April 20, 2001, Quebec City - From every corner of the world, organizations and activists involved with Anti-FTAA organizing have called the first day of protests against the Summit of the Americas a total success. Despite rubber bullets, tear gas, dogs, and direct physical violence, demonstrators managed to delay meetings before they could even begin.
One activist who managed to get inside the Summit meetings described them as "nothing going on." Brazil had many reservations about the agreement, even before its president arrived in Canada. And the corporate press is beginning to realize that there is tremendous opposition to free trade economics.
Intense demonstrations continued to escalate throughout the day. Teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and direct physical violence were used by police against demonstrators protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas. After massive clashes in the streets, it appeared that demonstrators had the upper hand. As night fell on the city, chaos loomed. Police lines were undefined, and areas declared as "safe zones" were attacked.
-- Where are you," I screamed from my cellphone into his. There was a pause
and then, "A Green
Zone -- St. Jean and St. Claire." Green Zone is protest speak for an area free of tear gas or police clashes.
There are no fences to storm, only sanctioned marches. Green Zones are safe, you're supposed to be able to
bring your kids to them. "Okay," I said. "See you in 15 minutes."
had barely put on my coat when I got another call: "Jaggi's been arrested.
Well, not exactly arrested. More
like kidnapped." My first thought was that it was my fault: I had asked Mr. Singh to tell me his whereabouts
over a cellphone. Our call must have been monitored, that's how they found him.
If that sounds paranoid, welcome to Summit City.
than an hour later, at the Comité Populaire St-Jean Baptiste community
centre, a group of six
swollen-eyed eyewitnesses read me their hand-written accounts of how the most visible organizer of
yesterday's direct action protest against the free-trade area of the Americas was snatched from under their
noses. All say Mr. Singh was standing around talking to friends, urging them to move further away from the
breached security fence. They all say he was trying to de-escalate the police standoff.
said it was getting too tense," said Mike Staudenmaier, a U.S. activist
who was talking to Mr. Singh when
he was grabbed from behind, then surrounded by three large men.
were dressed like activists," said Helen Nazon, a 23-year-old from Quebec
City, with hooded
sweatshirts, bandannas on their faces, flannel shirts, a little grubby. "They pushed Jaggi on the ground and
kicked him. It was really violent."
they dragged him off," said Michele Luellen. All the witnesses told me
that when Mr. Singh's friends
closed in to try to rescue him, the men dressed as activists pulled out long batons, beat back the crowd and
identified themselves: "Police!" they shouted. Then they threw him into a beige van and drove off. Several of
the young activists have open cuts where they were hit.
Three hours after Mr. Singh's arrest, there was still no word of where he was being held.
activists into unmarked cars and nabbing them off streets is not supposed
to happen in Canada. The
strange thing is that, in Jaggi Singh's short career as an antiglobalization activist, it has happened to him before
-- during the 1997 protests against the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.
day before the protests took place, Mr. Singh was grabbed by two plainclothes
police officers while
walking alone on the University of British Columbia campus, thrown to the ground, then stuffed into an
charge, he later found out, was assault. Mr. Singh had apparently talked
so loudly into a megaphone some
weeks before that it had hurt the eardrum of a nearby police officer.
charge, of course, was later dropped, but the point was clearly to have
Mr. Singh behind bars during the
protest, just as he will no doubt be in custody for today's march. He faced a similar arrest at the G-20 summit
all of these bizarre cases, Jaggi Singh has never been accused of vandalism,
of planning or plotting violent
actions. Anyone who has seen him at the barricades, crumbling or otherwise, knows that his greatest crime is
giving good speeches.
why I was on the phone with Mr. Singh minutes before his arrest -- trying
to persuade him to come to
the Peoples' Summit teach-in that I was co-hosting to tell the crowd of 1,500 what was going on in the streets.
