Taking the Streets of Calgary

1,000s Demonstrate Against Global Capitalists

by Orpheus

Revolutionary Worker #1158, July 14, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

"We the people, do not agree with the leaders on the war on terror. We do not believe in the richest countries determining for the rest of the world what their economic, social and entire futures should be."

Young female student from Calgary

"I think it's really important that in these times, with this war on terrorism, you really have to get out there and build that culture of resistance. If no-one came out, it would almost be like what they're saying would be true about `everything's changed since Sept. 11' and `dissent is no longer acceptable.' But by coming out here in mass numbers, we can prove them wrong."

Young internationalist from Winnipeg

Heading to Calgary, Alberta from the west, you go through the high mountain passes and deep river gorges of British Columbia and western Alberta. As we drove through this beautiful terrain, we eagerly discussed linking up our revolutionary internationalist views with the growing mood of discontent and desire to stand with the people of the world.

Calgary emerges out of the green plain flowing east of the spectacular peaks of the Canadian Rockies--a hot and dry city in the summertime. The city wasn't the small and sleepy place I remembered from a visit years ago. Now it's a city of almost one million, with glistening skyscrapers. Alberta is known in Canada as being the wealthiest and most conservative province, home to much of Canada's oil industry.

The leaders of the richest and most powerful countries selected Alberta as the place to hold their yearly Group of 8 (G8) summit on June 26-27. They hoped that by retreating to the conservative climate of Alberta and the isolation of the wilderness of Kananaskis (45 minutes west of Calgary), they would escape the protests and political exposure that greeted them in recent years in Seattle, Genoa and Quebec City. They spent $300 million on the largest security operation in the history of peacetime in Canada, securing themselves behind thousands of military and police, fighter jets, and anti-aircraft batteries. The Canadian capitalists tried to criminalize dissent, making it impossible for people to find a place to establish a protest encampment. There was increased border security and some protesters were denied entry. Officials justified these repressive measures on the grounds of the "post Sept. 11 terrorist threat."

Local newspaper articles aimed at spreading fear, tried to make a connection between "terrorists" and protesters, and put out the idea that with demonstrators coming to town "anything can happen." Concrete barriers were put up around the downtown Telus Center where the media and lower level G8 delegates stayed. Mailboxes were removed to prevent them from becoming "great hiding places for explosives." Calgary city officials denied public space to activists, and promised no protest would be allowed. Yet in the face of this climate of repression and fear, thousands of activists took over the streets of downtown Calgary, indicting globalization and war by the G8. Over several days, protests disrupted business as usual, stopped traffic, forced the closure of many large businesses, banks and government buildings and at the same time, managed to win support from many local people. A strong message emerged from these protests that growing numbers side not with their own rulers, but with the oppressed worldwide.

Showdown at the Hoedown!

The night of June 25, 2,000 people took the streets south of downtown Calgary in opposition to a city-sponsored "old west party" for G8 delegates. The area around the Roundup Center--where delegates gathered--was turned into a festival of resistance.

I looked around the crowd at Memorial Park where the protest started and saw mostly young people, but also others. There were kids wearing Rage Against the Machine, Propaghandi (a radical Cana-dian band), and Che T-shirts. There were young women with cowboy hats with stickers saying "G8 fuck- off." There were union workers, First Nations Indian people, and radical cheerleaders decked out in black and red. There was a "pagan cluster" of spiritual activists. One woman, from a rural area in British Colombia, said she came because life on the planet is "so close to the edge, and that's why in spite of all the nonsense about the tanks and the military and the tear gas, it just seemed so important to come."

An ex-Canadian soldier told me he had walked away from the military to "join the people." His message to the G8 was simple: "This is our planet, and you guys are messing it up and we don't like it." Peggy Askin, the president of Telecommunications local 203, who was recently laid off along with 11,000 other workers as part of the formerly public (now privatized) Telus Corporation's moves to become "globally competitive," told the crowd, "The G8 impoverishes the world's people. We did not and never will agree to them using our parks and our country or anyplace on this earth for their plots against humanity."

People charged into the streets chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" In front of the Roundup Center people danced to music pumped out by a large sound system and jumped up and down on a trampoline in the middle of the street.

We spoke with people about their opposition to many aspects of globalization by capitalist countries- -from the way they rip off the poor and indigenous populations around the world and at home, to the privatization of resources such as water in Canada, to their whole "war on terror" and domestic repression. One young woman from Calgary told me, "I just don't agree that eight people can make all these decisions that affect everybody and we have no say in it. It's not democracy like they tell us it is in school."

People were eager to discuss the current situation, strategies for fundamental change, and how we can truly realize another world, and there was a lot of openness to revolutionary communist politics.

June 26--Shutdown Downtown!

On June 26, the Anti-Capitalist Collective of Calgary joined with the Calgary and District Labor Council and other unions to host a snake march through downtown Calgary. The goal of the march was to shut down business as usual on the first day of the G8 summit in Kananaskis.

