"There is a surplus of democracy in the world which is interfering with the free movement of capital and investment." -- Renato Ruggiero, Head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) 1995-99
That darn democracy, eh?
So none of us slept very well the night before the People's March at Quebec City. We'd spent Friday night during our poster making party at a friend's place glued to the TV watching the pictures of a few hundred violent demonstrators charging the Wall of Shame the Canadian government put around the Summit of the Americas conference site. It was scary, watching them get teargassed by truly frightening looking riot police.
None of us was saying it out loud, but we remembered the Canadian government's tacit threats--6,000 cops on hand, nearby jails and prisons emptied to take prisoners, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, pepper spray ... oh man, eh.
So to lighten the mood I made the goofy placard that ended up getting photographed about a dozen times during the anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas parade (FTAA), "Dyslexics Against the FTAT".
Yeah, I go for the cheap laugh every time, eh.
Anyhow, despite our fears, we got up at the ungodly hour of 4:30 in the morning, assembled into a three vehicle caravan and off we went. Just outside Drummondville one of the cars broke down. We had five people to squish into two already full cars. The teensy Marnmobile felt like one of the clown cars you see in the circus, let me tell you. But we got there. And the rest was a piece of cake.
Yep, that darned democracy got in the way again on Saturday as about 35,000 of us peacefully converged on the interesting mix of skyscrapers and incredibly old buildings that is Quebec City.
Once the news organizations realized this was going to be peaceful (yawn) and this small city's worth of people was NOT going to riot or be teargassed, then they immediately turned their cameras back to the cement and chain link walls that surrounded the Summit of the Americas conference site. There a small handful of violent protestors were mixing it up with the riot cops through the afternoon.
It's much more dramatic to show a few hundred people getting gassed, shot with rubber bullets and sprayed with a water cannon than it is to show an ocean of people quietly saying, "No, eh" even if they do dress up.
And here's our Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, complete with a dousing stick, about to give away all our water under the FTAA. (Yes, that's Mortimer, lifted up by a friend so he can give the P.M. a piece of his mind about this water business just as the parade was getting organized at the port area.)
And this is my spousal unit enjoying the spectacle of Greenpeace having trouble getting it up. (I would be talking about their giant inflatable condom which didn't want to stay up because of the breezes, eh.) Yep, there's nothing quite like the sight of the man you love paired with an enormous lime green condom.
The government sanctioned parade route left us 5 km or close to three miles outside the city core in a sea of concrete. Despite the perfect warm sunny spring day, the obvious good spirits and the huge turnout for this parade, something was missing from the experience.
As we trudged back to our cars and passed through the diluted tear gas that was drifting downhill from the violent protest to the place where we left our cars, we were left with a feeling of dissatisfaction because it felt as if no one had listened. We felt that because we had not been violent, no one had bothered to pay attention.
But then on the drive home, listening to the radio, we realized that we had been seen and heard. Our Canadian prime minister began using the words "environment" and "social programs". The things which concerned us, the things which had not been prominent on his agenda, had entered into his vocabulary for the first time.
It's one thing to talk the talk, though. If we're to get our politicians to walk the walk too, we have to write them and let them know what matters to us. These huge global trade pacts seem to be the wave of the future. As far as I'm concerned, we have to let our politicians know that some things--among them environmental policies, social programs, and cultural matters--cannot be traded away.
We have to let them know we're watching and remind them sharply that corporate lobbyists may be able to flash a lot of money, but in the end WE hold the power--we're the ones who vote the politicians into power and we will vote them out if they don't represent our concerns.
I know we all need to make a living and I know businesses have to make a profit. But I feel as if somewhere along the line we in North America have lost sight of what matters, and in our rush to have more we're willing to trade away the things that truly matter.
Chief Seattle said it far better than I ever could:
Only when we can no longer breathe the air or drink the water and when the earth can grow no feed will we realize we can not eat money.