The revolution will not be televised

But it might be shown on YouTube. After a peaceful first day of G20 protest up here in Toronto, things got ugly yesterday. What began (and remained) a largely peaceful affair turned nasty when a small group of Black Bloc anarchists swarmed through downtown Toronto smashing (mostly) major chains and symbolic establishments like Starbucks, McDonalds, banks and the like. In one hilarious moment, they apparently pelted a strip club with mannequin arms and legs they had looted up the street. Despite not supporting their violent methods, I have to give them some credit for tactics and irony. I mean, despite 19,000 cops and security personnel, a few hundred kids were able to take over downtown Toronto for a few hours and thereby dominate coverage of the event. Hmmm. Maybe they were allowed to? It sure made for “good” coverage.

Sadly, their hour of mayhem allowed the media to focus almost exclusively on images of burning cop cars, protesters smashing windows and the like. Let me tell you, I was there off and on all day and I only saw them once. To me, it seemed like a hard core group of about a hundred folks with perhaps another hundred friends and curious copy cats. There were at least 11,000 other people up here peacefully demonstrating yesterday and we got almost no attention. Not only that, the cops were pushing and pushing all day. I watched all day and night as they surged against crowds of peaceful demonstrators on foot, bike and war horses. I met people who had been beaten. I heard a girl was trampled by a horse and almost killed. Tear gas was used in Toronto for the first time ever. It was a scary display of state power up here people, let me tell you. If you don’t believe me, watch the videos and decide for yourself.

In a strange bit of personal poetry, local record stores (which unsurprisingly remained unscathed) served as a backdrop for many poignant images throughout the day. (Although I heard after the fact that the iconic Steve’s Music sign melted from the burning police car nearby). Meanwhile, Kops records (I could not make this up) did a nice revolutionary window display in solidarity. My favorite moment was watching the reflected march in their window seeming to burst forth from the cover of Gil Scott Heron’s album “The revolution will not be televised”. Beautiful.

Although his words remain as true now as ever, it seems with the (temporary?) democratization of digital media production and distribution (think cellphone videos from Iran and YouTube posts from Toronto), perhaps we have a chance at a real people’s media before the state takes over all channels. They were blocking cell coverage at times up here and folks tell me that legislation is trending toward making it illegal to film cops on duty. As my man Wayne warned me, guard your grill folks (and more importantly, your YouTube account).

Get out. Get involved. Post your findings. Before its too late.


Postmodern Marching Music and M.I.A.

By coincidence, this weekend I happened to be in Toronto after a conference which coincided with the G20 meeting up here. A lot of Canadians seem to be pissed about the $1B price tag (a large percentage of which is for security) and the general inconvenience of having the global royalty in town for the weekend. In short its a big, expensive pain in the ass (and that’s if you are already pretty happy with the current arrangement of the global order). There is also a lot of pretty transparent fear mongering and state heavy handedness going on. For example, the US State Department issued warnings for citizens to stay away from downtown Toronto this weekend. Meanwhile, the Ontario legislature handed over even more control without much discussion.

Meanwhile, my little dorm/hostel/hotel room is a few blocks south of the “official protest” site (which is actually across the street from the conference location). Earlier this evening, I was headed to meet some folks for a farewell fete and stumbled into the front line of current conflicts about the impacts of globalization, resource distribution and social justice. The “dreaded” G20 Protests!

Among other things, the two teams clearly had their own special kind of marching music. On the one hand, you had pickup trucks blasting remixes of “Milkshake” (is that tune old enough to be cool again?) beautifully battling the beats of the hippie human drum corps. On the other, security forces in riot gear keeping time with batons, thigh plates and boots on asphalt. I haven’t tapped it out, but I think the tempos are even similar at times. Often around 115bpm is seems. Interesting.

Despite endless layers of cultural (and sometimes rhythmic) complexity, it was really scary to see the levels of force compared to the size of the marchers. It seemed a small (1,000 person?), clearly peaceful and actually pretty damn funky protest march. It was surrounded by an overwhelming number of continually shifting phalanxes of postmodern Pinkertons on foot, horse and (in a very Canadian fashion) bike.

I hope the second day remains peaceful. Today, everyone was out making their own kinds of marching music which was simultaneously scary and funky. (Post industrial Praetorian in the first case and people-centric in the second.) As usual, I prefer to dance with the people. Anyway, at first, when I watched the recent M.I.A. video about the persecution of gingers, it felt over the top to me. Not misguided. Just a little heavy handed an hyper violent for my taste (faint of heart, beware the link below). Today, it sounded and looked a lot like the intro to that video up here in Toronto.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Don’t forget to work for peace every day. In whatever way. The alternative is unacceptable.