He had agreed, but then determined it was too difficult to cross the city.
can't help thinking the fact that this young man has been treated as a
terrorist, repeatedly and with no
evidence, might have something to do with his brown skin, and the fact that his last name is Singh. No wonder
his friends say that this supposed threat to the state doesn't like to walk alone at night.
collecting all the witness statements, the small crowd begins to leave
the community centre to attend a
late-night planning meeting. In an instant, the halls are filled with red-faced people, their eyes streaming with
tears, frantically looking for running water.
tear gas has filled the street outside the centre, and has entered the
corridors. "This is no longer a Green
zone! Les flics (the police) s'en viennent!" So much for making it to my laptop at the hotel.
Belanger, who was kind enough to let me use the community centre's rickety
PC to write this column,
notices that the message light is flashing on the phone. It turns out that the police have closed in the entire area,
no one is getting out.
"Maybe I'll spend the night," Mr. Belanger said. Maybe I will too.
" Anarchists you only see them when you fear them "
it's because of us that a fence will be built in the middle of the city,
with 6500 cops around it. We
are anarchists from the North East. You will understand that, in this context, we have one or two things to tell
though we have not collectively decided on a common tactical line (believe
it or not, not all anarchists are
only dreaming of a black bloc), the television and newspapers have been warning you against us for months.
Some, not knowing who we are --we are masking up well-- and probably believing that all anarchists must
have crazy eyes and frothing mouths, warned us against ourselves.
On the struggle against the Summit and FTAA
us, the struggle against globalization is inseparable from the struggle
against the economic system that is the
basis for it: capitalism. We are radically against capitalism, and we oppose globalization because it worsens the
situation. For us, capitalist enterprises are private tyranny, dictatorships, in which waged workers only have
those rights they have gained from hard struggles. Capitalism creates an unbelievable wealth and it keeps the
economic ball rolling, that's true, but it's at the price of an incredible concentration of said wealth and an
extreme exploitation of natural and human resources. As capitalism has not eliminated misery, (quite the
contrary, it feeds it), and leads us to our death because of the search for profit that is done at the expense of
any other consideration (including ecological ones), we don't see any reason to back this system.
the same time, we don't believe states are victims of globalization. They
are leading the way. The proof is
that the FTAA is not only a strong arm approach by the bosses and corporations but a project that has been
prepared in the offices of foreign relations ministries of the 34 members of the Organization of American States
(OAS, the group organizing this summit). We go further that this: we say that the state, which rests on authority
and the power of elites, is not part of the solution. There's no reason to back a system of government that
systematically goes against the interest of the vast majority of the population and, what's more, takes the right
to impose on all the decisions of the rich and powerful. The state is a cold monster. If democracy still means
something, it can only be built outside and against the state.
are for a radical struggle, one that goes to the roots of the problems,
and that is uncompromising. We
refuse the rules of the game and, so, refuse to trap ourselves in the limits of the 'possible,' and small reforms
without consequences. We are not against every reform per se, some are indeed good and can go against the
logic of the system, but we are against reformism. We are revolutionaries: if on the road we can get some
important concession from the powers that be, fine, but you'll never see us beg for crumbs. Our alternative is
libertarian socialism, which is an economy based on self management, the satisfaction of the needs of the
people and direct democracy. In the face of the Summit of the Americas and FTAA, we adopt an attitude of
categorical opposition and confrontation.
Let's unite in one big anarchist contingent on A21
we violent? No. In general we are not violent, and beating up people at
demos is not part of our practice.
While we don't plan on attacking people in the street or setting Quebec City on fire, however, we reserve for
ourselves an absolute right to self-defense, and we refuse pacifism. We believe this to be reasonable. If we are
physically attacked, we will respond in kind. The truly violent are those who prepare for the summit by
accumulating tear gas, plastic bullets and pepper spray. Those who enact laws and measures that will put
hundreds of thousands of poor in the street, those who let pharmaceutical corporations make billions on
sickness causing the death of millions of people, those who are copyrighting life and creating dependence and
hunger. In a word, those who put their profits before our lives. These are the ones we should fear, not the
you share these few ideas, we invite you to march with us Saturday under
the red and black anarchist
banner. During the day of the 21st, our idea is not to divide the movement nor provoke it, but rather that all
anarchist tendencies deploy and become as visible as possible. Not visible for the mass-media that always
recuperates to their advantage that which attacks the basis of the capitalist system, but directly visible for folk
out there in the street, with us. However, our discourse will not be compromised and we will not let reformist
forces recuperate our mobilization in any way. We therefore hope for a large and loud anarchist contingent in
the image of the diversity of our movement.
Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians, is condemned for not calling off "Maude's Mob." Activist Jaggi Singh is in jail for allegedly possessing a weapon that he never owned or used -- a theatrical catapult that shot stuffed animals over the infamous fence in Quebec City during last week's Summit of the Americas.
It's not just that the police didn't get the joke, it's that they don't get that they saw the new era of political protest, one adapted to our post-modern times. There was no one person or group who could call off "their people," because the tens of thousands who came out to protest the Free Trade Area of the Americas are part of a movement that doesn't have a leader, a center, or even an agreed-upon name. Yet it exists, undeniably, nonetheless.
What is difficult to convey in media reports is that there weren't two protests that took place in Quebec City -- one a "peaceful" labor march, the other "violent" anarchist riot. There were hundreds of protests. One was organized by a mother and daughter from Montreal. Another by a van load of grad students from Edmonton. Another by three friends from Toronto who aren't members of anything but their health clubs. Yet another by a couple of waiters from a local cafe on their lunch break.
Sure there were well organized groups in Quebec City: the unions had buses, matching placards and a parade route; the "black bloc" of anarchists had gas masks and radio links. But for days the streets were also filled with people who simply said to a friend, "Let's go to Quebec," and with Quebec City residents who said, "Let's go outside." They didn't join one big protest, they
participated in a moment.
How could it be otherwise? The traditional institutions that once organized citizens into neat, structured groups are all in decline: unions, religions, political parties. Yet something propelled tens of thousands of individuals to the streets anyway, an intuition, a gut instinct -- perhaps just the profoundly human desire to be part of something larger than oneself.
Did they have their party-line together, a detailed dissection of the ins and outs of the FTAA? Not always. But neither can the Quebec protests be dismissed as vacuous political tourism. George W. Bush's message at the summit was that the mere act of buying and selling would do our governing for us. "Trade helps spread freedom," he said.
It was precisely this impoverished and passive vision of democracy that was rejected on the streets outside. Whatever else they were searching for, all were certainly looking for a taste of direct political participation. The result of these hundreds of miniature protests converging was chaotic, sometimes awful, but frequently inspiring. One thing is certain: after at last shaking off the mantle of political spectatorship, the last thing these people are about to do is hand over the reins to a cabal of would-be leaders.
The protesters will, however, become more organized, a fact which has more to do with the actions of police than the directives of Maude Barlow, Jaggi Singh, or, for that matter, me. If people wandered and stumbled to Quebec City, profoundly unsure of what it meant to be part of a political movement, something united us all once we arrived: mass arrests, rubber bullets, but most
of all, a thick white blanket of gas.
Despite Canada's Liberal Party line of praising "good" protesters while condemning "bad" ones, treatment of everyone on the streets of Quebec City was crude, cowardly and indiscriminate. The security forces used the actions of a few rock throwers as a camera-friendly justification to do what they have been trying to do from the start: clear the city of thousands of lawful protesters because it was more convenient that way.
Once they got their "provocation," they filled entire neighborhoods with toxic fumes, forcing families to breathe through masks in their living rooms. Frustrated that the wind was against them, they sprayed some more. People giving the peace sign to the police were gassed. People handling our food were gassed. I met a 50-year-old woman from Ottawa who told me cheerfully, "I went out to buy a sandwich and was gassed twice." People having a party under a bridge were gassed. People protesting their friends' arrests were gassed. The first-aid clinic treating people who had been gassed, was gassed.
Tear gas was supposed to break-down the protesters but it had the opposite effect: it enraged and radicalized them, enough to cheer for "Black Blockers" who dared to throw the canisters back. It may be light and atomized enough to ride on air, but I suspect the coming months will show that gas also has powerful bonding properties.
What happened in Quebec?
