Solidarité: A Quebec Diary

Shawn Ewald

The following is my account of the Anti-FTAA demonstrations in Quebec City; let me begin by saying that it was one of the most amazing and inspiring events I've ever witnessed or participated in and it was a clear victory for everyone who participated.

As for those who were not there and who have criticisms about the violence, I only have this to say: We were there to do a job, and that job was to stop or disrupt the summit by any means necessary.This was a meeting where the lives and futures of everyone in north and south america were being sold down the river wholesale -- what was done in Quebec City was an act of collective self defense. There is no room for discussion and there is no room for debate on that, in my opinion. I certainly haven't the slightest interest in debating it. If you were there and you saw the viciousness and brutality of the police and you think the response was anything but appropriate, I have nothing to say to you.

Forgive me if some of this is incoherent, I've spent all night writing it after returning home monday night A23.

. . .

A20 Quebec City

The day's march was organized by CLAC and CASA -- as were all of the effective events of the weekend. CLAC and CASA are two anarchist/anti- authoritarian groups from Montreal and Quebec City, respectively. Other groups involved in the demonstrations were SalAMI (liberal anti- globalization group), Alternatives (huge Canadian NGO) and Occupe (I'm still unclear what they did); these groups, while having one hundred times the resources of CLAC and CASA, did not do one tenth of the organizing that CLAC and CASA did. It seemed that they (SalAMI in particular) spent more energy trying to marginalize CLAC and CASA and put a whole lot of energy into organizing a futile "legal" march, which led thousands of union members away from the perimeter and into a stadium for an absurd rally, than doing any real organizing work on the ground.

One CAW member said about the "legal" march: "Why was the 'legal protest' conducted miles away from the security perimeter? Had I known I was marching towards a parking lot, I would have stayed home and done that at the fucking mall."

This engagement in counterproductive activity by the larger organizations left the field almost exclusively to CLAC, CASA, and affiliated groups. Some of the work they did included:

  • traveling across, Ontario, Quebec and the northeastern US to do countless teach-ins on the demonstrations,
  • engaging and educating the local community about the demonstrations and countering the media disinformation through the CASA-affiliated anti-poverty group Commite Populaire du St. Jean Baptiste,
  • distributing 10,000 copies of a 4 page tabloid in the neighborhoods where most of the action was to occur (the neighborhoods of St. Jean Baptiste and Limoliou),
  • establishing an "adopt-an-activist" program which encouraged local families to put up visiting demonstrators (hundreds of demonstrators were housed this way), and
  • coordinate the more confrontational (and also more effective) actions that would occur over the weekend.

In short, the most important work (organizing the effort to either stop or disrupt the summit, and build community support) was done by CLAC and CASA. In previous demonstrations, like Seattle and DC, decentralized "anarchistic" tactics have been used to great effect, by groups like DAN and the Mobilization for Global Justice, these groups also have a great many anarchists and anti-authoritarians involved in them, but this time the major organizing was fairly overtly done by anarchists and other radical anti-authoritarians.

Friday began as a traditional march from Laval University, down Boulevard Rene Levesque, to "The Wall". This seemed a rather inauspicious start to what would become an astonishing afternoon and evening. But there were practical reasons for this -- most of the housing provided for the demonstration was on the Laval University campus. The over a mile long march was not without incident: an altercation between a campus security guard (who by all accounts provoked the incident) and a protester, in which the campus security guard briefly drew his gun, was witnessed by me, but overall it was a uneventful march. During the march is also where I first heard the chant of the Quebecois radicals and black bloc members. A simple and to the point chant that embodies what the entire weekend was about: Sol! Sol! Sol! Sol-i-dar-i-té!

One other thing was definitely worthy of note: from the beginning of the demo at Laval until we reached the perimeter, I did not see a single cop anywhere. This is interesting because, for months now the media has been conducting a fear campaign on the citizens of Quebec, in an effort to get them to fear and oppose the protesters. What the absence of cops all along the parade route told me, and should also tell the citizens of Quebec, is that the authorities do not give a shit about them. There were thousands of people in the streets that day, we could have burned and looted the city, no problem, and not a single cop would've been around to stop us. What's even more interesting is that the QC police department had nothing to do with defending the summit, the summit defense was all done by Quebec Provincial police and the RCMP and CSIS (the Canadian equivalent of both the FBI and CIA).

