Dance With The River

Rating: NNNNNottawa -- a giant helium-filled globe drifting higher than the telephone wires draws my attention away from the megaphone's.


Rating: NNNNN

ottawa — a giant helium-filled globe drifting higher than the telephone wires draws my attention away from the megaphone’s drone. It’s Saturday morning, and Lebreton Flats, the gathering point for the anti-globalization march, is filling with hundreds of the usual mishmash of demonstrators ready to head over toward the G-20 meeting near the Chateau Laurier.

It turns out that the floating globe is attached to an oversized 3-foot nylon baby stuffed with fluff. A woman with purple flowers crowning her head cradles the monster child in her arms. She’s one of over a dozen gathered in the Living River group. Everyone in this contingent is decked out in blue or purple outfits and flowers. Soft blue flags wave gently above them.

The Living River plans to “flow” into the Byward Market to chat with shoppers after the march. “We’ll talk to people about ways to move away from consumerism,” says Starhawk, an American peace activist and witch, addressing the circle. “We’re going to try to hold and embody a magical space.”

A few metres away, another cluster, black-and-red flags waving above them. Black hoods, black helmets and red bandanas cover faces, goggles are ready and the smell of vinegar (a makeshift antidote for tear gas) permeates the air. Army-surplus backpacks marked with anarchist symbols create the outer ring of the circle as members huddle inward, shoulders touching, whispering.

The day before, Black Bloc members led the CLAC (Anti-Capitalist Convergence) snake-walk through Ottawa’s core, carrying a banner reading “Smash the State, Smash the Hate.” An hour into that march, rocks whistled through the air and smashed the windows of a McDonald’s restaurant. (“How cliched!” a nearby demonstrator observed after running for cover.)

But today is a new day. The sun is shining, and the seemingly contradictory groupings, the Greens (Living River-type peace folks) and the Blacks (anarchist-type smash-the-state folks), are figuring out how to tolerate one another’s tactics.

At the Friday march, Black Blockers were working on restraint. At one point, a number of them smashed down a towering United Way sign. Other marchers started chanting, “Bad taste! Bad taste!” As quickly as the sign had gone down, Black Blockers had it propped back up and reattached.

“We have no right to tell people how they should behave,” says non-violence advocate Lisa Fithian, who was detained at the border in the days before the demo. “I don’t agree with their tactics, but everything has its place. We are all trying to work with respect.”

The multi-faceted stream heads off: the NDP, Green party, Trotskyists, Marxists, Radical Cheerleaders, Raging Grannies, Midwives and Mothers Watching Globally, the United Church, Physicians for Global Justice, fairies, drummers and dancers.

Five minutes into the march, the riot cops appear in their spooky black Darth Vader gear, batons and ravenous police dogs at the ready. They cut their way through the stream of people, creating a filter. Demonstrators have to pass through the police “sieve” in order to stay on the march route. The Living River people drift through, singing their trademark tune: “The river is flowing, flowing and growing. The river is flowing down to the sea.”

As soon as the Black Bloc contingent reach the police line, out come the handcuffs and rubber-bullet guns — and the “preventive arrests” begin. About 20 Blockers huddle together, surrounded. The crowd starts shouting, “Let them go! Let them go!”

Over the din of defiant shouts, the Living River hymn gains strength. The flowery-robed middle-aged women make their way through the police line again, circling Black Bloc members who haven’t yet been carted off. “Mother carry me, your child I’ll always be, mother carry me, down to the sea,” they sing, weaving around the anarchists. The cops disperse.

As the march moves on, the anarchists safely submerged in the “river” start a chant. “The Greens support the Blacks, the Blacks support the Greens! The Bloc supports the pagans, the pagans support the Bloc!” One tough-looking Black Bloc member, red-bandana covering his face, goggles perched on his forehead, softly joins the River’s never-ending hymn — “Mother carry me, down to the sea.”

A Black Blocker who calls herself Emma explains, “This movement is about diversity of tactics. Everyone protects everyone.’

Joan Fulthorp Jubb, in her 60s, is marching alongside the Bloc, her head popping through a giant blue sheet attached to other Living River marchers. “The Bloc are doing what they have to do, and we’re doing what we have to do. If we say that we’re good and they’re bad, everything goes to goop.’

Three separate marches merge at noon on the Supreme Court front lawn, creating a sea of about 2,500 protestors. Global Democracy organizer Soha Kneen weaves through the crowd with a plastic bucket collecting spare change for the “johns of justice” — portable toilets set up along the rally’s periphery. “The Black Bloc is not necessarily a violent group. Their purpose is to protect demonstrators from police violence.”

By 1 pm, the mass of people has moved into Wellington Street and toward the Chateau Laurier. Some kids pull out chalk, markers and spray paint and decorate the Bank of Canada along the way. Someone hops up to the ominous doors and pees. The march moves on, past Parliament Hill. The green march veers off down Elgin Street. The red (more confrontational) contingent continues straight, stopping abruptly at the barricades dividing the riot cops from demonstrators.

Out come the water hoses, the gas masks, the batons and shields. Down comes the first line of barricades, as demonstrators push through. A standoff begins. The odd balloon and roll of toilet paper is tossed over police lines. The waiting begins. And continues. Some light a fire to warm up, some break into dance. Others keep rattling the one remaining barricade. The Living River stream flows up to the front, singing, drifting along the lines of police and back again.

Time ticks by. A bit of tear gas drifts through the air, a few people are splashed by water hoses. By 5 pm, numbers are dwindling and police clear the streets, sweeping up anyone in their path.

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