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reporting from the riot zone

It’s 4.40 p.m. and I’m home with both the radio and TV news going – more wet dreams, anchormen and women jabbering excitedly because SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. Fifteen minutes ago, I was on my bike heading toward College on Yonge – could see a huge crowd and many police ahead. “I would turn around,” said a young woman. “They’re rioting on Yonge Street, they’ve been breaking windows. Soon there’ll be tear gas.”

“Okay, I’ll go home,” I said. “Thanks.”
I went to the march at 1 p.m. despite the rain – left home late, so had to get a cab. Isn’t there a song about taking a cab to the demonstration? I found thousands of people standing in the rain, with a jubilant …
“… tear gas being used at College and University!” the TV is saying.
… with a jubilant feeling in the air, many raincoats and plastic coats and umbrellas in the pouring rain, drums, singing, every single kind of cause – Free Tibet, animal rights, women’s rights, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, legalize marijuana, unions, Greenpeace, Amnesty, everything. General good humour; all manner of good people. Many, many photographers.
But also a tribe entirely in black, faces covered with scarves or balaclavas, ready for trouble. They call themselves the Black Bloc – anarchists. I could feel trouble in the air and didn’t march long. The tension made me heartsick. There was an almost sexual energy to it, the excitement of potential danger. A kid stood in front of the police line and made faces at them; next to me, another kid screamed, “Police state! Police state!”
“This is what they want,” I said to him. “If there’s violence, their billion dollars is justified. Let’s keep it peaceful.” He looked pityingly at the old bag and continued to shout.
But it’s true. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of those “kids” in black were provocateurs, there specifically to start trouble. I know that sounds paranoid, but the powers that be have to justify that nauseating expense. They’d look beyond ridiculous if nothing happened. Boys with toys. Police with their billion dollars of security stuff, their tear gas, their gas masks; and young men and women armed with their fearlessness, their grievances and their fury.
I waited for the streetcar home, to find out that all transit south of Bloor had been shut down. Got another cab home, and then took my bike to the Y for my regular yoga class. But somehow, I could not lie peacefully doing yoga; left early and headed down Yonge, where the young woman warned me to turn around. Apparently, the crowd started to march up Yonge Street; there were no police around, for some bizarre reason since everywhere else there were hundreds of them, and a few kids started to smash windows indiscriminately, obvious targets Starbucks and American Apparel but also small independent stores. Angry kids, goaded = chaos.
I think of my visit to Prague earlier this year. After the Russians invaded, a young man set himself on fire to protest. There’s a statue to him in Wenceslas Square. Here, I wonder how many of the Black Bloc have an actual political concern, or whether they are just bored, angry, looking for thrills. In other times, they’d have been sent to war. Most generations except ours has sent its young men to war – the Crusades, the Civil War, the World Wars, the Vietnam War. Now they just massacre using on-line games. But here, what excitement – an event they can pretend is the real thing.
Now they’re saying on TV that there are looters.
Who won the World Cup game between the U.S. and Ghana? Let’s get back to real life here!
And now they’re saying that “tear gas was NOT deployed.” How disappointed they sound.
My favourite sign from the march was from Greenpeace: “There is no Planet B.
Oh – and in the excitement, I forgot – I was almost hit by a car on my way home from all this. I was cycling east on Gerrard when a cab did a u-turn – impatient and fast, perhaps frustrated by all the traffic problems – and nearly ran smack into me. He was only inches away. I screamed a swearword and stopped, in shock. An East-Indian woman on the sidewalk asked if I was all right. The driver stopped; when I cycled up to his window, he apologized to me. I pointed out that he was driving a Wheel-trans cab! Trying to create new customers, perhaps.
Our mayor David Miller has just said on TV that a small group came to Toronto deliberately to disrupt a peaceful demonstration. “They’re not protesters, they’re criminals,” he said. And I’m sorry to agree.
A few hours later. My son called. He was downtown, wandering around looking at the damage – a few smashed windows, burning cop cars. He says it was clear the cop cars were deliberately abandoned and empty of gas – decoys. He was standing in the wrong place and was shoved out of the way by a shouting policeman with a shield, and then, he says, “They charged. Suddenly, no idea why, the police were running at us. So I ran the other way.”
“Go HOME, you idiot!” I said with my usual sweet affection. “You happen to be extremely visible at six foot eight. They see you and charge.”
“I am at home,” he said, both of us safely watching the downtown of our city erupt on television.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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