About a block or so before we approached the perimeter, which was at the intersection of Rene Levesque and Rue de l'Amerique-Francaise, people were asked if they wanted to go left to the "green" non-violent/non- dangerous action or forward to the "yellow" and "red" action, which was a combination of militant non-violent CD and direct action against the wall and the police. I don't know how many went left, some did, all I know is that Lyn, Duff, Ben, Richard, David (one of the few members of NYC Ya Basta! who got across the border), and myself went forward to the "red" zone. Gretchen was in the crowd, but not with us at this point, she also went forward.

It only took a few minutes for the black bloc to take down the fence on l'Amerique-Francaise and not long after that for the first volley of tear gas to be fired which, in turn, was responded to with volleys of rocks and bottles from the protesters. And so it went for over two hours.

I was in the black bloc in DC for the April 16th 2000 WB/IMF demonstrations and there the cop's weapon of choice was the boot and the club. They didn't bother with tear gas too much. In DC, they were itching to beat the crap out of protesters, run them over with motorcycles, and trample them with horses and they did so every chance they could get. In Seattle it was a bunch of incoherent violence by an incompetent police force, but in Quebec City we were facing a seasoned and disciplined police force (with a great deal of experience in crowd control) who use extreme violence and terror tactics with skill. In retrospect, everything they did had a degree of logic and strategy which most people were unprepared for.

It was here on A20 where Lyn and I got our first dose of tear gas, it would not be our last. We had bought Israeli gas masks in DC that we never really ended up using, and we didn't bring them with us to Quebec because we assumed that they would be confiscated at the border. So we were completely unprotected on A20. We were right behind the black bloc, about 20 feet away from the front line when the first round of tear gas was fired. Fortunately, the wind was on our side for most of the day and blew the tear gas right back at the cops, while the cannisters themselves were picked up and thrown back by the black bloc and other protesters.

We didn't actually get hit until the second or third volley -- it hurt like hell, of course, but when we walked away from the gas and faced the wind, it didn't take long for us to recover. "That's not so bad", we thought, but after each new dose it became harder and harder to recover from it.

After about the first hour Lyn and I had been totally fucked up by the tear gas and took refuge behind an apartment building for several minutes. When we emerged, the police brought in two water cannon trucks BEHIND the protesters, attempting to trap them between l'Amerique- Francaise and Turnbull, and to lure the black bloc away from the wall. The last part of the plan worked, but not at all in the way they expected. The black bloc and many many other protesters who were now fighting mad after being tear gassed for over an hour, ferociously attacked the water cannon trucks -- smashing the windows and attempting to open the doors to drag the drivers from the trucks. The response from the crowd must've been pretty shocking to the police because the trucks made a hasty retreat and were never seen on the street again -- from that point on, they kept the water cannons safely ensconced at various points behind the perimeter fence.

The police gradually managed to occupy one side of the block, they chased people across the street and beat many of them. They were forced back and then the whole thing was repeated.

We stayed for another hour, mostly avoiding the gas as much as possible now. Literally hundreds of people heard about what was going down on radio and TV came down and started participating and observing at this point. Among the observers, there were looks of horror and outrage, not at the protesters, but at the brutality of the police.

After three hours or more with no protection from the gas, we had to get away for awhile so we went down the next street over to a neighborhood restaurant, who's name I can no longer remember. Richard came with us, while Ben and Duff stayed in the fray. The people in the restaurant were very friendly and sympathetic. The place was packed with protesters taking refuge or gathering their strength to return to street fight.