At 6:30 a.m. at Fort Calgary park, the morning sun shone on about 2,000 people gathered for the march. There were trade union contingents from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Canadian Auto Workers, the Steelworkers District 6, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada. There were a number of African, Middle Eastern, Filipino, and East Indian immigrant workers. There were black bloc anarchists, anti-war student groups, socialists, the pagan cluster and the radical cheerleader crew from all over Canada, and many others. People carried black flags, several Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs, and a few red flags. People had come to demonstrate from every province in Canada, coast to coast, many from Calgary and Edmonton, and a smaller group of youth from the U.S.--from Minnesota, Seattle, California, Montana and other places.

As the march headed downtown, the crowd grew to about 2,500. I spoke with a woman from the Canadian Network to End Sanctions on Iraq carrying a large banner against the sanctions. She said, "We're here to protest what the G8 stands for. But also to let people know about what's happening in Iraq. Sanctions need to stop. People in Iraq need to be able to live. And we need to think about the U.S. push to possibly attack Iraq again."

The march snaked through downtown for three hours. In front of large corporate headquarters, such as Shell Oil, and government buildings, marchers sat down to block the streets, listen to speeches and be entertained by the radical cheerleaders. Police helicopters hovered overhead and cops on bikes rode along the march and blocked off entrances to buildings. But the people successfully held the streets.

After the first snake march, the crowd divided into "red and green" zones of activity--red for higher risk of confrontation with the state, and green for lesser risk. We went with the "red march," led by anarchist youth dressed in black. As the red march took the streets, people pulled bandannas over their faces and there were calls to "take out your contact lenses" in preparation for tear gas and pepper. Given the threats against the protests and lack of permits, everyone expected and was ready for a police attack. Youth linked arms to block off key intersections downtown, stopping traffic. Two lively games of anarchist soccer were played as people on the sides cheered. For two hours, the red march snaked through downtown, disrupting traffic.

We heard later that rush hour commuter trains had been almost empty. Many people just stayed home and papers reported that many businesses, banks, and government offices had simply closed for the day, others for the whole week.

Die-In and Car Caravanto Kananaskis

On the afternoon of the 26th, a hundred people staged a "die-in for life" at Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary in memory of Carlo Giuliani--who was murdered by Italian police at last year's G8 protests in Genoa--and the deaths of 8,000 people a day from AIDS in Africa. People fell to the ground in unison at 12 noon. Bodies were outlined in chalk, and political messages covered the plaza. People had written, "In memory of the disappeared in Guatemala and El Salvador," "WTO stopped drugs (for AIDS) that would have saved," "died of poverty," "police brutality victim," "women maquila workers of Juarez Mexico--700 raped and murdered since 1993--Never forget," "Canada and Bush are climate killers," "War kills," etc.

In the afternoon a caravan of 100 cars carrying 400 protesters drove from Calgary to try to get as close as possible to the G8 summit site at Kananaskis. A guy in the caravan told me they were stopped at a blockade where police and military officials took pictures of people with telephoto lenses. Earlier in the day, a contingent of Canadian postal workers dressed in their uniforms delivered anti-G8 messages they had gathered to a representative of the Canadian government at a roadblock near the summit site. One postal worker was busted.

A number of other important events were part of the activities against the G8, including a community march in Calgary of several thousand on June 23, an action of several hundred at a Gap store downtown, and the Group of Six Billion (G6B) people's summit teach-in that drew hundreds of people over five days. Throughout the activities people housed, fed, gave medical care and legal support to all the people from out of town. A great spirit of support from the masses allowed all of us to carry out our mission.

Standing Firmfor the People of the World

The state had tried to scare away people from coming to the protests with threats and make it difficult for people to feel they could make an impact by having the summit in isolation in conservative Alberta. They avoided a big confrontation during the main protests, but continued their harassment and surveillance of activists, and some arrests were made.

Faced with all the repression and threats from the state, many activists felt by seizing the streets, protests had opened up new political space. This was very important, given the "war on terrorism" and the whole repressive climate people are facing.

Protesters ended up getting a lot of support from people in Calgary. A guy from Toronto told me when he first arrived people on the streets seemed very afraid of the protesters. But only a few days later, leafleting on the street, he found support and agreement from many. He related one story of a gas station attendant who was initially afraid of the protesters but after getting leaflets and talking with people he ended up giving the protesters free slushies and said, "You guys are great." Many people had similar stories about how when people broke through the intimidation of the other side, many came to agree with what the protesters were saying about globalization and the G8. Some thought the protests had "won over" the city--a huge victory given the conservative nature of Calgary.

Among the activists, there was discussion and debate over what the protests had accomplished. Many thought the people's determination had carried the day in the face of big odds. One young activist from Winnipeg told us, "It's inspiring to know that there are other people that have the same views as you. And that they care enough to come out here and to march with you. It's hopeful."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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