On a normal day, I would never approach such menacing-looking characters - that is, until the Quebec Summit. They were the Black Bloc. And yet, because of their presence at the protests, I felt protected. I felt safe.
Protesters organized themselves into three colour zones - red, yellow and green. These gradations were a guide to what was safe and where protesters risked arrest and police confrontations. The red zone was deemed to be for direct action - tearing down the fence, for example. It held the highest risk. The yellow zone included peaceful human blockades in the street and lock-downs, with moderate risk. The green zone was deemed to be the area of lowest personal risk, consisting of a party atmosphere, with parades and music.
Leaving Laval on Friday to march with my colourful comrades, I suddenly became aware that something was wrong. I saw black-clothed bodies and red flags. Anger and revolution.
As a non-violent pacifist - hard-core green zone, at least on the first day - this was not where I wanted to be.
I approached one of the harder-edged fellows and asked, "Excuse me, is this the Black Bloc?" not really sure what that meant.
"Yes, ma'am, this is the Black Bloc." He sounded calm behind that gas mask and the anarchy sign. "Do you know what that means?" he asked.
He outlined what the Black Bloc was planning to do when it reached the perimeter. He spoke of the anticipated police reaction when the group got there. He told me about the risk I was in by walking with them. My stomach went into knots.
"But, but I'm green," I stuttered. Panic. (At noon on Friday, I thought green people didn't get gassed or shot at.)
"The green march is up ahead, to the left ... you'll be okay," he said, his voice muffled by the mask. He had a consoling smile in his eyes.
As he helped to part the sea of darkness, my new friend announced up ahead that we were "green zone" and were in the wrong march. The Black Bloc - now Canada's vilified youth - gently pushed us through the crowd and directed us to the happy-happy green-yellow march down the street. Only hours later, word filtered to the march that the wall of shame had come down. The Black Bloc had done it. They gave the streets back to the people. We cheered and walked with a more determined bounce in our step.
Much has been written about the Black Bloc these past few days. Yet we all knew that the barricade would come down in Quebec City. We just couldn't identify it as a Black Bloc action until Friday. Did they have criminal intentions? This weekend demonstrated that all protesters can be vilified as criminal.
When they saw innocent protesters getting attacked by police, Bloc members would unfurl a red flag to draw the attention and face the attack. The well-orchestrated actions of this grassroots collective protected many people from escalated police violence. They faced the water cannons, rubber bullets and the worst of the tear gas.
"Are you okay? Here let me help you," a Bloc woman said to my friend. Anita was blinded by the tear gas and in too much shock to move.
"Whose streets? Our streets!" we chanted.
You took down the wall and for that, I thank you.
Heather Robinson, twenty-five, is a writer and feminist activist from New Brunswick. She is moving to London, Ontario to complete a journalism degree.
For more rabble news coverage of the Quebec Summit and its aftermath, please click here.
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