Reactions to the FTAA Summit
It will not fade away as government might wish
By Michaele Kustudic
The experience of being part of the events that transpired at the recent FTAA Summit in Quebec was intense, never to be forgotten. Demonstrations against the Vietnam war in the '60s and, recently, against the bombing of Iraq, were as nothing in comparison.

Knots of people stood in stunned silence Thursday, watching the sections of fence being welded together under the watchful eyes of police, while ominous-looking helicopters clattered overhead. The shock hit us. In our Canada, our home and native land, in this lovely old city , the captains of the elite oligarchy were fencing off blocks and then sitting down inside, willfully oblivious to our concerns. They were fixing to carve up the hemisphere, consequences to global environment and human justice be damned. They were so far removed from the sight and sound of those who disagreed with them that the protests might just as well take place on the moon, for all they cared.

They had the police and we were helpless. That was the clear and unequivocal message from our so-called leaders.

Like most who went to Quebec, I abhor violence, and had hoped events could have unfolded without it. On the other hand, peaceful demonstrations like the 30,000-strong Women's March Against Poverty in Ottawa last fall tend to go almost entirely unremarked by the media. But having seen that wall welded shut, having watched well-guarded entry points through which only those with official documentation could go, having been stopped and questioned by police many times on my way to the airport to meet an arriving friend, I could begin to understand the emotions which might lead some young hot-bloods to act out the rage felt by all of us. Seeing with one's own eyes the extremes to which our "democratic" government will go to avoid fair and open discussion about what they are scheming for all our futures, can really make one angry. Still, most people avoided aggressive acts.

Even when the fence unexpectedly toppled, people stood back in surprise, rather than rush through the gap. The very best thing about being in Quebec was the people. Those we met - English, French and Latin American; visitors and residents - were unfailingly kind and helpful. Each tried to speak the other's language. Quebeckers offered visitors maps, information, water, and vinegar or lemon juice for defence against the anticipated tear gas. They hung supportive banners from their windows. Some, I'm told, hung out water hoses so protestors could flush the burning tear gas from their eyes and faces. There were stories of people handing out free meals below a city underpass, 24-hours a day - reportedly also tear-gassed by police at one point. Others spontaneously helped clean up the inevitable refuse left by the huge crowd (bringing a $5 donation to the cause from a grateful resident).

Almost completely excluded from reports of that week in Quebec was the content of the People's Summit. In a large building normally used as a public market, there were booths and tables with posters, pamphlets, buttons and information from the many organizations protesting the FTAA. Among those represented were the Council of Canadians (of which I am a member), the Sierra Club, Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, the World Wildlife Federation, teachers' groups, union groups, human rights groups from several countries, and artists' groups.

These people talked about their objections to the current free trade process - not to trade itself, as has been reported.

Across the way in a large tent, Le Chapiteau, speeches and teach-ins, workshops, panel discussions and entertainment took place during the days leading up to the Big March. Simultaneous translation devices were provided, since proceedings were in French, English and Spanish.

Speaking with passion, David Suzuki warned of the danger of allowing unlimited growth. "We are reaching a Marxist state in the world," he said, "not Karl, but Groucho: 'Why should I worry about future generations? What did they ever do for me?!' " We are adopting the mentality of a cancer cell, he said, growth without limit.

On Saturday, the day of the Big March, the pervasive atmosphere of good vibes reached its zenith. It was like seeing how the world could be if guided by principles of co-operation and sharing, instead of competition and greed. Predictions of cold rain turned into a gift of sun and summer warmth. Adding to the feeling of festivity were the creative puppets, props, signs, costumes and other paraphernalia everywhere one looked. The rhythms of many hand drums were repeated by clanking on guard rails and receptacles and clapping hands. The pervasive heartbeat became the heartbeat of this huge, life-affirming river of people.

There was a Chretien puppet on stilts, carrying a huge plastic container of water. The label read, "MINE (not yours, citizens of Canada, but MINE to sell as a commodity to the U.S.)." A huge green condom bore the Greenpeace logo and exhorted people to practise safe environmental activities. Raging Grannies sported flowered hats and flowing skirts. There were punk kids with spiked hair and pierced faces, dogs on leashes, and babies in strollers. The river of humanity flowed through the streets, merging with human tributaries from other streets. The rousing chant, "So-li-da-ri-te", went up.

Then ugliness followed. The major part of the March was side-tracked into a dead-end industrial zone. And the police blanketed the city with tear-gas - so much that even those who chose to stay far away from the fence felt the sting in their eyes and throats.

There are many aspects of this whole event that will not just fade away as easily as our government and its co-conspirators might wish. They have the police and the armaments and the chain-link barricades; but we've got the numbers. They may control the mainstream media; but we can form ever-growing networks of like-minded people, telling the real story, helping others to see how it really was and is. And when there are enough of us, we can use our buying power to speak to them in the language they understand --money. Eventually we'll get a voice in the things that affect us before they lock us in to any more of their misbegotten secret deals.
Ms. Kustudic is a psychoeducational consultant who worked 20 years for the Toronto School Board and 10 years in Annapolis Valley Schools in Nova Scotia. Now retired, she lives in Wolfville, NS.