In short, a handful of autonomous, cooperating groups took to the streets and fought the pigs until practically the entire city was fighting with us in autonomous, cooperating groups of their own. This is an unprecedented event in the recent history of the anti-capitalist struggle in North America. In this report, I'm going to concentrate on how and why this was possible. If you want to know specific details about the F.T.A.A. summit or the events that transpired before and during it, there are plenty of other sites that can give you that information. Here I'm assuming you have already found access to that information, and also that you already know what you have at stake in resisting global free trade . . . and capitalism itself, for that matter.
The conditions that made this possible
Quebec, the French-speaking region of an otherwise English-speaking nation, has a long-standing independence movement, and natives harbor some resentment against both their government and the cultural standardization imposed by the nearby United States. This proved to be really decisive in the events of the weekend, though few if any demonstrators saw in advance how important this would turn out to be.
The Canadian government, fearful of another demonstration like the one that took place in Seattle during the W.T.O. meeting, had a concrete wall with a chain-link fence atop it built entirely around the center of Quebec City, and closed off the space within it entirely to everyone not possessed of a residence card. The wall was built at great expense to Canadian taxpayers, and trained riot police were sent in from other regions of Canada, armed with water cannons, new stun guns*, tear gas, etc. All this infuriated the locals: not only were a group of foreign leaders invading their city to discuss matters of free trade (which, it's an open secret, is sought by the rich so they can become richer at everyone else's expense) in a working class region of Canada, but their own city was being taken away from them for this purpose, and they were being treated like illegal aliens in it.
In addition to local outrage, another important ingredient was the presence of a great number of protesters from a wide variety of backgrounds. Because thousands of the protesters in attendance were seen as coming from a center-left position (i.e. being mainstream, according to the old myth), and the media in attendance had not already stigmatized them as marginalized extremists, the police forces had a stake in being seen as restrained. The protests at the presidential inauguration last January took place in similar conditions. Then, as now, this made it possible for the small minority who were prepared from the outset to use confrontational tactics to do so without being immediately subdued by police violence and arrested—and this time, thanks to local outrage and the fact that no one else was offering an approach that actually contested the source of everyone's frustration, these tactics were soon appropriated by practically everybody there, even locals who hadn't thought of themselves as protesters at all.
*Its interesting to note that while Canadian police have been required until now to test their stun weapons upon themselves, so as to personally know their capabilities and effects, this requirement was waived for the new weapons they received for this event explicitly on account of the weapons being too dangerous!
To my knowledge, this was the first major demonstration on this continent in which a large part of the organizing was done according to anarchist procedures, including a sympathy for what was referred to as a diversity of tactics. In Quebec, diversity of tactics basically proved to be an euphemism for property destruction, provocation and aggressive self-defense. The two French Canadian groups organizing for the protest, C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A., that accepted this approach, took a lot of heat from the more traditional, cuddlier and cuter, more authoritarian organization, S.a.L.A.M.I., which predictably reserved the right to tell protesters exactly what to do and how to do it. We'll discuss in a couple paragraphs what the results of this kind of organization were for those who permitted themselves to be so controlled.
C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A. took the wise approach of separating the demonstration into different levels: green for no danger of arrest, yellow for some danger of arrest for nonviolent civil disobedience action, and red for tactics of deliberate provocation (such as attacking the police fence). The green and yellow areas were charted on a map of Quebec, affinity groups at the spokescouncil meetings identified themselves as taking green or yellow approaches (no one spoke about red groups or actions, for obvious reasons, until the action was taking place), and this helped to reassure everyone involved that they knew exactly what risk they were incurring. As it turned out, most people were ready to go a lot farther than they'd expected once the possibilities of the situation were clear, and the police violated their own commitment to respecting the green zone, so the color-level categories were pretty much meaningless by the time the demonstration got going; but they served their purpose ahead of time by making everyone comfortable with setting their own level of involvement and risk.
