“Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience … Therefore [citizens] have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against humanity from occurring.” – Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal (1950)
The G8 and G20 are in full swing in Ontario. Nearly a billion dollars has been spent on security to protect the world’s most powerful people. That most of the real political and economic decision making was done months ago by underlings and aides, making the meetings themselves little more than a photo-op and schmooze-fest, doesn’t seem to un-justify the exorbitant expense – the world leaders are here and must be protected and kandoodled.
So, there are police officers – thousands and thousands of police officers. There are police officers on foot, police officers in police cars, police officers in unmarked cars, police officers hiding in the bushes, police officers hiding in buildings, police officers hiding in public, police officers monitoring cameras, police officers monitoring hi-ways, police officers in riot gear, police officers on horseback, police officers in helicopters and so on. They have come from across Canada, regular-Joe-citizens who have sworn to protect law and order, though it may cost them their lives. They have come to do their job, to stare anarchy and an angry mob in the face, and stand firmly, side-by-side, with courage and resolve. So often, these ‘brave men and women in uniform’ are our heroes – celebrated for valour just as they are mourned nationally when their duty costs them life and limb.
Their enemy – protesters with intent to stir dissent in challenge to the status quo. Though their causes be as varied as they are, they all share a common idea: that things in our world can, and should, be different, and that this meeting of world leaders is an optimal stage on which to give volume to their concerns. Whether access to water, aboriginal land rights, poverty eradication, diminished corporate control or just plain, old-fashioned peace and love, they too, have come from near and far to stand for what they believe in, shoulder-to-shoulder, with courage and resolve.
The similarities between the two groups, however, end somewhere near here. While the protesters are forbidden (perhaps rightfully) to carry weapons of any kind, or even to approach the security fence, the police are armed to the teeth. They have shields and batons. They have guns that fire plastic bullets that can kill and guns that fire real bullets that will kill. They have snipers, horses, tear-gas, and cannons that emit a sound excruciating and destructive to the human ear. While the protesters have managed the trip by scrounging and saving, so deeply do they believe in the causes they promote, the police are made possible by a $1,000,000,000 donation by Canadian taxpayers in support of the status quo.
And so, the police came, and now stand poised and armed in the streets in protection of the status quo, the established order and their jobs. What is this status quo, that thousands of people from all over the world are willing to bear tremendous personal expense, and brave all variety of violent weaponry to oppose? The wealthiest 1% of people control 45% of the global wealth. Nearly 50% of humanity lives on or below the poverty line. Western industrialists have waged one war after another in and against poor nations on the other side of the world, killing millions of innocent people and utterly destroying entire countries. Valuable natural resources are extracted by Western corporations who share virtually none of the profits with those who live on top of them. Democratically elected governments that attempt to nationalize their resources are violently overthrown. Media and government systematically lie to their populations to protect their income streams. Land is stolen at will, at gunpoint, from indigenous people. Corrupt dictators are sold arms to oppress their own populations. De-regulated free markets are imposed on foreign economies, creating ideal conditions for huge corporations to dominate foreign markets, who export most of the wealth, leaving local business to fight over the scraps. And so on.
The status quo is a long and violent tale of the global elite, predominantly white men, doing whatever they want to protect their money and their power. Billions and billions of human beings suffer every day, as they have for hundreds of years, to make possible the gluttony of this greedy handful. Thousands of people who believe that this is wrong, and that a better, more equitable and just world is possible, have gathered in Toronto, to scream to the apathetic masses that we need to care, and to stand and fight for what is right and what is human.
A small handful of protesters may believe that violence is necessary to have their voices heard, and they will place their bodies and lives on the line in the name of people they will never meet, unarmed, against thousands of heavily armed officers. Though they fight against a global war industry worth billions and billions of dollars, that profits off the daily deaths of thousands of poor people, often children, these protesters will be condemned for their use of violence. Is the destruction of a bank window or a car really “violence,” when compared to the oppression and destruction of millions and billions of human lives? They will be labelled as ‘criminals’ because they destroy the private property belonging to groups of people who reap enormous profits through oppression and death. They will be labelled generally as ‘anarchists’ and their message of peace and love and hope will be lost in a 3-minute segment, between the weather and world cup highlights, on the 10 o’clock news. No mention will be made of the causes they champion, because their dream for a just world contradicts the financial interests of the wealthy owners of our mass media. They will be shot, gassed, beaten, arrested and oppressed by regular Canadian citizens – our police officers – who in the name of doing their jobs, have become the weapons of oppression for the most corrupt, powerful and evil people in the world. So much for democracy. So much for free speech. So it goes.
“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brother.” – Martin Luther King Jr.