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TORONTO—Toronto’s grassroots community groups are coming together to prepare for the dubious honour of hosting the G20 in the heart of Canada’s financial system. “After a long time, we are seeing a rebirth of many different types of organizations emerging, people who have a variety of skills, resources, ideologies and approaches to the fight for justice,” says SK Hussan, an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto (NOII). “This is an exciting new moment. There are some growing pains and it would be sad if the G20 exacerbated those pains.” A mass mobilization strengthened by the local work that exists in Toronto is being built by poverty action groups, radical disability activists, migrant justice organizations, artists’ collectives, food justice groups and countless unaffiliated people, some getting involved in organizing for the first time. The Toronto Community Mobilization Network (TCMN) is one of many arenas wherein some of these groups are meeting to share information about actions and events in the lead-up to June.
Framing this organizing, for some, are memories of mass militancy in Southern Ontario during Mike Harris’ reign as Premier in the early 1990s, as well as lessons learned from the anti-globalization movement. Mobilizing for several years around meetings of large, international political and financial institutions like the World Trade Organization and the G20, the movement eventually fractured over critiques of whiteness and class privilege, recalls Mac Scott, an organizer with NOII and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). At issue, he says, was the focus on putting energy and resources into periodic summits all over the world, rather than being connected to local communities (a tendency known as “summit-hopping”).
Since the mid-2000s, though, a different focus has developed: one emphasizing decolonization and critiquing Canadian nationalism. Craig Fortier, an organizer with NOII and OCAP, recalls that a decade ago groups such as the Council of Canadians and others on the Canadian left were resisting neoliberalism through a pro-Canadian lens. He notes that at the time of NOII’s inception in 2003, the work of impacted communities was coming to the forefront. NOII, for example, has its roots in Project Threadbare, a group organized to address the racial profiling and escalating violence of national security and immigration policy following September 11, 2001.
While at one time mobilizing around the G20 may have distracted organizers from their on-the-ground, day-to-day work, hesitations about directing resources towards the G20 are serving as a useful check on the process thus far, says Leah Henderson, who has been involved in arranging logistics and actions at a number of mass mobilizations. People are not dropping everything to work on the G20. OCAP is mobilizing around cuts to social funding in the recent provincial budget. NOII’s Shelter| Sanctuary| Status campaign continues to evolve; community members from Grassy Narrows worked with supporters in Toronto to organize the River Run rally on April 7, promoting awareness of the health impacts of mercury poisoning from logging in their communities.
For Henderson, mass mobilizations have a particular importance in a Canadian context. “A lot of my work over the past 10 years has been training youth, and they feel alone. Whether they’re in small towns, northern reserves, rural environments—even in medium-sized cities—they feel like at best they have a handful of people they’re politically aligned with,” she says. “If we want to come out of this with more people who can work on day-to-day organizing and people who weren’t around for the anti-globalization days, people need to have the opportunity to find networks and allies.” Hussan suggests: “That week, if you’re a teacher, throw away the curriculum; if you’re a lawyer, do free legal provision. We take over radio waves, TV stations; there are street parties in different parts of the city.” He laughs, “Of course, I wish every day was like that.”
The impacts of Canada’s most recent mass mobilization around the Vancouver Olympics, with 5,000 people present for the 19th annual march through the Downtown Eastside in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women, are certainly being felt in Toronto. Hussan celebrates that, “For the first time in a mass mobilization, Indigenous self-determination was at the forefront.” The debate about the strategic value of different tactics is cycling through Toronto, intertwining with its eruption in Vancouver after the February 13 Heart Attack action, when Hudson’s Bay Company windows were broken by Olympics protesters organized in a Black Bloc. Henderson stresses that in terms of security, Toronto is in a different situation. “In Vancouver, the eyes of the world were there; there were thousands of international citizens and athletes walking through the streets next to the protesters. In June, it will be just us.”
Just as communities are gently and quickly spinning webs across the city, this is also an opportunity to build on relationships with other communities in resistance across the country. In Scott’s experience, “The most powerful relationships are built right on the streets. Many of these groups have been to each others’ demos, but have never called one together.” What comes of those relationships can only be told, fought over and evaluated in the days, weeks and months following what promises to be a memorable week in June.
Marika is an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto, and is involved in a loose network of people organizing around Indigenous solidarity in Southern Ontario. Monique is involved in the same loose network. Both writers are based in Toronto.
This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.
For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.