Last week may very well mark a critical turning point in the Canadian movement against corporate globalization. Ever since last year's protests in Quebec City, the movement has been increasingly divided on the issue of diversity of tactics, with anti-capitalist, direct-action activists on one side and the labor movement on the other. These divisions deepened after Sept. 11, when even minor violence became much riskier and less acceptable to moderate groups. Alliances forged at Seattle and Quebec City were becoming seriously frayed.
Last week those rifts began to heal as the two wings of the movement organized demonstrations in two separate Canadian cities to express opposition to the G8 meeting in remote Kananaskis.
The more radical direct-action wing, lead by Montreal's CLAC (Anti-Capitalist Convergence) and Toronto's OCAP (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty) organized two days of marches in Ottawa. Meanwhile, the labor movement and more moderate anti-globalization NGOs, such as the Council of Canadians, joined local Alberta activists in organizing almost a week of events (including a People's Summit) in Calgary, the nearest city to Kananaskis.
Taken together, they mounted successful challenges to the G8, especially considering the lengths to which the Canadian government had gone to prevent protest altogether. Not only did the Chrétien government host the G8 in a remote location where five separate checkpoints prevented anyone getting anywhere near the leaders; the feds also paid off an Alberta farmer who had rented land near the summit site to protesters, and got him to withdraw the invitation. Meanwhile, the City of Calgary refused to issue camping or party permits for city parks.
And the movement had internal issues, too. Last week's protests emerged after months of deep discussion about "diversity of tactics." Anarchist groups, opposed to any form of hierarchy and committed to individual autonomy, insisted that imposing an agreement to use only non-violent tactics at demonstrations was authoritarian and divisive and that only the principle of diversity of tactics would ensure that everyone could participate.
But the anarchists' refusal to exclude violent tactics deepened their split with the labor movement, exacerbating the cultural differences between the two. Unlike the anarchists, the labor movement is accustomed to top-down decision-making and internal discipline. Its more conservative elements were only too happy to organize their own actions without having to deal with the unruly anarchists. (Most of the anti-corporate globalization protesters fall somewhere between.)
Since last week, however, it seems the movement has reached a turning point: Although the direct-action activists organizing the Ottawa protesters were unwilling to compromise for unity's sake with labor elements, they agreed to the principle of non-violence in order to ensure the involvement of immigrant and refugee communities. The result: In Ottawa, for the first time in Canada, the movement's demonstrations were visibly multicultural and entirely non-violent.
Another wise decision by Ottawa organizers was to rally around the phrase "No one is illegal." This not only challenged moves within the security-obsessed G8 to close borders against outsiders, it also appealed to the interests of Canadian communities previously uninvolved in the anti-corporate movement, namely new immigrants.
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Calgary protests were also peaceful. For whatever reason, the RCMP made a decision to leave the riot cops on the bench. No visible riot cops, no violence. Calgary police on bicycles even distributed water to protesters.
While Calgary had probably never seen 2,500 anti-corporate protesters on its streets before, the march was modest by movement standards.
But though small, it was eye-catching -- such as the direct-action statement against Third World sweatshops, which saw protesters' bare butts painted with the slogan: "I'd rather wear nothing that wear GAP clothes."
About 2,000 marched last Thursday in Ottawa and about 3,000 the day before. Taken together, the Calgary/Ottawa marches were much smaller than the massive march of almost 70,000 people in Quebec City last year But the anti-capitalist organizers can claim a victory in Ottawa for their ability to successfully mobilize and broaden the movement to immigrant communities and people of color.
And in Calgary, labor and community groups succeeded in mounting a creative, well-organized series of actions that managed to overcome serious state-imposed barriers to freedom of assembly.
Because the threat of violence at demonstrations has been at the root of divisions in the movement, the peaceful nature of both Calgary and Ottawa actions should provide a basis for movement reconvergence.
Imagine what could be accomplished if both wings came back together -- respecting their differences but working in concert to build the kind of mass challenge to corporate globalization and war as their their colleagues in Europe and Latin America.