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

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