Ottawa -- after two days of marching around the tightly guarded streets of our nation's rain-soaked capital, I can't wait to get the hell out of here.A year after Quebec City, the anti-globalization movement is in danger of becoming hopelessly banal. This is what democracy looks like? Come on. It can't be this boring.
Surely, hundreds of protestors from Toronto and Montreal didn't show up just to occupy an abandoned downtown house to bring attention to the affordable housing crisis in this country, or to burn George Bush in effigy in an otherwise staid protest outside the U.S. Embassy?
Staging coordinated occupations of vacant buildings in cities across the country to coincide with the G8 meeting in Kananaskis -- now that would have been something to tune in to.
Only a few thousand mostly white 20-something protestors have shown up for what is essentially two days of snake marches through the streets in opposition to the G8 agenda and in solidarity with everything from indigenous rights to the Palestinian intifada.
With the exception of some low-key union support from the CAW and CUPE, mainstream progressive organizations like the NDP, the Council of Canadians and other NGOs have stayed away.
"We invited the Council of Canadians to endorse the march and they didn't. They declined, and I think there are a lot of groups that we approached, but they declined," admits Take the Capital organizer Brenda Inouye.
The split in the anti-globalization movement over so-called "diversity of tactics" (DOT) -- also known as tolerating violent dissent -- has kept activists away in droves, not to mention thousands of average folk who are also fed up with the way the capitalist democracies of the G8 coddle big business.
Leading up to these demos, there was a bitter and open debate among activists, largely between those who support DOT and those who see it as the movement's undoing.
Meanwhile, the police -- although I watch them attempt to snatch one demonstrator out of a park because he'd broken his court conditions by being there -- ultimately win the PR war by facilitating the movement of the protest through the streets and keeping the riot squads out of sight. It's hard to identify with chants of "Fuck the police" when non-threatening bicycle cops are going out of their way to clear a path for you and being more of a pain to car drivers.
Sure, the police presence in the streets is still overwhelming. (I got a kick out of the four RCMP officers lining up outside Starbucks.) But with the media covering this like a sporting event, practically salivating over the possibility of a big confrontational moment to give their duller-than-paint-drying G8 coverage a boost, the cops play their hand deftly. Not a single ounce of pepper spray or tear gas is spilled here.
In fact, at a recent Toronto police services board meeting, the lefty, citizen-based Toronto Police Accountabilty Coalition, in criticizing how Toronto cops have handled mass demonstrations, pointed to the Ottawa police policy regarding major events as a model.
Summit of the Americas and APEC this ain't. The cops here have a liaison team dressed in golf shirts and shorts who are constantly attempting to suck up to the protestors to work out issues, from march routes to preventing protestors from having their van towed.
"The people have been empowered," Ottawa police spokesperson Staff Sgt. Monique Ackland later tells me, sounding scarily like the protestors she is charged with corralling. "You want to give a message to Canada? That is your right and we will facilitate this right in peace."
Isn't that nice?
So, absent a confrontation, the media are finally left no choice but to home in on the protestors' message, right? Of course not.
"It's kind of pathetic," Jaggi Singh tells reporters before the march Thursday afternoon. "The stories now are, there was violence or there wasn't violence, instead of what the issues were and what happened."
Indeed, the cops are the least of the movement's worries right now. The most pressing question, post-Quebec City and post-9/11, is how to meld direct action with the kind of mass global mobilization that, for example, succeeded brilliantly in derailing the Multilateral Agreement on Investment at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development meeting in Paris a few years back.
Judging by this run-of-the-mill anti-corporate jamboree, that better happen fast.