It’s a long road down to Kananaskis
It’s a short road back the other way
If the cops pull you over to the side of the road
You won’t have nothing to say
No, you won’t have nothing to say
There’s a man waiting down the Highway 40
And he’s waiting with a rifle in his hand
And he’s looking down the road for an out-of-province car
And he thinks he’s fighting for his land
Yes, he thinks he’s fighting for his land
— (adapted from Phil Ochs, “Going Down to Mississippi”)
Among the first “predictions” to flow from the Bush Administration’s “Endless War on Terror” was that the anti-corporate-globalisation movement would shrivel and die; that the few remaining activists of the First World would quickly be lumped with Al Qaeda- and even with Palestinian and Colombian rebels-as “terrorists.” Indeed, only days after the 9/11 attacks, columnist Michael Campbell in the Vancouver Sun made the grotesque link between a crudely vague “terrorism” and the members of our ranks who wear black masks and engage in direct action against the symbols of the corporate state.
Many of us who had been heart and mind involved in this movement for several years were deeply concerned about where it could go from here, if it could survive at all. Were we not a shallow movement, without a viable centre, without community roots? A movement of transient troublemakers that might have the right idea only in the vaguest sense? Would we not completely drop off of the radar screen?
Well, all apologies to Mark Twain, but the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated. By March 16, 2002 we had regrouped enough to have 500,000 people amass against the EU in the streets in Barcelona-our largest convergence yet. We also were able to make calculated choices based on the new situations confronting us here in North America. In February in New York, groups that were primarily anarchist-led put together a protest against the World Economic Forum. Despite an overwhelmingly hostile setting, the “anarchist” groups (usually associated with “violence” and “immaturity”) organised an important demo of 25,000 people in the very city that saw the beginning of the new era of reaction. This represented a tactical retreat into non-physical confrontation to simply maintain the existence of such protests, while we regrouped to rethink what to do next. We were developing a sense of thinking strategically.
A further step in our resurgence was the April 20, 2002 demonstration in Washington DC. Originally targeting the IMF and the World Bank, it became a 100,000-strong demo in support of the Palestinian people’s heroic struggle against the increasingly genocidal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the same time, the International Solidarity Movement,1 which sees itself as part of the resistance against corporate globalisation, has been operating in Palestine, putting their bodies between the civilians of Palestine and the advancing Israeli Defence Forces. Such a massive growth in both dedication and analysis represents a new level of maturity of our movement. We are making the connections between an amorphous “globalisation”-policies that emanate from late imperialism and capitalism-and the horrid front lines of imperialist assaults on people, in places from Palestine to Venezuela. Nothing could be more important. At the June 2002 demonstrations in Calgary that I will discuss, we heard a slogan: “Viva viva Palestina, Venezuela, Argentina!” Accompanying this was one that came out of the February demo in New York: “They are Enron, we are Argentina.” Such a noise was not made in the streets of Seattle in 1999.
I had attended an anti-war conference in Montreal in May 2002; it was organised by the same sorts of people that had built the militant, anti-capitalist demonstrations at the April 2001 Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.2 The Montreal conference focused on almost every spot on the globe, educating people in our movement from across the continent and involving people from around the world. That such a principled and non-dogmatic conference can come out of our movement is another sign of our advancing thinking. From there, I began to hitchhike back home to Vancouver, stopping in as many large Canadian cities as I could.
After about a week and a half, I arrived in Calgary, where the main convergences against the G8 were slated to take place at the end of June. The first night I stayed with a law student from Africa, and we debated the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD, an initiative developed for the G8 Summit)-a much-ballyhooed attempt to gloss over the G8 countries’ persisting neo-colonial relationship with Africa. The next morning, I headed into town to get in touch with local organisers as they prepared their multitude of creative demonstrations and the counter-summit or “People’s Summit,” the G6B (they are eight, we are six billion). What I discovered was a repressive atmosphere that I had never experienced before, except perhaps in 1985 as a ten-year old tourist in Mexico, where soldiers wandered the streets with machine-guns. The difference, of course, was that in Mexico those guns were ostensibly to “protect” people like myself, a simple North American tourist. However, here in Alberta, the measures-grotesque media slanders, by-laws against rights to peaceful assembly, “anti-terrorist” legislation, and the refusal to grant any space in Calgary or near Kananaskis for protesters to meet-were directed against folks like myself. People were acting as if under siege, even though the meetings were still more than a month away.
I was greeted with suspicion. Chaos seemed to reign in the organising (there were not many posters around; the city was working over-time to bungle any attempts at inter-activist communication); fear was the guiding factor and a feeling of impending doom prevailed. I had to search out people who looked like “usual suspects” in order to come into contact with radicals working in Calgary. I learned that some of the coalitions for organising had already broken down, with people on all sides of the different debates becoming married to certain “positions.” I heard that the entire city had co-ordinated to deny the organisers proper meeting-spaces, and that the use of ad-hoc spaces like college cafeterias was resulting in the activists being chased out. No halls were rented to activists during the summit, and the few spaces that could be accrued were widely separated. The trade union bureaucrats had also broken off contacts, and all campsites applied for by out-of- town activists had been denied by the city. The unions were planning a “family march” for the afternoon of the June 23. Even this seemingly harmless march, three days before the start of the G8 Summit and guaranteed to be peaceful, had not received a permit. A glimmer of hope was that the unions had vowed to carry out the march regardless of the ban issued by Mayor David Bronconnier (who stated that public parks could not be used for political purposes, despite the fact that he had used just such a venue for a barbecue to kick off his last electoral campaign).
