(en) APEC Account

APEC Alert! (alert@unixg.ubc.ca)
Sun, 30 Nov 1997 17:17:35 -0800 (PST)

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This morning I woke up sore--sad. The pepper spray smell was gone, but the pain that yesterday tore through my face, my chest, my penis and testicles is mirrored today somehow. In emotional stress, fragility, loneliness. The weapons of my enemies run deep but are ultimately underpinned by this, violence, pain. And having begged--begged--the pigs for mercy ("please, water, oh please") brings a different perspective to my struggle. In the end, I think it will be broadening and that my analysis and commitment will deepen, but it could go either way. Pain, both the immediate physical and the lingering emotional is what's in store for those of us who slip through the propaganda system, reject packaged lives, and push the issue.

--on November 25th '97 48 protesters were arrested at the University of British Columbia while staging a demonstration against the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Summit. Some were engaging in acts of civil disobedience, some were not. Many were pepper sprayed (some very heavily) by police who distributed the liquid pain from fire extinguisher sized containers.--

Postmodern sensibilities dictate that I should situate myself:

1. I am a UBC student and activist. There was an image of me being pepper sprayed, hoisted behind police lines and handcuffed on national television last night. In the grand narrative of capitalist information structures I'm a blip, a very unhappy face subject to another blip, anomalous police brutality.

2. I'm a relatively longtime member of APEC Alert, one of the grassroots Vancouver organization which spent a year organizing resistance to APEC. I've given public talks to hundreds of people, participated in debates, made an put up posters, made puppets, written poetry, spoken, whispered, dreamed against APEC--which is to say against greed, exploitation, violence.

3. I'm an individual committed to challenging and undermining systems of power which exploit and devalue experience; in my personal life, the organizations I choose to participate in, and in the prevalent system I am forces to witness and support.

4. I feel myself a member of a broader community which recognizes these fundamental injustices and works to create structures and systems which allow for effective collective action without subjugating individuals to tyranny, exploitation, or slavery either at the hands of the majority or a minority or just another. We are knit cross the planet and our unity derives from a shared understanding of the struggles we face and the appropriate ways of dealing with them.

5. In some kind of metanarrative tapestry, outside the filter of popular culture and dominant ideology, I'd situate myself on a long and important strand about to come into the foreground. Anarchism? tightly woven around socialism.

Organizing against APEC was a way to answer an immediate need (one that I barely understood in June when I joined APEC Alert) to situate myself vis a vis the dominant culture. As my understanding of and emotional connection to that place grew, I felt an increasing solidarity with other dissenters and with the history of resistance to greed. I felt the need to send a message to the thousands who resisted APEC in the Philippines in 1996, to the millions who resist worldwide (often in just going on) that despite my position of privilege and affluence my soul yearns for the same freedom--as many seek liberation in just fulfilling their basic needs, having access to the products of their labour, I seek liberation in shedding the excess garnered by colonial exploitation and class greed. How would I do this? By putting my body on the line, I decided. And was this macho posturing? A fraternity initiation ritual? maybe. I know that resistance is building, rejecting, creating, destroying, growing, just living. Not just fighting.

I've tried to pursue all these avenues, within APEC Alert and without, but as the day grew nearer, I felt the need to put my body, my most valuable possession, on the line--a demonstration to myself and to the world. No, I wouldn't be killed or tortured. My position, my skin, my geography were all insulation against potentially more serious violence. So was my militance symbolic? Well, for now, but these things build and gradually erode insulation, filtering, and malign tolerance. This is a process I hope to participate in and (I tell myself anyways) that I'll still be here when malign tolerance to dissent becomes violent intolerance and repression. My sincerest hope is that violence never comes to the foreground of resistance here, but violence is the ultimate instrument of class and state repression and the evidence is that in the end it will be used. I'm a peaceful person. I don't want to kill anyone. I don't even want to hurt anyone. But I refuse to close my eyes. One of the frightening things about global capitalist imperialism is the extent to which the systems of exploitation and repression are dispersed and intangible. This makes it all the more important to develop parallel structures and to imbue every community that we participate in with the values (genuine democracy, tolerance, diversity) that undermine the dominant authoritarian/racist/sexist paradigm. The question remains: what to do when global capital expansion puts our lives, our communities, our hopes and dreams under attack? Obviously there's no need, and no real way, to provide an answer. What I can do is outline how one group of people (one might instead say a collection of actions and plans) which came be known as APEC Alert responded to precisely these conditions. There are lessons to be learned both in our successes and in our failures.

