Please read a contribution from Matt Bowen, a friend from Canada, on his interesting first hand experience of the G20 protest in Toronto back in 2010
Hanging out during the Revolution
The summer of 2009 was notably nice, and I’m going to recall a particularly… interesting story for the readers of This Drinking Life.
At the time I was living with my mother in a small town called Roches Point. It is just under an hour’s drive from Toronto. The community is small, it is rural, and it is a great place to get drunk. For an example one particularly nice evening, I drank myself unconscious and woke up – surrounded by empties – on the front lawn sometime around noon. The town is so laid back, I don’t think anyone even noticed, or if they did, it didn’t bother them enough to say anything. It’s the sort of town where the main mode of transportation is a golf cart and the beverage of choice is beer.
At the time my 2 younger cousins were also staying at the Roches Point house, and between the 3 of us, we were known to polish off a few two-fours between us and get into some pretty heated political debates. (A two-four or “toofer”, is Canadian slang for a 24 bottle pack of beer)
The G-20 is the global meeting of the world’s 20 most successful criminal gangs, and it just happened that it was going down in Toronto. Being the anti-disestablishmentarians that we are, there was no way that we were going to miss it. And there was no way that we were going to go to sleep at 9pm the night before – well rested and ready for action – haha, no, so that night – myself in particular – got completely smashed. We stayed up well into the night, plotting and scheming about how we were going to bring down the capitalist system single-handedly, and raise the heads of bankers and politicians on stakes etc.
The next morning we staggered to the car and drove to the city. My head was throbbing, my whole body ached and I was exhausted, but undeterred. I knew something good was going to happen there.
After arriving, we joined the main protest at Queens Park and it wasn’t looking that great. It was raining a bit, overcast and I wasn’t really in the mood. At the Park were mostly state and private union’s and student political groups; everyone from Marxists and Maoists to Social Democrats and Taoists were milling about getting ready for the march. We were looking for the anarchists though, the ‘black bloc’ as they call it, that is where the fun is.
After around noon the march started, a lot of hootin’ n’ hollerin’, singing and banners; basically a parade. We walked all over searching for the black bloc and we were this close to leaving when finally we saw them. It was as if they just materialized in our midst. The Black Bloc! Now it is going to get interesting.
We marched all the way from Queen’s park to the “security fence” that was erected to protect the bankers and politicians from the hoi polloi. A few union reps blasted messages of appeasement towards protesters through loudspeakers. “Go back to Queens Park and stand around chatting for the rest of the day and then go home!” they pleaded.
It was quite clear that most of the protesters were having none of that. We all wanted to send a message to the scum, and nearly everyone was looking at the Black Bloc for leadership. Soon enough a flare was lit. The black flag was raised. (The tension was palpable) And with a roar a crowd of about 200 people – all dressed in black, faces covered in balaclavas and handkerchiefs, fists raised into the air – charged down Queen Street. The first target was a police car. It was quickly swarmed and was fully engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.
Behind the 200 or so Black Bloc ran the rest of the crowd. Some of them devising impromptu face masks and joining the fray, others standing back and watching. The mob of unruly protesters made it to another blockade for the G-20. We rallied at the corner of King and Front, basking in the glow of several burning police cars, the sheer inertia of the Black Bloc forced the police to retreat. “Smashy smashy” Vandals hammered bank windows, spray painted A’s and ACAB’s on walls. There was a bit of confusion as the mob slowly ground to a halt. I thought we were going to try and storm the meeting, but instead the group travelled East towards Yonge St (the main commercial boulevard in Toronto) and smashed nearly every window along the way, shouting out anti-capitalist slogans and denunciations along the way.
The scene was of utter chaos. The outnumbered police just moved out of the way, let us pass and wreak havoc. Circling back around towards Queens Park, we passed Toronto Police Headquarters along the way. Rocks were thrown, chairs, bricks, anti-fascist slurs. The police could do nothing but watch and mentioning that they looked pissed off would be the understatement of the year. There was even talk of storming police HQ and burning it to the ground, but the crowd was not brave enough. Though like Ice Cube, I’m down for whatever.
So we all made our way back to Queens Park, destroying more police vehicles as we walked. The mood was jubilant, we were fearless, and at that moment we truly owned the streets. But something curious happened as we made it back to the park. The black bloc, our destructive spiritual leaders were disappearing into the crowd, shedding their clothing in human circles to block out the eyes of the police. It took a few moments for the rest of the crowd to notice, but the Black Bloc was gone.
After the BB left we figured out why. The police were quickly surrounding the rest of the people remaining in the park. They were enraged and wanted blood. After being peppered sprayed and shot with tear gas rounds my cousins and I decided to leave. It seemed like there was going to be a prolonged stand-off, and we were hungry. We managed to slip out of the dragnet and went for some great hangover food: Korean barbeque. It ‘cures what ails ya’ as Kim IL Jong was fond of saying.
After restoring our vital organs with food and drink we went back to the park. To our surprise, aside from the occasional angry police or dirty hippie wandering around, the park was empty. As we were surveying the debris and remnants of the post-modern police siege we were confronted by 3 muscle head police with tazers who were looking for a reason to use them. “GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, NOW!” they barked. We took off and headed back to Queen Street.
We met a large crowd milling around a Starbucks that was being looted. We arrived just as a verbal confrontation started between a gang of yuppies on a 2nd story balcony overlooking the coffee shop and the masked vandals below. “This is our neighbourhood! Get out of here you horrible people!!” they shouted. “Fuck your fascist coffee shop Yuppie scum! Come down here if you dare!!” they retorted. My cousins and I stood around in amusement, laughing at the events unfolding in front of us.
Along with the darkness and shadows that the setting sun brought came the riot police with their batons and shields. Fuelled by doughnuts and anger, they set upon the rioters at once. The sound of smashing glass and laughter was soon replaced with screams and the hollow thud of steel bars hitting skulls. The crowd dispersed and the police chased us into the night.
Being faster than the police we soon outran them. We spent the next hour wandering the streets of Toronto, dodging angry police and meeting other lost souls. “To the barricades!” was the cry, and with that we were off.
To be continued..