As I watched brief excerpts from the television news June 26 and from subsequent news coverage, I gathered that the demonstrations at the 20G summit meetings in Toronto seemed split between two distinct styles of demonstration.
One a peaceful group, of what appeared to be people in a range of ages; and another group of what appeared to be almost all young people dressed in black, who split off from the first group during the demonstration. The first group appeared to espouse a variety of causes; the cause of the second group seemed unclear, except that by their subsequent actions, of damaging property and setting fire to police cars, they were bent on destruction. One newspaper report suggested this was a riot but riots are typically spontaneous events, unplanned and not organized. There was clearly some organization present here.
Demonstrations are about concerns of one kind or another and the opportunity to make these concerns known. What happens subsequently to these concerns is often a complex matter, of communication, political and public pressure and how significant the issues are to the powers that be. In a political system such as Canada’s, it is possible to organize with relative openness around personal or public concerns.
Government, if it is at all interested, will keep itself informed through whatever sources it has available and react according to perceived political and public interests. For both the powers that be and the demonstrators it is ultimately a question of strategy and tactics. Both want ultimately to be successful either with their political agenda or righting the cause of its concerns.
Which brings me to the young group of black-clad demonstrators. They obviously want to challenge the system but I wonder at their destruction of property and their political beliefs, their anger and the folly of alienating others. But perhaps they’re not concerned with that. Perhaps their emotions and their ideology demand destruction. Indeed, perhaps they have foreclosed on any calm common sense political discussion and are isolated in a political reality that limits any discussion with the wider society.
That’s unfortunate because as I write this I have just finished watching soccer teams of two sworn enemies 65 years ago, England and Germany, playing each other in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The stadium they played in was Bloemfontein, in the Orange Free State that was once home to staunch Afrikander nationalism and one of the pillars of Apartheid. Fifty years ago as a teenager, to me the notion that such an event was ever possible in Bloemfontein was unthinkable, even bizarre.
Unless we are willing to talk and form co-operative ventures, we will be stuck in an endless cycle of isolation and destruction that limits opportunities for meaningful engagement and significant social change.