We’re piecing together our bit of the worldwide occupation here in a Toronto brutalized by last summer’s G20. The bravest and best among us are still mired in the courts, where the vast resources of the state are brought to bear against people who are not merely innocent but exemplary.
A recent Friday night meeting in Berczy Park amassed the usual suspects, not just dodgy characters like me on the periphery looking like undercover cops, but a couple of hundred mostly young idealists together with some actual undercover cops trying to conceal their essentially suburban instincts. My friend Suzanne was in the middle of the pack and asked me afterwards if I didn’t think we were a community in mourning. Indeed we are.
I think Suzanne’s actual phrase was “trauma victims.” Suzanne, if that’s her name, is from Washington state and has felt the triumph of the WTO festivities in the Battle of Seattle. But the Toronto police state may be of a different order than the Seattle swat mob, or at least a different era. The Toronto boys in blue are a suburban military elite, well armed, well funded, eager to be deployed against their traditional enemies in the city, and equipped with GPS units for finding their way in alien territory and possessing enviably efficient public relations capabilities and a mandate as clear as a vendetta: take care of trouble in Toronto. They spent more than a billion dollars rounding up a thousand urban innocents last summer, then marched in massive jackbooted triumph through the city in the winter as an adoring press saluted them with sentimentalities and working-class people sang their praises. Working-class people supporting cops is like poor whites in antebellum America supporting rich whites instead of poor blacks. It’s not in their own interests, but they do it out of spite and ignorance, or maybe just for yucks. And isn’t it instructive how the supposedly working-class cops side with their rich masters instead of with their own class? The fact is that cop work in Toronto is an extremely secure, well-funded activity or ‘occupation’, and has little in common with genuine working-class anxieties. You can’t offshore a good beating, and cops know it. Beating people is in fact a burgeoning market in Canada with many career opportunities.
A media blackout greeted the official journalists who showed up in Berczy, imposed by our team. The official photographers fiddled with their cameras and–it being an off night for news–took an hour to load them unused back into their minivans and trucks.
During the meeting, a few charismatic speakers came forward, and were inclined to address the crowd at length upon the hidden injuries of class and the not-so-hidden injuries of police beatings, but speeches longer than a couple of minutes were shouted down in a welter of calls for more procedural coherence.
Not likely, with this lot. No single leader emerged with the concise list of demands that would have satisfied the hired men in the minivans.
That’s fine. People know what has to happen. No one in newspaperland really needs more statements and information about whether money should be going to rich bankers to continue funding top-heavy political arrangements, rapacious tar sands exploitation, or collusion with American wars against all and sundry. People will use whatever information they have to rest secure in their beliefs. It’s not more content we need, but a disruption of the form itself. Ten thousand silent people in the streets getting in the way, or ten thousand people in the streets with a vociferous display of conflicting demands, also getting in the way. Either way’s good. The point is to get in the way. We’ll start with two hundred and work up. Demands will emerge. People’s sense of frustration is buried only so far as complicit forms of daily ritual permit. Disrupt that, and not just the protesters but every person who has been diminished by capital’s daily outrages will find her voice.
To the basic form of occupation let me add my own refinement as I noticed it emerging from the Berczy Park meeting. Under fully and even semi-repressive regimes, the apparatus of communication, be it so lowly as a bullhorn, can be an occasion for imprisonment. By contrast, speeches composed of lines of eight words or less, followed by a ceasura during which the crowd repeats the words, are perfect for regimes where possession of a bullhorn can easily sink you a hundred-thousand dollars deep in court fees. We at seawalk-the-ungoogleable recommend this. Let’s mold a new eloquence to meet the new exigengies. Speeches with short lines, amplified a hundred-fold by nearby listeners. In Toronto this call-and-response medium is called “mike check.” Not an actual microphone, just attentive listeners and chanters. If you try yacking for more than eight words, people forget the first words. Eight is a kind of natural limit to how much people can remember.
How about “pieces of eight” instead of “mike check” for a name? Pieces of eight reminds us, as well, of the honest buccaneer’s duty to steal back from the pirate class the doubloons that class has pilfered from the treasury. Let’s write some pieces for the new movement. Write them in the air.
One wonderful advantage of the emerging pieces-of-eight-word-lines is that speakers quickly realize that if they’re opening their mouths they better have something to say. Over and over again we saw in Berczy Park people who are accustomed to daily speech patterns–of hesitation (‘uh, um’), telegraphing (‘what I would like to say is’), and bullshit (‘I don’t really have anything to say but I thought I’d take up the time of two hundred people’)–tend to get flummoxed quickly with the mike check crowd involved. They get flustered. Two hundred people repeating your every word anthemically is a call to a new way of being honest in the world. It subverts grandstanders who love to hear themselves, it’s conducive to poetic utterance, it’s short and to the point, and it’s hard for corrupt prosecutors to pinpoint later in kangaroo court.
And with that, I’ll shut up.
Let the occupation begin, unless it’s been going on for these last five hundred years.
David Ker Thomson filed this from Toronto. He can be reached at: dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca