Calgary, Alberta -- the prostitute has reclaimed her corner outside the Convergence Centre, the epicentre of the G8 protest that has just wound up here in Calgary. What a surreal trip it's been.The actions, the marches and the reactions from police and politicians have left participatns feeling isolated from the world, distant from any sense of continuity or hope for anything better. Were we merely playing ?
Police, when push came to shove, certainly didn't ignore the protestors, but vanished at every opportunity, relinquishing the street and holding only crucial objectives.
To fight the Man, voice disgust with the system and reclaim the streets are problematic when the streets are freely handed over. How do you play when the opposing team shows but refuses to play the game?
There were times when the protest seemed like resistance without further vision or solution, a three-hour march winding through the city without a route or real destination.
Locked into a narrow street surrounded by chanting union workers, deafened by pounding drums and squawking megaphones, we see clearly now that the march is the message.
The hooded anarchists were startling doppelgängers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The effect was no accident. But no one here wants to die for the cause.
Talking with Amelia, a young woman from the hamlet of Hilton Beach on northern Ontario's section of the Trans-Canada Highway, I realize that the G8 is not simply a floating event or road show or vortex of dissent, but a way of life.
This is not a date circled on her calendar or a Post-It note stuck to the fridge door, but a gathering where most faces are familiar. For Amelia it is her driving raison d'être.
She does not play Ultimate Frisbee or engage in any other social activity that is not in some way related to the cause. Instead, she prints pamphlets, writes letters to politicians and jams about politics with anyone who will listen.
Her friend Kate, ironically a Starbucks employee, uses her $40 of weekly grocery money to buy food for the protestors. There are times here when I've felt we're at the beginning of something, on the ground floor of idealism. I've had an inkling of how the future might be and how the past might have been.
Yet this utopia remains elusive. Beyond the lip service paid to freedom of thought and the right to an unfettered voice, a party line is strictly adhered to: Israel is bad, Palestine good. Africa victim, Western culture exploiter.
Although this is a movement that prides itself on being leaderless and egalitarian, there is a sense, as George Orwell put it, that while "all animals are created equal, some are more equal than others."
An inner sanctum of people always seems to moderate discussions, certain people who, when they speak, command more authority. Their views and opinions can change the debate instantly.
Others who try to speak are pointedly ignored or cut off in mid-sentence. There are shadows on the wall that suggest that this could all turn bad. Late-night discussions with two activists drive this home. Both have been at this for as long as they can remember and still feel like outsiders. No one is ever quite pure enough.
I am constantly assessing my attire. Does FILA make its apparel in sweatshops? Are my Chako sandals appropriately revolutionary?
At earlier meetings I feel as if I'm at the grade 9 dance and can't for the life of me figure out what to do with my hands. Paranoia runs deep.
The word now is that the protest movement has lost its edge, that Calgary was a non-event. This is true only if we accept the mainstream media view that violence is at the centre of all protests. There have been times when this has felt like the last gasp, the last chance to be different. As one button says, "Being weird isn't enough."
The fights in Calgary, Quebec and Genoa were not calls for the overthrow of the government or the usurping of cherished institutions.
At their core, they expressed a hope that we might maintain a fertile ground for the imagination. The risk today is not that we lose our planet or what is left of our souls. The risk today is that we might become irretrievably boring.
Diversity of thought and skill when thrown together create synergy. Diversity is to be cultivated, not monopolized; monoculture is to be resisted, whatever the cost; our potential to be good citizens and fair traders is far greater than we have been led to believe. That's the message.