2010 Peoples Summit in Toronto: A report & our aspirations

22 Jun

Last weekend hundreds of activists came to Toronto to build the ‘movement of movements’. Behind those hundreds, thousands are coming this week to resist the G8/G20 meeting in Huntsville & Toronto, respectively. With dozens of workshops and events this weekend the purpose of the conference is to share skills, information, and tactics for the week ahead.

Why are we resisting the G20? The neoliberal policies of the G20 have caused the economic collapse and broken its promises of international human development. The policies made by the G20 have furthered a globalization of markets that subverts meaningful democracy. The G20 includes the G8; this club of wealthy nations that addresses AIDS prevention, human rights, humanitarian aid, and other humanitarian issues. Buffalo and other industrial centers are specifically violated by their policies that have moved secure jobs to places that arbitrarily ignore human and labor rights.

When I arrived in Toronto, a cloud of discontent hung in the air. A girl with red-hair and a sunflower therein in a green dress said abruptly, “we hate the G20, they are fencing up all of downtown”. The militarization of Toronto by the ‘Integrated Security Unit’ is designed to stop violence at the demonstrations or prevent terrorism. The current neoliberal form of globalization has intensified poverty amongst the poor of the world and inspired resistance to those policies in the form of public protest. In the wake of 911 and after the explosion of protest against the WTO, NAFTA, GATS, G8, and the IMF, the resistance to those policies were associated (discretely or openly) as against the public, incoherent ‘anarchism’, or aid to terrorists. Protest is a valued cornerstone of our human & civil rights as a democratic activity! Why are they associating it with terrorism?

One theory is that the Global War on Terror has cast a ‘state of exception’ over the world. In liberal democracies throughout the Global North anti-terrorism laws have criminalized forms of dissent that make meaningful democracy possible. In the industrializing Global South (i.e. the B.R.I.C. group) human rights abuses are infamous and democratic governments are increasingly or authentically autocratic. In “Multitude”, Antonio Negri & Michael Hardt articulate the idea of the ‘state of exception’ in these terms as theory; however, the security enclosure around the Toronto Metropolitan Convention center and the $1.2 billion for sound cannons, tear gas, and riot gear and vehicles, amidst stronger monitoring by police verifies this exceptional state as the norm.

To distance the movement from normal people and to scare U.S. activists on the other side of the border, the U.S. state department has issued a travel advisory statement: “U.S. citizens should avoid traveling in or through downtown Toronto during the Summit, if possible”. Before that, the RCMP alleged that the heightened security measures were designed to prevent terrorism, which for some activists made the border increasingly difficult to traverse.

On a tour of the alternative areas of Toronto, my host expressed disenchantment with the demonstrations acting as a foci for the larger movement. Veterans of the Global Justice struggle have expressed such feelings. He was enthusiastic about his neighborhood reclaiming a vacant lot across from their apartment and turning it into a community garden and space. The politics of opposition amongst the left is an obstacle for the Global Justice movement, but the singularities in the movement are pursuing more proactive projects instead of simply opposing the varied institutions of neoliberalism.

The sessions at the 2010 Peoples Summit echoed this concern featured proactive subjects and skill-shares designed to focus our skills for the week of action ahead and harness the expertise of the participating activists. For example, a seminar led by Make Poverty History, an NGO, focused on the UN Millennium Development Goals and their implementation. They emphasized how activists could aid them in their long-term campaign to realize these goals. Amongst activists at the Peoples Summit, the aim of Make Poverty History fits into a larger framework to eradicate extreme poverty and improve the general quality of life worldwide.

This NGO is far from anti-capitalist organization, although these reformist organizations come into anti-capitalist convergence’s such as the Peoples Summit because, many of their goals and aspirations are shared by the hard-left. For example, the hard-left supports Gender Justice (by some accounts the abolition of gender) and the empowerment of women but, not just in the marketplace; for the hard left (anti-capitalists) feminism means the destruction of structures that have oppressed and manipulated women (social, economic, and political).

