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An Anarchist Look At O16 And The Fall Campaign

An anarchist look at O16 and the fall campaign.
By Mick (OCAP & NEFAC-Toronto, Personal Capacity)

On October 16, 2001, two thousand people disrupted Toronto's financial
district through a number of mobile and unpredictable "snake marches" which
snared and blocked commuter traffic entering the district.

The demonstration was the kick off for a fall campaign of economic disruption
against the provincial government and it's numerous neo-liberal and
colonialist policies by the Ontario Common Front (OCF), a coalition of 75
organizations across Ontario.

Capitalism? No thanks, we'll shut down your fucking banks!

Was the financial district disrupted on October 16th? It undoubtedly was, the
snake marches temporarily blocked major routes into the financial district,
including major intersections for commuter traffic exiting from the Gardener
expressway and 401, and underground parking garages. The best weapon we had
on Oct. 16th was our unpredictability. Not knowing where the snake marches
were going beyond that they would be in the financial district caused lots of
companies to advise employees to stay home or rent a hotel room, lock
entrances, and cancel business conferences and meetings. The Toronto Transit
Commission shut down the subway stops in the district, causing mass delays
and confusion on major routes taken by commuters.

Another very effective tactic was used by the People's Community Union
(Kingston) as they set up slow rolling vehicle blockades along the 401 and
Don Valley Parkway causing massive traffic jams, disrupting the "just-in-
time" economy that much of Ontario's industry uses, as well as delaying
thousands of commuters entering Toronto. The anti-capitalist caravan ended
its tremendously successful action with no arrests or harassment.

Redefining militancy & radicalism.

Was the October 16th demonstration "militant"? Was it "radical"? The answer
is a resounding yes, furthermore, O16 helped re-define the terms.

It was militant in the fact that there was no negotiation with the police and
we refused to allow ourselves to be penned into Nathan Philips Square or in
the case of the Quebec contingent enter it in the first place. We meet our
goals of disrupting the financial district without compromise, or serious
casualties. It was radical in its political strategy of not protesting the
government (or elite summits) but moving towards a movement that disrupts the
day-to-day business of capitalism.

The fact that we used tactics that were effective but meant to avoid major
battles with the police and the fact that we were incredibly focused on our
goals and self-disciplined was a remarkable step forward for the anarchist
movement as we were rapidly moving towards a split between either the
irresponsible "anything goes" or the authoritarian "do anything I don't like
and you go". Any criticism that it wasn't radical because no windows were
broken is easily refuted by pointing out that by that standard the
most "radical" demonstration ever was Kristallnacht. Our politics, not our
tactics, are what make us radicals.

Importantly, not only did we win tactically we won politically as well. There
is little doubt in this writer's mind that a major battle with police or
widespread, proactive, property destruction in the financial district would
have lead to the internal destruction of the Ontario Common Front just as
much as canceling the demo or turning it into just another protest would
have. We now have the opportunity to continue building the OCF, improving and
formalizing it's structure, planning future local work, campaigns and
actions, while most importantly building a true counter-power to capitalism,
the state and trade union leadership.

This has infuriated Toronto mayor Mel Lastman, Police Chief Julian Fantino
and provincial and federal politicians of all stripes. Why else do you think
that Lastman and Fantino went on televised rants against OCAP calling
us "thugs", "animals" and "organized crime at its finest"?

On June 15th 2000 we proved we would fight, throughout the year we have
proved we can organize, on October 16th 2001 we proved we can be disciplined
and win not only in the streets but politically as well. The powers that be
are scared of us and rightfully so.

Anarchist participation in O16

Anarchist participation in O16 and the OCF took place on two levels.
Individual anarchists and collectives affiliated with the Ontario Common
Front and worked within the OCF to achieve it's goals of economic disruption.
The other level that anarchists organized came from the Freyheyt Collective
(NEFAC, Toronto) who issued a call for an united anarchist contingent on
October 16th and participation in the fall campaign. It is undoubtedly true
that anarchist organizing brought hundreds of people to Toronto from as far
away as Washington DC.

