Sunday, June 27, 2010

G8-G20 Protests - Saturday, Part 1

Saturday morning, high noon. It was raining hard but a friend and I braved the weather to bike into town for would be a day to remember. The big question hanging over our heads as we peddled to the Student Rally at Bloor and Spadina was whether or not things would turn out as peacefully as they did Friday, where, despite arrests towards the end of the day in Allan Gardens, the march itself remained peaceful.

We rode up to the scene to find a small group of students, led by the Canadian Federation of Students, huddled around the speaker, armed with a megaphone. She spoke of high tuition fees, affordable education as a universal right, and criticized the cost of the summit and war in Afghanistan, money that could be better spent on students. There were a group of people dressed largely in black, some sporting bandanas. Overhearing them, they seemed to be mostly from Montreal. Cries of "So-So-So! Solidarité!" could be heard before the by-now tiresome (and questionably accurate) "No G20 on Stolen Native Land!" started up and the group moved off. We grabbed our bikes and accompanied what seemed to be a pretty reasonable protest of between 50-100 people as they trekked through campus towards Queen's Park.

Queen's Park was packed. If the rain kept the numbers down it didn't by much. There were speakers who talked about social justice, environmentalism, the rising cost of education, labour rights, and the like. It was one of the big-tent rallies, with grievances of all types welcome. From yesterday, the communists (of both Iran and Iraq now) were there, as well women's rights activists, trade-unionists (e.g. CUPE), and the Anti-Israeli Apartheiders, who held up large letters: "B" "D" and "S", representing boycott, divestment and sanctions. But there were a lot of new faces, too. The Toronto-Danforth NDP showed up, as did at one person supporting the Green Party. The Steelworkers union were there, giant blimp in tow. Greenpeace and other environmental activists also showed up in force - definitely a larger show of environmental support than yesterday. There some other groups I never anticipated either, like Kashmiris demanding independence from India, Sikhs pissed off about the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. And, of course, general protesters pissed off at the sheer cost of the summit.

With the beat of the clown-faced "Samba Squad", we were off, marching down University Avenue, towards the fence. I walked with my buddies, trying to keep somewhat apart from any one particular group - the last thing I need is to be held up at the Indian border during some future flight because of my proximity to the "Free Kashmir" banner. As we walked south I saw a bunch of black-clad protesters, with no signs, running through the crowd. It looked as if the black block was here. The question is what would they do?

I spoke with, or more accurate, was spoken to, by a woman dressed up as a sort of militant clown who was having a wonderful time banging her garbage pail lid which said "Clownarchy". She said that she hoped people were going to go all the way to the fence. When I responded with "that's the plan!" she cackled with glee, banged her makeshift shield, and took off, probably to encourage someone else to go "all the way". I tried convincing myself that the Joker wasn't real, and that I didn't just have a conversation (apparently) her. I'm not sure I bought it.

There were a bunch of police out, but not too many lining the roads. Nowhere near as many as Friday, at least. The American consolate was blocked off, and some fool who tried to make a run through the barricade established around it was easily taken down. Not the best thought-out plan, really.

Some guy was balancing on the war memorial in the middle of the road. His shaggy blond hair, black button-up shirt and grey suit made us wonder if he was actually protesting or shooting an album cover. Apparently after we plodded on he took his clothes off. Word is that he was arrested later for setting a cop car on fire, and was last seen lighting joints and a crack pipe while in the driver's seat. Who'd have thunk it?

As the march went past Elm Street, I wondered where the cops would block us. Queen street was to be the protest's final destination, as it was led West, to Spadina, and up again. A thin row of cops in street closed signalled that no could go further. One block back a phalanx of riot police showed they meant business. You could still get through the first line of police, if you went through as an individual. If you wanted to buy a hot dog, from a nearby vendor, you actually had to. A few people were coming and going, but there was no way the large crowd was getting through. As they walked up Spadina, my buddy and I ducked into Gold Stone to get some cheap and delicious grub. We checked with people we knew around town to see what they were up to and planed our next course of action.

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