Because the organizers declared in advance that they were ready for, and supportive of, diversity of tactics, most everyone in attendance came prepared to accept this, too: first, those who came knew what to expect, and second, the fact that the organizers were comfortable with this helped others not to be uptight about it. It only happened a couple times at the spokescouncil meetings before and during the demonstration that some stubborn loyalist to left-wing authoritarian tradition brought up the issue of whether it was wise to allow people to use their own judgment about what tactics to apply; and both times, thanks to the fact that C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A. had already established that they saw this as a non-issue, everyone was able to simply ignore the interruption and concentrate on practical matters.
Planning for earlier demonstrations has often been characterized by endless, pointless, symbolic debates about whether or not organizing committees should give permission to protesters to use direct action tactics like property destruction. This time, a lot of time and trouble was saved by acknowledging from the beginning that demonstrators were going to do whatever they believed was right, sanctioned or not by self-appointed authorities, and that the role of organizers should be simply to help coordinate cooperation between different groups. That the demonstration proceeded without any of the tens of thousands of demonstrators present doing anything really stupid to hurt the interests of the others there, despite the fact that there was no official organization issuing rules and mandates, is important—it simply proves that anarchy works. And if there are still some who believe that anything less than obedience to rules (their rules!) imposed by a centralized power constitutes ineffective demonstrating (let alone violation of their rights!!), this just shows that some have yet to understand that democracy means giving up your right to command others.
C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A. deserve accolades for the hard work they did to make everything possible—they did speaking tours across the continent to raise awareness, helped U.S. citizens work out schemes to cross the Canadian border (a few even got married just to give wedding-invitation-clutching U.S. activists a legitimate reason for entry), arranged for food and housing for the tens of thousands of people converging upon their city. The housing was especially important: at many earlier protests, like the I.M.F./World Bank protest in Washington, D.C. a year ago, traveling activists who had no place to sleep were arrested before the action began for sleeping in their cars or on the street. One indispensable center of activity was the university campus, which hosted thousands of demonstrators in the gym (the sight of so many bodies stretched out across its vast floor in the half light was surreal and beautiful), and lots of important organizational meetings as well in other buildings. Hecate only knows how those kids persuaded the university to receive all these travelers who had already been branded enemies of the state before they arrived. Individuals from C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A. were also not afraid to openly embrace illegal tactics (as they did on Friday night at the spokescouncil meeting after the first day of action, when they supported the idea that the next days actions should concentrate on attacking the fence) some of them may be in serious legal trouble at this point for this, and they deserve our support for the risks they have taken.
Finally—the remaining crucial contribution of the C.L.A.C. and C.A.S.A. organizing was that the march and day of action they organized fell the day before the march organized by the more mainstream, well-behaved S.A.L.A.M.I. Last summer, at the protests around the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, the day of direct action came after all the other events had ended—so the only activists left in the city were the ones already perceived by the police as terrorists (even if they were only armed with puppets!), and the mass arrests and police violence that followed came as no surprise. This time, holding the [first] day for direct action before the main event meant that the events of that day set the atmosphere for the next.
Black Bloc preparation and action: provocation, or self-defense?
This was the most organized, best armed and equipped, and, as I've explained above, most broadly supported Black Bloc I have ever witnessed. Considering that many of those in its ranks were in a foreign country, some of them illegally and even with outstanding arrest warrants, I was amazed at how confrontational they had prepared to be: people had brought bolt cutters (for the hated fence) and other tools, projectiles such as hockey pucks, slingshots and marbles, helmets and homemade body armor, larger shields and similar equipment. It turned out to be the right decision.
Friday's march began at the university, neither accompanied by nor—strangely enough—harassed by the police, who remained concentrated around the fence both Friday and Saturday (this was fortuitous, for it meant we could move around the rest of the city without serious fear of arrest—which has not been the case at many earlier demonstrations). The Black Bloc was dispersed among the crowd, already disguised but not clearly identified as a group.
Shortly before the march arrived at the fence around central Quebec, those (few, as it turned out) who wished to remain in the green sector split off from it. The others proceeded on, and as soon as they arrived at the broad square which bordered on the fence, the Bloc came together and moved immediately to attack the barrier. Within seconds, a wide section of it was torn down—something not thought possible by most of the protesters in attendance—and a few passed through it. The police quickly appeared in greater numbers from within, firing tear gas; the rest of the day and following night was given over to back-and-forth struggles between the police, who sought more to hold a line than to advance, and the confrontational activists who threw projectiles at them and were reinforced by the numbers of less aggressive activists.
