When the summit circus came to Quebec and lost

Quebec 1, Global Elite 0

With the Mayday EU demonstrations on the horizon for Dublin we take a look at opposition to a previous summit and the organising that went into it.

The Summit of the Americas, a meeting of 34 head of state to advance the agenda of neo-liberal capitalism, was held in Québec in 2001. The local population, given the events in Seattle, initially met the prospect of hosting such a summit with apprehension. However a huge popular campaign eventually led to a 50,000 strong demonstration. But that's not what's so unique about Quebec 2001. Even more striking was the positive response of the local population to demonstrators - black bloc militants and peaceniks alike. A six month long grass-roots campaign in the neighbourhood where the Summit was held had a lot to do with it.

Comite Populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Six months before the Summit, members of a local Quebec community group, the Comite Populaire Saint-Jean-Baptiste, decided to organise against the it. The Summit was billed as "the biggest Canadian security operation ever" and the Comite Populaire chose to focus on the security measures because it was here that the Summit clashed most clearly with the interests of local people. Op-position was particularly strong to the huge security fence as it was attacking a basic civil right, freedom of movement, with residents having to show a special passport at checkpoints.

Initially some activists thought the is-sue of the fence was a secondary issue. However, the Comite Populaire saw it as the main point of friction for people. The first thing the campaign did was to collectively decide on a plan of action. We cannot overestimate how important this was, as it gave everyone a sense of direction. We chose to focus on two big events: an information campaign and a mass action.

The protection racket

The attitude of the authorities, especially the cops, helped us a lot! They didn't want to meet with people, or give information on the security fence. People were forced to turn to the campaign for information. We just had the information that was in the news, but since we contextualized it and put it in a leaflet, it looked like we provided more information than the cops did.

The authorities said the security measures were basically in the interest of the locals since it protected them from 'anarchist hooligans.' However, since they left most of the local shops outside of the fence, people concluded that it wasn't to protect them but instead to protect the politicians.

After much discussion over what type of demo to hold, we came up with the idea of a fake funeral to highlight the burial of civil-rights. The advantage was that it was a mix between street theatre and a traditional demonstration. Also, it didn't really matter how many people showed up, since the symbolic effect would be the same whether we were 50 in the street or 200. The thing we didn't want was another angry demonstration because we felt it would play directly into the media stereotype of activists. There were some 400 locals at the funeral. This was far beyond our wildest expectations (we only made 100 placards!). The crowd was really diverse with the vast majority being ordinary working people, moms, kids, and older people, as well the usual suspects.

Carnival of Resistance Against Capitalism

It was during the first week of April that the fence was erected in downtown Quebec City. The people and media spontaneously called it the "Wall of Shame." It was a shock for many people who didn't bother much about it before. The fence in itself probably did much more than our campaign to radicalise people. From that point on there was no need for further agitation against the fence. New graffiti appeared every day. People and groups in Saint-Jean-Baptiste took it on themselves to redecorate the fence and put all kinds of objects on it.

To the activists the job of the Comite Populaire was more or less over. However, that's not how the folks in the neighbourhood saw it. For them it seemed our job was just beginning... They wanted us to organise something during the Summit on the main street of the neighbourhood. They wanted a peaceful demonstration/street party directly at the edge of the fence! The Carnival on Saint-Jean, as the protest elsewhere, was a smashing success. But that's another story.

Nicolas Phebus is a member of the NEFAC, the North-Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists. For a longer version of this article see www.nefac.net/newswire/display/112/index.php

See also


Mayday Mayday
EU leaders in the castle - we'll take the streets. On Saturday, the first of May, anarchists and other activists from the Dublin Grassroots Network are calling for a day of action and protest against the EU.

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This edition is No80 published in March 2004

Workers Solidarity No80