[sixties-l] Quebec report

From: Ron Jacobs (rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 14:04:06 EDT

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    I know this is a sixties list, but thought this piece was one of the best
    I've read on the Quebec City uprising. Hopefully, the moderator (bless
    their heart) will allow it to be posted.
    -ron jacobs

    >This was sent as a letter to a number of Canadian media. The author
    >obviously wants it as widely circulated as possible cheers, Ken Hanly
    >Testimonial on the Anti-FTAA Demonstrations, April 18-22, 2001 April 24, 2001
    >I want to write about what I saw this weekend in Quebec City. I volunteered
    >as a Street Medic for the anti-FTAA protests, from Wednesday afternoon
    >until Sunday afternoon. In the course of these days I saw so much that I
    >hope to never see again. I treated hundreds of injured people, got tear
    >gassed, felt the effects of pepper spray, and mostly felt the kind of
    >turmoil that a peaceful society ought not to experience. Throughout the
    >event medics were targeted by the police: wherever my partner and I would
    >be treating people, tear gas canisters would land right beside us. Some
    >medics got hit with rubber bullets. On Friday, my friend Sean was on his
    >knees treating a patient in a tear gas cloud on the front lines, when a
    >canister fell right under his face and exploded. He inhaled so much of it
    >right there, then he tried to stumble to his feet only to narrowly miss a
    >canister aimed at his head.
    >Another canister hit the wall behind him, bounced and hit him in the back,
    >knocking him flat. A final canister rolled by his face again and exploded.
    >He was rescued by another medic team and spent the next two days
    >recuperating in the medic clinic on Cote D'Abraham. On the front lines on
    >Friday we began treating people as the gassing began. We kept having to
    >retreat more and more to avoid the clouds of gas. At one point a canister
    >exploded right next to me. I can't begin to explain the agony of being hit
    >head on with tear gas first of all it suffocates you. I began to walk very
    >quickly, barely restraining the panic, as I coughed and choked. I thought I
    >would die, that any minute my asthma would kick in. Everywhere we turned
    >there were more riot cops, more gas, and no safe space to calm down and
    >decompress. My eyes were fine, being sealed under swim goggles, but my skin
    >was burning like fire. Finally we managed to find a corner without gas and
    >I got my breath back. I can't explain the fear that set in afterwards I was
    >so scared to go anywhere near the cops. But I was in Quebec to do a service
    >treat injured people who were in pain.
    >Now that I knew what that pain was like, I also knew I had to go back into
    >the fray. As we walked back into the chaos, we came upon a girl who had
    >been hit by a canister of gas, which exploded all over her body. Medics
    >were treating her by stripping off her clothing and pouring liquids all
    >over her. The poor girl was crying and screaming, in so much pain. Around
    >us were clouds and clouds of gas, and cops advancing on all sides. The cops
    >began shooting canisters high into the air, into the back of the crowd,
    >where we were. In that area were only peaceful protesters; we were not up
    >by the perimeter fence, and we were not involved in Black Bloc activities
    >up by the front lines. Our space was full of individuals being treated for
    >various injuries, and just trying to recuperate. Yet we were getting hit
    >with dozens of canisters! We had to watch the sky, hoping the canisters
    >wouldn't land on us.
    >We had to continually stand in the center of the action, yelling at people
    >to walk, walk, walk to avoid a mob scene and tramplings. It's so hard to
    >stand still or walk slowly when tear gas canisters at a temperature of
    >hundreds of degrees Celsius are being shot straight at you or above your
    >head. I broke down so many times in the fracas, because the emotion just
    >ran so high. I thought I was either going to die or be incapacitated or
    >arrested. At one point we were in the middle of a city block when a fire
    >truck came through and the protesters attacked it. At the time I couldn't
    >understand why, why would they attack firemen, but later on someone helped
    >me realize that the truck was going to be used as a water cannon, so people
    >wanted to trash it. Finally the truck went through, after having all its
    >water emptied and the equipment taken. Later a row of riot cops formed at
    >one intersection, and lobbed gas canisters to block off the end of the
    >block. There was no escape route for my partner and I and the dozen or so
    >protesters still there. Again I began to choke and almost panic, but we
    >ducked into a driveway. When I saw the pain the others were in the
    >adrenaline kicked in, and I began to treat them. I didn't even think about
    >my state, because I didn't feel it once I saw the injured people that
    >needed my help.
    >We managed to escape through backyards onto another block. This weekend was
    >a war zone. I felt like I was in the middle of civil war and urban warfare.
    >I treated so many burned hands, from people who wore thick gloves to throw
    >tear gas canisters back at the cops or away from the crowd, yet got their
    >hands burned. I saw third degree burns. I flushed hundreds of eyes with
    >water and sometimes with LAW liquid antacid mixed with water in a 1:1
    >ratio. When we were safely away from gas, I did MOFIBA skin decontamination
    >treatments (mineral oil followed immediately by alcohol) to take away the
    >pain. I treated so many injuries from people hit by tear gas canisters and
    >also those hit by rubber or plastic bullets. I saw back injuries, head
    >injuries, broken fingers, leg wounds, and so much more.
