June 13, 2002

"Taking Action"

The Chronicle-Herald
LivingYouthPress, Thursday, June 13, 2002, p. A8

Taking action!; Local anarchists gear up for weekend's G-7 summit. 'We'll just be doing what normal people do, protesting.'

Chris Arsenault
EDITOR'S NOTE: The people in this story have been given pseudonyms.

AFTER WATCHING videos of black-clad anarchists smashing bank windows at the Summit of the Americas protests in Quebec City last summer, it seems strange to be led into a sunny upstairs apartment in north-end Halifax by a group of herbal tea-drinking local activists.

"Everyone has to define it (anarchy) for themselves," said a vegetarian high school student and veteran of the anti-FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) protests in Quebec City, using the alias Matt Carter.

Idealistically, it means opposition to authority, control, hierarchy and capitalism.
Carter and other anarchists are helping to organize protests against this weekend's G-7 finance ministers meetings in downtown Halifax.

"We'll just be doing what normal people do, protesting," said Nigel WcWorth a community college student.

"We won't be wearing black (a symbol of militant anarchists associated with the Black Block) or anything like that.

"We'll just look like regular folks."

The mainstream media and much of the public have discounted anarchists as brick-throwing thugs since the infamous Battle of Seattle, a 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization.

And while the image is somewhat justified, Halifax anarchists shrug it off as an unfair stereotype. Anarchy is again becoming a social force to be reckoned with, they say. Anarchists of note include American Noam Chomsky and Jaggi Singh, a Canadian who works with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence in Montreal.

"I was barely political before Seattle," said Josephine, a dreadlocked student.
"I had always resented corporations and big business, then someone gave me a pamphlet about the WTO. I was really mad, so I got on a bus and went to Seattle.

"I was totally unprepared and I got tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed."
The gas left a lasting impression on Josephine. Now she has a serious hate on for the entire social order.

"I think people miss the link. . . . We are told all the time that we live in a democracy and that (democracy) is equated with capitalism. The two are completely different and capitalism is something people just don't seem to think about."

A protest, a nasty encounter with police, or some other major occurrence often acts as a catalyst, radicalizing once passive or apathetic observers.

"I went to anti-poverty marches in Toronto for years; the government never listened to us," said WcWorth, who now lives in Halifax.

"I was at an anti-police-brutality demonstration carrying a banner, and an officer tried to take it. I told him to stop and he arrested me, then beat me up. I learned a lot from that experience - when power is threatened, it strikes back with violence."

The use of violence by anarchists and others, especially in the wake of raucous protests in Seattle and Quebec City, has divided anti-globalization activists.

"What is violence anyway?" Carter said.

"Destroying human life is violent. The hunger and repression people face every day is violence. But if I were to break the window of a bank whose policies are inherently violent, am I the bad guy?

"No person will be hurt if a bank's window gets smashed but banks are literally smashing people every day."

Carter said no one is planning violence for this weekend but if the police attack with force, the anarchists will respond.

Police have said they will not interfere with protests that remain peaceful and within the law.

The anarchists stress that demonstrating is just a small part of what they do.
Along with putting up posters, organizing meetings, playing in Halifax's own anarchist marching band, passing out leaflets and doing other activist grunt work, they spend a lot of time reading independent news from other countries and communicating with other activists on the Internet.

"There's a myth that it's (anarchy) about chaos," Josephine said. "We're actually very organized, just without hierarchy."

The anti-globalization movement has organized itself in the way it wants society organized.

At meetings of the Halifax G-7 Welcoming Committee, the umbrella group co-ordinating this weekend's protests, no one really seems to be in charge.
A chairperson takes a list of speakers, and some people are more outspoken than others but all decisions are made by consensus. Anyone's view is, theoretically anyway, as important as anyone else's.

"It's not impossible for people to live collectively," said Felipe, an international student originally from East Africa who doesn't consider himself an anarchist but is sympathetic to the cause.

"Before colonialism there were tribes who lived together without property or degrading hierarchies. I know it's hard to envision it now, but the current social order is backwards to its core.

"We have to stand up and do something."

Chris Arsenault is an activist and freelance writer who lives in Halifax. He is also a member of G-7 Welcoming Committee.

Category: Society and Trends
Uniform subject(s): Foreign policy and foreign relations; Riots and demonstrations
Length: Medium, 638 words

2002 The Chronicle-Herald - Halifax. All rights reserved.
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