The irresistible rise of global anticapitalism


 The Bridge At Midnight Trembles

From April 20-22 the 34 heads of state from all of the Americas except Cuba gathered in Quebec City behind 3 meter-high fences to discuss expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement to include all of their nations. Outside the fence, one affinity group’s mission was to travel around the periphery, reading the “Cochabamba Declaration”, which was written during the recent Bolivian uprising against the privatisation of local water supplies. They were one group among tens of thousands of people, who endured tear gassing at a rate of over a canister a minute over the course of 48 hours, and who responded to the insult of the clandestine negotiations behind the detested fence in a variety of ways: tearing it down, hurling messages and hundreds of rolls of toilet paper across, pinning notes, balloons, and flowers to it, and using a theatrical medieval catapult to launch teddy bears into the exclusion zone.


Under the freeway, they are drumming, picking up sticks and beating on the iron railings, on the metal sculptures that grace this homeless park, on the underpinnings of the overpass that links the lower town to the upper levels of Quebec City. They are mostly young and they are angry and jubilant, dancing in the night after two days on the barricades.

From above, the cops fire volleys of tear gas. It billows up in clouds and drifts down like an eerily beautiful, phantom fog, but the dancers keep on dancing. The sound and the rhythm grows and grows, a roar that fills the city, louder than you can imagine, loud enough, it seems, to crack the freeways, bring the old order down. The rumbling of the rapids as you approach the unseen waterfall. A pulsing, throbbing heartbeat of something being born. A carnival, a dance, a battle.

No one has come here expecting a safe or peaceful struggle. Everyone who is here has overcome fear, and must continue to do so moment by moment.

In the chaos, the confusion, the moments of panic, there is also a sweetness, an exuberance. Spring after winter. Freedom. Release. The rough tenderness of a hand holding open an eye to be washed out from tear gas. The kindness of strangers offering their homes to the protesters: come up, use our toilets, eat these muffins we have baked, fill your bottles with water.

We are the Living River: a cluster within the action that sometimes swells to a couple of hundred people, sometimes shrinks to fifty. Our core is made up of Pagans, who are here because we believe the earth is sacred and that all human beings are part of that living earth. Our goal is to bring attention to issues of water, we say, although our true goal is to embody the element of water under fire.

We carry the Cochabamba Declaration, which was written by a group of people in Bolivia who staged an uprising to retake their water supply after it had been privatised by Bechtel Corporation.

They wrote:

“For the right to life, for the respect of nature and the uses and traditions of our ancestors and our peoples, for all time the following shall be declared as inviolable rights with regard to the uses of water given us by the earth:
1) Water belongs to the earth and all species and is sacred to life, therefore, the world’s water must be conserved, reclaimed and protected for all future generations and its natural patterns respected.
2) Water is a fundamental human right and a public trust to be guarded by all levels of government, therefore, it should not be commodified, privatised or traded for commercial purposes. These rights must be enshrined at all levels of government. In particular, an international treaty must ensure these principles are non-controvertible.
3) Water is best protected by local communities and citizens who must be respected as equal partners with governments in the protection and regulation of water. Peoples of the earth are the only vehicle to promote earth democracy and save water.”

The Declaration is the alternative. It’s what we are fighting for, not against. Our goal is to bring it into the Congress Centre, declare the FTAA [Free Trade Agreement of the Americas] meeting illegitimate because it is not supported by the people, and suggest they begin negotiating to protect the waters. Failing that, we will get as close as we can, and declare the Declaration wherever we are stopped.

