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Two weeks ago I arrived back in Hamilton, Ontario. After more than two months on the long road between my tropical home in Costa Rica and my northern nest in Canada, I was both relieved and overwhelmed. I had issues to deal with in my house, my backyard is, once again, a jungle, and I realize that the two months I plan on being here may not be sufficient time to accomplish the things I need to.
Sadly, my trusty little camera pretty much died on the journey, so except for the odd image from my files or pulled off the internet, there will be less pretty pictures until I break down and buy another camera. Anybody got a slightly used digital for sale?
Since getting here, my mind has been absorbed with various themes, but for the sake of writing, there are two big ones – the World Cup and the G8/G20 Summit. Both are internationally-based, one drawing the world’s attention to South Africa, the other bringing the world’s political leaders to Toronto, just down the road from where I live; one incited fever and fun, the other incited rage and frustration; one will result in a clear winner (even with the probability of controversial referee calls), the other has already left a smashed-up city in rage with many questions where it feels like everybody has lost.
I’ve been watching the soccer games each day, surprised at my own accumulated knowledge after twenty years of exposure to the beautiful game in Costa Rica. If you have the slightest capacity for watching sports, it is impossible to ignore this game when you live in a country where it is the only game. Here in North America, I think people suffer from sports fatigue – people follow baseball, football (American and Canadian), basketball, hockey, Nascar, golf, tennis – one season overlaps the next and there is never a break.
In Costa Rica there is only one season – futbol – and though it ebbs and flows throughout the year, in the end people are pretty much only watching this one sport. Men spend their Sundays on and around the “plaza”, which isn’t a mall but a soccer field, and by the end of the day their wives, children and parents are all there watching the game and visiting with each other.
In other countries there may also be rugby or cricket, huge sports outside of North America, but definitely futbol is the universal game that only requires a ball and a somewhat flat area to play in. It provides hope to youth living without privilege everywhere that if they are good enough, they can make their local team, then a national team, then be picked up to play in the big leagues overseas and one day possibly play in the World Cup. This year, there were more countries in contention to go to South Africa and represent their homeland’s team than there are countries in the United Nations. World Cup indeed!
We are now down to the elimination round and the South American teams are going forward. The big European leagues draw the most attention throughout the year – as their star players get paid massive sums of money (think David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo) and take on the lives of celebrities (think the same boys again) – and the international media, the original celebrity gawkers, is paying attention to them. So the expectations have been that these are the best teams and Spain was crowned the favorite. Many of the great players that fill the European leagues are from South America and now they are back home and playing the poetic kind of futbol that they were raised on and it is carrying the Latinos to the top in South Africa.
Brasil is the perennial favorite but Argentina is putting on a huge show this year. Their star-player-gone-bad, Diego Maradona, is now their coach. He was the world’s best and then fell into scandal from too much fame and money, got fat then went on a diet, and has now come back as the coach of his country’s team. Although he is generally not considered a great coach, his team is winning. I love watching his passion sizzling at the side of the pitch – he looks like, with the blow of a ref’s whistle, he’d strip off his Italian designer suit, throw on a team shirt, run onto the field and take off down the field with the ball if he could get away with it.
So my prediction is this – I think that Holland will play Argentina (Brasil will unfortunately fall out of the competition a game before) and Argentina will win. Maradona will be re-crowned King of Argentina and his picture will show up next to their other chosen one, Che Guevera, on T-shirts and coffee mugs all over the world. I would prefer a Brasilian/Argentina game (so hope I’m wrong on my prediction) but would have a hard time watching either team lose.
Speaking of Che, I expect he’d have been a keen participant in the chaos known as the G8/G20 Summit that took place this last weekend in Toronto. These gatherings of political leaders have proven to attract all kinds of activists objecting to corporate political and economic control and the subsequent diminishing of human/environmental rights. I expect if he was alive today, Che would be fighting for the poor and the disenfranchised and to remove power from the ivory corporate towers. And no doubt, Che would’ve been arrested, probably punched and roughed up for being an insolent if innocent protester, and held under a secretly-instituted temporary (and apparently misleading) law that gave the police undemocratic and frightening short term powers.
Although blame is flying and everyone is under suspicion for who caused what and what was intentional as opposed to random, spot-provoked violence, one should look to the leaders who set up this expensive ($$ billion-plus) circus, erected a huge fence ($5.5 million) to make sure the division of power over people had a focus, built an $$ million-plus artificial lake to keep the international media in Toronto (instead of letting them know our beautiful natural lakes and countryside) close to what became out-of-control street destruction and great photo-ops, with an outrageous security bill (the bulk of the $$ billion-plus budget) that then seemed to be justified by what happened in the streets. If you build it, they will come.
What transpired in Toronto was a massive mess of provocation and power abuse. It also managed to move the focus away from the intelligent, important messages of the many thousands of peaceful protestors who had been assembling for days in Toronto. Throughout the week, while they held events concerning human and environmental rights, the fence was being erected. As the G8 leaders came into town and with a minimum of fanfare headed north to Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka for their meeting, more people poured into the downtown core of Toronto. By Saturday, when the G20 were gathering inside the downtown Toronto Convention Center, there had already been days of organized and peaceful gatherings according to the right that we have here in Canada to organize, gather and protest.
