Wednesday, June 30, 2010

G20 Surrealism Continued...

This is a continuation from my last blog. I feel like I need to tell my story from my own unique perspective. I feel like if I don't do this soon, I just might explode from my boiling fury at what injustices transpired during the G20 Summit.

Friday, June 25th, 2010: Members of D.A.M.N. (Disability Action Movement Now!), O.C.A.P. (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty), No One is Illegal and Grandmothers for Afghanistan were there, among dozens of other groups of activists. There was a very large contingent of D.A.M.N. that day (as well as other upcoming days) - it was so exciting and empowering to see so many people with disabilities come out to this monumental event!

We were all excited and ready to march and to cry out our frustrations with the government ignoring our pleas for financial stability, and our determination that we would be heard and that things would change for the better!

To have our voices heard, we used chants: Too many barriers, Not enough food, Sit down, roll on, fight, fight, fight! - Stair by stair, Wall by wall, We demand Access for all! - Hey hey, TTC, Public transit should be free, Ho ho, TTC, Make transit barrier free! As the scorching sun beamed down upon all 4,000 of us, baking us, we chanted and a Samba band played periodically, lifting our spirits and giving us strength to continue. It was a slow trek that lasted 5 long hours.

Let me say this: neither D.A.M.N., nor O.C.A.P., nor all of the many activist organizations who were there that day had any kind of thought of committing violence. We simply wanted to have our say, get our message to the public, and try to get as close to the G20 fence as possible. (The latter was a political statement: it was such a horrendous slap in the face, especially to poor people, that two billion dollars had been spent on the G20 instead of on social programs and reducing poverty.) King St, we'd heard, was the farthest point we could go, and that was fine with us.

We started our march from Allen Gardens at 2:30pm, and thousands of police shadowed our every step. Their looming presence was daunting, to say the least, but it didn't deter us from our mission.

Overall, it was a peaceful demonstration - on the side of the protesters, at least! At the corner of Carlton and Bay, cops suddenly grabbed some guy from the march and told him to get off the street. (I still don't know why this happened!) Apparently, the guy was young, of colour, and was Deaf. The cops didn't believe that he couldn't hear, though, and, thus, didn't allow his ASL interpreter to go with him. I was way, way ahead from this particular scene, but my peers explained to me that five friends of this young guy, who were also people of colour, tried to reason with the cops and got beaten for their efforts.

In some way, it was decided that we should keep on moving. So, we did. We marched and we marched, and several times the cops blocked our way, although we were nowhere near King St. or the G2O fence. No word was spoken by cops; we were only met by empty stares. At one point, when we were hemmed into a cul-de-sac off University Ave., there was a rumour that there was a sound canon around, so we all very hurriedly put plugs in our ears. I, myself, held my breath and waited for the attack on our ears. None came.

We started backtracking, until we, once again, reached Allen Gardens. There, we stopped and rested. Pup tents were set up, food was brought out, and entertainment was performed. There were several hip-hop singers singing about the world's injustice. I really liked their singing and dancing, but I was even happier when Simone and Ian came on. I love their music! Speeches about the extravagance of the G20 compared with the serious poverty in Toronto were read with passionate hearts. Lamia read my speech, and people seemed to enjoy it; one woman even asked if she could use it in her documentary about poverty.

Saturday, June 26th, 2010: I was exhausted on Saturday morning! It was the first morning in ages that I hadn't been to the market to sell my art. I half wanted to go to the protest I'd heard about at Queens Park, but my body said rest, rest, rest! I listened to my body and took it easy. I had a late brunch, took a hot shower, got dressed, and went out to buy a few things at the Drug Mart.

I'm not big on the whole soccer mania thing, but I let Motria talk me into watching the game between Ghana and the US at Mickey Finns. We both rooted for Ghana to win. While the game was on, Motria kept checking for updates on what was happening with the protest that day. Much to our surprise, we found out that a few of the protesters had started smashing windows of banks and iconic corporate buildings (Starbucks, American Apparel, Bell, Rogers, Tim Hortons etc - no "mom & pop" shops were touched, as later claimed by the police.) First, one cop car was reportedly torched, then another, and another. We could see cop cars go whizzing by Mickey Finns, and the TV now had vague news of the downtown riot scrolling underneath the game.

A million emotions ran through us at that time: curiosity, fear, excitement, and concern for our friends. Of the two of us though, I'm sure I was the only one who felt a certain amount of awe for the powerful symbolism that the protesters made by the smashing of windows of greedy corporations and banks. I mean, nobody got hurt, and I'm sure the corporations have enough insurance to replace a window or two.

The rest of the weekend was brutal and terrifying for the people who participated in saturday's protest - and even for those who hadn't. 900 people were arrested over the weekend, even during some of the most peaceful protests, where people sat, sang, and prayed. It has been an overreaction on a grand scale. People were corralled and beaten and threatened over and over again. Like dolphins caught in a tuna net, bystanders were ensnared. And now stories are coming up about how horrible conditions were at the detention centre. Some people were in there from 23 hours to 36 hours with no food, no water, no toilet paper. Most people had no idea why they had been arrested. Young teens were not allowed to call their parents, and women inmates were strip-searched by male cops. Disgusting treatment!

