archives of global protests

Reporting Back From Quebec City !!
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001

Dear All:

It is good to be back on line and to read the mai-not coverage of the Quebec City happenings over the past while.!!

I have returned from Quebec City after an all night road trip home with three ecologically and ethically aware and highly committed young adults from the Atlantic Sierra Youth Coalition who are shining examples of the many thousands of youth and people of all ages who gathered to protest the structures, agreements and violations of neo-liberal globalization. Thousands who went to Quebec have been forever transformed by an experience where on the one hand we faced together the threats of violent and unjustified police action and the constant invasion of tear gas which hung over the city night and day and on the other hand by an experience of the most phenomenal camaraderie and solidarity in the old city's streets . For there in Quebec City we joined in spirit as we took to the streets, there we felt the positive energy of hundreds of persons from across the Americas coming and going in the "big tent" of the "People's Summit; there we experienced the overwhelming solidarity of impassioned speeches; and there we raised over voices and walked in unison in an incredibly significant, creative and historic protest rally which saw upwards of 80,000 people on the streets of Quebec City.

Although I very much admired Maude Barlow, Volunteer Chairperson, of the Council of Canadians for going to the wall with the "kids" as she referred to the youth of the nations, I chose to be an observer, networker and a protester who remained, mindful of health constraints, in the green zone . Nevertheless one could not be in the old city of Quebec and not encounter tear gas wherever one went so massive was the dispersal of this substance by the police. Citizens everywhere were complaining about its overuse and the all pervasive intrusion of the noxious gasses. One Quebecer I met during the Saturday rally as I retreated to escape the offensive gas drifting down off the hill - stated that the police had released so much that it has covered an 11 kilometre radius invading the homes of hundreds of Quebec citizens. Another person I spoke to later said people were sitting in their homes with gas masks on. The B&B where I stayed which was just three blocks from a hole in the wall where much action occurred both night and day was by Saturday unable to rebuff the invasive gasses. The tear gas in our quarters and constant drone of the helicopters overhead, night and day, rendered sleep an intermittent phenomenon.

So although I did not go directly to the wall intentionally , the proximity of our lodgings provided ample opportunity for peripheral encounters with adjacent side streets frequently billowing with tear gas and young people moving in quick retreat. On one occasion with tear gas heavy in the air, masses of youth gathered in a park across from my B&B and I stopped to mingle with them just as they began chanting - "We shut the Summit down! We shut the Summit down" One young woman whom I spoke with and who was serving as a medic from University of Toronto was on her cell phone trying to receive confirmation that the massive quantities of tear gas used had backed up into the ventilation system of the site shutting down the Summit meeting. Apparently the gas had also settled in the sewers and was backing up there as well - typical para-military overkill which seemed to backfire in several instances for we also heard that the previous day summit leaders had to vacate a site where they were meeting as tear gas drifted into the Summit zone.

As I was leaving and introduced myself to the young woman I had been speaking with , another student turned to me and said "Did you say Janet Eaton" Don't you post to the Student Activist Network ?" . And one other time while sitting in the audience for the taping of "Counterspin" coverage of Quebec City with Avi Lewis, I was speaking with a Montreal reporter , who recognized my name from mai-not list -which seemed to indicate that our list is one source that some journalists monitor for knowledge on globalization developments.. And which is also to suggest that all our work on the Internet crossing many listservs and websites has a synergy which is contributing, from my own perspective, to the evolution of a 'global consciousness" within a growing global grass roots citizen's movement. It also is a reminder that while mai-not list provides other services it is foremost one of the few places with a searchable archives where people can acquire a cross section of news and views relating to globalization in all its diverse manifestations. [Homage to Russel McOrmond].

Friday night I also experienced a sense of the action at the Wall --driving back to our lodgings, we ended up by chance at another hole in the fence where students were streaming in from all directions and police in their paramilitary gear were lined up in rows waiting and baiting the crowd. We heard the police taunting the students to go through the hole in the fence as the students converged and began their sit in with arms and fingers raised signaling signs of peace. And Saturday night we walked the streets, talked to students and generally absorbed the ethos of the moment as students retreated into safer zones to catch their breath.

The weekend was full of contrasts- and juxtapositions representative of two different world views , two different places, two different spaces, two different cities.

The Wall was an amazing metaphor of the great divide between those two worlds !! One could not help recalling - another revolutionary period when barricades and the people played a decisive role in history. . One could not help thinking of a modern "Tale of Two Cities" - the upper city where old guard men were safely caged behind the barricades making hierarchical decisions, feasting on fine foods and wine while below the people who confronted, chanted, marched and protested against the violations of free market ideology and its agreements gathered in the streets and sustained themselves with small and wholesome snacks from their packs and soup from the communal 'safe area' kitchen under the overpass just off Charest East St [until it was gassed with the assistance of a hovering helicopter to accentuate the downdraft ] Many times in fact those who spoke and wrote on behalf of the "People's Summit" made reference to the Summit process on high which excluded the people i.e. the grassroots below. They noted that a top down process, and tenets of neo-liberalism can never work for they defy the very basis of the principles of living systems , of ecosystems and of people centred development. The Wall and the police state tactics to defend it were indeed symbolic of the growing corporatism, and emerging fascist police state tactics that so many in the movement decry.

