By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Life and Times as an "Evacuee" (Or How I missed observing the G-20 protests while I was in Toronto)

It is an exaggeration of course. Being transferred from one campus to another to spend four nights at a very new student residence in the first world does not quite cut it as far as most people's conventional idea of what an evacuation (or being an evacuee) is like. I should know. I'm from a third world country. The only other time I remeber having to leave home was because of a huge flood in 1977 because of a major typhoon that hit Manila (I was 8)and I actually found the boat ride quite "fun."

This was the school bus we rode to the University of Toronto Mississasuga campus with the few essentials students need to get by : a change of clothes (4 days worth), books, laptop (and for those who are not quite the same person without the daily dose) your old reliable coffe mug.

As a grad student living in a student residence at the U of T St. George campus, I had to relocate to the UTM campus (just 33 kilometers West of the St. George campus downtown) because the University decided shut down the campus as a precaution/security measure for the G-20 summit happening in Toronto during the weekend. A lot of people think its too much and that treating protesters as a major security threat borders on paranoia. Personally it actually worked well for me. I had an appointment here at UTM this week.

I have to admit, however, that I would have been curious to see the protests up close. Everybody makes a big deal of the "Seattle battle" and it has actually become a sort of short hand-symbol on both sides (naysayers and romatics of the protest movements). I don't necesarrily agree with people who justify an all out state performance of what almost looks like a padody of state machissmo. But neither do I let my left leaning brethren off the hook for not taking care to dispell misinformed justifications of violence.

When I was a student activist I remember how much I detested those macho boys who made up the violent fringe of protest actions. Sure we were up against a dictator and it was police/military violence we faced but those thugs (boys of sixteen or eighteen really) who showed up during rallies with their pill boxes and home-made molotov bombs didn't usually consult the masses of rallyists let alone the contingent from the state university (your motley crew of "student leaders") they always insisted should be leading the pack in front of the truncheon police. Unlike the rest of us who observed the buddy system (pairing up to make sure each had somebody looking out for them), coordinated with paralegals (vounteer law students and human rights lawyers), and made sure "agents" from the militia would not infiltrate our ranks, they usually lingered literally on the fringes of the march and let loose (throwing stones and pillboxes) at will and run like hell afterwards.

But it is never easy. I guess looking back, I wouldn't have wanted those clueless macho boys arrested by the militia anyway. As a student paralegal even then (and sometimes as part of the negotaition panel that actually approached the police officers to bargain about dispersal), I was sworn to defend them and make sure their rights were respected. In this sense I can understand the ambivalence protesters feel towards the most unruly among them.

Yet it is also hard to compare. It was a dictatorship we were up against. One with a twenty-year human rights violation record of torture, illegal detention, disapperances (many of which were never really resolved), executions and unfathomable corruption. (Oh yes, we still had that with our last outgoing President and it was not technically speaking --- a military dictatorship.)

As a foreigner I do not know much about the Canadian police but honestly speaking, the women and men in blue of Toronto seem so NICE and most of them seem approachable to me. (Is Canadian niceness infectious or what?) I'm not saying we don't have those sort of police officers back home. We do. There are a few of them I actually learned to respect in the course of my NGO work but I guess being in the thick of it does colour one's perceptions very much. At the back of our minds when we faced truncheons we knew the police feared protesters as much as we feared them --- especially when there were more of us.

I guess your only real clue is checking the community pulse. Many eruptions of violence under conditions of overwhelming oppression are genuine expressions of righteous anger and thus the toleration and acceptance (even approval) of the community at large is usually what comes after such eruptions.

As advocates I remember that a major concern was always whether we were making that huge a difference by reaching people and connecting with communities about the causes we held near and dear (social justice, democracy, freedom of speech). As student activists we constantly grappled with apathy and the lack of student interest in politics. It was the 1980s when I was a student activist and even then we came to question our own "romanticism" of 1960s and 1970s style activism (we had local versions of campus communes and the shorthand for it is "FQS" or the "First Quarter Storm") all of which had their sense of legitimacy and public sympathy in their day but were becoming extremely problematic by the time we were in the student movement. We debated about the underground left's identification of the "primacy" of armed struggle/guerrila warfare which was called the "people's war." (I always thought of it in the late 1980s as the left underground movement's continuing phallic obsession. I actually said so to some effect and got into really nasty shouting matches with really sexist "comrades") Sigh. I'm glad to say some of them actually turned out to be good fathers and are not so sexist now. I'm also a more agreeable feminist now and not as big a b**** as I was (to them at least). So there.

Where was I? Community and public support and public engagement. Events this big usually open up a space (or opportunity) for getting the public interested and informed about the world outside our own homes, offices and schools. But if you really think about it, overkill (whether by state police and military performance or unpopular and violent tactics of protest) is also enough for people to tune out of it. And in places where many can comfortably wall themselves in by all sorts of diversions (blogging included ;-P), it does not get easier. Get with the program people, we are competing with no less than FIFA World Cup matches both for airtime and popularity.

Yesterday's clip from the Daily Show actually had something very interesting about perceptions of anger (particularly social stereotypes of the "angry black man" - the Samuel L. Jackson scale of anger was very funny check it out.) It got me thinking about how the public discussion about protests is also being influenced in a huge way by the labelling of activists as "militants" and summing up all sorts of disturbances as "terrorism."


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