quebec city -- the drums of the
global village are beating loudly. The streets and strategies are a cacophony of mixed messages -- some profound, some a bore. But the pulsating rhythm is alive and chaotic. This is a global culture in the process of creation, out of control but magnetic.
I'm on a mission to monitor the meta-messages of two Summit rituals fighting for airspace in a divided city. I've been peeking in at both sides of the fence, and I say the ring goes to the protest.
However the dangerous excesses of those playing with sticks and stones resound in public opinion, there are an unbelievable number of participants here outside the fence. And they are being treated to something rare and precious -- a collective experience that affirms personal autonomy. You can't get that watching Newsworld. No one is a puppet in this playground, despite the colourful props.
Facing off in front of a 12-foot fence, smudged with the burning intensity of tear gas, a ceremony unfolds in which each participant has the freedom and must face the challenge of choosing his or her own drama. The protestors win because, for every one of us who's here, this is a memorable learning experience.
It is all brought into sharp relief for me when I leave the riot of pink tutus and face paint early on Saturday morning to make a foray into the official world behind the perimeter. I make my way to the Hilton through checkpoint after checkpoint. Every speck of marble floor is shiny and spotless, every piece of fabric on or off a human is starched and pressed. Coming from the riot of costumes on the other side, it's obvious that fashion is a mirror for the mysteries at play. The glyph that gives these threads their symbolic power? Ironing.
I'm pretty sure that anything dishevelled -- take the untamed bedhead running rampant outside -- is more unacceptable in this crowd than offering drug-war funding to extrajudicial death squads. This ceremony of blazers and badges isn't just about keeping everything here under control. The costuming metaphor goes even further. It's about controlling the very fabric of our lives.
But my nose and throat are picking up the prickling from yesterday's tear gas. I'm more sensitive than some because I took a huge hit right by the fence just as it was breached yesterday. The air of democracy is bringing a tickle of chaos from the perimeter into this circle of power. That's a victory.
Chaos is dangerous and uncontrollable. It's imperfect and frightening. But it's a force of nature, and like the warm, breezy weather, it seems to be on our side this weekend.
I'm glad to get back outside the fence. The big march is about to begin. My son Jules and I are here together, and we are veterans. We were in Mexico City last month to welcome the Zapatour to the Zócalo.
We listened as Subcomandante Marcos used most of his time at the podium to poetically honour each and every one who was there -- the grandmothers, young children, youths, people from the north, people from the south, every sexual orientation. Businessmen, workers, everyone, and we liked it that he mentioned us, too.
The culture of inclusiveness that he was affirming was a nourishing reward for being there. And here I am, two countries up and in lots of ways worlds away. But the crazy costumes are offering the same kind of welcoming that he gave. The clown hair and Mother Teresas and plastic bugs. They are all symbols of acceptance and invitations to expression.
Today, with our new goggles and bandanas, we feel elated and prepared. Of course, marching with the militants has its depressing ironies. Chants and slogans are drawn freely from the outmoded baggage of the old, revolutionary left, whether they make any sense or not.
My favourite non sequitur is "Five six, seven, eight, organize and smash the state." Note to self: the battle against the FTAA is fundamentally about trying to retain the power of the state to act as a curb on unchecked cross-national investor rights. But face it. The inclusive culture of resistance means you have to suffer foolish sloganeers gladly.
Participatory democracy is a lovely idea. But Jules and I sure keep finding it draining. We try. We go to some of the People's events. We hang in for the spokescouncil strategy session. We want to love it all, but we can barely sit through this stuff.
Democracy is heavy, too. I need a shopping cart to carry all the fact-sheets this Summit experience raises. Come to think of it, if I had one it might have been fun to decorate it.
The truth is that civil disobedience is the cure for what ails us. We want to stay with the legal march that's headed for the sticks, just to see everyone all together. Plus, we're with friends who don't have the protection they need to face the tear gas wafting through downtown.
But it's drudgery marching through the endless industrial zone the parade officials have chosen. We're not alone. Just halfway there, the march coming back toward us on its way to the perimeter is as large as the one still heading out.
Dear Ann Landers, I'm on the labour march with friends who don't have goggles. Is it OK to leave them and turn back before the end?
We can't take it any more. We're not here just to march in someone else's parade. We are non-violent to the core of our beings, but we need to energize the drama of our resistance with direct action.
And I think that's part of the secret of this movement's power. The shadow of danger inexplicably lends definition and meaning to all the pink tutus and teddy bears.
The fear that hangs in the air is part of the power of what's happening. It's wrong and stupid to commit aggressive acts of violence and mayhem. I look forward to the time when the movement figures out how to contain or isolate the idiots who are doing those things. But there is no cause for despair. Civil disobedience is an art that must be practised to be perfected. Let's just get better at it.
Most people facing the tear gas and the water cannons are there, like Jules and me, to draw a line of courage and mutual support in a passionate ceremony for citizens' rights. We got what we came for, and it will stay with us for a long time.