The August 23 feast and march organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) and its supporters was as much a chance to feed the poor as it was a statement that the poor need to be fed. That's something not usually included in the political chatter of Yorkville, a hippie haven during the 1960s and now a shopping mecca and playground for the well-to-do.
Before the feast and march, Brian Burch, editor of Resources for Radicals, wrote, This promises to be an effective and exciting protest. Symbolically, it is one of the more imaginative in recent times. With members of the First Nations acting as hosts to a feast for the hungry held in the midst of plenty, we are presented with a different model of society not one based on greed, profit and privilege, but one based on sharing and mutuality.
But even before the first plastic fork was raised, the political debate around the feast was raging.
A Public Service Announcement by the Boys in Blue
A police news release on August 21 noted that although the Toronto Police Service Board respects the Rights and Freedoms of individuals to a lawful protest, it also assured business owners, shoppers, tourists and visitors to our city that all the necessary resources will be available to deal with any impropriety caused by members of OCAP and any criminal acts will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
The press release went on to say, It is unfortunate that OCAP has chosen to demonstrate during this difficult time in the City of Toronto. The City of Toronto has been recovering following economic hardships caused by the effects of SARS, West Nile Virus and the current power outage emergency declared by the province.
Mike Desroches, an OCAP organizer, called the press release, a naked attempt to frame the demo in a negative light. The wording specifically refers to tourists and shoppers and business owners, which gives a good indication to where the police's interests lay. You would never see the police putting out a press release referring to two hundred evictions and calling that unfortunate, he said.
OCAP said it chose Yorkville as the location for the feast because of its reputation as a bastion of privilege and wealth and because of the clientele it attracts.
People began to gather at Cumberland Park as early as 6:30 p.m. in anticipation of the 7:00 p.m. feast. The police contained the crowd to the small square. Yorkvillers and bystanders generally stayed on their own side of the street.
Inside the park, the mood was very different. I feel like I'm in Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood used to feed the poor, said Mughir Al-Hindi from the Al Awda Coalition.
At Dimmi's Bistro across the street from the square, a modest place by Yorkville standards, diners could first enjoy an Anti-pasto di mare (assorted seafood salad on a bed of organic pea sprouts) for $11.95 before moving on to the main course, a roasted chicken breast (with assorted vegetables and roasted potatoes) for $13.95.
The crowd, a mix of anti-poverty regulars and people from downtown communities, instead feasted on venison (courtesy of the Mohawk nation of the Bay of Quinte), pasta salad, chocolate covered strawberries and sipped daintily from juice boxes.
Conversation flowed freely, often sounding like holiday dinner debates from lefty households. The feast was radically different from what activists and police are used to at OCAP events: the poor holding a feast in the middle of posh Yorkville without a proper invitation.
After the feast, the roughly 150 people who were left from a crowd of 250 to 300, began to march through Yorkville. The police corralled the group, many people carrying OCAP flags, and directed them down the streets where they wanted them to go, careful to keep activists away from busy patios.
The march then dispersed at the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor Street. About 15 minutes after the call, the arrests began. What was left of the crowd, mostly people smoking on the sidewalk and chatting with their friends, was thrown into complete chaos as plain-clothed officers began making their arrests. One moment people were celebrating the demo's success and the next, demonstrators and police officers were running through the dark.
Sarah Powell, relatively new to protesting and visibly shaken by the scene, said, We give them money from our taxes. It's my money that buys their shields, their helmets, their rental vans. I pay for all that for them to act like thugs. I guess nothing happened so they got angry and started arresting people.
After the arrests, the crowd was demoralized and left with the question: how could something that started out so different and promising become the typical OCAP demo that always ends the same way? It's become a trend, almost as if there is an OCAP versus Police script that says people have to get arrested, with the predictable police tactics and mainstream media analysis the next morning. In the end, there were four arrests, on charges of mischief and obstructing police.