ocap may be getting creamed in the media over its adventure at finance minister Jim Flaherty's constituency office last week, but that didn't seem to bother the 600 anti-poverty activists who flooded Christie Pits Friday night and chanted "Fuck Mike Harris' as the sun faded behind the trees.The rally, the warm-up to a conference mapping out a campaign of "economic disruption' to begin October 16, is a clear indication that the fiery anti-poverty brigade has now won the post-Quebec local resistance franchise.
It isn't just evident in the heavy representation of CAW flying squad members in their navy shirts, or in the contingent of boisterous CUPE types from York U. Or in the Anti-capitalist Convergence (CLAQ) rep from Montreal who gushes over OCAP's forthright "anti-capitalism' and "courage.'
No, the real test of the OCAP enchantment is the influx of very young anti-globalizers aiming to recreate the flavour of Quebec on the streets of Toronto. Like the two just-out-of- high-schoolers sitting beside me on the hillside. They want me to call them "Ernesto' and "Rosa' -- he wears a green Che T-shirt, she sports red. They're from Oakville, their fathers vote Tory, and Quebec was the most amazing thing that ever happened to them. "OCAP is the only group willing to stand up to what Mike Harris is doing,' Ernesto confides.
There are lots of Ernestos and Rosas here who look to OCAP's raucous class-war choreography with awe. "Wicked,' they call it.
And OCAP organizers badly need the kudos here tonight. The week was, after all, a bit of a bust. On Tuesday, the visit to Flaherty's office played nastily in the press and caused trustees at the board of education to refrain from putting the issue of whether OCAP could use Central Tech on the agenda for discussion Wednesday night. There, a hundred noisy OCAP supporters packed the board room only to discover they'd been frozen out of the proceedings -- and that every political action has a cost.
Then John Clarke was arrested.
The frustration was evident in Gaetan Heureux's comments Friday night. "My thoughts are with John Clarke,' he says, almost with depression, "and all those in West Detention who dared to fight their poverty.' But he finishes up in more characteristic fashion, warning anyone who tries to stop him getting food or shelter for those on the street:"I will move you.'
Rage certainly energizes. But it also mucks up tactics, and sometimes it distorts. The action at Flaherty's office, for example. Some could say that if the NDP were in power and a right-wing group emptied Bob Rae's office, we'd be talking "brownshirts.'
But I wouldn't linger on this thought for long. The poor are so far removed from the political firmament that we can't even call them an "interest' group. It means their spokespeople are forced to invent to be heard -- a predicament OCAP understands.
But direct action needs discipline, group-think and a harmony of vision. It's not clear if OCAP understands the law of unintended consequences. Last Tuesday someone detoured from the script and destroyed a microwave and damaged a filing cabinet -- and suddenly the opportunity was there for use of the word "trash,' which journalists dearly love. From then on, the irreverant organization lost control of the message, a very tragic thing in a social movement whenever it occurs.
"People do get carried away,' OCAP organizer Stefan Pilipa tells me. "When we target, we don't do it in the absence of our feelings. Emotions sometimes come out. There was some damage. Was it much? No. Were people threatened? No.'
Within the group, he says, "there are mechanisms by which people are held accountable. We're not a top-down organization. We make allowances for things to get gritty, but we don't use that as an excuse for not doing anything.'
No one can accuse OCAP of lethargy. We wish they would operate less like they were in a bunker and more like they have a movement around them, which they do. But finally it must be said: marginalized people trying to navigate this callous era would be in a far worse situation without them.October will be very gritty.