This past weekend, while I was visiting my parents in St. Catharines, I watched televised scenes of police cars on fire, thugs in black smashing storefront windows and cops in riot gear beating and arresting protesters. After I realized it wasn’t a movie (what? I had just woken up), that it was happening in my beloved Toronto, my stomach knotted up in anger. What the f**k was happening to my city?
The G20 Summit is what happened.
When I returned to the city, and saw that it hadn’t burned down, I relaxed. I went online – read the blogs, followed my Twitter feed – and got caught up on the situation. I figured I should write about the Summit, offer up more than snarky Facebook comments or 140-character tweets, before passivity and procrastination set in. I’ve invested in a blog and something consequential happened in my city, so I should comment about it, right?
Let’s skip past the reasons why such a politically charged event should not be held in a large, urban centre. They are pretty obvious and have been discussed ad nauseam. We can all agree – with the exception of our sweater-vested leader and his minions – that it’s a colossal waste of taxpayer money.
Instead of rehashing what has been said and written by people more eloquent than I, I thought I’d offer some tips to the unfortunate souls in the next host city. They say you learn from your mistakes and, boy, did we learn a LOT this weekend. Let me share some of that with you.
Surviving a G20 Summit, or How to Stop Worrying and Love the Barricades
So your city’s going to host a G20 Summit. Congratulations! You have my sympathies. There will be a lot of activity, as well as confusion, chaos and future class-action lawsuits. But before you enter headfirst into the shitstorm, here are some handy survival tips.
- Hosting a G20 Summit is a pathetic attempt to boost the credibility of your leader on the world stage. It doesn’t work, just so you know. They may try to sell you on the idea by spinning it as a chance to boost tourism. That doesn’t work either. It’s basically a billion-dollar boondoggle. If your president/prime minister/premier is really keen on the idea, vote him out of office as soon as possible. Or stage a coup. Whatever works for you.
- Your police and security forces may be put in a precarious position by the powers-that-be. Cops armed with tear gas, batons and oversweeping powers are one thing; cops armed with tear gas, batons and oversweeping powers who are on edge and feeling surrounded is an entirely different ball of wax. Good planning, foresight and cooperation with the community will help. And if your police chief decides his force should have greater power to search, detain and arrest people, perhaps you should, oh, I don’t know, suggest that he may want to give the public a little heads-up.
- Offer foreign media correspondents comfortable surroundings, good food and access to information. That’s pretty much all they want. Don’t feel as if you have to recreate the true [your city/country] experience. But if you are going to build a fake lake, for example, at least have a beaver or a loon in it. Go for broke – you’ve already spent $57,000, what’s a few more hundred for the extra taste of faux-realism?
Ah the cornerstone of democracy. The right to assemble, free speech – it’s lovely, innit? But during a Summit, your civil liberties may be sacrificed to the God of Security. Just use your noggin wisely and you won’t get it split open by a baton.
- If you want to protest, you may want to do it in the days leading up to the event. Get your message out there before it gets lost in the maelstrom of G20 politician spin, media-produced hysteria and “Live! 24-Hour Super Summit Spectacular” newscasts.
- Don’t ask for the impossible, e.g. holding a protest to get a G20 leader to listen to you. The G20 heads of state will not watch footage of your protests, turn to each other and say, “You know what? They have a point. Let’s go shoot the shit with them.” Just saying.
- Engage in peaceful protests. Contrary to what you might have heard and seen in the media, over 25,000 people marched in peace in Toronto. It is possible.
- Beware of anarchist thugs who will hijack your protests – their actions will overshadow your messages and good deeds. Disassociate yourself from these assholes or you will end up looking like one yourself.
- Don’t be jerks and disrupt the lives of your fellow citizens. Sitting on streetcar tracks at a major intersection isn’t a peaceful protest, it’s a nuisance.
The Security Zone
Concrete and steel barricades – get used to them. Hundreds of uniformed men milling about (some in shorts) – enjoy them while you can. Living in “the Zone” sounds cool, in an 80s-slang kind of way, but it can be totally grody to the max- er, sorry.
- Stay as far away as you can from the security zone. Don’t come down to see the action, especially if you’ve watched scenes of burning police cars and smashed storefront windows on the news the night before.
- If you live in or around the zone, but cannot leave, don’t choose that time to do your grocery shopping. Find another route to walk your dog. Yes, it sucks that you can’t move about your own city as freely as you usually do, but don’t get all whiny about it. Having to turn left on your street when you normally turn right does not make you a martyr.
- If you want to watch a protest just to see what it’s like, don’t. You might get caught up in it, and the cops aren’t going to stop and ask you if you’re an innocent bystander – they’ll just snap the plastic cuffs on you. If you do get caught in one, and you see riot cops approaching, stop tweeting about it and leave. Don’t stick around and be a hero. Sure, you might get some exclusive footage to send to your local news outlet or post on your blog, but it isn’t worth getting arrested for. (As an aside, if you’re blocked in by cops, people may find it hard to believe your life is in danger if you’re posting updates on Twitter every five seconds. It’s the Perez Hilton Effect. Just saying.)
- You will hear people say that your city has become a “police state”. Unless you actually live in one, don’t believe the hyperbole. People who live in a police state are not allowed to protest at all. If they do, they are either shot on sight or taken away forever to secret detention/work camps. They cannot chat amicably with the police or have their photo taken with them. And forget about high-fiving one. People in a police state are not arrested and released within 24 hours – they just simply disappear. Yes, your city will look like a demilitarized zone but this is temporary. In a real police state, those barricades would stay up forever. And you’d probably be breaking rocks in the hot sun.
In the end, when all is said and done, your city will return to some semblance of its original self. It might not be exactly the way it was – terms like ‘black bloc’ will be added to your vernacular – but with a little work, and some spit and polish, it’ll be as good as new.
In the meantime, lie back and think of England. Here’s hoping you don’t get screwed too badly.