From April 19-21 anti-fascists from Anti-Racist Action (ARA) were once again on the front lines against fascism, capitalism and the state as part of the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Offensive in the battle of Quebec City against the FTAA. What follows is a communiqué on our take on those days.
We make no attempt to speak for everyone or every action that happened on those days, nor do we speak for everyone in the ARA network, we speak as participants of the battle of Quebec City from a number of ARA chapters from Canada and the U.S. that took part. Also, aside from those ARAers who elected to be on the front lines we also had ARAers with Indymedia, Street Medics, Scouts, and other essential support roles. No one role is more important than another. Whether it’s being actively involved in street fighting, cooking food or taking care of injured protesters, all roles need to be filled for a successful mass mobilization.
ARA organizing against the FTAA started in earnest in Dec. 2000 when ARA Toronto organized a very successful public forum titled “From protest to resistance, a radical look at the FTAA”. Speakers included representatives from Anti-Racist Action (Toronto), Food For Chiapas (Toronto), The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Colours of Resistance, The Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee, CASA (Quebec City), The Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) as well as Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, former Black Panther and Political Prisoner, Founder of the Black Autonomy Network Of Community Organizers and author of “Anarchism and Black Revolution” (Kalamazoo, Michigan). The meeting was packed and speeches from it were transcribed and widely reprinted.
For an MP3 recording of the event please see: http://radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=2816
For transcripts of two of the speeches please see: http://www.tao.ca/~colours/donovan.html and http://www.tao.ca/~colours/hwang2.html
After that ARA Toronto focused on forming a federation of direct-action oriented affinity groups that would operate together in Quebec City. Unfortunately, despite widespread interest the federation never successfully got off the ground and was scrapped several weeks after its inception. However, we don’t look at it as a total loss as we gained experience at small group organizing that will be useful in the future and strengthened communication between radical groups in Toronto.
ARA Toronto also produced 5000 three colour, multi-language, anti-imperialist posters for the CLAC / CASA Carnival Against Capitalism that were distributed throughout North America. To view the poster please see: http://www.web.net/~ara/carnival.htm
Also of note is ARA McGill’s outing of Joseph Quesnel, a McGill University student with ties to the far- right that attempted to infiltrate FTAA-Alert, a campus-based anti-FTAA group in Montreal. For more information please see: http://www.antiracistaction.ca/mcgill02212001.html
Of course, this organizing didn’t come out of nowhere. ARA has been participating in anti-capitalist demonstrations for awhile and has quietly played key roles in mobilizations such as the IMF/ World Bank demonstrations in April 2000 and, notably, the tremendous organizing ARA Columbus did against the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue meetings in Cincinnati. All of which came out of our community-based anti-fascist work that we’ve been doing for the past 15 years.
ARA chapters from Toronto and other areas joined the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), traditional Mohawks and other allies at Cornwall / Akwasasne to open the border for American activists in a show of Mohawk sovereignty.
While the border crossing may have been less than perfect on a tactical level it was a success politically. For the first time radical anti-globalization activists stood with indigenous people, on unceded territory, in an attempt to assert first nations sovereignty in conjunction with an attempted mass crossing of the US / Canada border. In our opinion this development was just as, if not more, important than the actions in Quebec City and we would like to see links continue to form between indigenous people, poor people and the anti-globalization movement. We are proud to have stood by the Mohawks and OCAP on the day and look forward to future work together in OCAP’s fall campaign of economic disruption across the province. For more information please see http://www.ocap.ca
Upon arrival at the University of Laval we were welcomed by the very hospitable and highly organized student volunteers who, despite language and cultural differences, did a beautiful job of welcoming and housing the thousands of demonstrators. A free breakfast was served to everyone who could not afford their own after which everyone began to prepare themselves for the looming confrontation.
After assembling as part of the RACO within the CLAC / CASA march we stepped off towards the perimeter with several thousand others. The atmosphere was tense yet festive in the beginning stages of the march. The march route was long, but the day was beautiful and there was plenty of time to relax and take in the scenery of the city and watch all the beautiful people – resistance is sexy.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that the march on Friday was clearly militant and anti-capitalist oriented, the local people were very supportive and cheered us on. There was even a sense that the Black Bloc was being glorified with the odd cheer coming from spectators “Vive le Black Bloc!” Amazing that even after six months of intense state and media fear mongering campaigns against summit protesters the general population still cheered us on.
