How do you organize a riot?
That is an important question right now for John Clarke, the most visible member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. After OCAP's demonstration at Queen's Park turned into a pitched battle between protesters and police last week, Mr. Clarke was instantly singled out as a Machiavellian puppeteer, pulling the strings of a limp, witless rent-a-mob.
But what started as retro red-baiting quickly became more serious. Several unions have threatened to pull their funding from the anti-poverty group, and now Mr. Clarke himself may face police charges for allegedly inciting a riot.
Most commentators took it as a given that the demonstrators could never have decided all on their own to fight back when the police stormed the crowd with clubs and horses. After all, they came armed with swimming goggles and vinegar-soaked bandanas, so clearly they were ready for battle (never mind that they were meant to ward off the inevitable pepper spray). Someone must have orchestrated the violence, told them to pick up bricks, held Molotov cocktail-making workshops.
Just after noon tomorrow, a few hundred protesters, many of them homeless, will arrive on the steps of Queen's Park with a very simple request. They want to speak to the Ontario Legislature about the effects its policies are having on the poor.
If history has anything to teach us, Mike Harris will make a get-tough speech about how Ontario's voters have made their voices heard and he won't be bullied—right before he calls in the cops for a smashup. The question is: How will the rest of us react?
I ask this because, since the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, voters across Ontario have been searching their souls about the effects of Tory deregulation on real people and their daily lives. There has been widespread horror at the possibility that government cuts to the Ministry of the Environment, and downloading to municipalities, may have put the people of Walkerton at great risk.
"We have learned the lessons of Seattle and Washington," RCMP Constable Michele Paradis tells me on the cellphone from Windsor. She is in charge of media relations for the meeting of the Organization of American States that is coming to Windsor this weekend, along with a few thousand protesters who object to the OAS's plans to expand NAFTA into all of Central and South America.
"And what were those lessons?" I ask.
"I'm afraid I can't answer that," she says.
This is unfortunate, because there are any number of lessons that the Canadian police could have learned about how to treat protesters in the wake of November's demonstrations against the World Trade Organization and April's demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. In the absence of any elaboration from Constable Paradis, here are the key lessons the Mounties appear to have learned from their colleagues to the south.
Lesson #1: Strike pre-emptively.
Faced with the Million Moms in Washington and a mounting cry for tougher gun laws, the National Rifle Association has finally decided to pull out the really big guns. At its annual meeting in North Carolina last week, the organization announced its plans to open an NRA-theme restaurant and superstore right in the middle of Times Square: the NRA- Sports Blast and the NRA Grille.
They will fight mandatory trigger locks with greasy oversized hamburgers and brand-mobilia.
No longer will the awesome powers of lifestyle branding be left to the bleeding hearts over at the Rainforest Cafe, with their screeching parrots and tropical storms erupting on your potato skins. Soon, the NRA will sell tourists pieces of the gun-toting lifestyle, with shooting games to play and wild game to eat. No actual guns will be sold, just clothing and trinkets emblazoned with the NRA logo.
John Sugarmann, executive director of the U.S. Violence Policy Center, told reporters that this foray in "eater-tainment" shows that the NRA is "bizarrely out of sync" with the times.
Is it strange to quote NBC characters at policy meetings?
A few weeks ago, I participated in a serious roundtable discussion at the University of Toronto's venerable Massey College. The subject was whether a guaranteed annual income could be a viable campaign for the left. A group of political theorists, economists and activists debated the question, divided over whether the idea was too pie in the sky.
Which is when the TV show came up. "Well, to quote a recent episode of The West Wing," one of the policy experts said, "we need to raise the level of debate in this country."
The West Wing,which had its season finale last night, comes up a lot these days. It's especially popular on the left, where it serves as a kind of hallucinatory vision of how politics could be if Bill and Hillary Clinton weren't such sellouts to the business lobby.