The aftermath of a peaceful protest

I was locked inside College Park for an hour this afternoon after rioters smashed the windows there.  There were about 200 frustrated and fearful people with me, including some cranky children and a tearful young teen who just wanted to get home.  What the perpetrators accomplished was to anger a lot of people and justify the massive police presence that until this point had just seemed like an embarrassing exaggeration.

Earlier in the day I had marched with many thousand peaceful protesters who braved the rain to participate in the “family friendly” protest beginning at Queen’s Park, though to be honest there were few people who trusted the phrase “family friendly” enough to actually bring their children.  We passed many police lines where rally crew encouraged marchers to just walk on by, and pretty much all did.

Yesterday, Naomi Klein said it was ridiculous to have 16,000 police to protect 20 leaders when 180 leaders regularly meet at the UN, which has an annual operating budget lower than the security bill for a couple of days of meetings here.  And she asserted that the purpose of all this security is not the safety of the public nor of the leaders barricaded inside.  It is to shield the leaders who are subverting the democratic principle of public lawmaking from any scrutiny or disturbance.  She is right.

It’s clear that the G-20 leaders were completely sheltered and oblivious to the commotion, both peaceful and otherwise, just as they have been to other protests in all G-8 and G-20 meetings since Seattle.  And since a lot of the protest is about the anti-democratic and secretive nature of these meetings, it’s easy to imagine how frustration that this message is so easily ignored can drive people to more desperate action.

Still, there has to be some sense of purpose to any protest.  If we want to highlight the problem of the illegitimacy of the G-20, or if we simply want to demand either participation or at the very least an audience or a few witnesses, wanton destruction accomplishes the opposite.  It convinces the majority of the public that the police presence is necessary after all, that maybe all that money really was not better spent on health or renewable energy or climate debt.

If people are eager to take more risks to make the G-20 leaders stand up and listen, we need a Gandhi who will lead fearless people through the barricades, through tear gas, through rubber bullets and water cannon if necessary, expecting to fail but knowing there are ten behind him, and ten behind each of them, and that jails will be filled but still people will demand to hear and be heard.  We need to send the message that all the police in the world cannot stop a world of people demanding a voice at the table.  And just to make it completely apparent just how unthreatening and friendly the motion is, the people storming the barricades should proceed calmly and methodically one by one, carrying flowers or bright balloons with smiling faces on them.  Smashing storefronts inspires anger, not the hope we so desperately need.

One response to “The aftermath of a peaceful protest”

  1. Kristen Corvers writes:

    I love this. And you. I really hope you win a seat someday.

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