Twenty Years After Quebec City’s FTAA Gathering

Hard to believe 20 years has passed since this little festival in Quebec City against the FTAA.

We had a fairly large contingent of Winnipeggers, lots of folks from the Mondragon and G7 Welcoming Committee collectives, Propagandhi of course (who played a couple shows), and various individuals or groups in the Winnipeg A-Zone. I think the Winnipeg Food Not Bombs group organized some pretty good food and drink mobile wagons, if I remember correctly. Lots of people, from radical cheerleaders to raging grannies, wearing black and red skirts, singing, dancing, beating home-made percussion instruments.

Lots of people have written about their reflections on the events, and lots of great and not-so-great photos were taken. I’m not going to duplicate those efforts. I wouldn’t say the experience was of any particular significance for me as a person or activist, because my politics was already well-formed (or malformed, depending on your opinion), going back to the 80s. For me Quebec City was just another gathering in the spirit of ideas, resistance, and camaraderie, albeit a bit larger than usual — a literal festival or carnival, with music and laughter, in which there were many opportunities to lend a hand or a shoulder or share food and warmth and water with total strangers. Yes, it was also an opportunity to let state-capitalist elites know that not everyone was fine with their behind-closed-doors attempts to create even more-favourable environments for corporate profits — regardless of the impact on ordinary people worldwide.

And as such, the riot police did their ‘duty’ as good gendarmes of capital: they beat the shit out of people, regardless of what was going on, and with no regard for the elderly, women carrying babies, kids and toddlers, and so on. Sometimes gratuitous and vindictive sorts of violence, a kind of indiscriminate collective punishment.

People fought back, of course … in ways both comedic and courageous. There were moments of solidarity and inspiration, as people found themselves simultaneously outraged by the repression and emboldened and empowered by social bonds forged in the moment.

My experience was hardly unique in the story that played out there: I was shot in the head with a tear gas canister by a riot cop who deliberately aimed into the crowd at head-level. The impact was an inch above my eye — and would have probably destroyed my eye if it had been a bit lower. Instead, my glasses were broken and scattered to the ground, and blood streamed down my face from a gash in the forehead. Random strangers helped get me to medics, where I was told I had a concussion.

I was lucky to come away from Quebec City with both my eyes intact, but I suffered from weird wooziness, headaches and chills, for months afterwards. I’m still not sure if it was due to the concussion, or tear gas inhalation, or a mixture of both.

When we got back to Winnipeg, we decided to get two dogs from the Humane Society in May 2001. We named them Bakunin and Malatesta … Baku and Mala for short. So in some ways, Quebec City reminds me mostly of our good-in-heart anarchist pups.

Parent, activist, researcher, amateur (and sometimes professional) historian, sci-fi/fantasy and nerd culture enthusiast, wilderness survival wannabe, former punk, red wine anarchist.

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