Funnily enough, after all that tear gas all Lyn and I could think about was having a cigarette, but we were in a closet-like non-smoking section of the restaurant, yet our waiter just got us an ashtray when he saw us light up. It made me think about the time Jaggi Singh, an organizer with the CLAC, came to Ithaca to do a teach-in about the demonstrations. We knew of each other for years via e-mail, but never really interacted and we finally had the pleasure of meeting him. He joked with us that Quebec is the "smoking section of North America" and in restauraunts there is "the smoking section and the heavy smoking section".

It was during the first two hours of the battle of Rene Levesque (I'm not sure exactly when), we would later learn, that the police (most likely CSIS) literally kidnapped Jaggi, one of the most visible and effective spokepeople for the actions. The police who kidnapped him were dressed as protesters. They swarmed around him, beat the crap out of him, and threw him into an unmarked car which quickly sped away. At the time, Jaggi was near the "green" zone, which was being mercilessly gassed as well, attempting to calm the crowd and prevent a panicked stampede. No one knew where Jaggi was being held all that night, as of this writing he still has not been released.

When we came out of the restaurant, we were not entirely surprised to find most of the demonstrators in the street out front. The cops had pushed them off of Rene Levesque and into Turnbull and down the hill. We had been recording the action all day and we immediately whipped out the minidisc and ran up the hill. We ran into a man and a woman with a bullhorn, who were asking if anyone had a copy of the Canadian constitution. As luck would have it, Lyn and I were both handed a copy by a legal observer when we were applying for our press credentials with CMAQ this morning . . . Lyn handed them her copy.

The man attempted a reading first, it was OK. But the woman then took the bullhorn and walked right up to the police line and read it with a searing rage in her voice as I stood next to her and recorded. She was not halfway through when a riot cop began to point his tear gas gun directly at her. People in the crowd began to scream "don't shoot!". The cop slowly began to lower his gun just as the cop next to him began to lob one tear gas grenade after another into the crowd. I and others began to scream "Walk!... Marche!..." to prevent people from trampling each other in a panic as we all tried to move out of the thick blinding cloud of tear gas as quickly as possible. When I got to the bottom of the hill I looked back and saw an impenetrable cloud of CS gas completely consuming the narrow residential street we had just occupied. This was the first of countless gassings of exclusively residential streets I would see over the next two days.

There was so much gas that people were driven blocks away seeking breathable air. This was enough for us. We regrouped with our friends and headed back to Pierre's place to recuperate. I would later find out that the street battle would continue until dawn with angry locals picking up where the exhausted protesters had left off.

A21 Quebec City

The day's assembly point was on Charest at noon. This was the big day. Yesterday we had 15,000 to 20,000 in the streets, today we had 60,000 union marchers alone according to the organizers and 10,000 to 15,000 protesters and angry locals over the course of the day. This would be a day of amazing courage and (for most of the union marchers who get led away from the action) disappointment and frustration.

Lyn and I were prepared today. We had bought goggles, cloth to cover our faces, and vinegar to cut the tear gas. Today, we were running with the black bloc. We found a portion of the black bloc a few blocks down from the park between L'Eglise and Couronne were we would ascend to Cote d'Abraham and into the most ferocious and brave street battle I have ever seen, much less participated in.

There was a rented delivery truck that had huge speakers out the back pumping reggae, funk, and hip-hop. It would end up at the park as part of the "Temporary Autonomous Zone" (more on that later). There were a couple bank windows that got broken, no big deal, overall. Meanwhile, a group of protesters, sometime before noon, had occupied the freeway onramp and offramp off of Cote d'Abraham and began a massive drum session on the freeway guardrails that could be heard for blocks away. Apparently, those ramps were close to the meeting site and they were attempting to disrupt or inconvenience the summit by drumming all day and all night, which they did. As far as I can tell, the drumming started before noon and did not end until it was viciously dispersed around 4AM. The whole time, these people were under direct attack with teargas, water cannons and plastic bullets. The black block came to defend them and draw fire away from them.