A few might describe the Black Bloc tactics as deliberate provocation, and blame them for embroiling the others at the protest in more violent conflict than they were prepared for, but I would describe what happened differently. First of all, had the wall itself not been challenged, the protest would not have been given any attention by the police, the media, or the locals—furthermore, it would have been unclear what there was to do instead: the experience of wandering around all day holding signs in a designated protest zone, ignored by the rest of the world, would have been demoralizing to everyone. Some of those who did attempt pacifist actions such as lockdowns in other zones of downtown Quebec that day related that evening at the spokescouncil that their actions had seemed pointless—the delegates to the summit were already inside the perimeter fence, and had they not been, they could have been delivered with helicopters even if all the roads had been blocked. This was the reasoning of a number of participants in the Black Bloc, too: since it was not possible to stop the summit by keeping the delegates out, they undertook instead to make the whole experience as inconvenient as possible, if not terrifying. The next day, in fact, the summit had to be cut short until Sunday, because there was so much tear gas in the air around downtown Quebec that it entered the duct system of the building in which the meetings were taking place. So as it turned out, the somewhat antiquated tactics of street fighting turned out to be the most effective for this situation.
But back to the provocation question: clearly the Black Bloc were not the only ones interested in attacking the wall after the first day of action, at the spokescouncil meeting Friday night, when there were few if any participants present from the Bloc, it was decided that the next days actions should concentrate on again attacking the wall (by people who had earlier seemed much more timid about doing this). Thus the Bloc helped protesters to feel more confident about doing what they already wanted to do, by showing that it was possible. The chief functions the Bloc served, thus, proved to be not provocation, but rather defense and demonstration: Defense, because they formed the front lines that protected everyone else from the police. The police, if my experience is correct, had not just assembled tear gas, water cannons, concussion grenades, plastic bullets, and such devices for show—they intended to use them to break up whatever demonstration took place. They were prevented from doing so precisely because the Black Bloc was so organized and ready to fight: every one of hundreds of tear gas canisters shot at the crowds was immediately thrown back in their faces by a small number of courageous gas-masked Blocers, to such an extent that sometimes one could only tell where the police lines were by the cloud of poison surrounding them; the police feared to close in for arrests, because of the constant shower of rocks, glass bottles, broken concrete, and even molotov cocktails that the streetfighters maintained. I suggest that the other role of the Bloc was demonstration, because the tactics they used were available to everyone who recognized how effective they were. As I'll discuss in a couple paragraphs, the Black Bloc began as a couple hundred people, and ended up being thousands only a day and a half later.
Mainstream media always praise the pigs for their restraint at demonstrations like this, which seems to me like sheer stupidity: the pigs are fucking employees, they do what they're told (especially in frontof the cameras!), they don't deserve credit for anything they do—that's what is so disgusting about them. In a situation where everyone else present was taking responsibility for themselves, acknowledging that their part of what goes on in this world was up to them and they were ready to act accordingly, the pigs were the only ones present who were still using the Nuremberg defense to do whatever their masters ordered, even when it meant shooting searing tear gas canisters at the heads of unarmed, non-violent middle-aged mothers (I know one hit by such an attack). If anyone should get credit for restraint, its us—we always show good sportsmanship, work willingly with vastly inferior technology (seriously, marbles versus plastic bullets?), give everyone a David against Goliath show just to demonstrate how much more courageous and intelligent we are. I'm sure of the thousands of people at the demonstration, at least a couple hundred were gun owners—we could have killed dozens of pigs, scores of them, but we didn't, even though they were attacking us with unprovoked violence that would have given anyone cause for armed self defense in a court of law. That's because we're nice people, responsible to each other, and they're lower than worms. Watch the way they move their bodies in those Halloween costumes and you'll see the murderous machismo of power-addict slaves. Anyway, back to the subject.