A large truck with a sound system blasting francophone hip-hop joined in the march immediately in front of the Black Bloc. It was though they were raising the spirits of those heading off to battle.
When we were a few blocks from the fence a woman from CLAC/CASA announced that the march was splitting into a Green (safe) and Red (confrontational) zones. To put it as she did:
“Turn to the left to go to the green zone if you would like to participate in a safe, non-confrontational carnival against capitalism. For those of you who wish to continue the fight, the fence is straight ahead!”
Shortly after that a Shell gas station along the route was bombarded with stones and bricks breaking almost every window. Spray-painted on it was “Vive Saro-Wiwa” in reference to anti-oil activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was hung in Nigeria for criticizing Shell’s activities in that country.
As we approached the fence we witnessed journalists threaten and then physically assault activists, one for standing on a Radio Canada broadcast van, and then, inside the perimeter, a journalist attacked activists with a stick!
We maintain that property of the corporate and state media are legitimate targets as they serve only the interests of capital and the state. Indeed this was exemplified with the months of media fear mongering of protestors, notably the so-called “terrorist” threat. The corporate and state media and their sensationalistic re-printing of bogus police press releases are a large reason that five members of the Germinal Movement remain in prison for essentially possessing a couple smoke bombs and firecrackers.
However, we would like to point out that we have never seen a reporter physically assaulted that didn’t first initiate an attack on activists who then acted in self-defense. Seems that sometimes the corporate & state media cannot contain themselves to spreading lies and are only too eager to physically attack people opposed to corporate domination, so much for their supposed “neutrality”!
Upon reaching the fence it was only a few short minutes until it was breached. After the wall fell a couple hundred people streamed into the perimeter. Some engaged the limited number of riot police while others continued to pull down adjoining sections of the fence allowing for more access.
People were stunned. None of us expected to so easily topple the supposedly impenetrable fence. In fact, most people stayed outside the perimeter even after the fence was toppled. We agree with the tactical analysis that it would have been a mistake to enter the perimeter in depth and not force, especially considering how easily militants could have been trapped by police simply sealing off the section of the fence that was down. However, we think a big reason that people did not enter the perimeter en mass was that we were not mentally prepared for the fence to fall.
The psychological war the police and media waged beforehand about the mighty fence was a draw. While the fence proved to be far from indestructible many people simply could not bring themselves to cross the line the police had drawn in the sand. In many respects though the fence was down physically it remained up psychologically and as such kept a mass crossing of the perimeter and breaking of the police line from happening. Disarming authority has to start with disarming one’s obedience to it.
Shortly after the fence was torn down the police gassed the entire demonstration, which they repeated throughout the day regardless of what was happening. Later two police water cannons attacked the demonstration from the rear, without the necessary support of riot police on foot. It was a disaster for the inexperienced water cannon operators. After being blocked by a lone protester a la Tiananmen Square the water cannons were assaulted by militants who splattered them with paint and broke several windows. The water cannons quickly retreated but not before taking a cheap shot blasting people who were merely sitting on the steps of a nearby cafe watching events unfold. Skirmishes between demonstrators and police continued throughout the day and saw an unprecedented level of tear gas used.
At the end of the day we were grateful to be able to de-contaminate at Laval University where the students were running a full decontamination center complete with complimentary laundry services. The amount of volunteer work they did was phenomenal.
On Saturday, some of us joined a student demonstration departing from Laval University. The atmosphere at the start was relaxed and calm as to be quite honest we thought it was going to be a quiet day. We once again marched down Rue Rene-Levesque towards the perimeter passing by many supportive residents including one who hung a banner, in French, that read “No Gods, No Masters” from her balcony.
As we approached the perimeter we received notice via radio that people had already reached the fence and were heavily engaged with the police. At this we downed our banners and rushed to the front of the march, only to see a line of police vans and buses full of riot cops cut the march off! At this provocation we formed a line to protect the student demonstration behind us. Almost immediately marshals from the student demonstration tried to re-route the demonstration to the right and to the Plains of Abraham, away from the confrontation where demonstrators were under police attack. As some of us argued that this was a cowardly and authoritarian decision others asked the crowd to disobey the marshals and follow us to the fence if they so wished.
