Soundtrack for a Beating

How many minutes can K’naan have been alone in the city before Sebastian sees him? How many minutes does a guy like that actually get alone? “K’naan,” says Sebastian. K’naan whispers in reply and gestures for a conspiracy of silence, but it is to no avail, and they are soon swarmed.

Sebastian (14) mentions the incident later and it adds a sound track to the hours last June when our people were pouring east along Bloor and south on Yonge after the fight with cavalry and footsoldiers in Queen’s Park. The storefronts with unbroken plate glass were alive with silent images of the World Cup. “The world is watching you,” some of us had chanted at the troops as they’d gone efficiently about their business of attacking our children, running us down with horses, and beating us with truncheons, for having the temerity to hold on to the turf they themselves had marked as a safe “democracy” zone.

But on these televisions we did not see ourselves or the men who were kicking us, despite the thousands of cameras there’d been on the field argent. On the screens what we saw was this: men kicking a small white sphere. People in religious ecstasy watching the sphere. And I guess K’naan was singing just out of our hearing, not far away but in a different medium, “when I get older, I will be stronger. They’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.”

It’s a wonderful example of global capital’s ability to morph from a strategy of beating to one of joining. Isn’t K’naan a kid from Somalia who’s seen it all? Sign him up.

Out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Accept no defeat, surrender, retreat

There’s money to be made in resistance.

While Sebastian was hanging with K’naan I was giving a talk to the group for Society, something, and Law at the university. I can’t remember all the words of their name, but I was grateful to any group named “Law” being willing to hazard an evening with the likes of me. Oh, I remember, Ethics, that was the other word. Speaking of which, there was an honorarium. Ethics, honorariae, all those forgettable tag ends.

I had my speech in my back pocket as I went to the mike. It’s entitled “Tired City,” and it’s an appeal from our underground, ungoogleable group, City Without Cars, to a younger generation, to ask them if they could learn to un-invent the wheel. But the two other speakers, a law person and a local activist, were so good that I spent my time telling stories about the G20 and interacting with their work.

The activist, Judy, was talking about the huge protests there’d been in 1972 on the U of T campus against relatively minor (compared to now) police brutality. Nowadays when the chief muckiemuck asks the president of the university to close the school down because it might get in the way of honoring visiting world leaders, the president shuts up shop and turns the students out into hotels, as if the business of the university weren’t particularly important anyway. You can all just stop thinking for a while—democracy has come to town.

Even just fifteen years ago, Judy was able to walk in to the office of the “president, uh, prime minister” (I preserve her Freudian slip here for the volumes it speaks without taking up much space), into the office of the prime minister, Brian Mulroney, with 30 other women and take over the place. Nowadays they’d be taken in as terrorists before they got anywhere near the office.

Well, I still have that “Tired City” bit in my back pocket, and I’m going to trot it out at some point. You’ve been warned.

I tried harassing a guy in a BMW this morning, just to be sociable and to see if I could get him to jump out of his car, but he said to me, “look at yourself, old man, I’m not going to fight you.” And he drove off, squealing his tires. Humph.

So I think I will take a look at myself. And you’ll probably hear about that, too.

DAVID KER THOMSON is a once and future prof at the University of Toronto. The part between “once” and “future” is generally spent on the street. He can be reached at: dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

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