The Anarchist contingent, however, was nowhere to be seen on O16. and we
found ourselves back in the position of yesteryear with a large number of
anarchists and anti-authoritarians participating but having no visible or
organized presence. What went wrong?

First of all, it was very difficult for the various anarchist affinity groups
to even assemble in Nathan Philips Square as the police presence was
overwhelming as hundreds of riot police effectively formed a cordon around
the square and searched everyone entering. Our decision to not dress in black
also came back to haunt us as the Anarchist Contingent made the decision to
abandon it's small flags (as people thought that the police would size them
and arrest the people carrying them on weapons charges) giving us little
visual reference to rally around.

In addition to this a significant number of anarchists, mostly from Quebec,
made the correct decision to not enter the square and submit themselves to
police searches and potential arrest. The Quebec contingent swelled to about
400 people and decided to start their own snake march into the financial
district.

When the Quebec contingent and the main demonstration met up later in the day
it was a little easier for anarchists to converge as the Quebec contingent
still had a number of red and black flags but overall the day consisted of
anarchist affinity groups acting almost invisibly in the larger demonstration
bumping into people they knew and forming temporary clusters but not being
able to hold it together as a united contingent.

The tactical potential of anarchists went unrealized as without being
together in a larger bloc affinity groups were faced with the undesirable
choice of either blindly following the masses lead by OCF marshals or
dangerously breaking off in very small groups. The lesson I draw from this
mobilization is that visual references are essential in keeping an anarchist
contingent together and the Black Bloc uniform remains a very useful tool for
that purpose. If a situation develops where people are being targeted for
wearing black they can always change clothes but it is impossible to stay
together in large numbers during highly mobile and unpredictable situations
without visible references such as the Black Bloc uniform.

The fall campaign after O16

The tone set for the October 16th demo was a good one tactically and
politically. However, it seems that the targeting of the financial district
has set a strategic tone as well that is not effective for a campaign of
economic disruption. The demonstrations that have followed in Hamiliton,
Belleville and Sudbury have mirrored the strategy of marching and disrupting
the downtown core of their respective cities. This is a loss of potential
that deeply saddens me and requires critique.

In Toronto, during initial discussions about how Toronto would participate in
a campaign of economic disruption, it was decided that downtown Toronto's
main role in the provincial economy was one of administration. Drawing from
the mayday demonstrations in London, Australia, and Germany the Toronto
Common Front made the decision to target the heart of Canadian capitalism on
Bay St.

While from a provincial and local perspective this was a great target not
enough thought seemed to have been put into how disrupting this somewhat
abstract target, instead of one at a point of production or distribution,
would effect the rest of the campaign.

For while targeting the business district in Toronto was a great idea,
targeting the business districts of smaller communities seems like the
unoriginal thinking that the OCF campaign was trying to break out of. By
correctly stating that ending the day-to-day business of "Canada's wall
street" was economic disruption it lead other OCF locals to decide that
disrupting their largely insignificant downtown core was equivalent to
blockading railway lines, factories, highways, and major local industry. This
has made the OCF campaign more of a traditional protest movement than a
campaign of economic disruption.

Where was Labour?

The Labour movement has been absent from the fall campaign in any significant
way. There has been no workplace actions, slowdowns, or strikes related to
the Ontario Common Front. This is in sharp contrast to the hope and the hype
that the Unions and the Ontario Common Front had for mass workplace actions
and a general strike, what happened?

The rise of the Ontario Common Front in the labour movement was done quite
effectively by by-passing the national and provincial labour leadership and
going directly to union locals and local labour councils. Coupled with the
rise of autonomous rank and file flying squads organized by union militants
and the push for workplace actions from Canadian Union of Public Employees
(CUPE) local 3903 at the CUPE Ontario convention. Everyone's hopes were that
the Labour movement would join the radical left in ending the long retreat of
our respective movements.

