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Turning the Tables: The G20 Demonstrations and a New Tactical Approach

Time to Reassess our Tactics

by Ghada Chehade

In light of the recent G20 demonstrations in Toronto, it is ever more apparent and frustrating that our movements seem to be increasingly unwilling pawns in a larger systematic strategy designed to distract people away from any critique of the international banking structure and global capitalism while undermining the tactics and hindering the transformative potential of resistance movements. At sanctioned and even unsanctioned marches protestor’s physical movements are increasingly limited and dictated by police and the state. During the G20 demonstrations police corralled and herded us, holding us where they wanted us, stopping the march long enough for riot cops to get into position ahead of us, blocking off key intersections, and attempting to insight some form of ‘violent’ response.  As Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star explains, a popular police tactic is “kettling.” Here, “Officers on bike or horses herd protesters into an enclosed space, so they can’t leave without trying to break through the police line. Take the bait; you provoke a beating or arrest” [1]. In the end, the June 26 march in Toronto did not get anywhere near the much hyped about security fence. And even if it had, focusing on “getting to the fence” is not the goal or purpose of the global justice movement (one should hope). It was hard not to feel herded during the demonstration, almost like walking into a trap. They ultimately used our march to create media distractions/spectacles and set us up as being “violent.” As has happened before, our message did not get out; it did not reach the public. In other words, the police state/media used our demonstrations to create and/or perpetuate a negative image of protest in the public eye.

Maybe we need to change our tactics, perhaps holding our demonstrations away from downtown/summit locations so that the state will have no one to frame and scapegoat for their staged vandalism, fires etc., and no ways of justifying these huge security budgets [2]. Simply put, perhaps it is time to change our organizational, mobilization and agitation model(s) since the police state seems to repeatedly set traps for activists and demonstrators, and use us—with the help of the corporate media—as a diversion from any real discussion of the global social justice issues we are attempting to raise and promote. It may be necessary to consider whether existing forms of resistance and agitation serve to help our movements and causes or undermines them and put us in harms way. Alternative strategies that may be worth exploring could involve organizing in a more covert fashion so that the state does not know exactly when and where to expect us.  We could even use the fact that they infiltrate our meetings and mobilization campaigns against them. Here we could purposely spread misinformation at meetings and online about proposed events and demonstrations, leading the state and police to deploy resources and security goons to protests that never materialize. In the case of the G20 demonstrations in Toronto, if we were not there to be arrested by the hundreds and framed for smashing windows and burning cars, the Canadian security state would not be able to justify its billion dollar security budget. What if instead of protesting downtown in the designated zones they expect us to be in, beside the summits, we held our acts of resistance and opposition outside of the city altogether [3]? Then what?  Could they blame or frame us for their staged acts of violence if there is no one there to ‘police’ save for a handful of undercover agents posing as ‘black bloc’? If we refused to play our part in the “Miami Model” [4] it may help to show their hand.

Given what went down during the G20 protests in Toronto, it seems clear that the state’s policy is one of staging or inciting violence one day (while conveniently not arresting anyone during the actual occurrence of the violence) and then rounding up hundreds of protestors the next day and throwing them in jail (though they are not linked to the violence). The media helps create the manufactured connection between the arrests and the violence by incessantly looping images of smashed windows and burning cars one day and then images of mass arrests and sound bite headlines about the numbers of arrests etc. without any explanation or contextualization so as to suggest (without words) that the arrests must be somehow linked to the violence of the day before. We could deploy a counter-tactic that is fluid—such that if violence and/or property damage were to occur due to so-called black bloc tactics; we do not stick around waiting to be arrested the next day. We could have a contingency plan that dictates that when/if (staged) violence erupts; we disband and regroup according to media savvy back-up plans, perhaps moving our actions completely outside of the downtown area. This is one way to send the public a message of disowning the violence so that we cannot be faulted or scapegoated for it. Ultimately, our publicized plans for demonstrations should be used as bait to mislead and expose the police and media [5]. In turn we gain politically by humiliating the police and leaving nothing for the media to photograph except legions of over-funded riot cops and their undercover agents.  