The final and most significant measure used by the Federal Government to quash popular resistance was the systematic blocking of any attempt to set up “Solidarity Village,” a project to allow a camp near the Summit site itself (near Kananaskis, often called K-Country). The Federal Government had paid the Stony Nation $300,000 to prevent them from renting any space for the Solidarity Village, which was being organised by the Canadian Labour Congress in conjunction with the Council of Canadians. All other locations were on Crown Land, and were summarily denied to any protester. After the cancellation of Solidarity Village, a real black cloud began to hover above the organisers, as the city of Calgary continued to deny any place for use by the multitude of people coming in from all over the continent (and even from abroad). The plea made by activists in response to all of this was simply that people are coming, and they can’t be stopped.
Even a full month plus before the Summit was scheduled to begin in K-country, people were being denied entry into Canada under spurious pretexts. In fact they were barred because they opposed corporate globalisation and wanted to demonstrate against it-as is their right anywhere, whether governments recognise it or not. After tasting first hand what kind of brutal measures were being meted out to all who dare speak truth to power, I decided that if we are to have any rights at all, they must be used in Calgary, and maybe even in Kananaskis itself.
One of the greatest leaps in the analysis of many of our movements’ people has been the dwindling interest in “Summit Hopping.” When you have a movement that speaks of ending the economic suffering of the Third World, the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the rapidly increasing poverty in the First World, it is contradictory to have an overarching strategy of mobilising people to travel thousands of miles to attend mass convergences. This is one of the main reasons why our movement, however much it might resonate with all the victimised sectors of society, has been overwhelmingly white, middle class, and economically privileged- secure enough in employment or sources of revenue to take large amounts of time away from home. These are people who by choice are so immersed in organising that they continually live off scraps and dumpster-diving, travelling by train-hopping and hitchhiking- again, not something that can galvanise people from all walks of society.
Another point to this is that we are no longer going to win the kind of victories we had in the first couple of years. We caught them napping in Seattle, which gave us the ability to shut that fucker down. That, and to see it retrospectively, the anger-laced actions of the Black Bloc later in the same day, put real politics back on the agenda and buried the notion of “the end of history” once and for all, and good riddance to it. After that, in several valiant showings of initiative, we were unable to actually disrupt the meetings, but we were able to continue the advancement of our movement through picking clearly legitimate targets and successfully reaching them. We took down that ugly blight on the landscape of Quebec, The Wall. We demanded our right to assemble in Genoa, attacking that wall too; and the capitalist state showed its true colours by killing our comrade, Carlo Giuliani. Despite his tragic death, that demonstration was as clear a victory as any of the others. There were 300,000 people at the march, and even more the following day, protesting his assassination. However, now that we have won the final victory of the convergence battles by chasing them into the hills and fortress of K-Country, we have continued to seek the same strategic orientation as though we could do this forever. We cannot catch them here. As heartening as it was to hear Fidel Castro ask if soon these leaders would be forced to run away with their meetings to the moon, it still appears to be the end game of attacking summit sites as a strategy for galvanisation, winning victories of the will, and disrupting the real terrorists’ agenda for “business as usual.” Summit-hopping in North America will lead us to oblivion unless we can demonstrate what we have at every other turn: our ability to grow, to be flexible in our strategy as much as we are in our tactics on the streets.
Equally problematic is the very nature of how summit-hopping works. People who are not working on the grassroots issues of the city holding the summit are unable to contribute to a lasting legacy in these locales that can produce further activism and new activists. Community work cannot be done by people who are not part of that community itself. To leave the city where you live to go elsewhere is in many cases a counter-productive choice.
To speak of what I know, I live in Vancouver, which now has the most reactionary provincial government Canada has ever seen (and that is saying a lot). Gordon Campbell and his “Liberal” Party are in almost absolute power, holding 77 of 79 seats in the provincial legislature. They have already ratcheted up massive racism, holding a referendum on the rights of First Nations that are guaranteed by the UN. They have gone after welfare, casting thousands onto the streets; they have attacked the labour code, assaulted post-secondary educational funding, shut down women’s shelters, eliminated pay-equity legislation and even dropped the minimum wage to $6 (Cdn) for first-time workers. This government has torn up existing agreements with labour unions, which even raised the ire of our vastly right-wing press, who called it dishonest. They have scrapped and reversed almost all the existing environmental regulations, weak though they were. They even cancelled and are dismantling the provincial Human Rights Commission. They have created an atmosphere of panic and anger among the populace. In many of the cases, as a result of mismanagement by the prior New Democratic Party administration, the Liberals were pushing at an open door to make this full-scale corporate-globalisation assault on the people. In this atmosphere and with things here so urgent, what is the value for a revolutionary of going to Summits? As has been said by revolutionaries in other contexts, the number one enemy is at home. Yet, what is this provincial regime here, if not the smug, smiling face of corporate globalisation come to the homefront? What is our strength as a response to this government, if we lose the real-life connection to what created it in the first place?
The government of Calgary and the Federal government had tried extremely hard to suppress what the inquiry into the pepper- spraying assault on unarmed demonstrators during the APEC [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation] Summit in Vancouver 1997 determined was our civil right: to see and be seen by government leaders when we protest. They had gone beyond that, and tried to kill our movement (or at least, to wound it severely) by preventing people from even peacefully protesting in the city of Calgary itself. They went so far as to intimidate churches into not hosting homeless travellers, so as to prevent people from speaking to this gathering of terrorists being held over 100 kilometres away. They want to destroy the cohesion of our movement just as we are hitting a turning point. They know exactly what they are doing; we must know as well what is being done and how to respond. The fact that these leaders feel the need to retreat to the woods is a victory in and of itself, as is their fear of our message being heard. This kind of direct attack on our resistance to global capital must be met directly: proving and demonstrating our unity in their face, despite their threats, intimidation and blackmail. We must always be prepared to stand up for our brothers and sisters in the movement; we stand for a world that will be one, and we must reflect this thinking in our practice. As I believe Mao once wrote, A good comrade is one who is eager to go where the difficulties are greater. We have no business going out for “fun” or “tourism” when the vises of the capitalist state are clamping down on our collective heads. If you are truly concerned with building a revolution, you should be honoured to make the difficult tasks succeed. That means going into the situations where whatever skills you have are most urgently needed. Whatever my skills may actually be, that was the final reason I felt the necessity to go into Cowtown [Calgary].
