encroachment. Hamilton gained its latest Wal-Mart the Friday before last at “The Centre”, one of nearly forty locations replacing recently closed Zellers locations.
These actions are inspiring both because Wal-Mart is such a large and important retailer, as well as one so committed to precarious labour practices. Organized labour has waned in numbers and influence over recent decades, largely due to the growth of precarious labour (big box retail, fast food, temps etc) into which the movement’s made few inroads. The company is willing to go to incredible lengths, legal or otherwise, to avoid unionization, and on the odd occasion that drives succeed, stores have simply been closed (as in Jonquiere, Quebec). With so many people now working without benefits, job security or living wages, this is a crucial battle for workers everywhere.
This documentary follows a group of activists on a cross-Canada tour of Wal-Mart locations, looking at the effects on communities and local economies. User fliers, megaphones and street theater to engage with shoppers and employees, this flick shows takes a look at the human side of Wal-Mart and the struggles against it.
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices
The definitive Wal-Mart documentary, packed with tales of abuse and corruption at the retail super-giant. Interviews include managers who stole wages, workers forced onto Medicade and small-town shop-owners forced out of business.
Wednesday morning council received the staff report on Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline reversal, as well as hearing from citizens on the issue. A few dozen protesters rallied first along Main St in front of City Hall, then filed inside the gallery. No conclusions were reached, but a very interesting discussion ensued, with staff sent to research further about the pipeline and possibilities for opposing it.
Though Enbridge decided to cancel at the last minute, eight citizens stepped up to address council, all opposed to the project. John McGreal spoke about the legacy of Binbrook’s oil spill a decade ago, which burst from Line 10. Ken Stone floated legal ideas, such as banning pipelines over 30 years old, the transmission of tar sands oil or requring it to be upgraded and refined in Canada. Janet Chase floated the possibility of requiring a bond from Enbridge, an idea which seemed to gain a lot of traction with councillors. Maggie Hughes (The Other Side on CFMU) showed footage and talked about the legacy of the Kalamazoo dilbit spill. Elysia Petrone (Hamilton 350) spoke about Harper’s budget omnibus bill exempting this project from environmental assessments. Don McLean (CATCH, Hamilton 350) and Lynda Lukasik (Environment Hamilton) spoke about the connections to the Tar Sands and climate change, especially given the enormous cost we’re now suffering from the recent wave of severe storms and flooding. Wes Elliot, Ruby Montour (Six Nations) and Danielle Boisseau were unable to attend.
Reaction from councillors was mixed, but honestly better than I’d expected. Brenda Johnson asked if there were options to challenge the reversal at the Ontario Municipal Board or Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as asking about permits for current digs to check pipeline integrity. Maria Pearson suggested making a statement for the record, even if council’s hands were “tied”. Judi Partridge raised questions about the Emergency Plan and Brian McHattie raised again the issue of environmental assessments. Lloyd Ferguson suggested getting a professional engineer’s opinion, and stated that Enbridge had told him the pipeline’s oil wouldn’t be coming from Alberta. Mayor Bratina’s comments were perhaps most poignant, pointed a finger at Harper then brought the issue back to our own practices and suggesting that if we really wished to stop this kind of oil flow, we should look into an urban boundary freeze and end Aerotropolis plans (both good suggestions, even if they avoid the issue). Staff responded that so far, proposals haven’t mentioned “dilbit” or pressures capable of transporting it, and that there’s few options on the table to obstruct Enbridge, even if council should decide to. At the end, discussions broke for lunch, unresolved, with staff sent to research further.
Given the current climate in Federal politics, it isn’t surprising that municipalities are shut almost entirely out of these matters. Despite all the public and private lands this pipeline crosses in our city, there’s no meaningful consultation council or residents. In these matters, the National Energy Board seemingly holds all the power. This is the legacy of the “streamlined” approval processes Harper is implementing, and we’re now getting to see first-hand what that means for public input in the communities involved. Whoever makes these decisions, we’ll still be the ones to suffer if anything goes wrong.
While I still hold out a little hope for a sympathetic motion from council, it’s fairly clear at this point that municipal politicians are just as out-of-the-loop as the rest of us. Addressing council, though, was still was an important step. Not only did it bring some much-needed attention, but also showed that opponents are willing to engage with “the system” where possile. Most of all, it was an important demonstration of how much authority has been given to Enbridge and the NEB, effectively cutting entire municipalities out of the process. If opposition is going to continue (and it will), it must now look toward the grassroots. Ordinary people are not limited by the rules of intergovernmental hierarchies, and a motion from Council would mean little, anyway, without a much broader show of community support. This pipeline has seen very little public discussion so far, and most people still aren’t aware it cuts through our backyard. The tasks ahead are education, investigation, networking and ever-more demonstrations (like this Sunday’s protest ride) to raise the issue’s profile, both within Hamilton and beyond. Like the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, this route can be stopped, and it will be, if cities like Hamilton decide to stand against it.
For more info, visit Hamiltonline9.wordpress.com