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(en) US, Canada, Toronto, Reflections on A POWERFUL, PEACEFUL OCAP* Protest

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 24 Aug 2003 15:15:39 +0200 (CEST)

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> From: Brian Burch <burch-A-web.ca>
On the 40th Anniversary of the March on Washington, about 400 people
gathered in one of the luxury spots of Toronto to demand economic and social justice.
People dealing with racism, the rights of First Nations, union struggles,
immigrant rights struggles and the rights of all to live with dignity came together
in the Yorkville district of Toronto.
The location was appropriate for both historical and contemporary reasons.
40 years ago Yorkville was in its transition to the locus of the hippy movement
in Toronto. It became a place of coffee houses and street theatre, a place
with American draft dodgers, advocates of co-operatives and critics of the
status quo in Canada found a home. Over time this place of a living, radical approach to
life became the centre of wealth and priviledge. The crowd that gathered on a Saturday
evening in downtown Toronto included those who remembered the radical visions of
the 60s and those finding new visions of social change in the 21st century.
Approaching the park where the demonstration occured required walking through
a veritable horde of police---police on horseback; police on bikes; polices
in paddy wagons;
police walking along the streets, and some of the usual plain clothes officers pretending
to be inconspicuous. Most were Toronto police but there was a sizeable Ontario Provincial
Police presence as well as at least two uniformed RCMP officers. When I
arrived at the park on Comberland St. just before 7:00 the protesters were definitely
outnumbered, being about 60 or so.
By 7:30 there were definitely over 300 people gathered. Union
members, homeless people, clergy from different denominations, agency
staff, social justice activists, peace activists,
professors, pagans from different traditions---the crowd was similar to
many at protests I've been to over the years but with a much more diverse
makeup. People of colour were out in large numbers;
aborignal youth from Toronto and Mohawks from Bay of Quinty were a distinct
presence; people from many immigrant and refugee communities came out. People in
wheelchairs and in strollers were there to share in a feast and in resistance.
The Mohawks from Bay of Quinty brought a massive amount of venison.
Others contibuted an overwhelming range of food. Chocolate covered strawberries,
corn, watermelon, rice...both treats and staples appeared in enough to feed several hundred
people. In the midst of the capitalist, profit focused world of contemporary Yorkville, this
sharing of food seemed almost an act of sacred defiance.
Speakers representated the diversity of those gathered. A Presbyterian minister
spoke, as did a psychiatric survivor. Those involved in union struggles addressed those
gahtered as did aboriginal youth. Not all that was spoken were speaches---there was a
powerful poem in memory of the murdered aboriginal rights activist Dudley
This gathering itself, as peaceful as it was, was a real threat to
the powers-that-be.
The park where it was held was surrounded by police. The police went around the neighbourhood
warning store owners about expected violence. A press release had been sent out threatening
a crackdown. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent to provide a massive police presence
to guard those engaged in the revolutionary act of feeding one's neighbour; of demanding
that all people have the right to housing and a decent standard of living;
of demanding the right to not live in fear of the government or its police.
At about 9:30 the police presence became less intense and people flowed into the
street. Some conversations with passers-by occured and more people employed by local
establishments came out and joined the protest.
As the speaches came to an end, people were encouraged to go into the street
and march behind the OCAP banner, which I found myself being one of those holding. I have
a strong visual image of marching north along a narrow street towards an overwhelming police
presence, wondering if the police would charge the protest or merely
attempt to divert the course of the march. The later turned out to be the
The march through Yorkville was accompanied by dozens of police. At intersections
more police were present. At a few places the crowd stopped to listen to brief stories
about tax subsidied meals and other examples of conspicuous consumption. At one
point, near the end of the march John Clarke, from OCAP, made a point that
struck home to me when he stated (to the best of my memory):
"The Bible states that the poor will always be with us. This is true. But now the
poor are organized. The poor will be present and in the face of those who oppress
At Bloor and Avenue Road the protest was greeted with an massive
presence of riot police including large numbers on horsebac. The
demonsration entered the intersection and then disbanded. The police made
an effort to clear the intersection and those involved with the protest
co-operated with this effort.
There was, no my knowledge, no arrests.
This was a very successful action---bringing hundreds of people into the streets
to demand economic and social justice while also providing in some small way a glimpse of
an alternative vision of society. The presence of so many police officers
show how dangerous the ideal of a compassionate, inclusive and just society is.

* [ED. Note: OCAP - antiauthoritarian social struggle direct action initiative.]

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