Our responsibility not only to attend, but to try and get involved in the dirty, on-the-ground work of the demonstrations, the conferences, the running of the Convergence Centre (banished to the edge of the city, in the prostitute and industrial wasteland district, in a building marked for demolition in the near future) is a reflection of the international character of our movement. It was not “their” demos, which “we” attended; it is our movement. If Calgary were to suffer a great defeat at the hands of the Albertan fear mechanisms, or as a result of disunity among our ranks, then all of our anti-capitalist organising becomes weakened. We are as strong as the ties that bind us across the spectrum of states and regions. Our movement does have multiple front lines, and these include our homefronts, but this particular clash was a defining point of advance, stagnancy or retreat for us all. Once a major amount of work had been put into calling people out to the location of the summit and the nearby city centres, our future on the larger, global level hung in the balance.
I arrived back in Calgary, again hitchhiking to the city. I had been told of a CBC report that the Alberta police were gearing up to rape our constitutional rights to free movement: they were planning on stopping people at the border between the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. As luck would have it, when I finally got my ride that would take me across the provincial border, I was in the car of a staff sergeant from the New Westminster Police Department. I was safely ensconced in his car with a story about heading to Regina to visit a friend (whom I had warned about my cover story, and whose phone number I had memorised) and sit around writing poetry. Thus, I now knew that should such a blockade be set up, I would get through. As it was almost two weeks before the actual Summit was to begin, nothing of any note was there, other than the giant “Welcome to Alberta, Wild Rose Country” sign. One more quick ride later, and I was back in the same coffee shop where I had tracked down summit activists two weeks before. Only, now people seemed to be even more afraid, and there were not any posters up on the lampposts. Calgary media were asking people to report to the police any anti-G8 graffiti. They even set up a “volunteer squadron” of anti-graffiti citizens’ patrols. Even as the air was relatively clear, the sun out and the wind blowing, the atmosphere felt utterly suffocating. I made my way out to the university to try and link up with any activities that might be going on there. The organisers, it should be noted, did a horrible job of updating organisational announcements on their websites.
By the next afternoon I had stumbled across a couple of the good people in the city I had met previously. They alerted me to the logistics meeting going on, in a cafeteria where the noise and echo was more disruptive than even the “zamboni” clearing off the floors all around us. The meeting went well, being facilitated by a man named Charles from the Pagan Cluster (of Starhawk fame) already in Calgary. I asked what was actually to happen on the day of the summit itself, now being referred to as J26. I was told that there was a plan for three snake marches to leave from different meeting points across the outskirts of downtown, and that these snake marches were to disrupt traffic during rush hour, calling this a form of economic disruption.
My reading of the term economic disruption tells me that this is not a form of it, but that wasn’t my primary concern. It wasn’t clear what our strategy actually was. I couldn’t-try as I might-see the actual target. Simply causing chaos in the downtown core was not going to make a very clear point, even if our communiqués detailed the different corporate “targets” that were to be passed by on the march. Further, the march was organised under the banner of Quebec City and similar, much larger marches: “diversity of tactics,” which means respecting all forms of resistance. In our movement, in most cases at least, it is code for “on this march, people are not being asked to refrain from engaging in acts that can be construed as ‘violent’ by the police.” Such a choice, made when there were 6000 police from across the country (Ontario Provincial Police [OPP], Calgary and Albertan police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and when we had no idea how many people were going to show up, seemed to me to be begging for a massive defeat. It seemed that our organising might end in a sad satire of Seattle, this time ending in chaotic mass arrests.
I decided to try and work to help avert the disaster. The lack of a clearly defined strategy was even more disturbing than the lack of clarity as to tactics. If we had a target that was so obviously correct (such as that blasted Wall in Quebec City) that no matter what spin it was given our message would get through regardless, then our physical safety would be the only concern. As I said to some people there, I am personally fatalistic about my physical safety, but the health and advancement of our movement has the entire planet and all its inhabitants in the balance. We cannot afford to allow ego to cloud our judgements. People who had been working on this project for nearly a year had every reason to be tied to their original plans: They had put heart and soul into this work, and it was conceived by them. However, for the sake of any who might have emotional rather than rational reasons for wanting to try something reckless without proper consideration as to the effect on the morale of our movement, we needed to evaluate what was going on here. This is in no way a morality judgement (I personally am no pacifist); it is a practical consideration. Smashing a Starbucks window is not even on the same radar screen compared to what will befall our city centres when the movement of the working class to reclaim what is rightfully theirs begins in earnest. The question is one of practicality and what works to our collective advancement in “tearing the fortress down”-making sure we do whatever necessary to make that fateful eventuality come sooner, for we have no time to waste. Not a single day.
I had spoken directly with many different people involved in the plans, and there were as many different interpretations as there were people to talk to. As stated, there was no clearly defined target in Calgary, nothing other than the timing coinciding with the meeting some 100+ km away. Worse still, we had no idea how many people would actually come out to these snake marches. There was and remains no place in our movement for ego about trying to be every bit as militant as the demonstrators in other flanks of our movement. It appeared that the organisation of this particular demonstration was being done in a vacuum, without paying attention to reality on-the-ground. We had very good reason to suspect that our numbers for the snake marches were going to be in the hundreds, not the thousands. Labour had pulled out of the planning approximately a month before, citing safety concerns. Now, I am hardly the one to think we should ever bow before TUBs [Trade Union bureaucrats], who have long betrayed anti-capitalist efforts. However, this was not the same as in the other cases, not even close. In Calgary, the Trade Unions deserve the fullest marks at the end of all the organising.
