Attacking the roots at the G8/20 summit this summer

To tell you the truth, I think I’d be a little disappointed in the market if it wasn’t already covered with posters calling for protest at the G8/G20 summit this summer. It’s only been a few days since the decision to move the meetings to Toronto was announced; at the time of this writing, even the government’s official summit website still has “Muskoka” written all over it. Say what you will about the rabble rousers, but damned if they’re not on their game.

“The G8/20 Meetings are rooted in capitalism, in war, in greed, in patriarchy, in imperialism, in racism and in neo-colonialism,” according to the impassioned people at the Toronto Community Mobilization Network. “We need to Attack the Roots of the problem and in their place plant our own seeds of resistance.” Supposedly, this will be done through a series of days of action organized by a network of Toronto-based organizations.

Frankly, I think it’s a bummer that the summit’s coming to Toronto at all. In fact, I think I’d rather make plans not to be in town that weekend. Although Ottawa has pledged to foot the bill, it’s still going to take a substantial toll on the city, with little to no possibility of any positive return. Miller has his concerns, Vaughan has his worries, and I don’t blame them. Not that I don’t have an almost knee-jerk confidence in our police service, but you know what I mean.

If I’m being totally honest, then yes, I might as well admit that I basically definitely won’t be taking any part in any of these protests. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I’m also not convinced that any of these demonstrations could possibly have a direct and significant impact on the proceedings. I’ve signed up for the TCMN mailing list, and I’ve joined their group on Facebook, so they’ve got plenty of time between now and the summit to argue against the many reasons I’ve got to stay out of it. If you’re on the fence and you want to learn more about their side of the story, then I encourage you to do the same.

But in the meantime, let me put it this way: I agree that democracy’s the tops, and I agree that the G-Whatever meetings haven’t traditionally been very democratic. But the rhetoric coming from the opponents of these summits tends to focus on shutting down the meetings – and if you want any more than that, then you’re usually out of luck. Now, I realize that asking for anything more isn’t very pragmatic, and I know that there’s a lot to be gained from speaking out in favour of your cause or issue with the summit as your backdrop, even if it doesn’t have any effect on the proceedings themselves. Hell, sometimes you just want to voice your opinion, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

But there’s also a lot to be said for picking your battles. I think that protests of this sort tend to draw young people who are looking for their own Seattle, and I doubt they’re going to find it here. If they wind up proving me wrong, then I’ll gladly be the first to admit it, but I doubt the days of action are going to achieve anything more than preaching to the choir. Call me a cynic and a homeowner, but that’s the way I feel.

If you think I’m wrong or irrelevant, then I totally encourage you to get involved. Hell, if you want to yell at me in the comments, feel free to do so. I’d love to hear about some pragmatic new alternatives.

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4 Responses to “Attacking the roots at the G8/20 summit this summer”

  1. NoiseSmith says:

    Quick thoughts, not representative of any involved organization (since I’m not a member of any):

    I haven’t heard anything so far to suggest there are plans to shut down the meeting. I could be wrong (but kind of hope I’m not).

    Personally, I’m more interested in these spectacles as excuses/opportunities to engage in and encourage real public discussion about the direction capitalism is taking. I think an increasing number of people (certainly not a majority, but still more than even a few years ago) are privately having doubts about some of the basic assumptions of this economic system, but still not necessarily feeling empowered to air those doubts publicly or collectively— partially because they’re not seeing any sign that those doubts are anything but private (thanks in part to most mass media being deeply implicated in that system). Gigantic protests can be a way of normalizing doubt and widening boundaries, which is far more essential to democracy than electoral processes.

    For the same reason, I don’t really think the protests are about “democracy;” even if the G20 worked by some sort of democratic method (which, given the scope of their presumed mandate, seems impossible), it would still be within the framework of an intrinsically coercive economic system.

    And on a more visceral level, the G20 delegates have the gall to presume they can come here and form policy that could arguably affect the entire world, yet even the lot of them together can’t say they represent any more than a tiny majority of its population (and that “representation” is mediocre at absolute best). Plus Harper had the gall to just flat-out tell Toronto, hey sorry we can’t fund transit, housing, or childcare, but tell you what, you get to host my party, deal with it.

    It seems reasonable to hit the streets just to visibly, publicly oppose the meeting on that level, even if doing so doesn’t accomplish anything.

    Urban life can be very atomizing. Protests like these are a rare chance to come together and experience eachother, united by things of our own choosing.

    Again, I don’t know what’s being planned. I don’t know if it will bear out what I just said, or just be a giant shitstorm. Protests aren’t the way to make lasting political change, but I still think it’s important that they happen.

  2. Kalin says:

    Hey Matt,

    It was a little disheartening to such dismissal of local activism with this entry. Though it took me a couple weeks, I wanted to return to it, however briefly.

    For the most part I agree with NoiseSmith that there is something valuable in “[hitting] the streets just to visibly, publicly oppose the meeting on that level, even if doing so doesn’t accomplish anything.”

    With the People’s Summit and the TCMN rallies, we are not building towards creating Seattle redux, or even attempting to “shut it down” (though the TCMN is not going to condemn or stop groups from working towards that if that’s their preferred tactic). Rather, we are building a space for labour, progressive, radical, and what otherwise can be classified as ‘social justice’ circles together to further develop alternative democratic organising in the city and the region.

    The G20 summit is really a catalyzing factor, in that it is providing a space for a wide, wide array of people and organisations within the city to come together; to do so in a spirit of resistance but simultaneously of celebration of all the ways we are actively working on strengthening communities and community solidarity across marginalized spheres of life.

    I think it is somewhat inaccurate to suggest that the summit protests are a site of “picking your battles” poorly, for the simple reason that for many people — at least involved organising work so far — the G20 summit is not the only site of struggle, but one of ongoing community work of which this is only a part. There are literally hundreds of organisations – established and grassroots – across our city for which the politics of the G20 is problematic and worth challenging publicly. Even if the G20 is not moved to reform or revolution by our actions, we are still actively contributing in “taking the power back” by being present, by showing resistance, by shouting loudly for a vision of the ever-elusive ‘just society’ that is supposedly our home. Could the same be said of a Toronto that welcomes the G20 with silence, indifference, and righteousness about the immediate effectiveness about protest?

    This is just my perspective — which is constantly developing, so just my perspective for now — and not any sort of ‘official’ response from the network organising.

  3. Jed Beans says:

    I agree with above statements. How can you live up to the words of Ninja Highschool and still present this apathetic, shallow and boring critique of mass movements?

  4. Matt says:

    Jed, I think you might have me confused with another, more prominent Matt. That said, some great points have been made here and I’ve been meaning to respond in proper fashion for far too long; thanks for the reminder to do so.