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G8/G20 Communique: Is the left abandoning the movement when solidarity is needed most?

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I reported yesterday on the Civil Liberties rally in Toronto, attended by 300 (a generous estimate at Queen's Park).

Don't get me wrong, it looked like fun sticking it Officer Bubbles...I would be lying to you, though, if I didn't mention the small numbers at this civil liberties event compared to the rally last Saturday which filled out to a respectable 2,500 people.

While 300 people is nothing to shake a stick at, I was left wondering: What happened? The July 17, 2010, rally felt like a deflated balloon. For the long haul (since when changing the world, you're have to be in it for the long haul), do only 300 people in Toronto care that Torontonians had their civil liberties violated last month? Sure, activists who were charged have conditions that prevent them from attending demonstrations, but where was everyone else? I know this city has activists, I've seen them!

At last week's demo, there were 2,500 people at the Civil Liberties rally and the intersection of Queen Street West and Spadina was reclaimed from the police (after the infamous kettling occurred, which the police later defended by saying they are "not perfect").

Where was everyone this time?

As a journalist, I asked myself: Where were the unions? You know, the 25,000 who rallied last month at the G20 Labour/NGO/Peace march that snaked its way through the city from its start to its end location at Queen's Park on Saturday June 26, 2010. Union leaders complained that the black bloc had stolen their thunder but at a moment for them to shine and defend civil liberties, they were a no-show? I saw not one union flag. Nothing. I thought the the Ontario Federation of Labour supports the call for G20 public inquiry.

On Saturday, some in the crowd wanted to reclaim Queen's Park from the police by the thousands since it was here that - according to a formal Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) complaint against the G20 police - the police abused their power.

The CCLA press release includes the mass entrapment of activists at Queen's Park on June 26, 2010 among five complaints that represent a contravention of the Criminal Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Canadian and international standards of policing:

-- illegal mass arrests of 1,105 persons

--illegal detentions

--unlawful dispersals of peaceful protests

--unlawful use of excessive force on peaceful protestors and passersby

--unlawful and inadequate conditions of detention


300 people sitting on the lawn listening to music is awesome, but speaks nothing of the potential Toronto has to mobilize mass numbers. I think of how many activists I saw pressuring the government to be accountable for climate change during the Toxic Tour against the government's policy on the Tar Sands so it is possible to motivate people to care and take action. But this event made it look - to those numbers obsessed media and conservatives - like Toronto shrugged off the G20 abuses.

Included in CCLA the list of civil liberties violations are the arrest/detention of 1,090 people over the course of the G20 Summit weekend; of whom 113 were released without charges on the street, 714 were held for breach of the peace and released within 72 hours, and more than 263 released with pending charges. There are still a few activists in custody by last count from the Movement Defence Committee.

At Saturday's rally, one man held a sign that read: "Come on, CUPE, a strike can free our friends!"

Perhaps this was a nod to a division between unions like CUPE and radical activists. Apparently, CUPE was none to happy to see one of their members proudly wave its union flag on the G20 demonstration on Saturday afternoon when police cars were being set on fire in the background.

Here is a sample of the communication from two different sides on the issue of union participation.

In a statement posted late Saturday June 26, 2010, by Ken Georgetti (President; Canadian Labour Congress) on vandalism surrounding Toronto G20 meeting, Georgetti expressed the following opinion:

Quote: "The Canadian Labour Congress abhors the behaviour of a small group of people who have committed vandalism and destroyed property in activities related to the G20 summit in Toronto.

Our rally and march were entirely peaceful from start to finish. It appears that a small group of anarchists, who are unknown to us, became involved in some violent and destructive activities as the day progressed.

We condemn these actions and we will continue to exercise our democratic right to free expression in a peaceful manner at all times."

In a further statement by Fred Hahn (President; CUPE Ontario) and Candace Rennick (Secretary-Treasurer; CUPE Ontario):

Quote: Property was damaged, publically-owned police vehicles were burned, and innocent people were attacked and detained as a result of taking part in protests. All of this is wrong. What we have witnessed is nothing short of the abandonment of the rule of law, both by a small group who took part in the protests, and by a massive and heavily armed police force who were charged with overseeing them.

Due process, civil liberties and the right to peaceful protest have been the victim. And it's a sad day when some of those, who feel powerless to change the direction of their elected leaders, find in that feeling of powerlessness an excuse to break the law and vandalize the property of their fellow citizens and who, in so doing, silence the legitimate voices of so many others whose commitment to protest and dissent is matched by their rejection of violence and vandalism."

Jeff Shantz, a labour activist and columnist with Linchpin.ca - from Common Cause wrote in response in critique:

Quote: "Some of the greatest social improvements have resulted from acts of law violation. Virtually every progressive social movement has engaged in acts of law violation to achieve successes that are taken for granted today.  

In expressing fidelity to the "rule of law" what is really being affirmed is fidelity to the state and to the bosses. Any union that expresses fidelity to the rule of law is not worthy of the name.

To do so is to negate the rich history of the working class and labour movements. For much of its history, right up to the present, the union movement has been "against the law," its actions criminalized, its organizers arrested and worse. Anyone who's been on a picket line when it really mattered should know how to take the "rule of law."

Would CUPE-O have sided with the rule of law against the sit-down strikers of the 1930s, against the Windsor strikers of 1945, the Mine Mill strikers of 2000-01, against the various general strikes? What about the recent factory occupations?

 Siding with the rule of law really does make clear "which side you are on," to answer one of labour's ancient questions. Union's that uphold the "rule of law" in the face of employers who steadfastly and routinely do not are accepting conditions of capitulation and defeat. Nothing less."


Or perhaps it is the activist movement as a whole that has fallen into the familiar trap - imitating the G8 and G20 Summits themselves -- with the kind of pitch-tent activism that is linked to big ticket political events instead of real, everyday, grassroots issues. It's hard for anything to grow roots if you plant it in the ground only to rip it out 48 hours later. While Summits come and go, issues like the impact that climate change on the environment does not simply disappear a la Get Out of Dodge. Helping to save the planet is an every day struggle we must all commit to in our hearts - for the long haul.

We criticize society for being obsessed with all things disposable but we act like issues and causes are disposable. Civil Liberties. And with community organizers still in jail, are they disposable to the movement, too?

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