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(en) Canada, Toronto, Yorkville Feast Takes It To The Tory Trough

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 27 Aug 2003 08:42:32 +0200 (CEST)

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by Ontario Coalition Against Poverty ocap-A-tao.ca
On Saturday, August 23rd, well over 500 people gathered amid the
luxury condos, 'fine dining' establishments and upscale boutiques of
Toronto's Yorkville district for a huge feast. Homeless people came to
dine. Residents of nearby poor communities turned out. First Nations
people brought their support and solidarity. Immigrant neighbourhoods
under attack were represented. Trade unionists and social justice
activists stood together.
We took over Cumberland Park, across from some of the most
renowned watering holes of the rich and famous. The huge rock that had
been ripped out of Northern Ontario and brought at great expense to form a
landmark in this enclave was covered in people. A long row of tables
groaned with a vast selection of foods. Organizations and individual
supporters had prepared a dazzling assortment of dishes. The Mohawks of
the Bay of Quinte fed our fightback by providing some six hundred servings
of venison. On that night, no one went hungry.

In the days leading up to the Feast, it was clear that we had
touched a very raw nerve with this action. The Toronto Police issued a
press release that left no doubt as to who they are there to 'serve and
protect'. They denounced OCAP for attacking this citadel of wealth on the
grounds that we were undermining Toronto's economic recovery from the SARS
epidemic and the power blackout. They promised to deal with any
'impropriety' to 'the fullest extent of the law'. The Mayor of the City
waded into the debate and visited Yorkville to inspect police preparations
to defend the district from the demands of the poor for justice. The
force mobilized against us seemed designed to turn back an invading army
rather than respond to a feast. Riot police were lined up in vans all
along one of the streets to the north. Mounted units were poised for
action at all times. The Toronto cops were so threatened by a gathering
of poor people that they had to call in back up. A contingent of the
Ontario Provincial Police stood ready to move into action. RCMP officers
were also present.

None of this vast and costly exercise in intimidation had the
slightest effect. Homeless people, who are vulnerable as anyone can be to
police abuse, showed no fear but boldly walked into Yorkville past lines
of cops to join the Feast. Speeches from a range of supporting
organizations were clear and defiant. A sense of strength and solidarity
united everyone.

It was clear that the authorities in general and the police in
particular were enraged that we had created the political conditions that
made it impossible for them to stop us. An election is looming and we
were mobilizing poor and homeless people to come to one of the most well
known centres of lavish consumption to expose and challenge the Ontario
that eight years of Tory government has created. We came to denounce the
cuts to social housing and welfare, to decry the freeze on disability
support money, and to explain how tax cuts given to the rich have been
financed by these very austerity measures inflicted on poor people. To
deny us the right to make this statement and exercise our democratic
rights would have been too naked and ugly a display for the authorities to
engage in. Still, they seethed with anger, as they had to stand back and
watch the Yorkville Feast unfold.

Police were ready to move in as we concluded the Feast and took to
the streets of Yorkville in a March that passed through the heart of the
district. A line of mounted cops brought up the rear, police on foot were
everywhere along the route, riot squads waited nearby hoping we would give
them any pretext to move in. The March was loud and defiant but we had no
intention of giving them a fight on their terms. We stopped three times
along the way to point out some of the local fixtures and to highlight
their significance from the standpoint of social injustice. Morton's
Steakhouse, where leading Tory Cam Jackson spent $3,000 of Taxpayers'
money on meals was pointed out, as was the Four Seasons Hotel where this
same man spent thousands more of our dollars on high priced accomodation.
(Unlike Kimberly Rogers and others convicted of 'welfare fraud', Jackson
has not been cut off for life. His place at the trough is still
reserved.) In this same Four Seasons, they sell a bottle of wine that
goes for $3,500. Sweatshop employers who have not had to pay their
workers any increase since 1995 (thanks to the Tories) get to guzzle and
gorge while 150,000 people a month turn to the City's foodbanks.

The March dispersed at Bay and Bloor. Bloor Street was blocked to
the west by a line of police on foot and the upscale retail outlets to the
east were protected by a huge and solid phalanx of police on horseback.
And how many units of social housing could have been paid for with the
resources put into policing the poor that night?

While the March had been disciplined and proud, the police could
not let us achieve what we had without striking back. As the crowd
dispersed, the cops waited for the numbers to decrease and then charged
into the crowd, hitting out with their batons and making four arrests.
It was a futile and ugly attempt to undermine our victory.

Soon an election will take place. The Yorkville Feast set some of
the tone for the interventions that we will make as the campaign unfolds.
We will mobilize to dog the Tories and challenge their hateful election
manifesto. But we will also serve notice to whoever follows them that the
just demands for living income and decent housing that we advance will be
fought for with no regard as to which gang holds the most seats in the
Legislature. We said in Yorkville that 'they are rich because we are
Poor'. We can't end poverty until their wealth is taken from them and the
means by which they obtain it is eliminated.

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
517 College Street, Suite 234 Toronto, Ontario M6G 4A2
416-925-6939 ocap (at) tao.ca www.ocap.ca
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