Debate was quickly ended when a few student demonstrators broke off from the demonstration and sat down in the intersection peacefully occupying it in disobedience of the police. This threw the police off guard and allowed us the opportunity to push through their line without conflict. It was a beautiful example of a diversity of tactics working to everyone’s advantage. Upon realizing their error the police tried to cut us off from the students but were driven back, unfortunately not before the police shot an ARAer in the chest with a tear gas canister from a range of ten feet. Shortly after the police line was broken the vast majority of students in the march disregarded the marshals and continued down Rene Levesque to the perimeter with us.
Upon arrival at the perimeter we were faced with a very different situation than on Friday, namely that the police were intent on protecting the re-erected fence. They had learned from their mistake yesterday and employed the water cannon from behind the perimeter fence, blasting anyone who came even remotely near it. The water cannon was reinforced by riot police firing tear gas and plastic bullets at anyone who tried to approach it and take it out of commission. Despite this people repeatedly charged the fence throwing ropes over it and attempting to pull it down once again. On the second day the militancy of the black bloc had spread to the larger demonstration and, as we’ll talk about later, the population of St. Jean Baptiste. It was awe-inspiring to walk around and see that almost every picket sign had been turned into a makeshift baton with a large part of the demonstration openly walking around carrying them as if to say “Yeah, this here is my stick, just try and take it from me copper.”
Some ARA affinity groups were setting themselves to work trying to pull down a different section of the fence. They were joined spontaneously by people who did not share the same language or culture but who did share the same goals. The seeds of a new society were germinating even in the most intense street fighting. People fought together, defended one another and cared for each other when they were injured – the barriers of gender, age, language and ethnicity were falling apart and being replaced with the spirit of mutual respect, equality and co-operation.
Cote d’Abraham was perhaps the scene of some of the most intense street fighting. Local people from the St. Jean Baptiste neighborhood were providing a constant supply of water, rocks, bricks & bottles as well as directly participating in the fighting. The police here faced a continuous barrage of projectiles and the collective rage of hundreds of rock throwing people and the thousands more who supported them.
One militant who successfully struck a cop with a rock was congratulated en francais by a local woman, who then challenged her own physical disability by picking up a rock and running as best she could towards the police, throwing and hitting her target. Moments later Black Bloc and other militants carried away a media person who was shot in the forehead with a plastic bullet. He received immediate emergency care by volunteer street medics.
The constant drumming by protesters on the guardrails of the nearby over-pass, interrupted only by the sound of gunfire as police sharpshooters aimed to take out individual rock throwers and the ever present clouds of tear gas created a backdrop unlike any we’ve ever experienced before.
Meanwhile, back on Rene Levesque another ARA group observed a group of four white, men marching with a number of Quebec flags and one large confederate flag. As soon as we noticed this our crew, led by ARA women, rushed to confront them promptly yanking the confederate flag from their hands then proceeding to rip it up and burn it, all to the cheers of hundreds of other anti-racist protesters. Meanwhile, one of our more bilingual members conversed with the men explaining why we found it intolerable for a flag that for many represents racism and slavery to be flown.
Breaking the Bank and the diversity of tactics.
With regards to respecting the diversity of tactics we are pleased to report that pacifism as an ideology was in the minority. Even though the vast majority of the demonstrators may not have been participating in direct confrontation with the defenders of capital (the cops) they supported those who were.
The most glaring exception to respecting the diversity of tactics came not from militants but from the pacifist fundamentalist group “Operation SalAMI” (also aptly nick-named operation baloney).
On Friday April 20 2001, persons identifying themselves as members of SalAMI held down a member of the Black Bloc who was allegedly seen participating in the physical destruction of a corporate power symbol. These members of SalAMI worked in arms with members of elite forces (police and state) of oppression to attempt an arrest of the individual. This is not what democracy looks like.
On Saturday April 21, a group of 20-30 people, several of them identifying themselves as SalAMI, used public shaming against a Black Bloc member after the Canadian Imperial(ist) Bank of Commerce(symbol of corporate power/ capitalism/ classism/ small elite/etc.) received a blow to the window.