I want to suggest to all of those who are opposed to global capitalism (and its goon the capitalist police state) and the myriad destructions it renders unto the majority of the world and the environment, that perhaps it is time for our resistance movements to get a little more savvy and creative; to use misinformation and infiltration as they have done on us, and perhaps to move our organization and mobilizations underground instead of listing every planned event or action on our websites for the state to read and the media to broadcast. No more being pawns in a rigged game. This is not a retreat; quite the contrary it is a movement toward an evolution in strategy and tactics that may put us a few steps ahead of the capitalist state and ensure both the survival of our movements and the advancement of our agendas and causes.  It is time for us to consider whether protests/ demonstrations (and social movement organization and mobilization generally) in their current form further our cause(s) and affect palpable change. Stop being their pawn and start playing with the system! Just something to think about…


Ghada Chehade is a doctoral candidate, activist and poet living in Montreal


Notes and references

*This article is part of a larger article that first appeared on


[2] & [3]- I want to thank my comrades Malinda Francis and Katherine Francis for turning me onto this idea and helping to flush it out.


[5] To my knowledge this counter-tactic of misinforming, trapping, and/or misleading police and the media is not one that has been previously proposed. It grows out of a larger argument I am currently formulating as part of my doctoral research

This post is likely to stir debate. I welcome all comments and feedback; direct comments to

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Ghada Chehade (Ghada Chehade)
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Lately, it appears that the

Lately, it appears that the integrity of being known for what one stands for and non-violent protest is unfashionable. It's time for a wardrobe change. Stop wearing masks. Wearing them enables police 'agent provocateurs' to hide their identities too. If you're not wearing masks, everyone would be identifiable, including the cops. If someone wears a mask, they're a suspect and probably getting ready to do some violence and/or damage which could be prevented by the rest of the group 'swarming' that individual and unmasking them. Not wearing masks implies that you're not afraid to be known because you have nothing to hide, and you have nothing to be afraid of if you aren't violent and/or destructive. If you're not violent and/or destructive but use other non-violent tactics, you won't have that baggage to deal with afterwards with the police, courts, and the general public against you.

don't collaborate with the police.

...except that undercovers infiltrate more than just the black bloc.  they infiltrate pretty much every group you can think of, masks or no masks. 

Instead of focusing on attacking people who are trying to protect their identity from those police who would try to arrest and detain them we should be standing in solidarity with those who are on our side-- ie. anti-g20/anti-capitalists.  The police ARE NOT on our side nor will they ever be.  Their job isn't to 'stop crime', it's to keep people in check and under control.  I say this as a person who went to the protests and chose to cover my face.  Did I vandalize anything?  No, I didn't, but I stand in support of those folks who are willing to take resistance into their own hands rather than standing by and getting trampled by the state.  Collaborating with the police is a really bad idea.  Not only will it not stop the black bloc, it'll further marginalize all protesters by allowing the police into our actions (be they "violent" or nonviolent) with open arms.

How do we have 'nothing to be afraid of' if we don't plan on being violent (ie. vandalistic)?? Look at all the peaceful, non-confrontational protesters who were kettled in, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed, assaulted, and arrested?  Do you REALLY believe that this would stop if no one in the group was wearing a mask?  Cause I bet there were a few groups that got kettled in that weren't hiding their faces.

Let's get real:  police brutality and repression is the fault of THE POLICE and THE GOVERNMENT who gives them their orders.  Not protesters.  The black bloc did not ask the cops to come down in full force.  They did that of their own accord and would have done so regardless of whether or not vandalism went down.

You covered your face and,

You covered your face and, although you didn't vandalize anything, those who also covered their faces and did vandalize made a decision for you that, by visual association, you were also violent and destructive. If a person chose to wear a mask and didn't want to be associated with violence and destruction, they had that association with non-violence arbitrarily removed.

I don't see stopping violence and destruction as "collaborating with the police". It is prevention of the violent disruption of civil society which, at this time, the overwhelming majority of people are able to live in peacefully and productively. I would not "collaborating with the police", I would be trying to preserve the peace and prevent my civil rights being damaged. If that won't stop the Black-Bloc, the Black-Bloc will probably escalate their violence and destruction as 'pay back' which will justify extreme reaction by the police. Is that what you want?

