In the aftermath of Police State Weekend - the G20 Summit in Toronto - it is hard to find much hopefulness after seeing such a stark display of totalitarianism in one of the most inclusive, multicultural, and cosmopolitan cities in the world. The weekend gained the dubious distinction as the largest mass arrest in Canadian history; where police arrested, and often beat, hundreds of protesters and bystanders who did not violate a single Canadian law, holding them for hours in squalid conditions at the former Toronto Film Studios ('Toronto Guantanamo'), and then releasing most without any charge. Then, making matters worse, these criminal actions by the police received not criticism but praise from the three levels of government, with calls for a public inquiry falling on deaf ears.
In my entire life living in Toronto, it was the worst few days I have witnessed. The will of citizens in a democratic country suppressed by a police force not doing its job to uphold public safety, but rather making the public less safe by being primarily focused on undermining the protests. Leaders hidden behind an ominous fence treating democracy like a trifling nuisance in the way of their serious business; with armed thugs 'protecting' them from the people they are supposed to be working for.
Yes, many hard lessons were learned from Police State Weekend, but it is hard to find hope or positivity in them. There is one important lesson, though, that could be of great value to the activist community if it takes it to heart (which evidence suggests it has not). The people engaging in these Black Bloc tactics are as much enemies to the causes of global justice, equality and environmental responsibility as the giant multinational corporations; and the politicians and police that defend their interests.
You only have to look at the recent Toronto Star poll saying that 70% of residents think the police force's actions were justified for proof. While this certainly would seem insane to anyone who attended any of the protests, followed the coverage via sources like rabble.ca (which was by far the best) or watched any the disturbing videos on You Tube, when you look at the coverage in the mainstream media - especially television news - it's not surprising. The coverage quickly degenerated into all smashed windows and burning cop cars. The mainstream media's shameful coverage of the protests can be summed up in Peter Mansbridge's words to a reporter at a protest I caught on CBC on the Sunday. "We'll get back to this story if there's a reason to do so. If it's more than just tough talk." In other words, it's only newsworthy if somebody breaks some shit - what was said at the protest and what they are actually protesting is deemed unworthy of coverage.
The vandalism of the Black Bloc makes possible this unfair, one-sided coverage that effectively silences the voices of dissent on the media stage. The average uninformed person watching the action from their suburban living room heard next to nothing about why people were protesting and the alternatives to the status quo they were promoting, but instead got images of burning cars and bandana cloaked vandals running on a loop. Without the peaceful protests getting shown on the news and being heard by that average uninformed person, the protesters are just preaching to the converted - other protesters who already share the same views. And, as long as the message does not get out to the masses, there is never going to be the great egalitarian change all these fine people are working so hard to achieve.
Of course, the Black Bloc are not solely to blame for this misrepresentation by the media that has resulted in 70% of Torontonians erroneously siding with the police. The way the cop cars were abandoned as bait and the Black Bloc were left free to rampage for over an hour by the police suggests a sneaky public relations ploy to justify the massive security budget and the heavy handed tactics. The mainstream media then, with equal voracity, took the bait and made these few incidents of vandalism the whole story; playing right into the hands of whoever was behind this tactical PR move.
The difference with the Black Bloc, however, is the protest movement has far more power to exert influence on their behaviour than they have with the police and the media. There could be a clear articulation of how damaging and counterproductive to the aims of the movement these actions are, and an accompanying public shaming. And, more effectively, there could be groups working in protests to stop the actions of the Black Bloc; citizens doing the job that the police refuse to do. Perhaps they could be the 'White Bloc,' pacifists in white (no covered faces, of course! Don't wanna be confused with certain other white clad folks with covered faces...) keeping the protests peaceful.
This would not be likely to result in violent in-fighting among protesters. The so-called anarchists doing the Bloc thing are not truly violent people, just misguided ones. Merely walking in front of them and blocking them from committing their acts of vandalism would do the job. It really would not be as much of a risk to one's self as you might think. 'Blocking the Bloc' would be a walk in the park compared to dealing with a police force that engages in violence against actual human beings, not merely store windows and abandoned cop cars. If you're gutsy enough to risk an arrest and beating at a G20 protest, taking on the Bloc would be relatively inconsequential.
With such a concerted effort, the Black Bloc could be effectively neutralized by mobilized activists and in that event, without the Bloc's vandalism, what would be left for the media to report? For lack of more sensational material, the media would be forced to report on the substance of the protests. Without footage of smashed windows and burning cop cars, they'd have to air speeches at the protests and interviews with activists; engaging in a dialogue on the real issues rather than acting as purveyors of vandal porn. They'd also be forced to confront the question - if a bunch of hippy pacifist protesters could stop the Bloc, why couldn't the heavily armed police?
Currently, though, the activist community shows no signs of any such concerted effort. The stock answer by the average peaceful G20 protester is to condemn the vandalism, say that the vast majority of protests were peaceful, and quite rightly, point out that the violence of the Black Bloc vandalism tactics are insignificant in comparison to the violence meted out by corporate states.
This argument will obviously resonate with like-minded, politically and socially engaged citizens, but it is not enough to sway the unengaged majority. It has not swayed 70% of Torontonians, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. While I would never dispute the value and necessity of these protests, it is of greater importance for the messages of these protests to connect with the majority. As long as the Black Bloc are allowed to dominate the media coverage, this is never going to happen.
And, if there are any Black Bloc fools reading this right now, you may as well go join the Conservative Party of Canada. Your actions during Police State Weekend did more to help the causes of Stephen Harper than for any of the causes you purport to be fighting for.
And, why the fuck would you smash the windows of small businesses? Way to stick it to the man by making struggling immigrant entrepreneurs pay a couple of grand to repair the windows you smashed, you moron.