Democracy in Action: Day One

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Five thousand people marched through the streets of Calgary on Sunday to voice their opposition to the G8 agenda. The “solidarity march” marked the beginning of a week of protests in Calgary. Later this week, the leaders of the G8 countries will gather in Kananaskis, a few hours outside of Calgary.

In the lively and determined march, contingents from many elements of the social justice movement were visible. Leading the march was Greenpeace’s solar-powered truck, providing a juicy sound system to make sure protesters’ messages were heard loud and clear.

Radical cheerleaders belted out their now famous chants. “We deserve what we need! Not table scraps from corporate greed!” Cyclists who had travelled as a “Bike Brigade” from Saskatchewan called for Canada to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Raging Grannies sung, and the few African activists who were granted visas to come to Canada criticized the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) because it prescribes more of the same bad economic policy that has kept much of the continent impoverished.

The Disability Action Coalition of Calgary pointed out that the economic policies of the G8 have widened the gap between the rich and the poor. They emphasized that, in the North, most people with disabilities live in poverty. They participated in Sunday’s march as an act of solidarity with poor people around the world whose right to a decent standard of living is undermined by the policies of the G8.

Marchers had a good understanding of the concrete ways in which the decisions made by Prime Minister Chrétien and his globalizing cronies directly impact people’s daily lives. And while activists are happy with the success of the action, they have grave concerns about the lengths to which the government of Canada has gone to stifle dissent and criticism.

Like the $300,000 they gave to the Stony Nation for “security costs.” (Activists had been in negotiations with the First Nation regarding leasing land for an activist camp to feature workshops and music.) Or the fact that 58 of the 60 delegates who were invited to the Group of Six Billion (G6B) People’s Summit were reportedly denied visas to enter Canada. Or the refusal of the City of Calgary to grant permits to activists wishing to put on concerts, teach-ins and picnics. Not to mention the “left-leaning” journalists who were denied media accreditation.

Canada claims to be democracy’s greatest defender on the global stage. And, indeed, the G8 claims one of its primary goals is to promote democracy. But here in Canada, protesters’ freedom to peacefully assemble and freedom of expression is under attack.

Despite the government’s best efforts to scare protesters away, activists’ resolve and determination has remained strong. Just watch them.

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