The group began a unified “booing” and pointing to single out the individual to police and other protesters. One person form the group ran forward and began screaming at two Bloc members. The tone and intent were clear, but it was not sure what was actually said because this man spoke solely in French. On the same day, two men attempted to attack a Black Bloc member with pepper spray. When asked to identify themselves, it was confirmed they were members of the processed meat crew. The situation de-escalated when the two men were quickly outnumbered by the Bloc’s solidarity to their members.
We were disgusted at the privileged, liberal, authoritarian “pacifists” from Operation SalAMI. As one ARA member put it “They’re only upset about the bank getting smashed because they have money in it”.
In contrast, was the response we received from the working-class neighborhood of St. Jean-Baptiste. Once we entered St. Jean-Baptiste we received nothing but support from the local residents, who gave us water and cheered us on, one resident calling us “The peoples’ riot squad”. Or the 10-year-old kids who biked up to one of our crews and pointed at an ARAer’s baton inquiring, “Crash? Crash?” in broken English. “Yeah!” was the reply to which the kids answered a resounding “Cool!”
It is clear that regular people have more in common with “militant radicals” than privileged, pacifistic, middle-class “activists”. Without the support of St Jean-Baptiste residents the demonstrations would never have reached the intensity of resistance that they did. Bravo to all St. Jean-Baptiste residents who re-took their community, you are an inspiration to us all.
We would also like to note that we routinely observed the Black Bloc and other militants respecting the tactics chosen by non-violent resisters. For example, on the 21st while the black bloc was on the offensive in downtown, police lines were held back from ambushing through small streets and alleys by small (under fifty people) groups of non violent. Recognizing the effectiveness of this tactic and the autonomy of the non-violent clusters the Black Bloc and other militants did not interfere and moved on to other areas to confront the police.
A call from ARA women in the Black Bloc.
ARA women were a strong, invaluable presence in the battle of Quebec. We came out in numbers and played a range of roles ranging from militant direct action on the front lines to support roles like scouts and street medics. We led some of the most daring actions, and helped keep a clear head tactically, keeping our groups focused on collective vs. individual goals. Our presence, as well as our vocal opposition to aggro group dynamics, helped check the machismo that is all too prevalent in militant activism. Though we should also note that it is not womens job to check macho bullshit, that’s mens work! We call for more women to step up to the front lines of militant opposition to capitalism and fascism, both at mass actions and in our ongoing anti-fascist work.
Overall, the battle of Quebec City was a success from two vantage points:
1. We raised the social costs for the policies that the rich force us to live under.
2. We raised the level of confrontation here in the colonial North a little closer to that of the resistance movements in the south and that of indigenous people and communities of colour here in the North.
The privilege of safe, first-world, white, middle-class, protest can only be destroyed through struggle. Like the graffiti spray-painted on the overpass said, “Less talk, more rocks.”
Support our political prisoners!
463 people were arrested in the demonstrations, street fighting and the following repression. Five people from the Germinal movement remain in prison after being infiltrated and set up by police and the corporate media. Two other people have received repressive prison sentences after pleading guilty to protest related actions. Vaughn Barnett also remains in prison after refusing to sign bail insisting that he had a right to be inside the security perimeter and to due process after his arrest. For more information see:
Please donate to the defense fund.
In Quebec: Please deposit directly, via InterCaisse, in the name of CASA, indicating “defense funds”, using the following:
Account: 32130 Transit No. 92276-815 Caisse d’ economie des travailleuses et des travailleurs (Quebec)
For donations from within Canada but outside of Quebec please make out cheques to CASA, indicating on it “fonds de defense”, and mail to:
Le Maquis C.P. 48026 110 Boul. René Lévesque Quebec, PQ G1R 2R5
For donations from the USA, cheques/deposits should be made to the Lower East Side Fund:
The credit union is the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union. The account number is 7181 The routing number is 226082598
Afterwards, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “fonds de defense” as the Subject, and let them know the amount of the deposit and the date.
Anti-Racist Action (Toronto)
P.O. Box 291, Station B Toronto ON M5T 2T2 // email@example.com // 416.631.8835
Fighting tha fash since ’92.