"How do we have 'nothing to be afraid of' if we don't plan on being violent (ie. vandalistic)?? Look at all the peaceful, non-confrontational protesters who were kettled in..." You really don't understand why? It's not just the masks, it's also the violence and destruction and hiding, unmasked and ununiformed (black clothing removed) I'm objecting to. It's because of those that the other protestors, picketers, activists, bystanders, etc., were attacked. Give it up!

In a way, the Black-Bloc did "ask the cops to come down in full force", they "asked" for it by their violent and destructive actions. Virtually everyone (except you?) knows that the police will react to Black-Bloc tactics and the Black-Bloc tacticians invited the police to attack the 'crowd' by hiding, undisguised, in it. I think you're disingenuous and what you achieved is despicable.

"It is prevention of the

"It is prevention of the violent disruption of civil society which, at this time, the overwhelming majority of people are able to live in peacefully and productively."

I don't agree with this statement at all. If one only looks at Canada, well, perhaps. But if our enemy is global capitalism, than one must base ones analysis in a global context. Things may be well and dandy here, but "here" is also an epicentre of the empire - of course things look nice. Broaden the analysis, and things are really really bad: protecting our so-called "civil society" is to protect this system.


thank you for this post - i really wish we could have learned from past demos BEfore the summit. did i miss an article or workshop or something? for me activists need to both expand the # people who know the issues and alternatives AND reveal the lies/abuse/corruption of the media and the state.

please spare us uninformed

please spare us uninformed speculation about tactics and strategy.  You obviously don't have a clue about what you are talking about.  We didn't get anywhere near the fence?  we were 1 block away.  and please spare the moralizing posturing about vandalism and 'getting the message' out.  most people don't care if you carry out routine protests and parades because... they are routine.  Now many people know there is determined resistance against the G20 governments and their policies.  Far more effective than 10,000 sheep being herded through the streets by pigs.

your comment, unproven and unsubstantiated, that the black bloc was comrpised of undercover pigs only shows why you can't see that the anti-G20 protests were a victory precisely becuz we outmanuevered the pigs and humiliated their billion dollar security budget.  the actions reveal the vulnerability of the state, a necessity if there is ever to be real resistance.

Re: "we were 1 block away.

Re: "we were 1 block away. and please spare the moralizing posturing about vandalism and 'getting the message' out. " Yes, you were very careful not to contravene the "5 meter rule" in order to avoid direct confrontation with the police.

Re: "Far more effective than 10,000 sheep being herded through the streets by pigs." Insulting the people you need support from alienates them, the "sheep", not the "pigs". But, your behaviour did result in your getting support from the "pigs" in furthering your Black-Bloc tactics.

Re: "your comment, unproven and unsubstantiated, that the black bloc was comrpised of undercover pigs " It is substantiated by at least one video, the one of the undercover cops at College and University running toward their uniformed brethren for protection, which shows at least one person (I found 2) dressed in Black-Bloc Tactic black (except for his sneakers which had some white on them). Stop the video at 0:45 and at 0:46 and look at the extreme right side at each and at 1:18 you will see that the 3rd person in from the extreme right, who is leanin on a vehicle, is wearing a black hood and is probably the person at 0:45:

Re: "the anti-G20 protests were a victory precisely becuz we outmanuevered the pigs and humiliated their billion dollar security budget." The "pigs" weren't outsmarted, they wanted the violence and destruction, that's why they didn't intervene even when their squad cars were attacked and torched so it would help justify the outrageous costs and suppression of civil rights.

Re: "the actions reveal the vulnerability of the state, a necessity if there is ever to be real resistance." We don't need the Black-Bloc or Anarchists, etc., to "reveal the vulnerability of the state", we know our society is vulnerable to attack from criminals, terrorists, etc., because it is, for the most part, a free and open society which allows peaceful public expression. But, it is no victory to cause the outrageous exense of taxes on security and the suspension of civil rights, even temporarily. The vast majority of people in Canada don't want anything to do with the Black-Bloc, Anarchists, etc., 'freeing' us from our supposed oppressors. You should read about the Weimar Republic period in Germany and the resultant rise to power of the Nazis who were embraced by a huge majority of the German population because they were perceived as the saviour of the German people from corruption, violence, etc. You should also read about the Russian Revolution and what occurred which resulted in Stalinism.

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