Published on Tuesday, June 6, 2000 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
OAS Protests: Quiet Day of Activism Ends As Many Feel Another Piece Of The Global Puzzle Has Been Exposed
by Heather Scoffield
Windsor, Ontario -- The antitrade and antiglobalization protests that swamped the Organization of American States meeting Sunday melted away in the rain yesterday, but activists as well as some official delegates felt the demonstrators' message had filtered through anyway.
About 70 young activists blocked the entranceway into a manor where delegates went for lunch yesterday, but they eventually left peacefully after police formed a passageway for traffic through the crowd, police said.
"I think things are going to be very calm from here on in," said Constable Michele Paradis, a spokeswoman for the RCMP.
About 41 people were arrested Sunday for breaching the peace, clashing with police or throwing objects.
Many of the thousands of protesters who travelled to Windsor to protest against the OAS focused on international trade issues and the power of corporations.
One radical faction of demonstrators had threatened to shut down the meetings and attempt to stop any more talks about the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a pact that would unite North, South and Central America in a free-trade zone by 2005.
Government officials, however, continually repeated that the OAS has nothing to do with trade.
"The issue of a free-trade agreement of the Americas is not on the agenda of the OAS meeting in Windsor," Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray said last week.
But the protesters' concerns about the power of international institutions, quality of life and corporate control did get through to the OAS delegates in the end, Argentine Foreign Minister Adalberto Rodriguez said.
"We got a strong message: more participation, more attention to sensitive issues," he said in an interview.
Although the activists' momentum faded yesterday, they put a positive spin on their campaign and promised to be back in full force at future international meetings.
"We have put the OAS on the map," said Anna Dashtgard, a spokeswoman for the activists.
"We have exposed it as another piece in this global corporate puzzle that people are increasingly feeling disempowered by, and it's not going to end here in Windsor.
"There are protests happening around the world in response to these international financial institutions that are promoting an agenda of profit-over-everything [and] privatization of our public services that we have fought so hard for in the last 50 to 100 years, if not longer."
The activists who took to the streets yesterday, and the ones responsible for blocking a bus and deflating its tires on Sunday, were part of a loose coalition of mainly young people from Ontario and Quebec. Unlike the union-led groups that rallied peacefully on Sunday to show their concern about human rights and democracy, these activists intended to use civil disobedience to block entrances to the OAS meeting.
Many of them brought experience from the huge, violent demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization meeting last November and in Washington against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in April.
The activists formed small "affinity groups" before the OAS meeting, and each group had someone responsible for speaking on its behalf, for handling legal issues and for handling medical issues.
Decisions on what type of civil disobedience to use were made by consensus. On Sunday afternoon, when the activists realized they were having trouble shutting down the meeting, representatives from the groups gathered in a large circle, sitting cross-legged on the pavement outside the fenced-off OAS area.
A chairwoman skillfully guided the group through a discussion about how to make best use of their numbers. No one spoke unless she pointed at them. And others could show consent only by wiggling their fingers in the air next to their ears.
Ideas were pitched and a consensus was forged quickly to gather other supporters by marching around a concentrated stretch of the fenced-off area.
Arguing was not allowed, but dissenters were free to leave and undertake their own actions.
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