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Over There (in the UK)

April 23, 2001 at 2 PM

I was in Quebec City

I was in Quebec City over the weekend, taking in the goings on. What happened there, and what I observed, made me realize a little more how protests work, and what purpose they might serve. The National Post’s Paul Wells wrote an intelligent, reflexive article about how media are all too happy to be spun, by either the right or the left-wing. Impressive considering how quickly the Post looks to crotchety, old economists for free-trade boosterism. Meanwhile CBC gauges the heartfelt thoughts and feelings of every Tom, Dick and Sally Protester — not they shouldn’t have a voice, but after awhile, the paranoid, anti-capitalist rhetoric gets to be as monotonous as its relentless opposite.

Walking around Quebec, one could not ignore the large commotion, from the thousands of protest marchers, to the riot police standing as if posed for a fashion shoot, to the teargas that crept maliciously through the streets. But what was the point? 400 arrests (including one of a rather suspicious nature), a beautiful city ransacked, dozens of protesters and police injured. Couldn’t we all have just agreed to imagine the protest in our heads?

Perhaps it’s not that simple, but I can’t help but wonder. By far the most useful aspect of the entire kafuffle was that it made people notice. Chances are a great many Canadians had never heard of the FTAA or Chapter 11 of NAFTA before; after this weekend, that seems unlikely. A good thing too, since in reality, the Quebec Summit was only a sliver of the whole FTAA pie. In fact, for all the noise that was made this weekend, about the only thing that came out of the Summit was that the national leaders agreed to institute a ‘democracy’ clause as they move towards an agreement in 2005.

While the climax may have come on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, I think far more was accomplished before the weekend even began. The mere anticipation of protest spawned kitchen counter politics and dining room discussions among “ordinary people” and this is healthy for civil society. If my own experience is any indication, not a day went by recently that the issue failed to come up in some form.

I’m disappointed with the media for focussing on the insidious fence, but they have the anti-establisment fringe of protesters to thank, who did their best to make it the focus by trying to take it down (to accomplish what, exactly? To get a little closer to “the man?”). An entirely peaceful march of thousands (unguarded by police, incidentally) took place on Saturday, but barely made a dent in news coverage. So as protest leaders and media and politicians assess the level of violence, or “restraint,” shown by protestors and police, I can’t help but look past both. I only hope everyone else can too. Free trade isn’t the bogeyman; I think that you can be left-wing and still support free trade agreements. Regardless of that, however, it is an issue worth paying attention to.

So pay attention! In case you missed it: FTAA may be a few years away, but that doesn’t mean free trade with other countries is.

Comments

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Previously: How bad can one movie

Subsequently: …Which reminds me. CBC’s The

April 2001
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