    >On Friday night we ended up under siege in our medical clinic as the cops
    >advanced down Cote D'Abraham, firing rounds and rounds of tear gas. The air
    >was so contaminated that we had to breathe through our vinegar-soaked
    >bandannas INSIDE the clinic. We had all the lights out and were speaking in
    >whispers. It was so scary. I thought we were for sure going to be arrested.
    >Finally we managed to evacuate down the stairs outside, and get away. On
    >Saturday night it was a different story. I wasn't there, I was at Ilot
    >Fleurie under the highway, in the middle of the big party. But I heard from
    >many medics who were there, and here's the story: The cops advanced down
    >Cote D'Abraham, shooting tear gas like crazy and shooting rubber bullets
    >down alleys and driveways. When they reached the clinic they marched
    >everyone who was in the alley (the decontamination space) out at gunpoint.
    >This included many medics and their patients, even seriously injured ones.
    >The cops forcibly removed all the protective gear from everyone, including
    >gas masks, vinegar bandannas and any goggles, saying "No more protection
    >for you guys!".
    >They also took all the medical supplies and equipment that was in the alley
    >or being carried by the medics. They then marched them, hands in the air
    >and at gunpoint, out into the gas. They made them walk one way, then
    >changed their minds and marched them another direction. My friend Sean said
    >that one guy next to him was hit in the head with a rubber bullet, and the
    >cops wouldn't allow him to stop and treat the person. Finally they let the
    >group go, without any arrests. Needless to say, the clinic was evacuated
    >and set up in a different location. Other injuries I heard about from
    >medics were: Derek and his partner treated a guy who was severely beaten by
    >police. He had a skull fracture, was in serious shock and had a compound
    >leg fracture that made it almost severed. They waited in clouds of tear
    >gas, with more and more canisters being hurled at them, for the ambulance.
    >Another medic treated a guy whose finger was cut off as he tried to scale
    >the wall. One girl's shoulder was dislocated. I treated a guy who got hit
    >in the back with a tear gas canister. One guy got hit in the Adam's Apple
    >with a rubber bullet and underwent an emergency tracheotomy. My teammate
    >Leigh had a serious asthma attack in the clouds. There were many victims of
    >beatings at the hands of police serious injuries from police batons. One
    >guy had his earring ripped straight out of his ear by a riot cop. There
    >were so many more, I just can' t remember them all. And the funniest thing
    >is, the mainstream media (i.e. the Montreal Gazette) reported only 300
    >injuries total hahaha that's laughable, since I must have treated that many
    >MYSELF!!! And there were probably 50 medics treating that many injuries
    >each! In the midst of all this chaos and fear and pain there were bright
    >moments. On Thursday I was present at the start of the Women's March, which
    >was colourful, beautiful, peaceful, magical. There were huge puppets and
    >decorated artwork that the women wove into the Wall of Shame.
    >That night I walked with the Torchlight Parade all the way from Universite
    >de Laval to Ilot Fleurie. Along the entire route, for many countless hours,
    >the group sang songs, chanted, drummed and danced. Slogans such as "This is
    >what Democracy looks like", "Whose streets? Our streets?", "Ain't no power
    >like the power of the people and the power of the people won't stop" and
    >"So So So, Solidarite!" were repeated over and over. There was a festive
    >atmosphere, with many residents waving from their homes and calling out
    >their support to the crowd. On Friday things went bad as soon as the next
    >march from Laval reached the perimeter, but I saw some beautiful things
    >through the clouds of gas. A group of women joined hands and danced in a
    >slow circle, singing beautiful songs about peace and nonviolence. They were
    >angelic, young and old, a space of quiet in the midst of a thunderstorm of
    >pain. Starhawk led her Pagan group with blue banners and an aura of calm,
    >straight into the tear gas. I saw them go by and felt safe for just a moment.
    >I heard later that they went straight through the gas and the bullets, and
    >sang and danced right by the row of riot cops. Apparently some were later
    >treated for injuries. Their courage and faith was inspirational to many,
    >including me. On Saturday down at Ilot Fleurie a party was going on all day
    >long. In this space, supposedly the "Green Zone" (safe,
    >non-confrontational, nowhere near the perimeter) had a booth set up for
    >Food Not Bombs, a group that fed us all weekend long. Everyone was welcome
    >to come and eat for free any time of day, and there were containers to eat
    >out of with a washstation nearby that everyone was expected to wash their
    >dish out in after eating. There was also an art space set up where artists
    >would fashion their work to use in the protests. By late afternoon there
    >was a huge fire going in the street, with people dancing around it. Many
    >people ripped down street signs and used them as musical instruments a
    >steady beat went on for hours and hours, late into the night. There was a
    >group dancing to the beat, and everyone felt so free and beautiful. It felt
    >like the kind of society I want to live in at least until the cops arrived
    >and the fear set in. A whole phalanx of riot cops stood their ground at the
    >top of the stairs looking down on Ilot Fleurie, and were an intimidating
    >presence for hours on end (from approximately 5 pm until they gassed us at
    >2:30 a.m.). Six choppers circled overhead as well. Getting back to good
    >moments: while we medics were holed up inside a shack that was being used
    >as a "Free Space" in Ilot Fleurie (they let us use it as a makeshift
    >clinic), a guy was brought in with a serious asthma attack. He had been
    >having the attack for about a half hour, and his breathing was extremely
    >laboured. I sat him down and attempted to calm him down, but it only got
    >worse. I could hear the wheezing and feel his body shaking with every
    >effort, and I knew the pain he was in because of my own experiences with
    >asthma. I recognized his panic.