And the constant contrasts and divides were inherent in media reports, as all those tracking the events on mai-not list would know, with mainstream media parroting the whitewashing of state actions by the leaders. While Chretien lauded the police for their restraint, which albeit was less brutal than the Battle of Seattle, reports from the streets spoke of the overuse and abuse of tear gas and rubber bullets, the unwarranted arrests of students engaged in peaceful behavior, total violation of their rights while in jail, gassing of independent media sites and medical stations. Four women, all health practitioners from my own community of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, set up a station near the wall and one wrote upon her return that she managed to treat over 200 people before their site was intentionally gassed. And then there was the tear gas assault on the homes and establishments of so many Quebecers. Amnesty International's press release on April 23rd seemed to reinforce the voices in the street alleging that police in Quebec City used excessive force to quell protests during the third Summit of the Americas and stating that citizens have a legitimate right to peacefully express their views regarding the aims of the Summit of the Americas without having to fear police harassment.

My time below the walls on Friday was divided between the 'big tent' listening to the speeches, including the most impassioned presentation that David Suzuki has ever made on behalf of our sacred earth and its interconnected ecosystems under threat from the reductionist and machine -like mindsets of globalization, corporatism and neo-liberalism and the adjacent Pavilion which housed the media centre, NGO kiosks dispensing literature from various perspectives on globalization and the FTAA, the press conference centre and refreshment area which was in fact a grand meeting place. I was able to spend my time there between press conferences, meeting with people from all over the continent and to provide some assistance to my friend and colleague Elizabeth May, Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, of which I am a member - helping out in the Kiosk

One highlight of the People's Summit and protest had to be the Saturday morning speeches in the big tent - full to capacity with over 1200 people and upwards of 3000 more standing outside hanging on every word of the leaders from all regions and representations of this great hemispheric movement and beyond, while continually breaking into the movement's chants, spontaneous clapping , and the raising of arms and fists in solidarity with the profoundly felt words of the speakers. The two hour event concluded with words of shared concern from French farmer activist Jose Bove and final words of inspiration from Tony Clarke and Maude Barlow whose Council of Canadians facilitated this vibrant, vital and pivotal morning session which provided such a rousing and informed finale to the weeks proceedings and such an imperative and emotive preparation for the rally immediately following. . The atmosphere in the parking lot outside and in the streets surrounding where protesters had been converging since early morning was one of peaceful, enthusiastic camaraderie of a caring and concerned and united citizenry and movement anticipating and aware of their profound participation in a significant moment in history. I climbed onto a wall to photograph this amazing sea of people with colorful banners and signs as far as the eye could scan - all ages and stages from toddlers in strollers to the "Raging Grannies", hundreds of thousands of youth, and people from across the Americas - francophones, anglophones and Spanish speakers, street theatre groups, the women's movement, labour movement, human rights, democracy and citizen's groups, the arts and culture community, the entire NDP Caucus, environmentalists,.Greens, indigenous peoples, fair trade groups, anti -capitalists, the peace movement, etc., etc., with hundreds of Quebec citizens joining in, and drumming everywhere providing a constant beat for the parading feet of the people in the street some of whom intermittently broke into joyful dancing along the way. The parade ended in a square where leaders addressed the rally very briefly and then people headed back up the hill, some to the barricades to show solidarity with those who had separated and gone to the wall earlier on, others to mill about in the streets and seek out sustenance after a long hot day in the sun.

As for my own aspirations and reasons for going to Quebec- I wanted to be in the midst of and sense first hand the youth protest movement and the global protest movement which has emerged so profoundly around the world; I wanted to be part of what I hope will be a turning point in neo-liberal history; I wanted to hear the speeches from our converging global citizen's movement and to glean further insights into the critique of the FTAA and GATS and of emerging alternatives; I wanted to have the opportunity to network face to face with anti-globalization leaders from across the Americas many of whom I had corresponded with by e-mail, and I wanted to unite my voice in this massive protest of the peoples of the Americas in one of Canada's great and historic cities - a protest against neo-liberal globalization, and its structures, conditionalities, agreements, and violations occurring globally, and across the span of the Americas .

In the end all of my aspirations for participation in the People's Summit and the protest in Quebec City were realized and I felt during my time in Quebec City, as I have for some time now, in the flow of an evolving world which has demonstrable capacity for transformation.

All the best
In solidarity,
janet m eaton