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Summit Of Americas - FTAA - Quebec City April 20 2001

Diversity of Tactics

by Michael DesRoches

The April 2001 Summit of the Americas brought every head of state (north and south), except Castro, to Quebec to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) - a hemisphere wide free trade zone similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - but this time including Latin America. Trade Unions, authoritarian leftists and direct action groups were invited to join a 'Convergence Table'- organising along strict principles of non-violence - in line with previous North American mobilizations.

However, during an action against police brutality in Montreal in the lead up to the summit, things turned ugly when both police and other activists turned on people engaged in confrontational action, leading to mass arrests. In response to this and the exclusive principles of the Convergence Table, activists in Montreal formed the Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes - or anti-capitalist convergence - la CLAC. In Quebec City members of the local organizing group broke away to form the Comite d'accueil Summit des Ameriques - or Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee - CASA. A new alliance between the two was formed which promised to 'respect a diversity of tactics' - a move which got CLAC and CASA speedily excluded from the Convergence Table and excomunicated by the Unions and NGOs. Despite limited resources, CLAC and CASA provided a framework under which people could organise their own actions. Caravans travelled the northeast and networked with other groups, provided educational events, and hosted two regional consultas - giant spokescouncils.

Meanwhile the Canadian security forces erected a 12 foot metal fence around the centre of Quebec City. The Comite Populaire St. Jean Baptiste, a radical community organisation, used the alienation caused by the fence to discuss the Summit with residents - as well as the FTAA and politics in general - all the while plugging their 'adopt an activist' program to provide housing for people during the summit.

The action plan, agreed at the consultas, consisted of providing space around the perimeter for three different degrees of action. A green zone would remain peaceful and creative, a yellow zone disruptive but non-violent and a red zone for more confrontational actions. Everyone was asked to respect the right of others to take whatever colour of action they felt was acceptable. This meant not escalating things where yellow actions were taking place, keeping all direct action out of the green zone and respecting the right of people to be confrontational.

Despite misgivings, the plan actually went off better than expected. The main CLAC and CASA day of action was held on Friday, April 20, the day before the Convergence Table march. Contrary to all expectations the fence didn't last 30 seconds - a problem as most actions had been planned around its destruction. When we broke through, there was no unified response and police managed to push everyone out of the security perimeter fairly quickly. Still, for the next two days Quebec would not be silent for a moment. Actions went on throughout the day and night. The solidarity between protestors was amazing. In the green zone Food Not Bombs provided food non-stop for the entire weekend while a sound system blasted music from bands and DJs to those redecorating the space.

The Convergence Table marched on the Saturday, the organizers having chosen to direct the march away from the security perimeter towards an empty stadium for a rally. The CLAC/CASA contingent turned away from the march and headed for the fence, joined by some union and NGO groups, disgusted with the reformist agenda of their leadership.

Although almost everyone agreed the action had been a success, the links and structures they left behind have proven more important than the street battle. Mutual support has already helped open a squat in Montreal, a campaign of economic disruption in Toronto and is now busy organising for a day of action in Ottawa against the G8 summit. The Quebec actions also set a precedent and anti-capitalist convergences with similar principles have sprung up in Washington D.C, New York City, Denver and Ottawa, making anti-authoritarian organising the base of the movement rather than the exception.