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Piquen' your interest

Some protest

It’s been over a week since 150 or so activists converged in Whistler to protest the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region’s annual conference, and time hasn’t done anything to put this non-event into any kind of perspective.

I don’t know what I expected to happen that day, but that definitely wasn’t it.

Instead of protesting the PNWER and the free trade, corporate rule and globalization they believe that PNWER represents, the demonstrators turned on the police, the crowd and one another. It was a confusing, poorly focused effort with no visible leadership or guidance.

If there was a plan, it fell through, and it became very obvious over the course of the afternoon that there was no plan B.

Here is a rough example of one of the exchanges that was shouted out during the protest (I took notes) when the megaphone was taking a break.

"F*** the police!"

"It’s not the police we’re here for, it’s the corporations, the PNWER! F*** the PNWER!"

"The police serve the police state, the government!"

"No, the police serve their corporate masters!"

"It’s government that serves the corporations! The police are pawns!"

"Which means the cops serve corporations!"

It seems that everyone was conducting their own little demonstration. For all the talk of unity and solidarity, there was very little of either. All in all, it was a disorganized and dysfunctional group.

The closest thing I saw to a leader was a man in a suit and tie who tried to organize the crowd once in a while, but he lost all credibility when he took his turn carrying a sign for the Communist Party of Canada. Garth Mullins, a well known activist with Democracy Street who made his name as a spokesman for the activists that were pepper sprayed at the APEC conference, could probably have taken charge of the group, but he seemed content at times to go with the flow.

One friend who accompanied me to the ruckus to see what it was all about summed it up when he said "I came here to learn about why they were protesting the PNWER, and I didn’t learn anything. All they did was argue."

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but one of the goals of staging a demonstration should be to interest the public, to engage their interest and earn their sympathy. My friend was a potential recruit, and he left the demonstration with far less respect for the demonstrators than he had when he arrived at the scene.

I may also be going on a tangent here, but demonstrators usually try to get their message out through the media, yet a group of people there wouldn’t talk to me because I "represent the mainstream media" that also serves its corporate masters. I’m flattered they should think of the Pique as mainstream, and that Bob and Kathy Barnett qualify as corporate, but that’s besides the point. If any of their statements made any sense, or could explain exactly why Parking Lot 3 was blocked off as a designated protest area, I would print it to clarify things for the Whistler residents and visitors who might have been inconvenienced by the demonstration.

It would almost be funny if it wasn’t for the more than 100 RCMP officers surrounding the demonstration with riot clubs at the ready, some standing just back of the crowd with tear gas grenade launchers at the ready. A police helicopter circled overhead, and the sound of the crowd was almost drowned out by the barking of police German shepherds who looked like they ate hippies for breakfast.

Although they were expecting 500 protesters, including some of the same kinds of radicals who turned anti-globalization demonstrations in Vancouver, Seattle and Quebec City into riots, the police presence seemed excessive.

When the protesters chanted "Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want a police state" and "this is what a police state looks like… this is what a police state looks like" I could see what they meant.

Rather than backing off and letting the protest run its haphazard course, they seemed determined to get in the faces of the activists. They made a few questionable arrests for disturbing the peace, and when a scuffle broke out along the police line when the protesters who were in the parking lot attempted to succor the protesters who were being arrested in another area, a scuffle broke out that culminated in an officer shooting pepper spray into the eye of a 56-year-old Vancouver woman up for the protest who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If there were any doubt who the real enemy was, the police or the PNWER, these incidents erased them.

The protesters united briefly to march on police headquarters, and the police obliged them with a march down Village Gate, under the Ted Nebbeling Bridge while hundreds of tourists making vacation movies followed them with video cameras. The police then hemmed them in at Blackcomb Way, and forced them back to the parking lot and the buses they came in. It was a trap and the activists fell for it.

They could have gone back to Lot 3 and resumed their protest of PNWER, but at that point it would have seemed like the police were doing the protesters a favour, and the activists wouldn’t take anything the police offered. Some of the demonstrators suggested sitting down at the intersection and getting arrested, but cooler heads chickened out – after all, was the PNWER and the PNWER conference really worth getting arrested for?

If the protesters had been more organized and made an effort to communicate with the media and curious onlookers, I just might have the answer to that question.

— Andrew Mitchell