Then things started going wrong and this is where the onion gets really smelly and the layers pull back to suggest something much more deeply sinister. By all accounts, on Saturday there were up to 25,000 protestors who marched between the fence and the government buildings, continuously chanting their messages in a typically-Canadian orderly calm. At some point in the afternoon, several hundred protestors of a different kind – call them Black Bloq, call them anarchists, call them revolutionists, call them angry suburban youths given big sticks & free reign – started using tactics of a very different kind that resulted in burned out police cars and smashed storefronts. According to eye-witnesses and youtube images, the police did little to stop this wanton violence – in fact, it would appear that they brutally instigated much of the violence. While letting the destruction rage on on some streets, they formed lines in other areas that corralled groups of peaceful demonstrators and herded them, often with abusive language and physical violence, towards holding cells. They also raked in joggers, tourists, journalists, and protestors who remained peaceful and non-aggressive.
I have no doubt that among the anarchists who (whether I agree with their message and methods or not) have a very strong anti-corporate ideology, there were just youths raised on computer game violence and a desire for thrills, given the chance to trash the downtown – photos of marauders with expensive clothes have emerged. And I don’t think there is any question that there were also agitators – supplied by the police, the government or corporate interests – who helped get the destruction rolling. Photos of these undercover provocateurs have also come out. As these crimes are exposed, the Toronto Police and the RCMP will have much to answer to. I also don’t believe that all the police were acting inappropriately or with bad intention, though put into this kind of insanity, calm heads seldom prevail and adrenalin, power issues and a big stick can cause a lot of damage. Just as people have pointed out how many innocent bystanders were picked up in the huge sweeps that resulted in over 900 arrests, I expect that there were also non-aligned people who were happy to take part in a violent free-for-all. Growing up in a wealthy suburban city, Iwitnessed this early in my life – destruction for the fun of it - and I really don’t see why this circus atmosphere would be any different. Tigers living in cages will go nuts when the cage door is opened.
Amongst all this mayhem – eaten up and regurgitated by mainstream media which thrives on conflict and violent images – there were well-respected journalists who were close to the action and either twittered or blogged their observations. One of these is Steve Paikin, a journalist of 30 years and host of a very sane and intelligent public television show called The Agenda. Here is the link to an interview that he gave following what he saw as police provocation and brutality. I appreciate that someone I consider a relatively conservative journalist is speaking out. Perhaps his comments will be listened to by some of the middle class masses who look at it all in pure disgust but don’t know where to lay the blame.
If you want to see a huge selection of images from this fiasco, just go to youtube and look under G8/G20 Toronto. I couldn’t begin to tell all the stories that have been coming out, including wrongful midnight arrests of innocent citizens in their homes and gender-based trauma on the streets and in the holding cells.
The media discussions continue looking at the actions of the police – as they should – while more stories of abuses on the streets, during and following arrests, appear. I am a firm believer in peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience and although I can understand the anger of the more aggressive protestors, I don’t have any interest in joining in that kind of negativity. I don’t believe in war under any circumstance, and would rather see all this energy put towards finding peaceful resolutions. It is how I have approached more than thirty years of some kind of activism.
An inquiry has been called for – perhaps it will figure out who was behind the curtain. My outrage lies with our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who, against security experts’ advice, chose to set up this warzone in downtown Toronto. In the face of the experiences of past summits held in large cities inevitably leading to violence, arrests, and destruction (Quebec City, Seattle, London UK, etc.), he still decided to spend a phenomenal sum of money to create this circus, most of that money going to security. My outrage also lies with Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s Premier, who passed regulations under the cover of darkness that allowed police to use measures and harass, detain, and arrest people in ways that aren’t consistent with Canada’s constitution, democracy or freedom to gather.
If ever it felt like the Conservative government of Canada, very much advocates of corporate and multi-national economic power as opposed to a more national socialist view, was moving its agenda forward to empower police and to marginalize the voices of sanity and the rights of the poor, the environment, natives, workers, women, gays & lesbians, the time is now. The fiasco of Toronto has pushed people into corners. The extremists have new fodder to keep their agendas moving – they certainly aren’t going away. The middle-class may not like what the police did, but no doubt will blame “activists” who they think should just stay home and they will ultimately hold responsible for bringing this mayhem to their beautiful city (you just have to read Facebook posts and letters to the editor to know that many don’t agree with social activism taking to the streets). The hard-working, committed social activists who saw their messages lost in the barrage of burning police cars and broken store windows (and many traumatized by violent arrests) must be highly frustrated, angered and disillusioned by their sincere intentions for change getting so lost in the mess. And depending on what an inquiry says about how the police conducted themselves, the police forces involved will certainly be starting at square one in rebuilding their relationship with the citizenry of Toronto. Meanwhile, Stephen Harper goes off on a gentile tour with the Queen of England who is visiting Canada and leaves the fallout to the local and provincial politicians.
Once again, I believe strongly in the right to organize, gather and protest. I also believe strongly in peaceful protests, because it is a peaceful world I want to live in, and so, to me, every action must be intentionally non-violent (even when one’s anger and disgust prompts something different). If it weren’t for activists being willing to step up to the line, indeed crossing it, we would never advance human, civil and environmental rights throughout history and throughout the world. One has to be disgusted by what happened in Toronto. The problem is how the blame will be transferred and what will come out of this. I fear that Harper’s corporate/police state agenda will rise to the top as all the pawns on his chessboard spin around in anger, disbelief, self-righteousness and confusion. Harper should never have brought this circus to town and then released all the animals into the streets. I doubt that he will ever apologize for a poor decision or even enter into the discussion. I think he got exactly what he paid for and wanted.