In Quebec City, the smaller anti-capitalist marches were in the tens of thousands. The organisers took great pains to accommodate everyone, through the creation of “Red, Green and Yellow” zones. They were so clearly marked and set far apart from one another as to have been able to accommodate people who could not risk arrest or didn’t want to eat tear gas, but who still wanted to march under an anti-capitalist (and even anti-imperialist) banner. When the TUBs deliberately diverted their march and took their rank and file to a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, it was a grotesque paternalism being enforced on the rank and file. The leadership, being dragged by the force of history that was being created by the radicals in the forefront, could not risk having their own members wander amongst those who might have a more clearly defined critique of corporate globalisation, capitalism and imperialism than simply “working people and their families need a raise” and other such TUB blather. Worse still, these leaderships had a clear hostility to being associated in the press with the anti-capitalist leadership that has emerged in our movement. They would not assert that people have the right to take to the streets, that capital and militarism are the main problems of the day, that the FTAA was only a microcosm of the greater forces at work impoverishing us in the Global North and murdering us in the Global South. This amounts to more than a betrayal; it amounts to doing the work of the capitalists themselves in glossing over the glaring contradictions in this wretched system. When these TUBs follow our anti-capitalist leadership to a demonstration, it is because they have no other choice, and even within that situation they will resist to the bitter end the radicals who have a real critique of economic, gender and racial power. We don’t want more of the pie, we want to control the pie-cutter; we do not want special treatment for minorites, women and all sexual orientations; we want real freedom and diversity in equality.
Calgary was not a situation where accommodation of different risk levels could realistically be done, at least not very easily. The scenario planning committee had a meeting on June 20, right after an open letter was written by one Rick Collier (of the Communist Party of Canada) citing several concerns. Some concerns I could not agree with at all (such as his complaint that blocking traffic would disrupt the lives of ordinary workers), but most of what was in that widely circulated letter covered issues that were causing many of us to lose sleep. Being someone who has worked on projects for months at a time only to have some jackass wander in at the last minute to tell people what needed to be changed, I was very cautious, as were most people, about making my concerns loudly known. Rick’s letter, which he read out at the meeting, called for one march, to start not at 6 a.m. but at 9, and for people to give real new consideration to the numbers of people likely to attend, and to base their conduct (or at least, plans for it) on these considerations. Approximately 85% of the room stated similar points, my main one being the grave concern about how we did not appear to the outside to have a strategy. We seemed to the outside to have no other plan than to “fuck shit up.” That isn’t revolution; that’s a stunt, to be blunt. We needed a target. Several other people pointed out that almost no activism in Calgary ever takes place, and that to have a political disaster would irreparably harm an already almost dormant city, so militance should not take place at all. Although I don’t think that would be true if a militant action could have been direct, obvious and successful, it certainly would be if there had been a small but ultimately crushed action that served no purpose but to allow a few people to vent righteous anger.
The planning committee took these concerns very seriously, and held an emergency meeting the following morning. The commitment to inclusivity was very clear, as all meetings-both semi-closed scenario-planning meetings and larger, public (except to the media) spokescouncils-were run via consensus. Many people complained about the amount of the work being done behind closed doors, but I think these people should give it a rest in many cases. The action that finally took shape came from a proposal at the next night’s spokescouncil meeting, which was the first time I actually felt extremely elated after a 200 or so person assembly run via consensus. The enormity of the situation and the importance and gravity of keeping ourselves tight made for one of the most positive meetings I’ve ever participated in. The original time of 6 a.m. was kept according to plan, but there was to be only one march. Further, to allay concerns about personal safety of some who couldn’t physically fight cops, the organisers strongly urged that so-called “red” high risk actions be carried out only after 10 a.m. (the designated “official” end of the march). This was a great personal relief to me, as my mother-a retired schoolteacher who has radicalised herself in the last three-odd years-had already announced to me her intention to take part in the snake march. I did not want to be in the odd, uncomfortable position of asking her to stay away from the march. As I pointed out to a few of the people on the scenario planning committee, a 61-year-old woman with a bad back taking part in an illegal snake march is already far more radical than anything any of us young’uns could do. More on that later.
Sunday June 23 was the scheduled Labour-led march, the “Family March.” The permit was granted less than two weeks before the event took place. There isn’t much to report on about the actual event, other than it was spirited, and involved 3500-4000 people. Personally, since the unions had announced their willingness to march without a permit, I was upset that they received one; it would have been very good to see them take the lead in defying the attempts to crush our movement through attacks on our civil liberties. The atmosphere and the respect given from all the different strands of demonstrators to one another probably helped give labour the confidence to do what they did in response to the re-planning and re-working of the J26 snake march.
On the 23rd, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Calgary District and Labour Council, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) and around 40 steelworkers who flew out from Toronto (rather than go to Ottawa, because “Calgary needed the numbers”) endorsed the snake march and announced their intentions to bring out their members. Many other unionists made similar commitments, including the leadership of the Alberta Nurses. The gravity of what it would mean to all aspects of the social movements, should J26 go badly, seemed to mean to these unions that they could “risk” participation in the snake march. The CEP also donated $3000 to the legal team to help pay for the bail of four of our activist friends who had been arrested. Now, this was probably indicative of how small the event was in comparison to actions like Quebec City and how having a successful small march allowed people more room to wiggle in the province of Alberta, but the CEP, CAW and CLC contingents were acting in a principled solidarity fashion. There was almost no likelihood at this point of a physically confrontational march, and therein lies the main reason they came out; but to see co-operation between anti-capitalist organisers and the trade union movement was very positive and these TUBs deserve full marks on this day of solidarity. It also goes to show that if the anti-capitalists continue to take the lead in organising and persevering to create a movement with that front and centre, eventually the TUBs will have to follow. This remains our strategy in building an anti-capitalist movement that can include the organised working class: Radical anti-capitalists of all stripes must continue to create the space that ultimately the workers’ movement will have to move into, as the struggle becomes more acute. If leadership and planning of the movement is surrendered to TUBs, NGOs and social democrats, it will whither and die. If a grassroots movement organises and shows the way forward, TUBs belatedly will have to come on board.
