April 22, 2002

"On the Front Line with Kids with a Cause"

The Sunday Herald
Metro, Sunday, April 22, 2001, p. A1

Sunday Extra - Summit Of The Americas

On front line with kids with a cause
Chris Arsenault

Quebec City - Like battle-weary veterans, protesters from Halifax reminisced Saturday about their role in storming the metal fence set up to protect leaders
of 34 nations attending the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City this weekend. "The fence symbolizes everything that is wrong with the world today," said Adam, a Dalhousie University student who wouldn't give his last name.
"It is physical representation of the divide between north and south, rich and poor, marginalized and powerful, fascism and democracy, and all the other inequities that engulf our world. I had to bring it down."

Adam's "affinity group," a cluster of five people, calls itself Venceremos (Spanish for "we will be victorious").

James, a member of Venceremos and a high school student from Dartmouth, recalled getting ready for the attack.

"We had been preparing for this action for months," he said. "It was an amazing
feeling when I finally felt the fence falling down under my weight."

Venceremos members spent months training and preparing for the protests.
Adam came prepared with thick gloves, a suit of samurai-style body armour made of old tires, a gas mask, a bandana soaked in vinegar and many other accessories on the shopping list of any postmodern activist.

"When the police have tear gas and billy clubs, we have to do anything we can to defend ourselves," he said. Venceremos is one of several affinity groups that came to Quebec City from Halifax as part of Mobilization for Global Justice, which sent four buses to the summit.

The protesters include students, environmentalists, hippies sporting dreadlocks, communists, university students, anarchists and trade unionists.

Some demonstrators from Halifax - groups such as the Groucho Marxists and the John Leninists - participated in blockades, adding their numbers to about 12,000 people at a key intersection in the city.

After starting off at a march at Laval University, Venceremos members joined thousands of other cheering protesters to plan an assault on the fence.

"I was nervous when five to 10 people started throwing rocks at the cops, after we pulled down the fence," said Tessa Lewis, 19, a Venceremos member from Halifax.

"After a few people threw rocks, the cops started firing tear gas indiscriminately. . . . They didn't just shoot it at the front line. They used long-range gas bombs and rubber bullets to shoot at peaceful demonstrators.

"Tear gas is a terrible feeling. Your eyes water and burn deeply, and you feel so confused and disoriented. We are going to protest, but it felt like we were going to war."

After tear-gas attacks, protesters were escorted from the area by their comrades or by street medics, who used a solution of Maalox and water to soothe their eyes.

Protesters haven't exactly been living the high life since arriving at the summit.
"We usually have meetings and other actions until around 2 a.m. and we are up at 8 a.m.," Adam said.

"Forty of us are sleeping in one room of an ex-police station." Some groups are trying to provide food for the thousands of demonstrators, but during huge protests, it can be difficult to stop for a bite to eat, he said.

But it hasn't all been tear gas and long marches, Adam acknowledged.
"Last night, there was a dance party with underground music at one of the protest zones," he said. Reaction to the demonstrations in the community has been mixed. Many small businesses have followed McDonald's lead in boarding up their windows. But protesters say they've almost always received waves from houses and retail outlets they pass.

"We are fighting for justice," Lewis said.

"We weren't intending to stop the meetings after they spent $22 million on security. But we proved everyone, including ourselves, wrong. "And the tear gas they fired at us ironically ended up delaying the meeting, because it drifted into their ventilation system."

The teenager said she's prepared for whatever comes next.

"I don't want to get tear-gassed again, but it is a risk I have to take," Lewis said.
The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas being discussed at the summit "will turn people into commodities, and the fence itself is a brutal display of totalitarianism in my own country," she said.

On the way out of the Halifax contingent's sleeping room was a Magna Doodle entry saying: "We are winning."

Chris Arsenault is a Halifax freelance journalist.

John Moore / The Associated PressUsing ropes, protesters try to pull down a perimeter fence protecting world leaders meeting at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City on Saturday. Inside the summit grounds, 34 heads of state were working towards establishing the world's largest free trade zone.
Kevin Frayer / The Canadian PressA demonstrator hurls a tear gas cannister outside the summit site.
Cheryl Hatch / The Associated PressA protester joins others flashing the peace sign as police lob canisters of tear gas into the crowd outside the fence enforcing the perimeter around the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City on Saturday.

Category: Front Page; News
Uniform subject(s): Foreign policy and foreign relations; Riots and demonstrations; World economy
Length: Medium, 669 words
© 2001 The Sunday Herald - Halifax. All rights reserved.
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