Despite predictions of rain, the day was sunny and beautiful for Wednesday's high-energy protest against Barrick Gold's annual shareholder meeting (AGM) . According to some of the 100 or so activists in attendance, Barrick Gold's continuing disregard for human rights, indigenous sovereignty and the environment is the reason the count annual counter-protest to their AGM. They point out how earlier this year, Barrick Gold president Peter Munk excused the arrests of his security guards for raping women living near the Porgera mine site in Papua New Guniea by saying "Gang rape is a cultural habit" (see a response from the community here). Meanwhile, at the University of Toronto, Munk donations are used to divert public money away from social sciences and humanities and towards right-wing think tanks and branded institutes for "global studies' .
The Toronto Media Co-op has been covering a series of actions against Barrick Gold in Toronto, from banner drops and sign alterations in university classes and outside the construction site for the 'Munk School of Global Affairs" to occupations of U of T governing council meetings, organizing work through distribution of a zine castigating Munk's actions at U of T, and disruptions of the Prospectors and Developers conference. Even Noam Chomsky got in the act, appearing at an anti-Munk protest when he was in Toronto earlier this month.
Although corporations are supposed to operate through a voting process that is accountable to shareholders, Sakura Saunders of ProtestBarrick.net was not allowed inside the meeting even though she is, in fact, a shareholder. "They tried to blame my removal on the Metro Centre security" she posted on facebook "but the head of security at the building assured me (in front of Barrick's Head of Security) that I was allowed to be in the building and they would only trespass me if Barrick requested it. Barrick proceeded to request my removal and have me escorted out by the police."
Natalie Lowrey, also with ProtestBarrick ,explained how Barrick AGM's don't even follow normal corporate procedure: "General AGMS they have people microphones just sitting there, but at Barrick AGMS with a microphone roaming around and it's much harder to get a place to speak, they only changed that last year and even then Jethro and the Latin Americans got a chance to speak..they are trying to make it as difficult as possible for affected communities or even shareholders in general to get a chance to speak on issues."
Despite the relevance of land claims and human rights violations to corporate decision-making, voices from affected communities were silenced inside the AGM. Activists responded to the undemocratic nature of the corporate process by prioritizing the protests outside the meeting.
Jethro Tulin, speaking on behalf of communities affected by the Porgera mine in Papua New Guniea (PNG), spent four days traveling in order to try and speak at the meeting. However, due to visa trouble at the border (despite being citizens of the British commonwealth they were told they needed visas) they arrived on a few hours late too speak at the Barrick AGM. Jethro was able to address the crowd outside Barrick Gold Headquarters. This is the fourth time that Jethro has traveled all the way to Canada to address the meeting. He told the crowd: "Nothing has changed. They say Barrick is a sustainable company, but they are just buying more and more time to come and extract more. They cannot regulate themselves, we were pushing for the Bill C300 but it didn't go through it got stopped short. We need to grow a lot of groups like this" he said, pointing at the crowd "it will take time to grow your pressure."
Marco, a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network, spoke on behalf of mining affected communities in Latin America, especially Indigenous communities: "it is a shame that today the mining companies are doing what 500 years ago these so-called conquistadors have done to our communities. We oppose not only barrick, we oppose all these companies who are making a profit off extraction and destruction". Ilian Burbano spoke on behalf of CUPE [Canadian Union of Public Service Employees] Ontario on the need for trade unionists to build solidarity with mine workers and mining affected communities, especially regarding worker's pensions which are invested in the extractive sector.
There was plenty of music as well as speakers at the protest. Rythyms of Resistance Samba band played kept energy and spirits high throughout the protest- Samba drumming has become the norm at Toronto protests over the past year or so, and definitely for the better- spriits and energy were high through the course of the protest-one could feel how the music energized the crowd and even passers-by. The Raging Grannies performed as well, reminding everyone that radical politics exist in all age groups. Their songs included lyrics like: "corporations, here they come- causing pandemonium- harper rewards them and lets them expand- and that they're unleashed-our elections they'll command'.
Rap group "Test Their Logik" performed a song entitled "Bling is dead" outside Barrick Gold Headquarters after the protest marched down the streets from the AGM to Bay and Wellington. Test Their Logik has just returned from an Canada-wide tour celebrating the dropping of conspiracy charges relating to rap music they performed prior to the G20 mobilizations- one of their last public performances was at the "Toxic Tour" protest against Canadian mining and oil industry on the Wednesday prior to the G20 weekend- which was followed by a 'private' performance from inside the inhumane cages at the temporary detainment centre. 'Testament', one half of the group, told mediacoop about how he connects mining resistance to the protest movement on the streets of downtown Toronto: "It's really important to be in conflict with the forces that are destroying the earth. In Canada those forces are highly concentrated on Bay street, where banks, and mining companies such as Barrcik Gold conspire to get rich at everyone else's expense while trashing the planet. With so many of the world's most destructive extractive industries based in the financial district, it is no wonder activists expressed their rage by trashing it during the G20."
Organizer Susana Caxaj, said: "I think its awesome to come out to the AGMs to keep the pressure going and show international solidarity and all that but that in and of itself doesn't foster those sustainable beyond borders relationship I think that will keep you going and help keep the human aspect of this type of activism going. I think its about seeing commonality despite complex and diverse oppressions in each other - seeing that our struggles are the same and do activism with people because there is a genuine connection there. intellectual arguments can only take you so far.. "
The protest against Barrick Gold is only one part of the activities against corporate mining this spring. Media coop interviewed some organizers of the Mining Injustice conference, from Protest Barrick and the Minining Injustice Soldiarty Network, as they pulled together thier plans at Linux Cafe. They were putting the final touches on a schedule that includes Winona LaDuke, Susana Deranger from tar-sands affected Fort Chipewyan, Jethro Tulim from PNG and there are also several organizing caucus and skill shares, including art making and a media track on investigative journalism and making media.
I asked Sakura and Natalie on how the movement against mining injustices has changed since they founded protestbarrick.net
"4 years ago when we first came here for the Barrick shareholder meeting it was just the two of us, and there was hardly anything happening on a grassroots level on mining ." said Sakura Saunders. Natalie interrupts- "activism was happening in the communities but not in other countries,not in the cities. There's been a big improvement" Susana added that this activism is about more than single-issue politics: "I've learned that the struggle against corporate mining enmeshes a million struggles. Organizing around mining is simultaneously organizing as a feminist, as a marxist, as an anti-colonialist, as someone for indigenous sovereignty, because the issues are so intertwined and they are like text-book intersectional oppression.?"
UPDATE: new video of the demonstration by Allan Lissner