A year ago today, I was at the first protest of the anti-G20 mobilizations in Toronto. We had decided to travel in pairs, and so I paired up with an organizer from Guelph whom I knew distantly. Lets call her B., and as many have suggested since, she was probably an OPP officer who had infiltrated activist organizations in Ontario for the previous two years, as part of a multi-million dollar police campaign against social justice. See Tim Groves' recent article in Briarpatch on infiltration here.
Following the demonstration, we went to lunch up the street, and over drinks B. and I talked about the police fear-mongering that had gone on in the past few months. We wondered whether that would dramatically reduce the number of people on the streets in the week to come. I recall B. saying that despite the police media spin (remember the talk about the sound cannons, the special laws, the constant talk about the violence to come), people knew that the decisions made at these meetings would impact their lives and they would resist it.
Now, I am not one to believe much in police intelligence, so I think that B. must have learned this in her two years in activist circles. She is right -- when people find out that their lives and well being are threatened, they fight back.
At the G20 summit in Toronto, the politrickers of the 20 largest economies, and their corporate blood-sucking chums, declared an 'age of austerity.' In other words, more tax breaks for corporations, more cuts to public services and unions, and increased funding for war, jails and cops.
In Canada, the Harper regime is following the model to a tee. The Conservatives insist that Canada was unaffected by the recession, lower corporate tax rates to 15 per cent (corporate tax in the United States is 35 per cent) and increase spending on cops, borders and the military which must make B. and her friends really happy. At the same time, we are told, we need to make savings and so public services for migrants and poor people and environmental protection agencies should be cut. This is a contortionist act that would put Daniel Browning Smith (aka Rubber Boy) to shame.
Closer to home, Rob Ford took over the reins of a city that wasn't in financial crisis. But why let facts get in the way of a great plan? So, Ford cut the $60 vehicle registration fee, froze property tax rates below inflation, cut property taxes for big businesses, gave the police an 11.5 per cent salary raise ($260 million over four years) and voila! we now have a $800 million dollar deficit.
Next comes the spin-doctoring. Reviews and consultations have been set up, an online survey just ended, deputations are invited for the end of July, the Executive Committee (a.k.a. Ford's cabinet) meets on September 19, and everything will be voted on by 'our representatives' (i.e. city hall) on September 26 and 27. All this is aimed at creating the myth of a public mandate for cuts to child care, housing, public transit, community services, shelters, arts, environmental protection and more.
Some people might say, as they did during the G20, this is all a done deal, the cuts are going to happen at all levels, so might as well do nothing. "People should just stay at home." But who were these people then? Bill Blair, Julian Fantino, Alphonse MacNeil, B.'s friends and handlers that ran amok.
A new network of grassroots groups called the Toronto Stop the Cuts Network believes otherwise. A network of people that actually organize on the streets have decided to mobilize across Toronto to defend services, believing (like B.) that people will mobilize to stop things that directly affect them. Their plan goes something like this.*
1. A People's Poll: In Parkdale, in the downtown east, in Riverdale and Leslieville, in Scarborough, and in Jane Finch, organizers and community members are hitting the streets, knocking on doors, and going to city-funded agencies with a short poll that educates people about the cuts, gathers contact information of people troubled by these changes and compiles information on how people really feel the city should run. An online version can be found at http://bit.ly/TorontoPeoplesPoll. Community members in all other parts of the city are being invited to do the same.
2. Community meetings: Using the information collected through the People's Poll and long-established relations in the community, organizations are calling meetings in their neighbourhoods to determine local sites that people are willing to mobilize around, and develop campaigns accordingly. This creates a place for poor and racialized people to organize together to fight the cuts.
3. Countering the spin: Videos are being produced to showcase the contradictions within the current Ford plan.
4. Going to City Hall: There are going to be special city committee meetings from July 18 to 21, and July 25 - 28. Many of these community organizations will go to these meetings, to state clearly, that they will not allow these cuts to take place.
5. Preparing for the cuts: Knowing that some of these cuts will come, organizing will accelerate to figure out ways to support our communities. It's expected that when faced with major service cuts, 'I won't pay' type movements and occupation of public services will emerge organically, setting the tone for the battle ahead.
6. A people's vision: In early September, all the community organizations, and people who have been polled will meet in Toronto. At this meeting, a people's vision for Toronto based on conversations, long-term organizing and information collected through the People's Poll will be declared. In the coming age of austerity such mass meetings will become an extremely important tool to fight against politicians bent on making our lives miserable.
7. Public mobilizations: If the September 19 Executive Committee meeting does not meet the demands laid out in the people's vision, communities in Toronto will have no choice but to take to the streets to defend their jobs and essential services.
8. Long-term alternative: With Stephen Harper having won a majority, the NDP falling over itself to 'work with the Tories', Rob Ford and his lies getting him the mayoralty, and McGuinty and Hudak both following the age of austerity agenda -- it is obvious that undocumented, migrant, poor, working class and racialized communities cannot find justice within electoral processes. The Toronto Stop the Cuts Network is working to build a city-wide movement made up of people that are willing and able to fight for long-term change.
Here are the contacts for existing groups in the city, but feel free to start your own. Parkdale (firstname.lastname@example.org), Dundas-Sherbourne (email@example.com), Jane and Finch (firstname.lastname@example.org), Scarborough (email@example.com), Riverdale and Leslieville (firstname.lastname@example.org).
* I will not be organizing, assisting in organizing or participating in public demonstrations.
See part 2 of the video below, here.