Globe and Mail. Toronto, April 07, 2001
The nightclub buzz is...free trade
By LEAH McLAREN From Saturday's Globe and Mail
If Woodstock was the cultural love-in that turned into a political event,
Quebec City could be the political event that turns into a cultural love-in.
As thousands of young protesters from across the country make arrangements
to attend the protest outside the Summit of the Americas, a momentous buzz
is building around the April 20-22 event. "Are you going to Quebec City?"
has become a common question in Canada's bars and nightclubs among stylishly
dressed twentysomethings who don't normally spend their free time joining in
choruses of We Shall Overcome .
It all adds up to a counterintuitive conclusion: Somehow, a demonstration to
protest against negotiations over the creation of a free trade area of the
Americas, a complex economic agreement, has actually become the proverbial
"place to be" for many young Canadians ^ much to the consternation of some
of the protest movement's more hard-line members.
Rather than acting as a deterrent, news of a government-erected "fortress"
surrounding the summit grounds is spurring anger and curiosity in a growing
number of young Canadians sick of being branded an apathetic generation and
hungry for a movement of their own. Many will likely attend the Quebec City
demonstration out of a sense of cultural curiosity rather than strict
political fervour over the issue of globalization.
"You know why I really want to go? Because they're trying to make it so that
I can't go," said Semi Chellas, a 31-year-old screenwriter from Toronto.
"The fact that they're trying to prevent people from attending moves me
politically far more than the issue at hand."
Cultural tourists to the antiglobalization movement will not be disappointed
in Quebec City. Open stages are being set up throughout the protest area to
accommodate planned poetry readings, live music, theatre and meditation
groups, protest organizers report. And while some antiglobalization
activists worry that soft-core attendees may trivialize the movement's
public image, others are more welcoming.
"People are attracted to Quebec City because they have this gut feeling
that history is being made and they want to be a part of it," said Philippe
Duhamel, a trainer in non-violent direct action and an organizer and
spokesman for SalAMI, a grassroots action network on the issue of
globalization. "I think that's a good thing. The most potent mix in any
movement is between its cultural and political aspects. There's the protest
and then there's the inspiration."
"Besides," he added with a laugh. "If the revolution is not about dancing,
what is it about?"
Within the antiglobalization movement, non-violent protest has evolved into
a form of communal cultural theatre, complete with costumes, mascots and
floats ^ all the trappings of a street festival. Walter Podilchak, a
sociologist at the University of Toronto, said the protest at Quebec City is
shaping up to be as much of a street party as a political demonstration.
"In a sense, it's a lot like the '60s ^ young people coming together and
having fun." But even as they celebrate, Mr. Podilchak is quick to point out
that youth in Quebec City will still be involved in a political act. "People
will say, 'Oh, youth are just doing their hedonistic thing,' when actually
what they are doing is maintaining an egalitarian normative frame from which
to build a movement."
At last weekend's teach-in on Parliament Hill, hundreds of young people,
many of whom had never been to a protest before, came out to attend a
conference and civil-disobedience workshop led by veteran social activists
like Judy Rebick, Maude Barlow and American peace worker George Lakey.
One of those young people was Zachary Vance, a second-year humanities
student at Carleton University in Ottawa who is interning with the
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Mr. Vance, who has
never been to a large demonstration before, will be taking $20 and his
lawyer's phone number to Quebec City on April 20.
"In the circles I move in, Quebec City is a topic of constant conversation,"
said the self-described "white, middle-class boy" from Tweed, Ont. "I want
to unite with lots of other people and have my voice heard. I hear there are
a lot of cool cultural events planned."
Tim Richards, 23, a student from New Brunswick who also attended the
teach-in, said he's enthralled by the idea of participating in civil
disobedience in Quebec City. "I have friends who were in [the protest in]
Seattle and it sounded so sneaky and everything ^ not just a bunch of kids
going around breaking stuff."
Not surprisingly, some antiglobalization activists don't look so
fondly upon the fashionable buzz surrounding the Quebec City protest.
Christi Mison, a first-year student at Montreal's Concordia University, is
not opposed to having fun at the summit protest (she's dressing up as a
giant genetically modified vegetable), but she is concerned some people
may be attending without fully comprehending the issues.
"There is the worry that half the people [in Quebec City] are just going to
be there because its the cool thing to do," she said. "But people who are
going for those reasons don't know what they're getting into. I think
they're going to be in for a big surprise."
The sentiment echoes recent musing in The Nation by Globe and Mail columnist
and antiglobalization authority Naomi Klein: "Is this really what we want ^
a movement of meeting-stalkers, following the trade bureaucrats as if they
were the Grateful Dead?"
Ms. Klein's apprehension is shared by Mr. Duhamel of SalAMI, who admits he
sometimes worries about the increasing hipness of his movement.
"We have to remember that counterculture can be bought off ^ we saw that
from the 60s. It has to be about a lot more than hanging out at the next
demonstration with a joint."
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