Whose Streets

Whose Streets?: The Toronto G20 and the Challenges of Summit Protest

By Tom Malleson and David Wachsmuth, eds.
Between The Lines, November 30, 2010, $24.95

Call me an anarchist, but I think everyone should get an equal voice. And that’s one of the first things that endeared me to Whose Streets?

I love that editors Tom Malleson and David Washsmuth made the democratic and risky decision to include a broad spectrum of opinions in their book, to the point where two different authors and opinions on the subject have tiny battles of wit between the pages.

Necessary — though not necessarily pretty — topics and opinions (for example, the spectre of Diversity of Tactics and the role of unions) are raised in Whose Streets?, but without the hot anger they elicited during the G20 Summit itself.

It’s storytelling without the intense heat. Without the wrenching memories of the Eastern Avenue Detention Centre or the police attack on activists at Queen’s Park. This is not necessarily a bad thing as this sober retelling of events replaces knee-jerk emotions with necessary facts for anyone still trying to figure out what the hell happened.

After reading the preface, forward and introduction, I am reminded of just how much was going on internationally and domestically in 2010. Planning for the G20 Summit protests had already begun as 2010 dawned on Toronto. The closer we got to the actual G20 Summit dates, the air took on an electricity similar to when Torontonians were planning to take Quebec City in 2001 for the FTAA demonstrations.

Activists were encouraged to bring their spark to the G20 Summit protests. Reflecting now, the lasting impact of the G20 is low; a slow burn but lacking the essential public attention-oxygen and activist moral fuel to keep it going much longer.

There are numerous reasons for this: the court-imposed media blackout of G20 “conspirators'” trials; the numerous and fragmented inquiries and hearing into what happened during the G20 Summit protests; and general fear within the activist community about the arrest/detention of more than 1,000 activists and bystanders.

Narratives of organizers and activists include “Community Organizing for a Global Process” by Mac Scott who gives a pragmatic and humorous history of organizing from a street veteran; “Unions, Direct Action and the G20 Protests “by Jeff Shantz puts union organizing in perspective for activists within and without the “rank and file”; and “Marching with the Black Bloc” by Tammy Kovich takes no prisoners in its analysis.

We also get to hear from Elroy Yau, a bystander who begins his piece “Caught in the Crossfire” by stating, “Some of you may have heard of me.”

Because it’s not just the trauma of those arrested and detained at the infamous Eastern Avenue Detention Centre; we in Toronto are still watching the fallout from the G20 systematic round up of perceived G20 “ring leaders” — some of whom were arrested at gunpoint after police kicked down their door in the middle of the night on June 26, 2010.

Who would want to remember? — but that is exactly why we need to remember.

And what better way to remember than through the narratives of those individuals who were on the streets for the G20 Summit protests as organizers, activists, bystanders.

Individual snippets reveal the unseen — or perhaps I should say the unglamorous and dangerous side to being an activist.

Whose Streets? not only strings together the narrative of activists, but also the narrative of the state’s attempt to stifle dissent. Again and again, reading through the stories, we see the back of the state’s hand — the RCMP, the OPP, the Toronto Police Service and the numerous other policing agencies involved in the massive, billion-dollar state project to protect the delegates of the G20 Summit from the public.

Perhaps because I am more of an insider rather than someone reading about the G20 for the first time and just now peering into the looking-glass of surreal state oppression, I enjoyed the personal narratives more than the politics in the book.

These are the stories of activists who I knew quite well, saw in the media often or barely knew at all. Whose Streets? provides fleshed-out portraits of some of those G20 “ring-leaders” charged with conspiracy who were sensationalized in the media.

This book bring them back down to earth. The tone of the book, once you get past the necessary background and introduction, is conversational and reads like storytelling between friends.

I was particularly touched by the editors’ decision to include the poem by Nicole Tanguay titled, “A Wall of Brick and Rage” which describes an encounter with a line of black-clad riot cops who, “as they beat their shields in unison my world changed forever.”

Perhaps the power behind Whose Streets? lies not in the politics at all, but found in these narratives from individual activists and organizers who are everyday people and not the superheroes or villains portrayed in the media.

Whose Streets? is a collection of stories from individuals who chose to step up. They also had jobs and lives and caregiver duties, they have interconnected and diverse political opinions and viewpoints towards activism. But they stepped up.

And despite the G20 repression — intimidating to seasoned activist and newbloods alike — the actions of the state did not break their spirit. The spark lies in the storytelling.Krystalline Kraus

Krystalline Kraus is a Toronto-based activist and rabble.ca blogger.

Krystalline Kraus

krystalline kraus is an intrepid explorer and reporter from Toronto, Canada. A veteran activist and journalist for rabble.ca, she needs no aviator goggles, gas mask or red cape but proceeds fearlessly...