What followed was astonishing. The people who took part in that defense (men, women, black, white, asian, First Nations, Quebecquois, Anglaise) showed incredible guts, ferocity and tenacity. Barrages of teargas, plastic bullets, and water cannon blasts were met with storms of bricks and stones, flaming debris, and teargas cannisters flung back in the cops faces. The "bangers", as we were calling them, on the freeway and the defenders took shifts -- it was an informal system. someone got tired or hurt and there would just be someone around to take their place -- at least for the whole time I was there. This battle went on for literally HOURS.

The people I was with either got tired, got hurt or got too much gas (I made the dumb mistake of trying to kick a tear gas cannister after it had been going a few seconds. Vinegar on a piece of cloth will protect you from CS gas pretty well, but not if you're foolish enough to walk into a cloud of it) and we decided to move on down to St. Jean, where we were hearing that the fighting was also getting fierce. As we made our way over, we saw some equally amazing things. Specifically, the decency and generosity of the citizens of Quebec City.

The following are just a few incidents that are not necessarily in chronological order: a lovely middle-aged woman hanging a water hose out her second storey window and smiling on the crowd below as they rinsed their eyes and filled water bottles. A shopkeeper out in the street around the corner doing the same thing. A grandfather with his children and grandchildren sitting out on his stoop; as we pass by he says "Mais oui! Mais oui! C'est Admirable!". Seeking shelter in a neighborhood bar and having the the bartender remind us that there's ice cold water from the bathroom faucet; friendly banter with the local patrons in broken french and english. The black bloc marching down a street to the cheers of protesters and locals alike.

We spent the day making our way to Rene Levesque and back, a few of my experiences:

St. Jean:
Helping to unsuccessfully to pull down a portion of the fence on St. Jean (oh well, a portion did get successfully pulled down at least). Seeing a little neighborhood boy get gassed by cops behind the fence and not being able to do much about it. Hearing a report that the meetings have been delayed due to the protests and everyone cheering, protester and local alike.

Rene Levesque:
People playing frisbee and tossing teargas cannisters back at the cops.

When we made it back to Cote d'Abraham it was dark or getting there. We came round the bottom of Cote d'Abraham. We had no idea that the cops were pushing their way down the winding hill above. We decided to stop at the back end of CMAQ (the Indymedia-affiliated media center), which was on Saint-Vallire and take a break and have a smoke or two.

To understand what happens next, you have to realize that Cote d'Abraham is a winding road that wraps around a steep hillside. The front of the CMAQ building is two storeys high and the back of CMAQ is five storeys high, approximately. On the side of the CMAQ building, there is a long, steep staircase that leads from Cote d'Abraham down to Saint-Vallier, where we sat on the curb an relaxed and chatted, many locals were gathering and mingling with the activists. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, people come running and screaming down the stairs with a cloud of teargas trailing behind them. The cops have managed to push the line about two blocks down the hill, yet the "bangers" are still occupying the freeway entrance and going strong.

For some reason, the building in which CMAQ is housed has no functioning ventilation system, they have to close all the doors and stop up the cracks to prevent gas from getting in. Meanwhile outside, the locals and the activists start screaming at the cops and, the locals in particular, start throwing bottles and rocks up at the cops. They get another round of teargas for their troubles.

It takes what seems like an hour for the cops to back off, but by this time the proverbial camel's back has been broken. It's Saturday night, and the bars and streets are filled with the angry working-class whites, blacks and south Asians that populate the neighborhoods of St. Jean-Baptiste and Limoilou that have been perpetually gassed for the whole day.

We go grab a bite to eat way down the street on Charest since nothing is happening, or so it seems.

Meanwhile, further down the hill from Cote d'Abraham, at the park on the corner of Coronne and Charest, a bonfire has been going for a while now, there's more locals than activists down there and a big ol' party is going on. The fire gets bigger and bigger, people drinking hard, smoking dope, the sound system is pumping out hip-hop and people are having a good time. People are getting more shit from the cops on Cote d'Abraham, and the locals go down to get their friends at the party, activists get their people together several blocks down and start a spontaneous march down Charest which meets up with the locals and other activists at the park. We come back down Charest just in time to follow the activists coming out from under a freeway underpass chanting "Sol! Sol! Sol! Sol-i-dar-i-té!".

