Towards Freedom

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A disturbing and personal experience from the frontlines of protest.

TAGS: WHERNTO: righton 

image of Choosing

For the first time in my life, I questioned my faith in the innate goodness/beauty of all humans. I have seen and felt painful and cold aspects of being human in myself and others but nothing really shook a basic trust I had for limitless beauty in this world. Are the questions now…so what? Or what the heck are you talking about?

I am talking about what I have been learning about globalization and capitalism. It's weird, that I have lived in a country, a 'third world' country none the less (Sri Lanka), which was immersed in a violent civil war. I have felt what it like to have machine guns pointed at me wherever I go and know that I wasn't liked because of the culture and heritage I was born into, in some sense because of who I was.

Maybe, I was too young to feel the craziness of the situation. Maybe I was 'naive'?! Maybe, it was because I could look into the eyes of the young men and women who were holding the machine guns aimed at me. That I still saw, in their eyes, their fear and power, they were still vulnerable as humans.

I was in Quebec city a few weekends ago (April 20, 2001) demonstrating against the FTAA summit. At the beginning of the weekend I was aware of the three zones that had been designated by the organizers of the protests. Green for the persons interested in expressing themselves through the arts and those who were not willing to risk arrest. Yellow for the more aggressive but with he understanding of commitment to non-violence, but willing to risk arrest. The red would be the zone that was committed to bringing the 9 ft. wall constructed in Quebec City down.

It's unclear to me at this point how much detail i should go into. i do not know how much you guys know of the events that happened around the summit. Well, I am going to assume that you guys know quiet a bit, otherwise this will be a very very long letter.

I was drawn to the yellow zone but with a firm commitment to non-violence. I did not want to be anywhere near the 'violent' actions. However, it did not take very long to figure out who was violent and who wasn't. Even the most padded and gas masked protesters were no match for the officers in riot gear. I was right up at the perimeter more than once and the officers had no eyes, no face. They were protected head to foot. I got to witness what can happen when justice lies in the hands of a military state.

There is so much I want to write but I don't know how much of what I am writing is coherent to you guys?!

One personal account is that, on the third day after repeated exposure to tear gas, I was part of a peaceful sit-in on a vacated street a block away from the perimeter and everyone involved was very clear that it was peaceful, including the armed riot police surrounding us on two sides. Two tear gas canisters landed an arm's reach away from me. I had severe breathing problems and found myself spiting up a cleaning solution from a medic a few block from the incident when the riot police started advancing down the street with more tear gas. I had chest pains for many many hours following that incident. That was by no means the worst scenario that weekend for many others. There was pepper spray, water hoses and rubber bullets as well. There were times when the whole downtown area was immersed in tear gas Aren't I lucky that I reside in a democratic first world country?

I guess what I am trying to say is that, the weekend in Quebec City dispelled many myths I had about Canada. About what it means to have freedom in North America. We have the freedom to be consumers and be ignorant to the injustices we perpetuate. We have the freedom not to stand in the way of capitalism.

I don't know what to make of it. I don't feel righteous. I don't feel defeated. I feel like I don't know much. I do know that I have a lot to learn in the next while that follows about globalization. I know that I have to re- evaluate conveniences in my daily life. I do know that the weekend in Quebec city radicalized a lot of people. I think it important that there be dialogue and action about our lifestyles and compassion.

The scope of the control and power available and exercised by organizations like WTO and certain 'first world' countries is somehow incomprehensive to me at present. I have been told it's important to break down the stories and not be overwhelmed by them. That it is possible to examine aspects of globalization and make sense of it. That it's not beyond understanding.

I am going to end it there for now, but what do you guys know?