"Those not busy being born are busy dying" Bobby Dylan
On the weekend of June 26th, Toronto underwent a transformation. A new generation of activists were politicized, and in many cases radicalized. Also, a new generation of journalists were born, products of a long-awaited fusion of traditional and new media. For me, it was a return to days of old, going back a decade to when I was young and radical.
So I was there, on the streets, providing coverage and witnessing history. I'm still processing the insights and emotions triggered by the events, and I finally have time to put down some thoughts. Rather than focus purely on what happened, I'd rather share my story in the form of advice for how to move forward.
Here's my list of 10 things you can do to change the world, with examples of how I applied each of them this past weekend:
1. Spread Peace, Unity, Love and Fun
In the lead-up to the weekend, a lot of people saw the G20 preparations and protests as nuisances, and things to be afraid of. Many chose to leave the city rather than stay to witness what would happen. Myself, I was looking forward to it, and this song by Afrika Bambaataa pretty much sums up my mood. It's all about peace, unity, love, and having fun. Yeah, sure, sometimes things do go wrong, but even then, by staying focused on the goal you'll make the world a better place.
2. Work Against All Oppression
One of the big questions, both before and after the weekend, was about the issues people were protesting. What were they against? What were they for? When you're talking about tens of thousands of people, the answer is never simple nor homogeneous, but a good part of it ties back into principles of anti-oppression.
We all want to be free. That requires collaboration. We can't oppress each other in the course of our own liberation. So do yourself a favour and take an anti-oppression workshop or three to get up to speed. This will help you understand and support the causes of people who are different than you.
My weekend started at Thursday's Day of Action for Indigenous Rights. It was peaceful, well attended, and a great opportunity to learn more about the issues of concern to Canada's First Nations. In fact, for days before the summit, there were peaceful protests staged by all sorts of groups who shared an anti-oppression approach to social change.
3. Agitate and Mobilize
Everywhere you go, think about how to stir things up, and engage diverse people to take part in processes. Openly talk about what's going on around you, including your reasons for being there, passions and the pleasure you get from participating.
I do a lot of public speaking. Beginning in April, I started to include references to the G8/G20 and what would happen while the summit was happening in Toronto. At the very least, I wanted people to pay attention to what I predicted that would be the largest instance of political violence in Canadian history.
After watching the NFB film "Action: The October Crisis of 1970" recently, I can't help but wonder how this compares to what happened then. Any thoughts?
4. Become a Community Organizer
It's one thing to agitate and mobilize, it's another to actually organize. Clearly community organizers are a serious threat to the status quo: they're often the first to be arrested and the last to be released.
Anybody can be a community organizer, and we all belong to multiple communities that form around location, interests, work, leisure, websites, etc. Whatever you do, there's probably a community out there supporting it. An organizer is someone who helps a particular community come together, engages with other communities, and plays a role in the shaping of society.
The more communities we bring into the process of social change, the more diverse they will be and the greater our chances of being successful. I made an effort to circulate in all sorts of communities in the lead-up to and after the G20, and continue to try to engage people and get involved. Before all of this happened, it meant explaining why people should care, and afterward, it means telling them the truth about what happened so that as a society we don't forget our mistakes.
5. Make Your Own Media
We're all media now. Anyone can produce just about anything, and in many cases it is our responsibility to do so.
It's not enough to just capture what happens with a camera. In order for it to be useful and helpful, you actually need to turn that raw footage into something meaningful: a story that respects people's limited attention spans. So share your story. Share your analysis.
This is what I did, on CBC Radio, Twitter, and even Qik. My reward has been comments and responses from people, who shared the truth, and came up to me to thank for me for telling what really happened. That sort of interaction makes it all worthwhile.
6. Participate in Counter-Surveillance
The reality of living in a surveillance society is something we've all grown complacent about. However when certain accepted norms are applied to politics and policing, they become scary and dangerous rather quickly.
Police engaged in surveillance and intelligence gathering for a year leading up to the summit, and throughout the weekend surveillance played a strategic role in the police targeting specific individuals.
As we move forward, we're going to have to develop counter-surveillance practices and habits so as not to make it easy for our rights and civil liberties to be violated. Maybe the Surveillance Club will play a role in that regard?
7. Reclaim Public Spaces by Expressing Your Opinion in Chalk
Imagine what it would be like if everyone carried chalk with them, so that at anytime, in any place, you could talk back to the world? Perhaps it's time Toronto was hit by a wave of graffiti 2.0. People could start sharing thoughts about what happened this past weekend and why we won't allow it to happen again. Like murmur, we need to tell the stories of this city again and again so that they are never forgotten.
8. Use Bicycle Power
Bicycles are an essential means of getting around Toronto, but when the streets are alive they're even better. I was able to criss cross the downtown core with ease, and follow a number of police raids and actions on Sunday. Bike riding in a city like Toronto is inherently political, and often contributes a peaceful dynamic to what are generally stressful streets.
My advice to you is to build your own squad within the people's cavalry. If we all belong to squads comprised of a dozen cyclists, than it's easy for us to rapidly deploy anywhere in Toronto proper while then massing back into a large amorphous mass of bikes.
On Sunday when I heard the alternative media centre was being raided I was able to get there in a few minutes by jumping on my bike. Similarly got to Spadina and Queen by zipping along on my bike. Emma Goldman talked about how integral dancing was to the revolution, well allow me to state the obvious and say the revolution is on two wheels.
9. Cultivate Agility and Adaptability
The real story of this past weekend was the agility and adaptability of citizens and their media. If you were using Twitter in Toronto this weekend you took a dose. A dose that permanently changed your consciousness. You were part of a collective mind that shared the pain, fear, adrenaline, and humanity that traumatized yet also united elements of this city. It was a moment that those of us who were part of will never forget. A transformation that offers glimpses of where the future of media lies when it comes to the power of connected journalism.
10. Choose Solidarity
Finally, we must to remember the principles of solidarity. On Sunday night, as people started being released from the detention centre, Emily and I went there to offer recently released detainees a lift home.
During our three trips, we heard the horrifying stories that reinforced our own experiences over the weekend. What we witnessed was the early stage of a society none of us want to live in: a preface to a Harper majority.
We owe it to each other to not only try to make our world better, but everyone's world better. Solidarity with other means helping when you're able, which is more often than you think. It's not about engaging in struggles far away, but seeing the reality of our struggles right here and right now. Before it's too late.