By the time we get to the park, we've been listening to the radio communication going on. I find the CMAQ channel and tell them what's going on, which results in me doing comms for CMAQ from 11PM to 4AM as the locals get their revenge on the cops the whole night. By the time we reach the park, the whole intersection of Charest and Couronne belongs to the locals and the activists, and the bonfire grows over the night to be easily 20 feet wide, with ten foot high flames, practically in the middle of the street.

Another amazing street battle occurs on Cote d'Abraham, this time with the benefit of the full resourcefulness of the locals. At one point, they pull a sturdy steel fence, seemingly out of thin air, and march up Cote d'Abraham to charge the cop line near the top of the hill. The battle rages back and forth from about 11:30pm to 4am when the cops finally get the advantage and drive everyone down into the park. Meanwhile, we hear that there are still battles going on at St. Jean and Rene Levesque, but it's over for us. The cops are viciously dispersing people now that they have complete advantage, there's not going to be another comeback on this side of the hill.

We go home and sit up with Melanie and share war stories and plan to attend the final CLAC/CASA meeting tomorrow at Laval University. Pierre's other friends have shown up after all and they tell us how proud they are of the militant Quebecois activists who protested and fought. We've all heard a rumor that the Canadian army might be brought in (this is a rumor that had been floating around for awhile), but they're doubtful. They say if the army is brought in, there will be a revolution. Quebecois hate the army. They still remember what the army did in the 70's during the Quebecois civil rights struggles.

A22 Quebec City: Aftermath

On sunday morning, we learn that something like 455 people have been arrested and only approximately 300 are accounted for, we also learn from other sources that at least 4 people have "disappeared" without a trace -- they don't know if they've been jailed or are voluntarily laying low.

There is a meeting where it is resolved to do a solidarity march for the jailed protesters to the Ministry of Justice. It is small but interesting. Laval is located in the upscale suburb of Saint-Foy -- a largely nondescript sea of shopping malls and expensive cars -- a stark contrast to the beauty of Quebec City. Nonetheless, the commuters and passers by are supportive, and they are visibly disturbed by the line of riot cops that follow our little march of 300 people along the way. A press conference is held in front of the ministry and a statement is made in French and English. We nreturn to Laval and hug and kiss Melanie goodbye, and resolve to see her again in the summer.

We ran into Nicholas, a CASA organizer, earlier today at the meeting and agreed to meet him for an interview in the evening.

Nicholas is very much involved with Comite Populaire du St. Jean- Baptiste, an anti-poverty group that serves the St. Jean-Baptiste neighborhood of Quebec City. He and his fellow local activists were largely responsible for the outreach done in the community and with the local merchants prior to the demonstrations. He tells us that ordinarily, he doesn't give a shit about these big demonstrations, but this one was in his town, so he did the work to make it a success.

He thinks that his fellow anarchists should be doing more work in their own communities. That's where were going to make a real difference. He thinks all this globalization shit is a "fad", it's the capitalists displaying their arrogance. They think they've won, so they're rubbing our noses in it, once they get enough resistance, they'll go back underground again (in a sense) but nothing will really change.

After seeing the incredible effectiveness of the local organizing work around the demonstrations, I can't help but agree with him. But I'd agree with him anyway, simply because he's right. The anti-capitalist movement (distinct in many ways from the anti-globalization movement) has a lot of work cut out for it.

Quebec was the biggest first-world success for the fight against gloablization to date, and there's not likely to be a bigger success for a long while. But you can't let that energy you've brought home dissipate, you've got to take it and put it into your community were the real fight must begin.

© 2001 Shawn Ewald

Shawn Ewald is a radio producer, anarchist, and activist. With Lyn Gerry, Jessie Lind and Chris Sturr, Shawn produces the weekly radio show "Unwelcome Guests", a program about wealth, power, and peoples' resistance to the New World Order. You can listen via the web at http://www.radio4all.org/unwelcome/

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