the tear gas plumes of quebec City are scattered to the winds, but the residue of that tumultuous spectacle remains everywhere -- in the psyches of protestors as well as their clothes. Everyone who was there has his or her own private perimeter moment and unique take on how the siege has forever altered the fortunes of Canada's social movements.
But a month has now passed, and besides the exhilaration there is also a rush to reflection. There have already been two major confabs, and next month there will be two more -- one a gathering of left NDPers and the other a Rebuilding The Left forum.
There's also the much-anticipated invitation-only conference at McGill University in Montreal later this month, hosted by former NDP leader Ed Broadbent (who's currently heading a committee talking up "corporate social responsibility") and social democracy scholar Desmond Morton.
In this jumble of confidence and confusion, many things are occurring at once. Established political forces are aligning themselves with young street radicals, while the latter struggle to preserve their own cultural and generational space in a burgeoning coalition. The question is, can everyone keep their game plans under control while this grand civil society works to knit its fragments together?
Last week, the mostly older participants in the Whose Economy? conference at U of T, hosted by the Centre for Social Justice, labour and eco groups, the Council of Canadians and others, took time from policy discussions to meditate on the goggles-and-bandana connection they've made with anti-globalizing students. At the end of three days of deliberation, participants conclude that the basis of their unity is much more than the conference's stated theme of "narrowing the gap in wealth and power.' The phrase "anti-capitalist' keeps turning up at sessions like a sudden realization.
But there's little energy for plumbing the implications of this. In fact, few sparks are flying at all at this gathering where, in plenary, the audience claps for everyone who speaks. The few tensions that do arise relate to matters of tactics and style, like the meaning of leadership and the need for humility.
"When we come to the table (with other groups), we need to forget everything we know, leave it at the door,' says Catherine Louli, a CUPE staffer from Ottawa, warning against know-it-all leftism. "It's like an ecosystem -- the more diverse our thinking, the more chance we have of winning.'
The enormous respect for novel protest paradigms means no one likes to be anything but oblique on the issue of stone-throwers, but it's clear there's unfinished business on this issue. Activist Jaggi Singh of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (CLAC) tells the Convocation Hall meeting of 400 that "every situation is different and everyone draws the line in a different place, but nobody owns the streets. "Diversity of tactics' is meant to create security and solidarity. It's part street theatre, part street protest and part street fight.'
But other speakers suggest the dialogue will get stickier. "There will be political costs to the things that happened in Quebec,' says Patty Barrera of Common Frontiers, organizers of the People's Summit. "We can't gloss over that. We have to ask what is the role of "diversity of tactics' and the role of violence and nonviolence. We have to have these discussions.'
"We must monitor our movement and understand how the tactics of one group affect everyone,' says Karen Gorecki of the Sierra Youth Coalition. "We aren't for or against rock-throwers, but actions have to reflect who you believe you are.'
But if participants are excited by the movement's surge of self-expressiveness, they are equally dismayed by the way labour played its hand in Quebec.
"It was a test, and the labour movement failed,' retired CAW staffer and long-time activist Sam Gindin tells a plenary, referring to the long march away from the perimeter to nowhere.
The image of what might have been is like a collective sigh. "If labour had gone up the hill, we could have formed a human chain and surrounded the wall,' says Josephine Grey of Low Income Families Together. "My child wouldn't have been gassed, and there wouldn't have been so many injuries.'
Some union staffers have already offered public apologies. Two weeks back, Carol Phillips told a meeting of 700 at Jorgensen Hall that "the CAW is a proud union, but we are not feeling proud right now. We left the students alone to get beaten. Direct action is going ahead in our union and in (the) Steelworkers. For the G8 meeting in Ottawa, we will be there with our newly trained CAW affinity group.'
But at a conference session on organizing future protests (suggestions for November's WTO meeting in Qatar: cross-Canada caravans, declaring Qatar zones, flooding the Qatar embassy with visa requests), Phillips offers some nuts-and-bolts cautions. The problem for us, she confides, is that the majority of unionists are eluding organizing efforts. How, she asks, "do we get beyond just 50 people going on the bus to Quebec from a plant of 5,000?"
In the end, besides the challenge of including the poor and racial minorities and honouring fresh tactics and affinity-group solidarity, there's the outstanding problem that, psychologically and politically, the majority of organized workers are actually a long way from the wall.
The real ghost haunting the post- Quebec era, beyond police repression and the terrifying complacency of the federal Liberals about it, is the Days Of Action campaigns of the mid-90s. Unions shut down Hamilton and Toronto, mobilizing hundreds of thousands -- far surpassing, dare we say, the Summit protest. The big fear expressed by many activists now is that if it's not nurtured with the proper respect, the shiny anti-globalization coalition that swept us off our feet in April could disappear into the ozone like those anti-Tory labour stoppages that once before so miraculously promised better days.