One of the most crippling blows against labour participation was the attack
on Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) flying squads by the CAW national executive
after the OCAP eviction of Ontario finance minister Jim Flaherty from his
office in Whitby Ontario. The CAW executive took the opportunity that
presented itself as the controversial action (due to minor amount of property
destruction that happened) involved participation of CAW flying squad
members. The National Executive withdrew its annual donation to OCAP of
$10,000 but more importantly declared that all future CAW flying squad
actions needed approval from the national executive. The CAW flying squads
were, unfortunately, still in the building phase and did not have the
necessary counter power in the union to be able to take on the national
executive. The CAW flying squads' autonomy was effectively crushed by
September.

For all the tough talk that came out of CUPE Ontario, and participation in
O16 by a number of CUPE flying squads notwithstanding, the union failed to
organize a single workplace action. As far back as June CUPE Ontario
president Sid Ryan had claimed that CUPE flying squads would, unannounced,
shut down workplaces that were considered unsafe. CUPE National president
Judy Darcy had issued calls for mass confrontations in the streets and
workplace at the CUPE Ontario convention, claiming that CUPE members would
organize into affinity groups equipped with gas masks to confront the police.

Labour's power, however, lies not in organizing people to take the streets,
it lies in the ability to directly shutdown and occupy workplaces. The fact
that, as a whole, organized labour did neither for the OCF campaign (aside
from a small rally in the evening of Oct.16th to save face) shows that the
Labour movement remains firmly in retreat or is arguably a reactionary force.
As one anarchist youth put it "It's ridiculous that the class struggle is
being left to a handful of us punk-ass kids to fight in the street."

Prisoner support.

40 people were arrested on October 16th (mostly for "breach of peace", which
is not a criminal charge but allows the police to detain you), including 5
men from Red and Anarchist SkinHeads (RASH) Montreal who face attempt to
manufacture explosives, weapons dangerous and other serious charges. Their
car was searched and police found a couple of empty bottles, some rags and a
piece of hose then claimed they were parts intended to make molotov
cocktails. The day before high-school organizer Karen Silverwomen was
arrested on mischief charges as over 300 students walked out of Toronto high-
schools. This is in addition to 19 people arrested in relation to the
eviction of the finance minister in June and the 45 people arrested in
relation to the June 15th 2000 battle at the provincial legislature. Money
for legal costs is desperately
needed.

For more information, to offer support or to donate money for legal
defence,please e-mail the Common Front Legal Committee at
commonfront-legal@tao.ca

To contribute towards the defense of RASH Montreal members they suggest cash
donations through certified mail to RASH Montreal PO BOX 491, Montreal P.Q,
CANADA, H2L 4K4 RASH can be contacted by email at rashmtl@hotmail.com

Where to from here for OCAP and the OCF?

Locally, OCAP should re-focus its work on the day-to-day bread and butter
concerns of Toronto's poor people. For example, the winter is coming and like
every winter in Toronto people will freeze to death on the streets. We still
need affordable housing and if the city won't provide it then we should take
it. OCAP needs to spend most of its energy on direct-action casework. If
there is any major organizing that OCAP should do provincially it is in
setting up OCAP branches in communities across the province and conducting
workshops on how to do casework. Setting up OCAP branches should require the
formalizing of the way OCAP relates to other groups such as KW OCAP and PCAP.
A more formal and accountable provincial structure is needed if OCAP is to
successfully grow outside of Toronto, which may be the best and longest
lasting contribution to class struggle that comes out of the OCF fall
campaign.

The way forward for the OCF as a whole is to formalize the structure of the
OCF to distribute the work and costs among OCF member-organizations and
ensure that the decisions of the OCF are made in a democratic and accountable
way. The end of the fall campaign should be marked with a provincial strategy
conference this winter where the OCF can adopt a formal democratic structure
and plan for 2002 and the years ahead. Let us make no mistake, the fall
campaign is only the beginning, we will end the retreat and we will fight
until we win.