Saturday was the official protest day for the more mainstream organizers, principally the Canadian unions (the other government, I've been calling them since that day), who demonstrated just how absurd it is to organize anti-authoritarian protests in authoritarian ways. They arranged a giant union march, departing from a place in Quebec City away from all the action and moving through the empty industrial areas, where there was no one to even see them marching, to a dead end in a park where a small band was playing. The tens of thousands who participated in this march couldn't have felt more like they were wasting their time—even the mainstream newspapers reported that it was all the union marshalls could do to keep the workers marching in line away from the real action, let alone chanting along with the monosyllables blaring from megaphones attached to the cars in which their leaders rode, resting their precious feet. Anyone could see the difference between their approach to politics and ours by comparing the amount of freedom available to their marchers to the open relationships between autonomous demonstrators on our side of the city.
Meanwhile, we kept up our street war in central Quebec, strengthened by new numbers now surrounding and attacking the wall from all sides. Those who had thought they only wanted to hold signs now backed up masked kids tearing up the sidewalk to make projectiles. Now, I've always been critical of violence, because its something that you can turn on but you can't turn off; more than any other tool, it tends to control and manipulate those who apply it. But this somehow didn't feel like violence: everyone who was involved, everyone who was participating, valued the various contributions of the others present, whether they were setting police on fire, providing medical attention to the injured, or simply watching from a distance—everyone felt united and safe with each other. The violence directed from all the human beings present at the only ones there who still refused to be human didn't contaminate us.
Then, in the middle of Saturday afternoon, something happened that was of pivotal importance, which probably went unnoticed by almost everyone else there. During a lull in the streetfighting, a segment of the Black Bloc proceeded to a multinational bank and smashed all its windows in. At this point a large number of local street kids had congregated, not as protesters, but simply to watch the unfolding events; these locals were sympathetic to the foreigners fighting the police, simply because they were fighting the natural enemy of street kids everywhere, while still being suspicious of them on the grounds that, like the delegates and the pigs, they were foreign invaders. Nothing the protesters had done until this moment raised their wrath—but, having no prior experience with the rationale of property destruction, the sight of a bunch of foreigners smashing up windows in their city enraged them. They followed the Bloc all the way around, uh, the block, picking up weapons and threatening them. A couple Bloc members tried to reason with them—the language barrier proved insurmountable, as did the machismo barrier, and both of them got punched in the face.
These two kids are the ones most responsible for the success of the demonstration, though nobody knows it. They had the humility and focus to simply turn and walk away when this happened, which is fucking amazing, especially considering the reputation the Black Bloc itself has for machismo. If they had not done this, the whole weekend would have been ruined, and direct action activism would have been set back a decade—for the visiting activists would have ended up in a riot with the locals, and every possibility of something positive happening would have been lost.
Given some time to cool off, the locals sent a couple of their number to speak to kids from the Bloc. It turned out they really wanted to fight the pigs together with these foreigners, and they respected what they [we] were doing, but needed an assurance that these kids weren't just here to trash their city. This given, on the conditional terms which any anarchist has to speak in when representing a larger group, the episode was over and everyone could focus again on the real enemy.
I'm not opposed to property destruction, of course, if it were up to me, every corporate store, office, and factory would be burned to the ground by tomorrow morning—but it was critical that the Bloc kids recognize that, under these circumstances, it was an ineffective tactic, because the locals did not understand what it was intended to do. Had they insisted on sticking to Bloc dogma, catastrophe would have resulted. Instead, everyone returned to the front lines, and the action reached its heart-quickening climax.
