On Burning Cop Cars and Stagecraft
A screaming came across the sky. The pine needled hush of cottage country was briefly, but violently, punctured by the deafening whoosh of low-flying fighter jets this weekend. Passing directly over our family cabin, the searing sound reverberated incredibly. Fillings were rattled, relatives were terrified, dogs barked dumbly; meanwhile, your intrepid reporter remained snoring on the couch.
We later learned the squadron heading due south did not signal Canadian armed forces invading the United States at long last, but were probably shepherding the most powerful beings on earth from the G8 summit, in Muskoka cottage country, to the G20 summit, in the heart of occupied Toronto. The first conference, for the Group of Eight forum (representatives of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States meet annually to discuss economic concerns), was held in the depths of the Canadian wilderness, far from the eyes and bricks of protesters, while the the G20 (same thing but with nineteen countries, the European Union, and representatives of the IMF and World Bank; it largely supersedes the G8 now), was held in the center of the city, walled off for the occasion, and filled with angry anarchists. Toronto was specially policed, at a cost of nearly a billion dollars, and with 400 persons arrested in sweeps, a number of whom were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was no trouble at the G8 summit, anarchists apparently being lousy at organizing bus tours, while the G20 brought the usual anti-glass brigades, smashing the window of a Starbucks and burning a cop car, abandoned by the police as a sacrifice to mass pathology. The image flashed across Canada, evoking much gnashing of teeth about the evils of protesters. The CBC’s talking armpit Rex Murphy stood firmly against hooliganism, while arguing that the great expense: a billion dollars, shutting down the financial capital of the country, imposing a short-term theatricalized version of martial law, etc: was absolutely necessary in order to show the hooligans that we mean business.
Or both conferences could have been held in cottage country. But I guess that suggestion misunderstands how central street theatre is to these conferences. Governments hold these summits in major cities in full awareness that the “black block” will show up to smash the state, or at least a few plate glass windows nowhere near the state, and those images will make a convincing argument that any criticisms of the summits- for instance: it’s a tad undemocratic that these groups make decisions with sweeping impact on our lives, while we have no say over the groups, their members, or their decisions- are of a sort with torching cop cars.*
Murphy pointed out that the anarchists might as well be employed by Stephen Harper, ribbing them as his useful idiots. But the criticism could be made of the rest of us- after all, we pay a fortune in taxes, put our civil liberties on hold, and close our businesses for a few days; all so our governments and a handful of hooligans can come together and make the same didactic theatrical point each year: people who criticize the economic decisions of the ruling class can be embodied by a stupid thug burning a cop car. As for me, I admire Stephen Harper’s stage direction, but balk at the ticket prices.
* The American Tea Party might be tickled to know that a major grievance of the Canadian anarchists is that our tax money went to bailouts that we didn’t vote for.