Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brokedown palace

A lot of shit has been said about the G20 meetings last weekend, not entirely without merit. My perspective is not uninformed, but rather differently informed.

Last weekend I bore a yellow tag that signified me "media" and by extension granted me access to the International Media Centre: home of the now-infamous 'fake lake,' press conferences, food, wine, fifa-playing flatscreens, and maple syrup.

Rattled off in list-form, it does sound extragavant. The cost of the centre - $1.9 million - to some, probably does seem that way. I was assured by a colleague, however, that it was equally or less extravagant as the last-minute Media Centre in L'Aquila in 2009, or the resort in Hokkaido in 2008. And, though it's received a lot of criticism, the fake lake was a place for journalists to unwind at the end of the day - to sit in an adirondack, have a glass of local wine, and listen to some pre-recorded loons. Tacky and stereotypical, maybe. But nice.

Perhaps we as Canadians are more conservative with frivolous spending. The Media Centre in Hokkaido, for example, cost $25.92 million - but Japanese culture has hospitality as a cornerstone. Though I wouldn't care if I had to carry out my analysis at the summit in a shack, we really shouldn't be whingeing about trying to make international journalists comfortable. They're guests in our country and our city. We owe them the chance to experience Toronto and Ontario reasonably, and we owe ourselves the pride that comes with being a meeting place for people from all over the world. Toronto has been this before, and, after the events that transpired last weekend, we can only hope that it will be again.

As aforementioned, I offer a different perspective. I did not see the protests-cum-riots on Saturday (though if you're looking for an excellent account of what happened, I suggest you read this link). In fact, I was asleep on a charter bus back from Huntsville, awoken by my phone aggressively vibrating with my frantic parents waiting on the other line. "Are you safe?" My dad asked me. "I'm asleep," I replied, and hung up. My phone screen was covered in missed call alerts, voicemail, text messages. The two at the top read, "Shit is going down" and "Two cop cars are burning."

People blame themselves for the stupidest shit. When I left Toronto in the wee hours of Saturday morning to catch Stephen Harper's final press conference, I could never have known that I'd be coming back to bedlam. And I blamed myself for not being there when this happened, for my job existing because of this meeting, for being a small part of a big reason behind people's anger. For defending the police even when they had done wrong.

I know that there were instances of some police overstepping their boundaries. But we have lanced far too much of the blame on them. Just as peaceful protesters, and indeed civilians, can not be conflated with those few who operated 'black bloc' tactics and destroyed our city, we cannot lump the police together as a unanimous, faceless mass with a single-minded agenda (you can tell those people by the bandanas over their faces).

It disturbs me that our anger has been so misdirected, that we blame the police, the (admittedly large) security budget, Stephen Harper, Bill Blair, the G20, capitalism, patriarchy, and any number of other things before we blame those responsible for the destruction. The police didn't - read, conspiracy theorists: did not - burn their own cars. Stephen Harper wasn't trying to steal cellphones from out of a shattered Bell storefront. Capitalism didn't beat journalists and shoot at them with paintball guns.

We should point the finger at those responsible for justifying what may have been excessive. And, though I earlier said that people judge themselves foolishly, I think that we should blame ourselves for feeling entitled for all of the wrong reasons. We should have felt entitled to be proud of the world's leaders, spouses, delegations, and media coming to our city. Instead, we feel entitled to defend the message we have sent to the world - that they should not feel welcome here.

Like I said, I was not out in the streets on Saturday. But I was Sunday morning. They were empty.

No comments:

Post a Comment