The violence associated with the G20 protest will find its ways into the history books, like it or not.
Already, the tear gas, beatings, assaults, arrests, burning police cars and violent clashes have led to 900 arrests. The number of arrests exceeds the October Crisis, when two government officials were kidnapped by the FLQ (Font de liberation du Quebec) in 1970. During the deployment of Canadian Forces throughout Quebec and in Ottawa, martial law was declared, leading to the arrest of 497 individuals without bail.
The level of violence cannot be justified. The rhetoric of anti-capitalist organizations is empty when placed against the destruction. The “Black Bloc” of anarchists had a single goal of causing violence and provocation. The Black bloc is a strategy, not an organization. The idea is to show up at demonstrations wearing all black and then attack any symbol of capitalism. The plan is to get the police to react, then the black clothes are removed and the perpetrators evaporate into the crowd.
Sometimes, social and political scientists will try to develop theories about why violence occurs during protests. Some will say it is motivated by economic inequalities or problems between various social groups/classes. Others will say it is authoritarian regimes or a tradition of violence in a particular culture.
Donatella della Porta, an expert in social movements, says violence can be a product of a lack of opportunity for radical opposition in bureaucratic societies. Still another explanation related to the inability of an old set of leaders to step aside, so violence is used to replace them.
For all the theories, “none provides a global explanation for the complex phenomenon of political violence,” she writes in her landmark book Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State.
What is worrisome is the signs or motivators are there if we are willing to look carefully.
In Toronto, the fences, massive police presence, lock downs and politicians’ behaviour all signal the triggers, as the theorists point out.
But what is far more scary are the local signs. It may not be as obvious or as overt, but there is a level of repression taking place.
How many times do politicians fail to engage citizen groups in meaningful dialogue? When people come before councils, there are countless examples of poor reception, failure to listen or even take action on reasonable requests. For those who regularly step forward to challenge the local elite, they are marginalized and demonized to strip them of credibility. Think of Pat McNamara or Keith Oliver as two of the many examples.
Look at the arrogance and cold-hearted treatment of Northumberland Hills Hospital members at the recent annual general meeting earlier this month. The lack of clarity, transparency, manipulation and outright bullying that took place as they slapped down the board members trying to find answers and push their own agenda of accountability forward.
Then, the press release send out the next day by the hospital was all sunshine and roses as it attempted to spin the media and public into believing it was a successful gathering. It justified this warped logic arguing the board’s agenda was followed. The efforts by citizen groups and hospital members hold the board accountable were mentioned. There was certainly no effort during the meeting to build consensus or reach out to the members. This is the kind of bureaucratic society the political scientists refer to when talking about radical reactions.
Violent protest may not be a top priority for local groups and organizations. Still, we see how politicians and bureaucrats ramrod their agendas forward stomping on citizens, the very people who pay taxes to ensure these services and institutions survive. We may not see any burning cars on main street or watch hundreds of people get arrested.
But, there is no telling how much longer Northumberland County residents are going to put up with being frustrated and ignored. A reckoning may be in the works as we watch the municipal elections unfold. But the larger question is how long can our system survive under this kind of subjugation.