June--November 1997.

expansion and organization: In June 1997 when I first started coming to AA meetings there were about 7 to 12 of us. Our primary goal was to educate the campus population about APEC and particularly to draw links between free trade/neoliberalism and poverty, increased economic warfare against already marginalized people, corporatization on campus, the commodification of education and students, the struggles of indigenous people and against environmental degradation. We tried to educate through traditional routes like postering, leafletting, info tables, panel discussions and debates as well as more radical tactics like street theatre, sidewalk chalking, painting an 'APEC Free Zone' on the concrete. The APEC Free Zone began as a small ring around the Goddess of Democracy (a monument in remembrance of Tiananmen Square) and grew to encompass the entire campus. We wanted to convince, we wanted to show and challenge--we wanted people to understand that there was more at stake than a temporary inconvenience on campus, that APEC/neoliberalism colonizes lands and lives in the South; minds and lives among university students; bodies, cultures and lives everywhere. We wanted to make clear that APEC represents a particular world view, one that is being ruthlessly imposed through violence (physical, economic, social), advertising/propaganda and a carefully constructed argument of inevitability and progress.

In our organizing we tried to present a concrete alternative to this vision. To create a space where decisions are made by consensus, where everything is up for debate, where all voices are listened to and valued. This is the ideal. The reality falls considerably short, partly due to the obvious time constraint which made focussing on process sometimes impractical. At the very least, AA introduced a lot of people to consensus decision making and encouraged a large number of people to freely take on organizing responsibilities and pursue them with the trust and support of the group. For me the whole experience highlighted the need to really focus on process and particularly interpersonal power dynamics when there is the time so that in crisis situations power and responsibility are instinctively shared as widely as possible.

tent city (November 17--25): Our little Democracy Village (aka DemoVille) sprouted under a horrendous downpour. But in time the 8 little tents became 12, then 20, until it really did start to look like a 'ville'. In fact in got so crowded some residents broke off to form an outpost (not a colony) at the Museum of Anthropology where the APEC leaders would be meeting. Unfortunately, peaceful coexistence is not in the APEC lexicon and the citizens of Freedom's Outpost were arrested, jailed, and barred from further participation in any anti-APEC activities, conditions which most of them quietly ignored.

For a week the tent city was the hub of anti-APEC activity, then we took over the SUB (Student Union Building).

occupation: The occupation of the SUB was the highlight of my junk APEC week, not because we got to defy the student government, not because we got to stick our tongues out at the university and the RCMP. The evening was magical because about 30 of us spent all night transforming with tape and posters and chalk and banners and our minds and our hands--transforming the entire building into a totally politicized, totally created and conscious space. For two days, it wasn't a mall or a venue for advertising or a collection of compartmentalized student activities, it was a living space spawned by our hands and our hopes and our defiance.

November 24th, teach-in/speakout--Free University: After an hour of sleep the 24th was a bit of a blur. In the early morning, we took over the administration building so that we could hold two public panels at a time. The turnout and educational value of the event was amazing. Fifty to two hundred, mostly university and high school students, came out for each of the six panels (globalization of education, local struggles, globalization, indigenous struggles, women and APEC, and labour). Speakers like Splitting the Sky (of the Free Wolverine Campaign), Norman Carnay (of the Asian Students Association), Jane Kelsey (professor of Economics and critic of APEC from New Zealand), and Aziz Choudry (GATT Watchdog, also of Aotearoa.) at turns focused and broadened discussion and debate.

Unfortunately, I couldn't really enjoy the day. When my friend was grabbed and thrown into an unmarked car by plainclothes Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the second session, I burst. All the pent-up tension and frustration of a week, the fears and hopes for the next day, my concern for my friend and my sense of injustice mingled and drained out my eyes.

November 25th, Crash the Summit: The most sympathetic corporate press has framed November 25th as an anomalous case of police using violence to suppress 'human rights' protesters. Thus, in the frame, none of our broader analysis and criticism of global capitalist expansion is acknowledged. Nor is their any acknowledgment that the violence exposed here enforces the more subtle systems of brainwashing, motive-manipulation and manufactured consent which generally keep the machine running smoothly.

now: So what now? The systems moves quickly to incorporate and coopt dissent. Thus the university president Martha Piper, who dogged our steps throughout the fall, threatened us, had us arrested, is now 'proud' of the UBC students who dared to speak out. The police will accept and process complaints, lawsuits will be launched, all of which legitimizes the system and gives the illusion of self-correction and democracy. What we might do now as activists and dissidents, what I'm trying to do here, is to document what really happened in the lead up to November 25th and APEC so that we can draw our own conclusions, do our own analysis and maintain some kind of continuity outside of the dominant systems. If the protests of November 25th spark liberal outrage against police brutality and human rights abuses so much the better, but more important is to document, learn from, and continue the real struggle for democracy, social justice, diversity, community.

Aiyanas Ormond November 26th, 1997

All the opinions here are my own, even when I use 'we'.

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