People from all over the continent, albeit in small numbers, continued to arrive in Calgary between the time of the Labour “Family Walk” and the J26 action. On June 25, there was another demonstration that, whether deliberately or not, was to set the tone for the main J26 action. It was the “Showdown at the Hoe-down,” a mass gathering outside the site where (ostensibly) several of the G8 delegates were meeting the press and being “welcomed Calgary style,” in a sickly western-themed posh gala. People were to meet at Memorial Park and march a short distance to the outside of the Roundup Centre, where a street party was to be held. Some 2000 people showed up. We held the street adjacent to the Roundup Centre, and DJs set up a stage for dancing. A trampoline was set up, police presence was minimal, and I joked to the medic team that they would probably be needed at the trampoline before long. So things went, for well over an hour. Then a large contingent of the demonstrators decided they wanted to get closer to a line of police behind another one of those all-too-familiar fences that are being built up by capitalists to keep out the people. This involved walking down the street and into a parking lot, where people were hemmed inside by barriers. At first, people seemed quite content to be right at the fence, and Emma Goldman’s old refrain, “If I can’t dance in your revolution, I don’t wanna come!” was chanted over and over while people danced in front of the fence. Then began something I’m personally convinced was an operation by provocateurs. Two drunken idiots started yanking at the fence, yelling with all their passionate idiocy, the need to tear it down. Almost immediately, I spotted a group of around 20 or so Black Bloc-type anarchists make a snake-like link up of themselves and leave the area immediately, arm in arm. When these sorts-no strangers to physical conflict nor disposed to shirk it-decide to leave a situation, that tells me there is something really fishy going on. The tone and mood of the crowd shifted very fast and it became ominous as to what was actually going on.
My personal concern over what was happening took a few different turns. A group calling themselves “the anti-globalism action network” (a front for a neo-Nazi, White Nationalist organisation with connections to the now-dead William Pierce) had been making attempts to work inside the anti-globalisation movement. They had issued a communiqué in several places and cities and even passed themselves off as a “legitimate” group enough to get into the Calgary Sun. They had already been spotted at the G6B People’s Summit, trying to set up a table and hand out their trash. They had issued veiled threats to create violent conflicts and I was wondering if this was their “big move.” A lot of the people congregated there believed these were police. Since what happened would directly affect what we would be able to do in the snake march the following day, the task became to calm down this idiotic outburst and let people see what was happening: we were being set up. After much yelling, and a few people putting themselves in between the boneheads and the fence (the media jumped all over this), a friend got on the bullhorn and managed to get people back out onto the street where the street party was happening. End of mini-crisis; disaster averted. The party began to break up, and I went back to where I was staying to get up early (5 a.m., to be exact) and do “runner” work in the snake march. After returning home, the National Alliance issued a communiqué detailing the situation and alerting us that yes, these had been the White Nationalists. Our instincts had been correct yet again.
The final decisions as to how the J26 march was going to be organised and how communications were to be handled were made in primarily closed meetings. This, to a certain extent, made sense. However, from there what became clearer and clearer was that we are-at least in the pressure cooker of such a brutally repressive and surveillanced atmosphere-starting to cave into an internal culture of fear and paranoia. With the breaking up of the Black Panthers being only the most glaring and obvious example, we need to be far more concerned about this than I suspect we are. This is a disease that comes out of very real repression from above. With the new “anti-terror” bills in place in Canada, the United States and elsewhere, we must take this very seriously and have a look at how it played out in Calgary and quickly learn these lessons. If we do not, we might well end up suffocating under the new pressures we are being faced with. This is urgent.
What we need to know first, is something most of us already say we do. All of our organising is monitored, especially when it comes to challenging these large summits. Any decision we make is most likely known by the police in a matter of a few minutes after that choice is made. When we say we already know that, we need to operate openly. A situation erupted in one of the spokescouncil meetings where the plans for the J26 march were being detailed to the crowd. It went like this. Many people, including me, were concerned that the overwhelming police presence in the city was going to mean that no one was allowed out of our starting place. I thought for some time that we wouldn’t even get out of the park where we were set to begin, but that we would be initially surrounded and would not be allowed to move. The police had been issuing threats, the march looked small and at this point, there was not yet a labour contingent ready to call out their members to the march. “What was the contingency plan?” a woman asked. “We, for reasons of security, are unable to tell you that,” came the answer. The woman pressed that she didn’t feel safe being told that “something” was in place but that we couldn’t know what it was. The answer came back that, well, there is a contingency plan if the police surround us, but for reasons of security we can’t tell you. “we have a plan in place, we have worked to make this a safe march, but if you don’t trust us, maybe you shouldn’t come.” This brought boos and hisses Remember what was said at the beginning of this, that anything we plan the police know. Exact, absolute details were not called for here, but to absolutely deny people this information means:
A) the activists on the march will be confused and less likely to participate, and in any case ill-equipped to do so,
B) The only people who will know what is going on are the police and the small coterie of organisers,
C) We will achieve the job of dividing and confusing the march (or any similar event), without any help from the police. Who needs a plant when we break down our own communications ourselves, before we even take to the streets?