As the sun set over Quebec, the police slowly pushed forward to the north, until they reached a standoff at the foot of a freeway overpass. At this point, practically everyone had their faces covered, for protection from the tear gas that filled the air; at the same time, people who had been timid before had lost their fear, from two days of watching police hit in the head with bottles, of seeing supposedly impregnable walls torn down with ropes, of breathing tear gas until it lost its power to scare them. It was impossible to tell now who had been from the Bloc and who had newly joined the struggle: Quebec youths and streetkids manned the front lines, throwing back tear gas canisters and rocks as they had seen the activists doing, thrilling in the feeling of reclaiming their city from the powers of police and capital. They hid behind makeshift barricades, running up close to the police line to throw molotov cocktails into it, showing superhuman courage in the face of the once intimidating riot troops. Behind them, over three thousand people, of all ages and class backgrounds, stood on the freeway, beating out a deafening rhythm on every surface available in support of the street warriors. The street signs, which only two days before had told them where to go and how fast, became sounding boards for their frustration and their conviction that this was worth acting on, worth fighting for; the concrete, which had cut them off from the soil beneath their feet and reinforced the corporate propaganda on every street corner proclaiming that this was the only possible world, capitalism, competition and cultural standardization and mind-numbing work—the very concrete was torn up to become hammers to play that music of revolt, or else be thrown, carried on the echoes of that percussion, into the faces of the insect-like riot pigs across the road. A piece of North America had been transformed into Palestine, a white man's Intifada now raging such as only the most idealistic punks and radicals had dared dream of—and immediately comprehensible and desirable to all present.
Below the freeway, in the activist camp that had once been part of the green zone, free food was shared, hundreds danced joyously in circles, spirits were higher than they've ever been for parades or holidays. People who had not been exposed to the d.i.y. values of sharing and self-determination immediately apprehended what was going on. It seemed the entirety of the old world was about to puncture and collapse . . .
The value of what happened
It didn't, that's true. It almost did, though, and anyone who tells you different wasn't there like we were there. For a world revolution to take place, there would have to be events going on in every city at once, twice as intense as those taking place in Quebec City around nightfall on April 21st. That probably won't happen for another few decades. So—let's talk about what was valuable about what did happen.
Well, first of all, it got the F.T.A.A. in the news—duh. Not that the corporate-controlled newspapers are ever going to tell the truth about it or free trade, for that matter, but at least now those who read the newspapers have the concept in their vocabulary, and we have a starting place from which to raise the questions we need to. Second, we got some great experience to employ in future demonstrations, which may succeed in actually preventing such noxious meetings from taking place at all (did you know that the next W.T.O. meeting will be held in fucking Qatar?). Third, we didn't suffer quite as crushing a tally of arrests as we have at some demonstrations, thanks to the defense on the part of the Black Bloc—this means we have less to recover from, less hassles to drain our energy and attention when it's so crucial we be facing forward.
All those obvious things out of the way—the important thing is that everyone there, the local non-activists especially, got a demonstration of what anarchy is, how it works, how individuals can work together in large enough numbers to overpower the forces of control marshalled against them. The revolution isn't some far-off single moment, anyway, its not the crux of history Marx talked about—it's a process going on all the time, everywhere, wherever there is a struggle between hierarchical power and human freedom. In Quebec, I was part of the largest scale manifestation of mass cooperation and struggle against control I've ever experienced; I've seen this before, hundreds of times, I've chosen a life of pursuing it, so this particular weekend may not have been as absolutely transforming for me as it was for those who hadn't recognized such a thing going on before—but it was still something amazing, which I will remember clearly until I go to my grave, even if I live through the revolution itself first.
In moments like this, living becomes something like music is for the musicians who improvise together: everyone contributes their own theme, but rather than a conflict, a cacaphony, the different elements combine to form something much greater and more compelling than the sum of the individual parts. In this sense, the weekend in Quebec was important to me above all because it was a sort of pilgrimage, to a moment of anarchy as irreplacable as all such moments are.
There is a World Bank/I.M.F. meeting October 2-4 in Washington, D.C. Several CrimethInc. cells are organizing to attend, along with thousands of other people. This will be a chance for us to apply the lessons we learned in Quebec, to learn new lessons, to create new possibilities for free action. It's not the only chance—every day between now and then will be one, as well, for each of us, and it's important that we don't neglect that. But these large scale demonstrations provide unique opportunities to try things that just can't happen otherwise. Not that we should enter future situations trying to repeat our past successes—rather, when something we try works, we should remember to apply the same cunning and creativity the next time, so that something else will work.
See you on the streets.