A critique of G20 protests in Toronto
I followed the G20 protest week last year with a mixture of admiration and disappoint. What I admired was the conviction and sincerity of some of the protesters, but at the same time I was deeply disappointed by the half measures and lack of conviction in the majority, not to mention the lack of strategic approach and tactics in the part of organizers. G20 protests in Toronto became a halfhearted attempt at a fight but some sort of a fight, not a fully engaged fight or a complete peaceful protest but some sort of a half fight. A kind of opportunistic mob mentality approach to the protest, which was in fact the direct result of subsequent police crackdown. had the protesters engaged in a proper fight and stood their ground, the police would have never acted so strongly against them, and had they stuck to a complete peaceful protest, well, it would have all ended peacefully.
I had attended many protests in Toronto in the past, probably the most effective from a strategic and activist point of view was the Tamil protests. The worst were the pretentious and lame Kinsington-market-crowd inspired ones with music, dancing girls and all that nonsense (a sort of bourgeoisie corruption of political activism that is not only useless but counter productive). The Tamil protests were effective because not only they had grabbed everyone's attention but also managed to force the police into changing their tactics. Police realized they could no longer use heavy handed techniques with them so in the end had to let them continue on and stand on the sidelines. Had those Tamil protests been about a local issue it would have succeed. It had momentum, emotional force and activists who were not afraid. The Kensington-market-crowd protests on the other hand are farcical because while they pretend to push a political agenda, they're simply entertaining themselves and the public and the police. Its like they're protesting but not really because we're having fun - playing the part of protesters but actually not protesting.
What happened during G20 was the coming together of those who wanted a Tamil approach and those who wanted the Kensington-market approach. The former were there to make a strong statement and actually protest the later were there to have fun and protest on the side. When the former finally confronted the police at Queen & John intersection, they were surprised how brutally police responded. Then as the protest continued west on queen street these protesters turned back and what followed was the cars burned at King and Bay, windows broken etc. This so called radical element made their point and then disappeared because they were a very small group and it was clear that the rest of the protesters did not wanted anything to do with them. But there were still large crowds of mostly those who were there to have fun and these ones felt they must do something destructive as well, because for one there was not a single cop in sight other than those riot police blocking intersections. What followed was opportunistic mob mentality violence. Some sort of fight and not really a fight, half riot half protest half street party and half vandalism. The emboldened types who were there for fun could now add a bit of violence to the mix to make themselves feel better.
Later on the day a group of local bicycle police were surrounded in front of Steve's Music, it was a really sad scene because these were the local city police who had been part of the community, in shorts and bicycle helmets, they were mocked, jeered and threatened, water bottles and stuff were thrown at them and drunkards were hurling abuse at them. Then the same mob burned those two police cruisers in front of Steve Music... This was the beginning of the end because police were forced to make a show of force in order to regain their authority. But what happened was the same half-fighter-half-protesters when it came to police retaliation turned into meed peaceful protesters and did not stand their ground; by now emboldened police with a mandate "to do something" was not going to have any of that and what followed is history.
The G20 protests were a complete and utter failure of Toronto political activists and a revelation of their inherent flawed strategies and approach to political activism. With their half measures, half attempts and half ass activism they not only bungled a great opportunity to unite and engage in a protest that actually awakened the people to some of the issues at hand, what they ended up with was humiliation at the hand of police, loss of public support and subsequent persecution.
Had they united and actually attempted to make a powerful protest such as the Tamils with unrelenting push for objectives, perseverance in the face of police obstruction and in this case the march toward the fence with peaceful means of course, simply with powerful push of the crowd, things would have been different. Instead the result was a travesty and a setback that will be very difficult to overcome by Toronto activists.
I attended the anniversary of G20 at queens park last week and as usual there were more people with cameras playing the photojournalists than actual protesters. There were very few people and unfortunately there was music which meant Kensington-market-effect had not disappeared. I asked one of the organizers if there will be a march or just this lame rally at the lawn of Queens park, at first he was unsure but then replied that no there won't be a march, yet at the same time he seemed taken aback as if I was either a police informant or actually had given him an idea for the march, but I don't know and I don't care. The fact is that later on there was a march of sorts but I had already left by then.
So what is the conclusion, well, the Toronto political activists have two options, carry on with the clownish and impotent protests and divided similar agenda amongst many groups or unite, change strategy/tactics, get serious and actually protest (peacefully) in order to push a progressive agenda, or continue on with the ineffective and failed approach of the past... The election of Ford in office has shown that people in Toronto have lost their faith in progressive left and have begun to lean right hoping things will change, but Ford with his moronic handling of the pride issue has given the initiative back to the activists in Toronto, how they're going to exploit that is not something that I'm really optimistic about, although I have not completely written off the political activists of Toronto.