In my opinion, these strong and over the top measures were not at all warranted. People broke windows. That's a misdemeanor, at best a fine or community work. Four cop cars got torched. Again, that's a misdemeanor, at best a fine or community work. Our city streets should not have been turned into a war zone where cops could do anything they wanted!

And, where were the cops that fateful Saturday when all this shit happened? I'd seen literally thousands of them for days. You're telling me that so many cops couldn't have stopped people in their tracks and prevented all of the damage that was done. Why didn't they? Eye-witness reports have circulated that cops weren't even near their burning squad cars, nor did they show any overt concern about them at all. It has been said the squad cars, old and without any radio equipment, were planted as bait for the protesters. The cops actually wanted protesters to cause damage so they could justify spending so much money on security.

This is "Toronto the Good". This is Canada the "Peace-Keeper". What happened?! It's Canada Day, and I certainly don't know anybody who feels like celebrating this travesty of a country!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

G20 Surrealism

It's been a very long time since I did a blog entry. My heart was broken two times over. First, my dear husband Rob died in September of '09, which was particularly devastating for me. And then, my best friend Aaron Shelbourne died a few months later of bladder cancer.

Nothing really seemed to matter or had any great importance to write about.

Until this weekend.

On Friday, June 25th, 2010, I went to protest against the G20 Summit in my beloved city of Toronto. Twelve, maybe fifteen different groups all met in Allen Gardens, ready to march down the streets and, hopefully, get within 5 meters of the security fence at King St. (That was as far as you could go before getting arrested. That's what we were told anyway!) to voice all of our objections (of which we had many!) to the way the government was doing things. One of our main issues was that our government had given billions of dollars in bail out money to banks and big corporations and yet had cut the Special Diet from people on ODSP (like me!) and OW - people who really need that money to survive.

I'm a member of D.A.M.N. (Disability Action Movement Now!), and this is the speech I presented on behalf of myself and the group at the end of the demo:

People, we are here today to demonstrate our strength and unity to the government officials who have tried to beat us down, tried to humiliate us, and, finally, tried to scare us with those bloody sound canons!

They want to strike fear into our hearts because they're actually the ones afraid of us, afraid that we won't stop fighting until our demands are met! And, by god, we won't!

We demand that the Special Diet be returned to the people who really need it, people on ODSP and OW, who need to buy healthy food in order to survive and thrive. People on ODSP and OW should have their monthly rates raised by 40% NOW! We need to be able to pay our rent AND buy food within the same month.

People with disabilities are forcibly imprisoned in places, like psychiatric institutions, nursing homes, prisons and detention centres. Refugee claims are commonly denied if someone is identified by the state as disabled, whether or not that person agrees with such a label. People with disabilities are kept out of much sectors of employment and also pushed into labouring in for profit sheltered workshops for miniscule pay. Prisons are full of people with disabilities. This discrimination and so much more adds up to a ensuring that so many amazing people in our city and in our world are kept in poverty, kept incredibly isolated, kept in danger and kept as tools for the profits of exploitative governments and companies. We are people and we've had enough. We demand an end to the systemic abuse and discrimination towards people with disabilities. We have a right to employment, to use public transit, to immigration status, to education, to safe and healthy food and shelter, and to freedom of movement and self determination in our own communities!

We demand that the cap on Direct Funding be lifted NOW! Every day there are many types of abuse that are inflicted upon people with disabilities who live within attendant care projects or institutions. People with disabilities should have the right to be able to say who can assist them with their daily routines and who MUST NOT! Seven hundred people have Direct Funding in Ontario; there are thousands of others who also need this funding in order to lead truly independent lives and feel safe in their own homes

I, myself, have lived within 2 separate attendant care projects before I finally received Direct Funding. I thought the first project was unbearable. The abuse was recorded by management, and then swept under the rug. I decided to move to another project, anything had to be better than what I had just experienced. I was wrong! It was different people, sure, but same types of abuse by the attendants and same do nothing attitude of the management. I felt frustrated and disrespected. I cried buckets of tears, not knowing where to turn, what to do. And then, my tears dried and my anger boiled. I went to the Toronto Star and told them about my abuse and neglect. Soon after the article came out, I applied for Direct Funding, and, amazingly, I got it within 6 months. My life did an 180 after that. I was happy, confident, and in control of my own life. The people I hired to assist me liked and respected me, and I felt the same way about them.

I now feel the same frustration and sense of disrespect as I did when I was dealing with the people at the attendant care projects. The government doesn't respect us! We keep telling them what we need and they turn their backs on us. If they respected us, they wouldn't put off making Ontario accessible by 2025! If they really respected us, they wouldn't have cut the much needed Special Diet only to spend one billion dollars frivolously on the G20! We don't need a fake lake or sound canons – we need enough money to live on! We need accessible transit and affordable housing! We need to be able to have the choice of getting Direct Funding if we need it! And, most of all, we need the respect from the people who govern our country! We need all these things NOW!

Thank you.

Solidarity with everyone who was pushed around, intimidated, beaten or detained by cops this weekend for trying to stand up for themselves, and to those who were simply caught up in the melee.

Is it any wonder I had a Mad Max-like dream last night?