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QuebecCity is really the moniker for the protest/streetfight that happened the weekend of April 20, 2001. It's used as an example on MeatballWiki at many levels:
- Protest organization happened primarily online.
- Use of online spaces for independent journalism (PeerToPeerJournalism).
This is the first such event discussed on MeatballWiki. Perhaps analysis here will lead to better coverage of future such events (like the G8 summit in Ottawa in 2002).
IMC FTAA SPECIAL NEWS BLAST | Friday, April 20, 2001
A compilation of breaking stories, photos, video, and audio from the Independent Media Center Network on Friday, April 20, 2001 covering the Summit of the Americas, or FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas).
SunirShah goes to Quebec City
This is a slow revelation of my experiences. I was pretty shook up after the event, so I decided to take some mental time off from everything. I consequently focused heavily on writing code at work and withdrew from MeatballWiki where I guiltfully owed an account I didn't feel like giving.
Why I went
I have to admit, I mostly wanted to go because I thought Quebec City would be a fête. Judging by most media accounts I had seen, that's what I expected. I was confident that most people going for the protest were determined to be peaceful (if rowdy). Surely Canada was capable of being more civil than Seattle.
I wouldn't have gone if it was just a party, however. In the week or two leading up to the event, there was a lot of buzz about the protest. The atmosphere was electrified, and it was certainly clear to everyone that Seattle had put the media's agenda squarely in the protester's hands. I definitely did not want to miss what could have been (and turned out to be) a part of history.
It certainly helped that as a firm believer in SocialCapitalism I was onside with many of the opinions of the leftwing dissenters. And I most definitely was opposed to the empty republicanism in which the talks were conducted. The fence, the backrooms, the shortened deadlines all left a heavy stink in my civics-minded nose.
So, I managed to convince two friends to go Friday night over howls from their family to avoid trouble. This was after the BlackBloc had instigated the takedown of the fence, and the first teargasing too, but I naively trusted our Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's reporting that it was only a dozen crazed jerks. We would be safe if we stayed away from the morons.
Thinking we were off for an "adventure," we took off early Saturday morning after a greasy McDonald's breakfast as yet another band of maverick (though geeky) observers.
The PoliceForce used a variety of methods to control the situation. Their objectives were many. I don't purport to know exactly what they intended to accomplish, but I can definitely discuss what I saw and what I heard in terms of possible objectives. This after all isn't an account of what happened, but of what we can learn.
The police's greatest asset is intimidation and fear. Using fear is a nearly perfect weapon because it requires no physical violence. In fact, it functions adequately to supress many counter-actions from the insurgents. Consider that before we left, my friend's sister begged us not to go. His parents similarly were quite vocal in their opposition. They assumed the worst. (Rightly so.) Of all the people I asked to go, the ones that eventually went were the ones with the worst conception of what to expect. The others were too afraid.
The police allegedly (references?) took many steps to create fear.
- 1. In the week running up to the protest, a band of "militants" were caught with explosives. Their plan was to plant a bomb in the middle of a densely populated green (lawful protest only) zone, and this was exposed by an undercover cop who had infiltrated the gang. Naturally, this was well covered in the national media. This created the necessary anxiety in the mainstream populace to keep people away from the protest. Later, it was alleged that the undercover officer had actually encouraged this event in order to manufacture a media event. Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but it certainly suggests an interesting tactic for an evil regime.
- 2. Rumours floated that there would be roadblocks as you approached QuebecCity--which there weren't. There were border stops that delayed people who would normally get through the border, and detained people who normally wouldn't. Of course, there were allegations that legitimate people were detained illegally too. I'll bet that's true because there's always error. On a similar note, they cleared out an entire jail to hold the protesters.
- 3. The police wore identical, anonymizing riot suits. If you've ever seen a cop in full riot gear up close, you will notice that the riot gear makes the cop look twice as big as he really is. Also, you cannot see the cops face. Instead, you are faced with a plastic polarized visor. This gave the cops the affectionate nickname of "robocops." Inhuman. There was also a suggestion that the cops can't see your eyes through their visors which similarly anonymizes the crowd that they have to control. This makes it easier on them psychicly.
- 4. The fence. As mentioned elsewhere, the fence was not merely a physical barrier. It was very much a psychological one. Construction began months before the summit. It began building that atmosphere of us vs. them. It also made the entire old city look like Escape from New York. Not a very inviting image. There was definitely no welcome mat.
- 5. The constant helicopters. Chopa. Chopa. Chopa. At least three helicopters flew at any given minute during the whole summit. This created the ominous feel of being watched and hunted. It was also a use of low-bass rhythmic sound to intimidate the opposing side (compare with the rock drumming by the protesters). At night, the strobe lights were really a very serious cause for alarm. If they caught you in one, they'd hold it on you.
- 6. Confusion. I can attest that on Saturday night, in the city streets near the river and the fence, the entire region was covered in a thick fog from the police smoke bombs. People were everywhere in the streets. The police had paddy wagon after paddy wagon in a line just to say, "We're going to arrest you." The police bus was sweeping the streets of cars. Police squads roaming with guns drawn and full riot gear. If I ever wondered what WWI was like, that was pretty close. Gas clouds everywhere and total confusion. The helicopters didn't help either. Friday night was apparently much the same. One person we met said that the police would march in gangs through the tear gas/smoke bomb fog in right gear, guns drawn, laser light flashing through the smoke. If they saw you, they'd indiscriminately shoot a canister at you. Also, they carpet bombed the bridge where the rave was all Friday night until Saturday morning.
- 7. Removal of leadership. One of the first things that the police did was to black bag arrest Jaggi Singh once again (much like APEC). They just grabbed him on a trumped up charge just to hold him for a week. Saturday night, they arrested and shot tear gas canisters at the Red Cross and others at the camp underneath the bridge. It's not entirely clear what provoked this response.
- 8. Weapons. The cops had weapons. Aad they used them. Enough said.
You're a cop. You're in QuebecCity. You are outnumbered. Are you afraid?
- Very. You remember headlines like "Police officer hacked to death by machete wieldling protestors" are not impossible. Tear gas and rubber bullets be damned.
Fear causes irrational behaviour.
Ha! That's my next section. How do the instigators create fear. --ss