Monday, April 4, 2011

Reflection on Activism: Part I (IDAPB 2011)

I've been doing The Plan (the lifestyle) for just over a year and The Plan (the column) has now made its last appearance in the Manitoban until next September. It's times like these when I like to take some time to reflect on the past year's worth of adventures and gaze into the future toward adventures yet to come. Strap yourself in tight, cause it's about to get all meta and philosophical up in this bitch.

Something that I think is very important to reflect on and ruminate over is the nature of protest. Let's start by looking at one protest in particular: the 2011 International Day Against Police Brutality March. The annual IDAPB March holds a very special place in my heart because last year's march was my very first taste of radical organizing. Aside from the personal significance, IDAPB is noteworthy because it draws attention to a whole host of issues that are often completely ignored by the general public and mainstream media; namely, the violence and lack of accountability inherent in policing and the justice system. The march has been taking place every year for over a decade in Winnipeg and has become an institution. Luckily, not so much of an institution that it has lost its radical energy.

During the 2008 IDAPB march, the police came out in force and tried their best to intimidate those in attendance as you can see in this video. Unfortunately I was not in attendance that year, but Jacquie was and she assures me that the police made the situation very tense and expressed overt hostility towards the marchers by blocking their paths on sidewalks and taunting them using the loudspeakers on their cruisers.

In stark contrast to 2008, the 2010 march went very smoothly. I would go as far as saying that it was nearly perfect. The police presence was minimal, it was an unseasonably warm and sunny day, the turnout was fantastic, and the volunteer marshals did an excellent job at keeping the marchers in the curb lane and blocking traffic so the march could proceed safely.

This year, for the first time, the police contacted the organizing committee prior to the march and demanded that we apply for a permit or else they would ticket the marchers for being in violation of the highway traffic act (read the full letter here). We decided to politely respond and inform the WPS that we would not be threatened into compliance. We assured them that we could marshal ourselves as we have done in years past and did not require them to escort us through the streets. In addition, an email was sent to Chief McCaskill asking him to direct his officers to leave the marchers unmolested. I'm not sure if Keith ever got that email but I am sure that by the end of the march everyone was feeling quite thoroughly molested indeed.

Within minutes of the march starting, three police cars swarmed around the march and they used their loudspeakers to request us to move onto the sidewalk or stay in the curb lane (as you can see and hear in this video). Since that the curb lane was mostly full of parked cars, sometimes the march needed to go around the cars into the next lane. Also, we weren't about to follow the instructions some agents of state violence who had nothing better to do than harass a peaceful and well-organized march. A march, I might add, whose purpose included drawing attention to the fact that the police are illegitimate authorities who should be feared and despised.

The police continued to follow closely beside the march over its entire two hour duration. The number of cruisers varied and reached a maximum of 8 for the middle half of the march. Those cruisers were often used as weapons to push marchers toward the curb and were occasionally used as sonic weapons when every cruiser blared their sirens at full blast simultaneously just feet away from the ears of marchers who had done nothing but chosen to express their anger, frustration, sadness and hope without first seeking permission from those who oppress and brutalize them.

Aside from the police harassment, the march was largely a success. Having a mobile amplifier was great for providing music as we walked as well as amplifying the voices of those who spoke at various stops along the route. Here are some videos of the speeches we heard (and gave):

- Chris Rigaux at the Public Safety Building

- David Jacks at the Public Safety Building

- Rob McGregor (yours truly) speaking in front of the Downtown Biz office: Part I Part II

-Joseph Maud and Jacquie Nicholson speaking outside the Law Courts and Remand Centre Link

Well, this post is getting kinda lengthy so I'll end it here. I know I haven't really gotten very reflective yet, but I'll try to answer the following questions in the next post: Is marching like we do for IDAPB a worthwhile pursuit? Would it just have been easier to compromise and seek a march permit? Is any 'legitimate' protest a waste of time because it is made legitimate due to the fact that it is not a real threat to the status quo?

Credit to Brittany Thiessen for all the videos except the one from the 2008 IDAPB March

Email from WPS to IDAPB Organizers

A polite and helpful reminder or blatant strong arm tactics? Decide for yourself.

Dear Winnipeg Copwatch,

I am the Special Events Coordinator, Winnipeg Police Service, for parades in the City of Winnipeg. It’s come to my attention that you are involved in organizing a march on Winnipeg streets on Saturday March 19th, from Selkirk Ave to Langside St. I’d like to offer my assistance in arranging for a parade permit and police escort for your event so it is done in a safe manner for both the participants that attend and general traffic on the roadways.

So you are aware, the City of Winnipeg Traffic By-Law (#1573/77) requires “any procession of pedestrians numbering more than 30, standing, marching, or walking anywhere on a street”, to obtain a parade permit from the Chief of Police. There are a number of very good reasons to comply with this requirement, but the most important is for the safety of your participants. By applying for a parade permit I can arrange for a police escort of your group and determine how many police units are required to provide adequate escort for the number of people that you expect to participate and the route that you choose. The permit also provides some basic liability insurance for the organizer/s and participants should an incident occur for which somebody could be held liable. Without the permit and insurance anyone involved in an incident, such as a collision, would first of all be considered to be in breach of the law by being on the roadway without permit, and might also find themselves being held criminally and/or civilly liable.

The simple solution to avoid any problems is to apply for a parade permit. I am attaching a parade permit application cover sheet. It describes all the information I require to process a permit request. If someone from your organization answers the questions on the form and sends it back to me via email I will process the request, arrange for proper escort, and send you back the permit documents via email.

I am sending this email to your organization as the flyer advertising the march (attached) listed Winnipeg Copwatch as a contact, and your website lists your organization as involved in a coalition planning the “International Day Against Police Brutality 2011” events. I spoke with Sheila in your office this morning and advised her of this permit process and she suggested sending this email to your general email address.

If there is somebody more appropriate to send this to, please advise, or forward this email to them so the application may be completed as soon as possible. As noted on the application, we usually require two weeks notice for parade permits, but if you have it sent to me first thing next week I’ll process it in time for your event.

Please contact me if you have any questions.

Patrol Sergeant Kevin Cisaroski #1608

Winnipeg Police Service

Central Traffic Unit

Special Events / Speed Timing Coordinator

ph (204) 986-5403 office