Judy Rebick: Quebec Day One Report (ZNet)


Richard Moore

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From: "Michael Albert" <•••@••.•••>
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Subject: FW: ZNet Update - Quebec Day One Report
Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2001 09:08:32 -0400

Quebec: Day One
By Judy Rebick

It's not easy to upstage the opening of meeting with 34
leaders including U.S. President George Bush.  Despite what
seemed like endless volleys of tear gas, mostly peaceful
protesters came back again and again  to Rene Levesque
Boulevard in Quebec City to face down the police and in so
doing captured the attention of world media.

The battle lasted almost two hours as police chased
demonstrators off the plateau  with heavy use of tear gas
and demonstrators came back after recovering from the
stinging pain in their eyes and throats.  The most poignant
moment was a sit down of about 20 people, flashing peace
signs in the midst of a fog of tear gas.

Most media attention is on the perimeter breach and it was
an impressive action. First a few then more climbed up the
chain-link, surrounded the center of the city to protect the
Summit of the Americas, and in a rocking action pushed it
down. By my watch it took less than five minutes for the
hated fence to come down. The amazing thing was that only
about 100 people rushed through the fence. The rest held
back. It was the protesters not the police who controlled
the crowd.  I was astounded at the discipline. There were
ten or twenty people out of about 3,000 throwing stones and
bottles.  In the march that wound its way along 6 miles 
from Laval University to the perimeter, these were the Black
Bloc.  While the rest of the protest was noisy and
colourful, they were somber, solemn, dressed all in black,
several armed with sticks and stones and masked from the
beginning of the march.

No doubt there will be debates about the Black Bloc tactics.
 The creativity of the other demonstrators were lost in the
confrontation. One group calling itself the Medieval Bloc
had built a 20- foot catapult and managed to maneuver it up
to police lines.  Then they hurled three stuffed toys into
the police.  One woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty
walked all the way from Laval on stilts. Another group of
women calling themselves "The Dandelions" wore T-shirts with
painted slogans like "the persistent radical blossom that
will always bloom."  A young man painted his T-shirt with
the phrase, "It's hard to hit a movement target."

Once the perimeter went down, all attention was on the
intensity of the confrontation.  And it was intense.  This
was the red/yellow march. That means there was a high chance
of confrontation with the police.  As demonstrators
approached the perimeter, marshals announced that people
wanting a green (safe) zone should turn left.  No one did.
Thousands approached the perimeter.  They ran when the tear
gas exploded but they came back, time after time for two

One of the most extraordinary developments on Friday was the
formation of a Canadian Labour Movement affinity group. 
Affiliates of the Canadian Labour Congress formally decided
to join the direct action.

Friday was the direct action day.  Today Saturday is to be
the mass action day.  But more than 5,000 people showed up
at Laval University for the march to the perimeter knowing
that it would almost certainly lead to confrontation with
the police.

There have been long debates about what should happen today
when an estimated 40,000 people are expected to join the
People's March of the Americas.  Organizers of today's march
have decided to march away from the perimeter they say for
safety reasons.  With so many people involved and the narrow
streets of this beautiful old city, people could get trapped
against the wall and hurt.

Others have argued that it is politically wrong to avoid the
perimeter fence, which has become a hated symbol of the
reduction of public space that free trade is inflicted upon
us.  What likely will happen is once the main march is over
a group will split off and march to the wall.

Organizers of the People's Summit are upset about Friday's
action.  They feel it brings discredit down on the movement
.  But it seems to me that it is direct confrontation with
the police that has drawn so many youth into the struggle
against anti-democratic trade deals.

It is true that there have been many important developments
in Quebec City for the movement against free trade.  For the
first time, civil society across the Americas has agreed on
a single political statement and a common strategy (pushing
for a continental referendum and referendum in every country
) to fight the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas).  The
importance of this development cannot be overestimated.  Up
until a few years ago, the Latin American labor movement
favoured free trade.  But the impact of NAFTA on Mexico,
further impoverishing the Mexican working class, has
persuaded them to join the anti-free trade forces.

Organizers of the People's Summit feel that the violence of
the direct action diverts attention from their hard won
gains.  But as the saying goes, this is what democracy looks
like.  In a real mass movement, no one can control what
happens.  There are always differences.  The trick, it seems
to me, is to debate the differences but not get diverted or
divided by them.