    >He also didn't have his ventolin inhaler. As I sat there by his side I went
    >over my options in my head and realized I had none. An ambulance wouldn't
    >come into such a "hot" area, our clinic had just been busted by the cops,
    >and I had no ventolin or adrenaline for him. So in a moment of clarity I
    >realized I should try my only other option an acupressure point I had
    >learned the week before, that supposedly stops asthma attacks immediately.
    >I admit that before Saturday night I was very skeptical of these
    >techniques, but when I was confronted with this guy' s obvious need, faith
    >just kicked in. I knew it would work, I just knew it. Maybe because I
    >believed it so much, maybe because of something else, it worked. Within
    >seconds of my pressing that point on his hand, his breathing began to slow
    >down. Within a minute he was calm, and walked out of the clinic!!! That
    >moment for me was magic without any Western medical techniques or
    >medication of any sort, I managed to take away this man's pain.
    >Unbelievable. I began to cry as soon as he walked out I was so shocked and
    >so relieved.
    >What I saw this weekend, what I went through, what I saw people going
    >through it made me realize how much stronger I am than I previously
    >thought. I kept saying to myself if you can get through this moment, you
    >can get through the next, and the next, and then whatever life drops on
    >you. And I got through it all. Without serious injury, without arrest. But
    >I have to say, I didn't get away scott-free. My heart hurts. My mind hurts.
    >Most of all, my soul is aching with pain and disbelief.
    >I can't believe how people hurt each other. I am shocked at the violence I
    >saw in the span of two days, Friday and Saturday. I can't believe the
    >ferocity of chemical weapons, and that a government would allow its police
    >force to use such arms against its own people. I am angered that a) the
    >Black Bloc, formed of a handful of protesters at any one point, attacks the
    >police and that b) the police react by gassing the thousands of peaceful
    >protesters!!! I fully appreciate the cops need to defend themselves against
    >the concrete and plywood wielding Black Bloc-ers, but each of these cops is
    >heavily armed and protected, and a handful of them could have easily
    >surrounded the Black Bloc and dealt with them instead of affecting the
    >peaceful demonstrators. Tear gas was being shot deliberately at the
    >peaceful demonstrators at the back of the crowd!
    >I know all this because I was there. I am not spreading misinformation or
    >propaganda of any sort, because I saw the majority of this with my own two
    >eyes. The information that I heard from other medics is 100% reliable
    >because I worked with these people all weekend, and much of this was talked
    >about in our debriefings at the end of every night. No one in those
    >debriefings was lying, and none of these stories are without two or more
    >I am sending all of you my story because I believe that the mainstream
    >media is very biased. I want you all to know what really went down. I
    >haven't even told you the half of it in this letter, but I've tried to give
    >at least a taste of the pain I saw all weekend. I am having a very hard
    >time processing and dealing with this the feelings I am experiencing are
    >similar to those I had when I came back from the death camps in Poland. I
    >cannot function adequately right now, and this letter is part of my healing
    >process. If you have any questions, please ask me. ASK ME! I want to spread
    >this message to as many people as possible. I want the world to know what
    >went on in Quebec, how undemocratic and unfair and immoral and oppressive
    >the situation was.
    >Yet I also want people to know that a better world is possible - through
    >the gas and the pain and the fear I also glimpsed the possibility, the
    >hope, of that new space. People from all walks of life, backgrounds, ages,
    >races, and more came together in Quebec to fight against corporate rule,
    >and to fight for basic human rights, environmentalism and fair trade. We
    >have a vision of a future where things will be better. I don't stand with
    >the anarchists who want to break this society in order to form a new one,
    >and I don't stand with the protesters shouting "Revolution" in the armed
    >sense. But I do stand with the ordinary individuals, grandmothers, kids,
    >labourers, environmentalists, humans, who want to change things.
    >So I went to Quebec City as myself, and I came back as myself but with eyes
    >washed clear by tear gas and pepper spray. As the song says, "I can see
    >clearly now the rain has gone I can see all obstacles in my way". I can
    >see, but at what price to my psyche? I still don't know. I find myself
    >asking, would it have been better to have stayed home and watched it all on
    >TV??? It would have saved me the pain and heartache, but it would also have
    >left me in my little bubble of idealism. Not to say I am not still an
    >idealistic, romantic, optimistic woman I am but I am also just a little bit
    >more realistic.
    >I hope that you have read this far, and if so I congratulate you on being
    >an open-minded and intelligent individual. Please send this letter on to
    >whomever you may choose and send my email address along with it so I can
    >field any questions.
    >As we said in Quebec City, Be Safe.
    >Love, Sara Ahronheim
    >Biology 2001, Queen's University
    >Louis Proyect
    >Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/

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