This is only one example of the sorts of action taken, ostensibly for security, that would be farcical if the matter were not so deadly serious. The police will always be able to listen in on radio communications, yet during the march people who spoke to our communications team were rebuffed. In one case when an organiser was explaining something to a participant, another organiser was chastising them for sharing information about what was going on. Also, several of the organisers took on “street names” during the different events. I’ve got news for people: When we organise things, particularly of this level of scrutiny, they already know who you are. This kind of behaviour again contributes to confusion during demonstrations and similar actions. We need to be open, honest, and communicative, and must simply assume what we are doing is well known. When we took to the streets in Calgary at everything except the “Family March,” we were already breaking the law. Yet we advertised our intentions to go to the streets. That, obviously, was the correct thing to do. We must disclose as much as we possibly can; if we don’t, it’s at our own peril, and not the other way around. They are the only ones who have anything to hide. If we say we know that, but act like we don’t, then we need to give this serious attention.
I had arranged to be picked up by a comrade so as to not walk alone to the snake march. Walking alone to an unsanctioned event is simply not a smart move; people who are seen as organisers get picked off and “detained” when they are alone. Avoiding paranoia is not an invitation to recklessness. My ride showed up a short time after 6 a.m. and we were at the march thereafter.
The snake march gathered in Fort Calgary and upon my arrival I noticed huge numbers of union banners, particularly the CEP and the CAW. Once I saw this, I knew the march would get out of the park. The police may attack and beat on “uncouth” protesters, but they are loath to be seen beating or gassing trade unionists. My anxiety dropped rapidly, and shortly after we “huddled up” to get our communications straight, the snake march began. Aside from a few hitches-being held up at several intersections and the like-there was never a time when the snake march was anything other than a loud, wandering band of activists, unionists, people marching simply because they had been told not to. There was another thing that had brought out a few people to this march in particular, a letter sent home by the Calgary School Board to all students in the public schools. It read:
If you see a demonstration, get out of the area immediately.
Do not stand and watch.
Do not engage any demonstrators in discussion or debate.
If you feel at any time that you are in trouble, approach an adult you can trust.
This letter infuriated large numbers of people. It was quite the opposite to encouraging youth to think critically, as the school system likes to pretend it is about. A few parents had come out because of this letter (an unexpected bonus). The language and conduct guidelines were (my guess is, deliberately) of the same chatter that is used for warning children about pedophiles and abductors. It sent a chill through me to see it printed in the Calgary Sun.
The march had, as previously stated, been organised under the banner of “diversity of tactics.” As well, there were large numbers of anarchists who had made the trek out to the summit and had things other than a walk through downtown on their minds. A large bloc, perhaps 50-75 of them, were marching under a banner (in black, of course) that read “against capital, against the state” with a circle @ under it. The fact that they respected the call for a relatively “peaceful” march through downtown until 10 a.m., even with their preferred cover of the large crowd and their own numbers being significant, was a sign to me of their growth. They put the interests of the march ahead of their own desires, and they also knew how to make a tactical choice not to engage police, who had not appeared in riot gear (something that also lightened people’s fears right from the start). When the march itself ended (shortly after Starhawk and the Pagan cluster had asked us to stop by City Hall so they could do a “spiral dance”) by the Harry Hayes building, a huge federal office building, the crowd was told where different safety levels had been laid out. At this point, cutting their losses, the Black Bloc-types marched around the city and several anarchists tried to engage the police in a game of “anarchist soccer” (the anarchists won by forfeit) in the streets. Two arrests occurred later when the group tried to rush and occupy a McDonald’s restaurant, which was a very mild (although foolhardy) result of the end of the J26 snake march and associated actions.
There was a “Die-in” action that started at noon. The idea was to get people to the Olympic Plaza downtown to “die,” lying down and remaining perfectly still for half an hour to demonstrate and highlight the number of people dying of AIDS for lack of care and funds throughout Africa. It was also to highlight the total hypocrisy of the NEPAD initiative, which speaks in favour of “helping” Africa but didn’t even make the AIDS crisis an agenda item at their talks, much less have any real way to address the issues. As African speakers at the end of the labour march pointed out, Africa owes no one, Africa is owed-owed for colonialism, owed for slavery, owed for the AIDS epidemic and the IMF “restructuring” programs that have exacerbated absolute poverty and furthered landlessness and starvation. This is the real African debt, owed by imperialism, yet at the end of the summit African (mis)leaders were given even less than the pittance being discussed in the lead-up to the summit itself inside the K-Country fortress. The “Die-in” was to raise these issues, and participation meant lying in the sun on a day when record heat prevailed (36° C).
After this, my friend and I were exhausted. But the day was not really even half over. The previous day, an “action” called the “People’s Picnic” had been sanctioned, though a few days before, mayor “Bronco” was actually threatening a labour-sponsored event with mass arrests for eating in a park. The rhetoric coming out of officialdom really took the cake so many times. but I digress. Arriving at the picnic hot, exhausted (being a runner at a march meant that I had personally covered the ground of approximately 18 snake marches), hungry and badly sunburnt, my friend and I got in the line-up for food. It was clearly a labour event, as there was far more meat-based fare than if it had been done by the activists, who are more and more seeing a need for a vegetarian lifestyle. A veggie-burger later, I was trying to find my mother to discuss the day’s events.
