High school was a heady time for me. For the first time, I was out of a Catholic environment, I had friends of a variety of backgrounds, I was kissing girl and studying science. And I was reading Common Dreams every chance I got.
Having grown up on The Toronto Star (centre-left and a bit wanting in international news), reading Common Dreams was just as much a part of becoming an adult as calculus and hormones. Though I read about the cloistered meetings of the World Economic Forum in the Star, it was Common Dreams that introduced me to its more open alternative, the World Social Forum.
It was, and is, an exciting idea: activists and thinkers dedicated to a world of justice and democracy meeting in a city in Brazil that was trying to live the idea. I’ve tried to live that idea too (my only real credit, beyond eating local/fair trade when I can, is my total use of Free/Open Source Software for my work. Please give Ubuntu a try!) because I believed in that WSF slogan – Another World is Possible!.
I think that’s why I’ve been haunted by that burning police cruiser. The fire doesn’t bother me as much as the writing scrawled in green, because it makes me ask: just what is this other world? Is it acceptable to destroy community property there? Are our possible worlds limited to those in which violence is an excusable response to those who are disagreeable?
What violence, what excuses? Well, let’s start with that one – it’s not that serious because it was just property. Ignore for the moment that there were people in some of those properties. If smashing store windows doesn’t sound like violence, imagine they were windows to abortion clinics, gay bars, newspaper offices, or constituency offices. The violence is not just in breaking windows, but in making the city feel unsafe.
Then the excuse that makes the thought exercise necessary – the attacks were targeted at mega-corporations that do harm, and can afford to make repairs. I doubt the Bay/College medical offices and the TTC are part of a vast global-corporatist conspiracy to enslave the people, but if they are they’ve certainly learnt their lesson. But how does that hold up as an excuse? Can a better world only rise up after Tim’s, Bell, and Swiss Chalet have been annihilated?
Finally, it’s important to say that these are the acts of a tiny, violent minority, which is true. But I’ve read on Facebook more times than I care to remember that the media should be writing on the issues raised instead, or that this isn’t really reprehensible because it’s targeted at evil corporations, and the police ‘planted’ their cars to be burnt.
On Saturday, I tried to stop a couple of guys who were doodling on parked streetcars with their markers. They had already been spray painted and scratched so it was really a moot point, but I love my city and my transit system, and I wasn’t about to stand by while a streetcar was defaced. I ask them to stop, with a reminder that the clean up cost would be borne by the riders. One said, “I ride the streetcar too. I just don’t pay for it,” and they left.
I don’t know if these people had broken any windows or destroyed any police cars, but it feels to me that they come from the same place. Apathy, incivility, self-righteousness, the kinds of attitudes that eat society away. That’s always going to be a story, and that can’t be the foundation for a world built on community. There were thousands of people this weekend trying to make legitimate points, or at least earnestly trying to make the world a better place to live. Talk about them, but spare a sentence to condemn the violence. Another world is possible.
I should have written this on Saturday night, after I got home. I’d spent the entire day walking the streets, and I was unreservedly impressed with the professionalism of the police who didn’t lose their cool. I think some of those present found that frustrating because they took to chanting “We are peaceful; how ’bout you?” to the lines of cops bracketing smashed police cruisers, in which there was apparently still an officer. Even while I was eating dinner, it was reported that the police hadn’t used tear-gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, or the water and sound cannons.
I was on the phone when I heard that pepper spray had been used against a protest at Queen’s Park, and mounted police had charged in. Later that night, I read Steve Paikin’s report that the police had arrested every person at a protest, and had beaten a reporter. The next morning, I read of more mass arrests at a protest outside the detention centre on Eastern Ave. Then heavy police presence at a Critical Mass ride far from the summit, and at a pray-in much further in the core. And then the four hour non-arrest at Queen and Spadina. Then, as people were released from detention, word of the poor conditions there.
Had I written this on Saturday, it would be an uncomplicated story. But maybe it still is. The actions of the police cannot be excused because few people were seriously hurt – the indiscriminate and unnecessary use of force makes the city feel unsafe and unjust. Nor can they be excused because they were targeted at radicals – they clearly were not, and even if they were, it is not criminal to be radical. Nor can they be excused because they were the actions of a minority of officers (hopefully acting off their own anxieties, and not orders from above). Violence is wrong no matter who perpetrates it. This weekend, it seems, nobody’s reasons were as good as they’d like to think.