This photo essay is an analysis of the police action during its engagement with a Black Bloc action, June 26, 2010 in the city of Toronto Canada. As a photo journalist with the G20 Alternative Media Coop I had one stated purpose in mind for that day; to document the actions of the police while they engaged with the Bloc.
I posses a rather strange mix of experiences to carry out this task; I am a university professor whose main area of concentration is studying disruptive movements for social change. I am familiar with Black Bloc tactics and I have been with the Bloc in other actions including acting as a medic. Finally, in my youth I was a private in the Canadian army with training in riot control and saw United Nations Peacekeeping service in Cyprus. I think my odd amalgamation of experiences allows me to bring a unique narrative to the discussion of security during the G20 in Toronto. Unconventionally, I wish to state some of the conclusions of my essay at the beginning: the social democratic left is wrong in their belief that the police allowed the Bloc to vandalize property therefore permitting the state to justify its $1 billion in security expenditures to host the G8/G20 Summit and to allow the police extraordinary powers to detain and arrest protesters the evening of June 26 and the day of June 27. Judy Rebick, Naomi Klein, Murray Dobbin, Paul Jay etc. are wrong in their claims that the vandalism of June 26 by the Bloc was encouraged by "agent provocateurs” and/or that the police stood by during property damage in Toronto’s financial region to justify the large security expenditure. Rather, my conclusion is that the events are as they appear and there is no need for any conspiracy theories about the actions of the police or the state security apparatus.
The tactics of a Black Bloc can be traced back to 1980s Germany. As lessons were learned, the Bloc began to operate as a temporarily cohesive grouping of people who act as a street fighting force. During such actions there is no leadership of the Bloc, rather decisions are made by a hurriedly decided consensus. Additionally many in the Bloc will defend each other through unarrests and will not submit to peaceful arrest. “The Black Bloc is an event, a force which congeals and dissipates according to the consensus of those involved” (for more see "The Black Bloc Papers.” Edited by D. Deusen & X. Massot, Breaking Glass Press, 2010). The most popularized appearance of the Bloc was Seattle in 1999 and the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in that city. Informed by the book "Pacifism as Pathology” (Ward Churchill, Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 1998), Bloc activists spent the week leading up to the Conference discussing the book and disruptive actions that would interfere with the business as usual manner of the Ministerial Conference. It was decided during that time that they would eschew the limitations of nonviolence as a tactic of social change during the Conference ("Who were those masked anarchists in Seattle?” K. Kaufmann, Salon, December 1999). The literature on the Bloc presents it as something new and novel, and although its dress in black and its refusal to adhere to what is called nonviolence are identified as a recent phenomenon the Bloc is easily situated within the larger context of disruptive movements.
"Disruptive movements are social change movements that occur in extraordinary moments when ordinary people rise up in anger and defy the rules that regulate their daily lives and disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they live" ("Challenging Authority.” Francis Fox Piven, Rowan & Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2006). In Toronto we see people smashing the windows and property of the symbols of international financial exploitation (represented by banks and multinational corporations), while rejecting the orders of the state security apparatus by refusing to disperse and through the destruction of police vehicles. This is specific to what occurred in Toronto and at this time, however historically there have been innumerable occurrences of ordinary people banding together in disruptive movements that have at times forced some concessions from the ruling elite. Disruptive movements are by their nature a loose collective of people that break the rules and question the legitimacy of power. Disruptive movements are to be differentiated from the more common community mobilization organizations. Community mobilization organizations use nonviolent protests to make noise or demonstrate showmanship whereby they attempt to communicate their grievances using banners, slogans, rallies, street theatre, rallies, marches etc. to build the movement and to recruit allies. The protesters wish to give a public voice to their concerns, however voice does not by itself translate into power. Without the coalescing of powerful allies to join with these community groups the tactic becomes pointless if it carries on for a long period of time without results. Disruptive movements may also do everything that community mobilization movements do; the difference is that disruptive movements may escalate tactics to include vandalism and or violence. Amongst all the endless debate about good protester (nonviolent, obey all the rules) bad protester (vandals/violent), the meaning of strategy is lost. Nonviolence can be used in strategic ways, just as disruption through property damage and violent against the state security apparatus can be strategic. The question of whether a strategy of utilizing a disruptive movement approach was eventually effective can be measured against the same measure used to evaluate the effectiveness of the community mobilization approach.