I arrived in Calgary about a week before my mother, and by the time she arrived in town I had already inserted myself as much as possible into the organising being done by the different anti- capitalist collectives and organisations. So, when my mom arrived, I asked her to come to the convergence centre where people were arriving, planning and congregating for most of the day. It was an extreme pleasure for me to “show her off” to the comrades there who had already become friends. As I introduced her to as many people as I could, I began to realise the importance even more strongly of our movement making cross-generational links. People I introduced her to mentioned to me I was lucky to have that; that my mother being willing to make an eight-hour drive was “really fucking cool” (she overheard that comment, and retorted “That’s all right, I am really fucking cool!”). Our movement runs a real danger of falling into a trap similar to what took place throughout the ’60s: being looked at as a “youth” phenomenon. We don’t have the “baby boom” dynamic of numbers, but we still need to make sure this does not befall us. People who may be physically weaker are often far stronger in spirit; I heard my mother say to me at the end of all of the week’s events how she now felt, in heart and not just in her mind, a part of something bigger than herself. She also said that she was now thinking in terms of “we,” not “I.” This was a highlight for me on a personal level; I wish I could share it with every one of my counterparts. At the end, she bought me a beer and toasted the revolution (which I’ll admit, made me squirm: this is still my mother, no matter how old I get). Having her take part in these demonstrations and doing so not at all because I asked her to (she informed me that she was going quite matter of factly, almost as if to say “try and stop me”) was a microcosm of the kind of outreach our movement must undertake, without delay. Apparently, after I introduced her around, for the rest of the week many 20- and 30- somethings kept calling her “mom.” The matriarch of the revolution? Perhaps.
I never found my mother at the People’s Picnic, but I had to leave fairly quickly: a final event, organised as a symbolic one by two comrades from the Toronto chapter of the International Socialists, was about to get underway. The idea had been put forward and organised earlier in the week to go on a caravan out to Kananaskis, and drive in as far as possible before being turned around by the military. The military of Canada had been positioned in K-Country, with the right to shoot to kill and nearly three times as many troops as in the entire Afghan operation of the “War on Terror”. They had anti-aircraft guns across the mountainside. There were 22 checkpoints along the highway and many more RCMP officers. Each checkpoint had another breathtakingly large fence-like wall. The operation to put radio collars on bears to avoid seeing them get shot (mistaken for “protesters,” no doubt) ended up killing two grizzlies. One would hope that the outrage expressed by some over this would have been as high if they had shot G8 dissenters. At any rate, the security operation was a massive, unprecedented violation of our civil rights. People didn’t want to leave this unchallenged. The caravan was planned, and 30 vehicles, containing under 100 people, had signed up to make the hour-long drive from Calgary in a convoy, going at 80 kph, driving the entire way with the hazard lights of each vehicle on, so as to be able to identify one another. No one, it was agreed at the planning meetings, was to be planning to even get themselves symbolically arrested trying to breach a part of the perimeter. This was to be a no-risk event.
Things have a funny way of changing. When the caravan got under way, I saw something that is always a beautiful sight. Mass spontaneity. The caravan touched a nerve in many people’s hearts, and when the announcement at the People’s Picnic was made that it was about to leave, the buzz spread quickly and soon there were over 100 cars driving down the highway. The police sent an escort due to the amount of congestion (and, no doubt, to watch for “terrorists”). These cars contained over 400 people, perhaps as many as 500. We arrived there in over an hour and a half, though the drive shouldn’t take so long. Our police escort took us down to only 60 clicks. People are not willing to be shut out of these meetings, people are not willing to lie down for the state when they tell us to go home, and people are not interested in being told they don’t have rights. The reason for so much interest in this action was clear: Anger. How dare they try to keep us out of our public spaces? How dare they protect terrorists with fences from hippies with dances? That kind of anger turned the small publicity stunt into a mass gathering, a people’s movement. The organisers, who should be commended beyond the heights of the mountains surrounding the Kananaskis Valley for pulling together the action itself, never understood the shift in character. Or, if they did, they did not like it and were trying to rein in the aspirations of the people-something intolerable when the majority make a feeling clear.
The feeling in this crowd was simple: we are now “negotiating” with the police to get to the first checkpoint. From there, we want to try our luck at getting to the second one. Well, after an hour and a half in the baking heat, we got to the first checkpoint. As soon as the convoy stopped, people poured out of their cars and massed in front of the fence. It was about 30 feet high, and it stretched into the edge of the mountain face. There was a line of police in front of this barricade, all on bicycles, even with some guarding the ditches around the edge. There were 22 checkpoints, and one assumes they all looked like this. With the people in the streets to discuss what to do next, several police cars pulled up behind the several hundred people gathered around, listening to Starhawk and Gordon Christie (among others) tell us our options and try to facilitate a deeply divided crowd. The organisers reminded us of the original plan for zero-conflict, but to Hell with that, many of us thought: we are trying to meet and see the leaders making decisions that affect billions of people. We want to press on, and the cop cars are now a negotiating tactic-they get through if we do. Personally, thinking of the fact that there were over 20 more checkpoints like this one to get through, I wasn’t too hopeful at the tactics being discussed here. Nonetheless, the crowd’s determination was far more important than the aspirations of the few who wanted the whole project abandoned. Then, when Starhawk was asking the crowd if we should let the cop cars through, the call came out “They are not cops, they are delegates!” and a buzz went through me I hadn’t felt in many months. That buzz was power. We had, so it seemed, functionaries from Japan and the United States (of all places) blocked and unable to get through. Maybe, just maybe, we can stop these murderers from carrying out their meetings without a hitch. What a drug that feeling is, the simple power of having control over them. There is not much like it I have ever tasted. It was the first time I had felt that rush since the FTAA summit; there had been nothing like that in Calgary.
As quickly as the feeling came on, it was gone. Before we could decide whether to try to hold them in, they backed up and went out to the Highway One, where they would have undoubtedly gone down one of the back roads into K-Country. Just like that, the action had gone from stunt to movement, to militant action, back down all the way to stunt. At this point, the debates on the ground seemed lifeless and our caravan vehicle decided to round our people up and head back to Cowtown. What almost happened there reminded me in my gut of what had not happened in Calgary: we were never a threat of any sort. Not politically, not physically, not with our voices. This was our greatest loss.