As we are mobilizing, our friends in Bolivia stage a March for Life and Sovereignty, which is violently repressed. Oscar Olivera, one of the framers of the Declaration, is arrested, charged with treason, but then released. As we are tear gassed, so their March is tear gassed, again and again. In Bolivia, two people die, one asphyxiated by the gas. In Quebec, there are near deaths, a man shot in the trachea by a rubber bullet, asthma attacks from the tear gas, a finger torn off in the assault on the fence. In São Paolo the youth blockading the Avenida Paulista are brutally attacked and beaten. Broken arms, broken wrists: one of our closest friends is beaten on the head so.77 hard her helmet is split in half, but she refuses to leave because she is a medic. At the private hospital, they refuse to treat the protesters. The police chase them away with live ammunition. Those arrested are tortured, held on their knees for over three hours in tight handcuffs while every fifteen minutes the police come by and beat them on the back. Most are under eighteen.

Friday afternoon. The River has spiralled at the gate at Rene Levesque, where the night before the Women’s Action hung our weavings. As we wind up the circle, beginning to raise the power, Evergreen comes up to me with a man in tow who is decked in the Cuban flag. He is part of a small group of indigenous people who have been holding a vigil at the gate, and our group is so metaphoric, (and we never quite got the signs made that said clearly what we were doing) that somehow he has gotten the impression that we are for the FTAA. We are singing, “The river is flowing,” and he is from Honduras and his land is flooded from ecological breakdown and hurricane Mitch, and the only way we can demonstrate our solidarity, he says, is to join him in his chant. “Why not?” I shrug and we begin to chant, “El pueblo, unido, jam/s sera vencido!” (The people, united, will never be defeated!)

We dance on down to St. Jean Street, where the news comes from our scouts - the CLAC (Anti Capitalist Convergence - one of the groups organising actions) march has reached the gate we’ve just left, and the fence is already down. I literally jump for joy. We advance forward and receive cheers - “Hey, it’s the River.” Closer to the gate, the cops are firing tear gas at the crowd. Young men run out of the crowd, shadows in the fog, and throw them back. The gas billows up and is blown back onto the police lines. We are still able to breathe, and sing, so we start a spiral. The circle grows: other people join hands and dance with us, moving ever closer to the gate, not running away, not giving ground. All along it has been hard to decide what the action of this direct action should be. Now we all see that the fence is the action.

“This is an uprising as big as the revolution that shook the world between 1890 and 1920. Beware.”
- Asia vice-president of the financiers Goldman Sachs.

We spiral and dance, the drums pounding against the thunder of the projectiles as they shoot tear gas canisters overhead, laughing with the sheer liberation and surrealism of it all. Until at last one shot lands close to us, the gas pours out and engulfs us in a stinging, blinding cloud, and we are forced away.

We decide to flow on, to the blockade on the Côte d’Abraham a few blocks away. We hear that the Côte d’Abraham gate could also use some energy, and the mission of the River is to flow, so we go on. We could use ten, a hundred Rivers.

The area has been so heavily gassed that many of us can’t stay long. The energy peaks, not into a cone of power but into a wild dance. Our scouts report that riot cops are massing down the street, heading toward us to clear the area. The river flows on. Behind us, we can look back and see the spray of the water cannon, arching high in the air, filled with light like a holy and terrible rain that plays upon the black figures who hold their ground below.

Saturday morning: About twenty of us gather in the house where we’re staying. Everyone is braver than before. I am awed. Some of us have been activists for decades, and carry into the actions a slow courage that has grown over many, many years. But some of our people have made that internal journey in one night. And it’s one thing to decide, in the safety of your home, to go to a demonstration. It’s another thing to face the reality of the chaos, the tear gas, the potential for violence.

“If you want peace, prepare for war.” - Quebec Public Security Minister Serge Menard shortly before the FTAA summit

I am here, I have done my best to inspire and encourage other people to be here with me, because as scared as I might be of the riot cops and the rubber bullets, I’m a thousand times more scared of what will happen if we aren’t here, if we don’t challenge that meeting going on behind these walls. Even if the river seems placid, I can hear the roar of the waterfall in my ears. In the beauty of the woods, in the quiet of the morning when I sit outside and listen for the bird song, in every place that should feel like safety, I know by the feel of the current that we are headed for an irrevocable edge, an ecological/economic/social crash of epic dimensions, for our system is not sustainable and we are running out of room to manuever. In the meeting we are protesting, protected by the fence, wall, riot cops, and the army, they are planning to unleash the plundering forces and remove all controls. Water, land, forests, energy, health, education, all of the human services communities perform for each other will be confirmed as arenas for corporate profit making, with all of our efforts to regulate the damage undermined.

