Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Toronto Rocked to a Miami Model

The G20 summit has left downtown Toronto. While world leaders met, had discussions, and eventually posed for the obligatory photo op, the protesters were making their voices heard in the streets.

I haven't found a good summary of the protests in town yet. Some were peaceful, some turned violent. Over 900 people were arrested. It looks like the vast majority were released and had charges against them dropped. No real surprises over the weekend. Regardless of whether you support the protesters, the police, or both, things went according to plan.

The police reigned in the violent protesters and stopped things from getting out of hand. They also made arrests and disrupted several peaceful protests. They stopped some of the violence and vandalism and in other cases contained the vandalism but let it continue for a while. The police will defend their actions as necessary while also patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

The protesters were also acting according to expectations. A violent minority completely overshadowed and hid any message a larger number of peaceful protesters may have had. I've found it hard to find out how many peaceful protesters there were around the city. The protests seemed to have little effect on the decisions and actions of the well scripted G20 meetings. The media ended up talking more about the protesters and how they operated instead of what they were actually protesting about.

So all in all things went about as well as they could have. The downtown core survived, the protesters survived, the police survived, and the G20 wasn't disrupted at all as it went about its business. G20 Toronto turned out to be much more peaceful and much less violent than many other international summits around the world.

The only thing missing from the weekend was some sort of protest mascot like Kanellos the Greek protest dog. Though one person told me she saw the same protester at every protest she saw broadcast on TV over the weekend.

The way the police handled protesters in Toronto last weekend is known as the Miami Model. The name comes from the 2003 FTAA meeting in Miami were the individual steps and techniques were put into practice together for the first time. You may disagree with some of the steps and techniques involved but you'll probably agree with others. It seems like this has become the standard handbook for handling protests at gatherings of international leaders or policy makers.

In 2004 Indymedia put together a documentary on the protests around the 2003 FTAA meeting. Called The Miami Model it's available for download from archive.org. Don't expect fair or balanced. That's not the point. This is a documentary with a point of view and it's more powerful because of it.

My biggest questions about the 2003 FTAA protests is how the meeting ended. The meetings were held, according to the documentary, "..to plan the Free Trade Area of the Americas". The documentary ends with:
The FTAA stalled in Miami. The US is now pushing its agenda in smaller regional and bilateral 'free trade' deals, meeting fierce popular resistance every step of the way...
I have some simple sounding questions. Did the FTAA stall because of the protesters in the streets of Miami? Did the protesters have any measurable impact on the meeting or did the FTAA fall apart for other reasons? Did the protesters change public perception of the FTAA they were protesting against or did they change public perception of the protesters themselves?

There may be a better way to effectively protest global summits and global political changes than street protests. The quiet and peaceful protesters are pretty much ignored. The violent minority tearing up cities don't seem to generate much sympathy or action for their underlying cause. Quite the contrary actually. There has to be a more effective way. I'm not sure what that way may be but I'm open to suggestions.

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