Organizers are calling this summer’s G8 and G20 summits “the largest security event in Canadian history” — more expensive and elaborate, even, than the Vancouver Olympics. The federal government will spend at least $179 million on security, first at the Huntsville G8 Summit and then in Toronto, where the G20 will meet at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
It’s the cost of holding one of the world’s most divisive meetings in a major city, where dissenters cannot be kept out of sight. The G8 and G20 have become flashpoints for protests about social justice, environmentalism and anti-globalization.
Here in Toronto, activists have been planning for the meetings since last spring but kicked into high gear with a flurry of press releases in March. They are working hard to build something as different as possible from the exclusive closed-door meetings of the G8 and G20.
“The G8/G20 represent a small minority of wealthy countries in the world, and their priorities tend to reflect free-market neoliberal economics and imperialist security,” says Marya Folinsbee, coordinator of the G8/G20 People’s Summit, planned for June 18–27 in Toronto. “And so, at the People’s Summit, our intention is to make space available for the voices of diverse communities around Toronto and around the world, to challenge the supremacy of the G8 and G20.”
The People’s Summit is really a conference, backed by a steering committee that incorporates labour, environmental, student and social justice groups. Queers have already received shout-outs in the advance materials.
“I think the G20 is invading space that Pride Toronto created. The Pride festival is being impacted by the G20,” says Folinsbee. “But I think that really the People’s Summit is about solidarity amongst all people who are affected by the oppressive systems that are currently in place. It’s about system change.”
Organizers say they won't dictate the content of the summit, nor will they handle protest plans. A separate organization, the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, will run events and assist protesters.
“We’re supporting transportation, food, communications and logistics to people who are in agreement with our basic understanding,” says Syed Hussan, one of the group’s organizers. That understanding calls for “Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination, income equity and community control over resources, migrant justice and an end to war and occupation, gender justice, queer rights and disability rights, and climate and environmental justice.”
What the understanding does not include, however, is any specific agreement on demonstration tactics — admittedly a difficult thing for any diverse group of activists to agree on.
“We believe that there’s a lot of violence that the G8 and G20 are inflicting on communities around the world, and it’s not our place to tell people how to respond to that,” says Hussan. “Our principles are respect and solidarity, respect for people’s responses to the injustice that they face.”
The network will help train marshals, medics and legal observers, help with postering and routing, and may provide some direct-action training.
Groups or individuals looking to submit programming for the People's Summit should check peoplessummit2010.ca for the next round of applications.
The Mobilization Network has no steering committee or affiliation with larger groups but rather a number of open committees. The next meeting will be held April 8, 6:30pm, at the 519 Community Centre. The next open planning meeting for the People’s Summit will be held April 20, 6:30pm, at the Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St.