Saturday afternoon: I am standing in the alley with Juniper who has never been in an action before and with Lisa who has been in many. There is an opening in the wall, but the riot cops stand behind, defending it, their shields down, impermeably masked, padded and gloved and holding their long sticks ready to strike.

“Proponents of civil disobedience have permeated all levels of our society”
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Guiliano Zaccarelli.

Willow moves forward, begins to read the Cochabamba Declaration. The cops interrupt shouting and moving out from behind the fence. Their clubs are ready to strike: one holds the gun that fires tear gas projectiles and points it at us. Lisa and I look at each other, one eye on the cops, the other on the crowd behind us. “What do we want to do here?” she asks me. The cops begin to advance. “Sit down,” someone calls behind us, maybe someone we ourselves trained to sit in this very situation. We sit down. The cops tense. We are holding hands. I consider whether we should link up, make a stronger line.

We pass the Cochabamba Declaration back to someone who speaks French and begins to read it out loud. I pass my drum back, hoping one of my friends will pick it up. I see one of the cops slightly lower his baton. Another wavers: their perfect line now shows some variation. They are beginning to relax.

From behind, someone passes up flowers. Heather brought them in the morning, saying she wanted to do something nonviolent, give them to the police. I remember thinking that hers was an idea so sweet that it belonged in some other universe than the one I anticipated being in that day. She had not looked too happy when I explained that we intended to follow CLAC and the Black Bloc up to the perimeter. “People might think we’re supporting them,” she said.“Well, we are supporting them,” I explained. At least, for some of us that’s what we feel called to do - to be right up there with them in the front lines, holding the magic, grounding the energy, not preaching about nonviolence but just trying to embody it. Now Heather and her flowers are here.

“Fortunately, we’re no longer aware of any alternative to capitalism. The market has privatised everything... Business is so taken for granted that it has become invisible You only notice it when it’s not going on.”
- Fortune Magazine’s hopeful vision of a capitalist century in 2035.

Lisa gets up, holding out her hands to the cops in a gesture of peace, and attempts to give them the Declaration. I watch, holding my breath, ready to back her up if they attack. “We can’t take it,” one of them whispers to her through clenched teeth. She lays it at his feet. A young man comes forward, lays down a flower. A woman follows with another. Somehow, in that moment, it becomes the perfect gesture.

Everyone relaxes. After a time, we decide to make our exit. The River must flow on. Others move forward to take our place. We snake back to the intersection.Behind us, the young men of our cluster are helping to take down the fence along the cemetery. We begin a spiral in the intersection: masses of people join in with us. From a rooftop above, two of the local people shower us with confetti. We dance in a jubilant snow. The power rises, and as it does an absolute scream of rage tears out of my throat.I’m drumming and wailing and sending waves and waves of this energy back at the Congress Centre, and at the same time we are dancing and confetti is swirling down while behind us the tear gas flies and the fence comes down.

In front of the gate on St. Jean Street, five young men and one woman stand, their backs to the massed groups of riot cops behind the barrier, their feet apart, one arm up in a peace sign, absolutely still in the midst of chaos, unmasked, unprotected, in a cloud of tear gas so strong we are choking behind our bandanas. We file behind them, read the Cochabamba statement, and then flow on. They remain, holding the space as their eyes tear, steadfast in their silence, their courage, and their power.

When the Bay Bridge fell in the last San Francisco earthquake, we learned that structures resonate to a frequency. A vibration that matches their internal rhythm can bring them down. Beneath the overpass, they are drumming on the rails. The city is a drum. Massive structures tremble. And a fence is only as strong as its point of attachment to its base.

- Starhawk