The first workshop I attended on Saturday was on ‘Direct Action’, the primary direct action training was moved to the Sunday session the following day. The workshop was a practical organizers’ direct action training. There were various definitions and thoughts on what direction was, from reclamation of space and or power, to a democratic non-legislative action. Our lesson operated along these lines and precisely Martin Luther King Jr.’s definition of Direct Action: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue”(Letters from Birmingham Jail).

In a planning exercise we were given we committed an action to disrupt in order to force such a tension that would make the ministers of the G20 and the powers-that-be deal with the impoverished majority. The logistics of such an activity can range from one committed person to a million concerned people, and it can be arrestable or not-arrestable actions. Although, one should take into account the police’s unpredictability.

The second seminar addressed the economic crisis and economic inequity in Canada; similarly, in the United States from 1984 to 2005 and the key is the poorer get poorer while the rich become obscenely rich. Within this dynamic middle and high class professionals are not really affected by the economic crisis as much (if at all on the high end) so they don’t see the crisis as a dire problem as much as the poor and the lower-middle class would. The wealth (total assets) of Canada is $2,439,025,000,000, and the top percentile has 75% of the wealth and the bottom percentile actually is in debt $1000.00 on average and they have $12,000 on average. $12,000 in total assets is enough to keep you off of the streets for a year.

There were two exercises that the organizers employed, one visually illustrated how the distribution of wealth would be represented by chairs in a room. The second was more in-depth and involved people lining up and the people all represented different wealth brackets, and for every wealth bracket they took a step back or forward when they lost or gained wealth in a certain time period. It was a stunning visual representation when the person with the most wealth had to hug the far opposite wall and the person that had the least backed up into the wall behind us.

There are obvious problems with this system and at this point, why haven’t people organized against it? One subject of the workshop was the hegemony of neoliberal thinking that has dominated culture and thought since the 1980’s, per Margaret Thatcher’s statement, “there’s no such thing as society”. The excess of hyper-individualism has reduced even progressive thinking to individualistic ideology, and anything against the ‘ownership society’ of the Regan-Thatcher philosophy is going against a Social Darwinist perspective of “survival of the fittest”. As an anathema to this thought, our thinking has to strategically move from material to social.

Organizing socially as opposed to adhering to previous materialist (‘bread and butter’ issues) or ideological (i.e. socialist parties & anarchist organizations) forms means organizing our social networks along the lines of joy rather than duty, thus emphasizing the fun of meaningful democracy. Practically it means that we must organize more dance parties, house parties, and film screening that emphasize subversive happiness that educates and agitates.

On the last day of the summit, organizers galvanized the attendees in a meeting titled: The Week Ahead: Toronto Community Mobilization Network. The week ahead, the themed days of action and associated events during the actual G20 conference on June 26th-27th are based on five themes : Human Rights & Civil Liberties; Environment & Climate Change; Economic Justice; Global Justice; Building the Movement (Skills & Inspiring mobilization); and, Holding Canada Accountable.

The themes may methods of protest like in Copenhagen. For example, on Tuesday, June 22nd is a day of “Creative Civic Transformation” in which activists will transform space either physically or socially. Apart of this civic transformation will be a Gender Justice festival with a kiss-in for all sexual perspectives. The societal norms that often alienate LGBT affection will be challenged by open shows of affection while simultaneously creating an inclusive and occupied social public space. In addition to previously stated goals, this act (like all acts this week) will address global inequities along these lines. The problems that the themes are addressing are both local and global problems, which will undoubtedly be addressed in Seoul, South Korea in November 2010.

The Peoples Summit represented the continuity and maturity of the Global Justice movement. The Global Justice movement represents the swarm-like and decentralized nature of leftist internationalism in the 21st century, a ‘world of many worlds’. Building these worlds requires an infrastructure and proactive transformation is the creation of an alternative infrastructure.

To see my notes from the summit go to my facebook ‘notes’ section here.

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