The elemental form of disruptive challenge to the injustices of the state and power is the mob, a historical feature of communal politics that continues to this day. The Black Bloc is a particular form of a disruptive movement that has a particular repertoire and set of grievances however it is form of protest that is centuries old.
In Toronto we saw a fairly predictable set of actions and reactions on the part of the security apparatus that contained few if any surprises. A decision was made by the federal government to host the G20 summit in the centre of Canada’s largest city. Summit meetings of political and corporate elites are notorious lightening rods for demonstrations by a vast array of global justice organizations who perceive the G20 as an organization of global elites advancing political and corporate agendas that dismiss popular participation. The grievances by a host of organizations against these summits are well founded: decisions that affect working people, the poor, Indigenous Peoples, the environment are made by political and corporate elites behind security barricades that exist both literally and figuratively. The population that is going to be greatly affected by the decisions reached are kept in what is called a “technocratic isolation” as well as physical isolation from having a voice in these matters. Although never publicly stated, the choice of using the centre of a major city to host the summit was likely made to demonstrate Canada’s security/surveillance expertise on the world stage. A type of international trade show highlighting the leadership of Canadian industry in this field if you will. How did that work out for Canada: well that is hard to say as I am not part of that team. Some sophisticated devices were showcased in Toronto that I experienced including the blocking of cell phone usage during mass detentions and arrests and the use of laser face recognition scanners during police actions with crowds. Closed circuit camera surveillance, low dispersal tear gas mixed with talc powder and brief sound bursts were all demonstrated. There also appeared to be some scanning of internet usage during the weekend but I am not sure exactly what technology was being utilized. The usefulness of such technology and how it performed will be up to the individual buyers to determine. Clearly some of the $1 billion in security costs for the G8/G20 summit was devoted to the accusation and demonstration of the effectiveness of crowd control devices from Canadian suppliers to potential world customers. It is well beyond my level of access to information to comment with any certainty on this aspect of the Summit.
However, on the level of police control and its interaction with the Bloc; here I can comment with some level of confidence. The Bloc acted in a manner common to many disruptive movements and its targets were pretty obvious. With the reality of political involvement of a majority of the Canadian population at a low level, the Bloc as a tactic can only be considered as a form of agitation and as a messenger that challenges the belief that the state security apparatus is unassailable. In no stretch of the imagination have social justice movements in Canada moved anywhere near coalescing into an insurgency force. That is not to say it won’t happen, but at present state security authorities and the ruling elites have little challenge to their positions of power (for more on this topic see "War of the Flea.” Robert Taber, Potomac Books, 2002). To restate my conclusion about the events of June 26, 2010 in the city of Toronto; there is no need, there is no evidence or there is no justification for conspiracy theories about the actions of the security forces on that day.
Their actions were predictable given the behaviour of security forces during actions taken by disruptive movements, as predictable as their reassertion of police power once the threat of the Bloc had dissipated. The Bloc serves as a challenge to the legitimacy of the policies carried out by the political and corporate elites gathered at the Summit, they seek to challenge the existing unjust social order in our world, and the security apparatus moves to restore order, protect property and preserve the existing forms of governance by rules of control and if necessary force of arms. Conspiracy theories by social democrats who don’t know what they are talking about are thin attempts to remove the agency displayed by the Bloc and the potentiality of disruptive movements to act for change without their status-quo intellectuals, and to thicken the fog over the reality that exists about the limits of force that can be used by the state on its population. The question of whether the police were present among the demonstrators or let vehicles burn might be of some interest to somebody but it really does not matter, the idea of a disruptive movement is to be, well, disruptive. The champagne liberals and social-democrats denouncing aspects of the protests in Toronto are losing the theme.
Finally, the statement emerging from the G20 Summit that advanced economies have committed to fiscal plans that will at least halve deficits by 2013 and stabilize or reduce government debt-to-GDP ratios by 2016 is a disaster for working people and the poor. Deficit targets will not be met by reductions in military spending or increases in corporate taxation; rather the ongoing campaign of neoliberalism to create worker insecurity and continued impoverishment of most of the world’s population will be the result. Expect government assaults social programs including pensions, health care, education while ongoing enrichment of the financial elite.