Windsor, Canada: Thousands Confront OAS
Revolutionary Worker #1059, June 18, 2000
The following is based on correspondence from comrades in Detroit:
On June 4-6, delegates from North American, Latin American, and Caribbean governments (except Cuba) gathered in Windsor, Canada for a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). In the past such OAS meetings largely escaped public attention, as the imperialist bloodsuckers and their local agents made decisions affecting millions of oppressed people in this hemisphere.
But since the Battle of Seattle last December, institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Bank, IMF—and now the OAS—have become targets of exposure and righteous protest by people who want a different world than the dog-eat-dog, profit-above-everything hell of capitalist globalization. And in Windsor, the imperialists—once again—couldn't hold their meeting without turning the "host city" into a police state.
Thousands of people, from all across Canada, the U.S., and many other countries, poured into Windsor. There were also anti-OAS actions across the river—and across the border—in Detroit.
Our correspondent reported, "As the protesters began to gather in Windsor, the city (which one youth described as normally "sleepy") became both an armed police camp and a festival of resistance. There were police of all kinds everywhere: Windsor police, Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
"Security at the U.S.-Canada border was beefed up tremendously. According to news reports, hundreds of people trying to come to Windsor from Detroit were turned back. By Sunday, the customs police were searching every other person trying to get across the river—and telling anyone young or alternative-looking that they must have proof they were never arrested for anything in order to enter Canada.
"Police occupied the University of Windsor. We heard that students were thrown out of the dorms so cops could be housed there. Every hotel/motel room in Windsor was rented—almost all of them by cops. Police marched down the street in formation, hung out in groups on street corners, and drove around in buses and standing 20 deep on flatbed trucks. The streets of Windsor were full of young people, from body-pierced punkers to youth from Jamaica and elsewhere. And young people walking around, driving in cars, or coming into the Greyhound station were constanatly searched, detained, and sometimes roughed up by the police; one youth was arrested just for wearing a spiked bracelet. It reminded us of how Black youth in Detroit are routinely harassed by the police for DWB (driving while Black). In Windsor it was DWY—`driving while young.' RCMPs went around to the homes of known activists and demanded to know if they were planning to house protesters coming into the city.
"Many people said all this reminded them of scenes from the CIA-backed Pinochet coup in Chile. It was a glimpse of the naked fascist terror experienced daily by the oppressed in U.S.-dominated countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
"One woman, who had never been politically active before, told me she learned about the anti-OAS protests in her English class at a local college. She said, `When my teacher told me what was happening to people in Latin America, I was angry that I didn't know about it before. I thought of Nazi Germany and all the people who went along with it. I didn't want to be like them.'"
In the face of this police intimidation, people were determined to protest against the OAS. The Shutdown OAS Coalition, a coalition of direct action groups, set up a welcoming center and organized housing, making of posters and puppets, and civil disobedience training. Food Not Bombs served food at the meetings. A local art gallery held an anti-OAS show, and a women's theater troupe performed anti-OAS songs. Even a local pub got into the act, welcoming the protesters with a sign saying "Come In and Have a Riot."
A key topic of the OAS meeting was to be the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)—a hemisphere-wide version of NAFTA, which opened Mexico up to even more exploitation by the U.S. Various teach-ins and forums held in the days leading up the OAS meeting were marked by exposure of what NAFTA and the FTAA mean for people in the oppressed countries.
There were various points of view among the anti-OAS protesters in Windsor. Some trade unionists put forward that capitalist "free trade" should be "fairer," and that "labor's views should be heard" by the OAS and other international institutions. Others felt such institutions could do no good and should be shut down.
A widely distributed and well-received leaflet from the Detroit Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party stated, "The OAS has one purpose—to safeguard the Americas for the interests of the U.S. imperialists.... The OAS has served well in helping the U.S. plunder the Americas, backed by Yanqui troops and death-squad dictators."
Our correspondent reported: "On Sunday, June 4, 5,000 people from two rally sites, with many large banners and colorful puppets, joined to march right up to the OAS meeting site. The Canadian Labor Congress, a coalition of trade unions, was joined by the Shutdown OAS Coalition and many other groups. Marchers came from several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and there were lots of signs in Spanish. One said, `Los Verdaderos Terroristas Reciben Ordenes del Pentagono' (The Real Terrorists Take Orders from the Pentagon). There was a beautiful banner from Sudbury, way up in Northern Ontario, which said `Celebration of Resistance' in English, French, and Ojibway. A more minimalist banner just said, `Capitalism Sucks!'
"The OAS meeting site was a conference center downtown. The six-block area was barricaded and surrounded by a 30-foot-high chain-link fence with armed RCMPs behind them. Cops were on the rooftops, in helicopters hovering overhead, and in the boats on the river.
"Despite all the police presence, the OAS organizers were forced by the protest to divert the delegates to another location; we heard the delegates were bused `incognito' to a mansion outside Windsor.
"At the end of the official rally, several hundred protesters hung a banner on the chain-link fence. The police tore down the banner and started pepper spraying protesters. In other parts of the city, people sat down to block buses carrying delegates. More than 40 were arrested that day and taken to an abandoned warehouse (shades of Chile again).
"One thing that was very striking was the broad support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. An activist from Kitchener, Ontario said the city was plastered with Mumia posters. Many Canadian activists said they were mobilizing to go to Philadelphia when the hearings in Mumia's case happen."
Anti-OAS actions continued on Monday and Tuesday. The protests included a large contingent of students from local high schools.
The Detroit authorities also carried out a massive police mobilization for the anti-OAS protests. The city spent $5 million on the police preparations, including purchase of gear like gas masks, batons, and tear gas. The city council even passed a special ordinance for the time period of the OAS meeting—banning gas masks and other masks, bandanas, hooded sweatshirts, and water bottles in downtown Detroit.
Our correspondent reported: "The first action of the Shutdown OAS Coalition took place Friday, June 2. About 25 bicyclists did a Critical Mass action. They met at Hart Plaza on the Detroit River, with a view of Windsor. As soon as the cyclists started to ride, the police surrounded them and arrested 20—including an attorney who was the legal observer.
"The police and the powers-that-be clearly wanted to send a message of intimidation with the arrests at the first anti-OAS action. But it had the opposite effect—activists were more determined this would not stop them. On Saturday, people marched right into the teeth of the massive police deployment downtown. We marched around protesting police brutality, spreading the word about the OAS, and letting people know about the rally on Sunday.
"On Sunday, downtown Detroit looked like scenes I've seen from Chile or El Salvador. You could not move three feet without being beside a pig. The police had city buses standing by to take people away. Thousands of cops were on foot, on motorcycles, in cars, in helicopters. SWAT teams were on standby, and police snipers were positioned on the roof of the City-County building.
"Despite all this, 400 people gathered at Hart Plaza. The were all kinds of people there—youth from the Detroit area and all over the country, trade union members from the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters, striking workers from Detroit newspapers, the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, and other groups.
"The march went right to the edge of the Detroit River, where we could see thousands of protesters gathered in Windsor. Here, the U.S. and Canadian flags were burned as youth beat drums, danced around, and threw dollar bills into the flames."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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