In many ways, simply getting through all the actions in Calgary without a massive defeat on the ground was a victory, but only a small one, and one primarily for the local activists. If I lived in Calgary, this would now look like a new dawn. But it isn’t that clear for the rest of us.
What I hope has happened is that we are saying good-bye to something we can never forget, and only give the greatest of thanks to: summit-hopping as an overarching strategy. We cannot continue in this fashion or we will perish and disappear from the horizon, something we simply cannot afford to do. In Europe, the people’s awakening continues unabated, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets on a regular basis. There are many reasons for this, but we cannot afford to get left behind. We need to leave this strategy in the dustbin of history, as surely as we intend to with their whole imperialist system. We face this fork in our road to the New World. We cannot pronounce the grand victory to make it true. This new reality can hopefully, given time and work, give new life to our entire movement, provided that the end of summit-hopping (as our main strategy, not to ignore it completely) gives us the spark to rethink where we are going.
What was the purpose of summit-hopping? Does shutting down meetings or ripping down fences help slow the advance of corporate globalisation? No more than smashing a Starbucks window actually helps create better working conditions in Guatemalan coffee plantations. What has been the point is that it allowed people to see they are not alone, that there are people willing to risk their very lives to oppose the current system, and that these same people have no recourse but to take to the streets and challenge power wherever there is a possibility that we can be seen and heard. The point has been to be heard by other people, to get them thinking outside of the box, the sandbox of the playground we are all banished to in these “democracies.” When people shut down the WTO in Seattle, we alerted the world that there would be no more business as usual for the leaders who put maximum profits ahead of the lives of children in every city, country and continent of the globe.
Summits have also been places where nearly the entire spectrum of issues that victimise all the inhabitants of the planet and the very planet itself are discussed. They provided the absolutely perfect place and forum for the coming together of activists from the multitude of issues to network and make the larger links in their own thinking. It also was a place where the symbols we were challenging represented the supra-state level of our current late capitalist era: the fact that decisions no longer are made at the level of a particular national state. Corporate power has gone far beyond the sovereignty of any particular state, even to a limited extent, the US. So has the response to these manoeuvres in the form of our “anti-globalisation” movement.
Summits have now been driven by our increasing strength, both militant and with ideas, into nowhere: not just into K-Country, but indeed into sometimes cancelling face-to-face meetings altogether, going online for their discussions instead. As this happens, we will become disoriented if we do not foment an idea that can move us to the next level. We cannot surrender the initiative. In fact, in order to get back ahead of the elites who run the world, we need to stop being merely reactive. We cannot simply sit on our hands and wait until they call another summit in a location where we might possibly be able to have a convergence. Yes, it is great news that so many people decided to stay home and work on their own local struggles this time around, but the simple fact is that there are many other reasons why we had such a low turnout in the actions in Calgary and, subsequently, in Ottawa. One of those is simple: repression works. This is a movement that has not come to terms entirely with our new situation on the ground, and people were scared off by the repressive measures, particularly in Alberta. This should not be condemned; everyone has their own safety levels, and these must be respected. However, when people lose the sense that something in front of them is self-evidently the correct choice, then we are not going to win their allegiance in getting them to the “red zones,” or even to cities that are under an unofficial form of martial law.
We also have yet to clearly put forward what it is we are for. My suggestion to many people is that they come out and see the planning and organising that goes into these convergences. Many of our people have made clearly defined choices to live in the now as they want to see the world organised “after”. But to “blueprint” too many of our ideas for that better world would be to make false promises. The starting point is that no real democracy can exist without economic equality. Anything else is inevitably hollow, and that is why we are the only real speakers for democracy. With every new law passed against dissent, the truth of this becomes self-evident almost to the point of parody.
The best thing to come out of the Summit in Alberta was the anti-G8 action held simultaneously in Ottawa, called “Take the Capital.” Their numbers were around 5000 for a militant action under the banner of “diversity of tactics” and the program of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. This was a massive step forward, because it represented an evolution from one giant demonstration that everyone is supposed to attend, to a movement that thinks of itself in regional terms. In North America, unlike in Europe, it is simply too difficult for all the fighters for a just world to converge on one city. Also, as we move toward taking our global analysis into our grassroots organising, we need to find ways to maintain our international character. In many ways, that there were large, simultaneous demonstrations coinciding with the K-country summit shows the way forward: neither retreating nor simply continuing, like radical lemmings, to follow the summits.
We all know we can’t allow the ruling class to determine what our rights are; even less can we afford letting them tell us when, where, and against what we need to act. The anti-globalisation movement must meet the contradictory glare of the local and the global head on. We will find a synthesis or else we will be nothing but another blip on history. However, remember the words of Bertolt Brecht: “In the contradiction lies the hope”.
The only thing I regret was that one of the best voices of our movement, David Rovics, was stopped at the border and unable to perform at the concert on the night of J26. So, to honour his being put on the dangerous list, I close with a line from his “Shut Them Down” about our anti-corporate-globalisation selves:
And we will build a new world
Without the corporate elite
And we will see the day
Of their international defeat
We’ll have self-determination
And equality for all
For what choice do we really have
But to rise up and see them fall
We have absolutely no choice at all. And yet it is a beautiful one, just the same. As the anti-corporate-globalisation movement continues to come in contact with the anti-war movement, anything can happen. All empires end in ashes, tear gas and a hail of false promises. Those who speak to something new as a new set of values have never needed to speak more loudly, and the whole world seems to be listening.
1. The ISM can be looked up at http://www.palsolidarity.org
2. See my discussion of the Quebec City demonstration in S&D #30 (Fall 2001)
The Kananaskis resort in Alberta, Canada, was the site of the June 2002 G8 Conference; their previous meeting was in July 2001 in Genoa.