Yesterday the central defendants in the G20 “conspiracy” trial were given their sentences and taken away in handcuffs to serve their time. This concludes another chapter of this sordid ordeal, and hopefully if nothing else brings a little closure to some of those who’ve lived the last year and a half in haze of fear, uncertainty and highly restrictive bail conditions.

You can read their statements, here.

Many of those caught up in this nightmare were friends of mine, some close, and I can personally attest that they weren’t a part of the “black bloc” (most were already in jail at the time of the riot). Their trial has been based on an “extensive history of infiltration and surveillance, where any off-hand comment or dark-humoured joke has become “evidence” of involvement in a criminal conspiracy. All in all, it seems the safest place a protester could be on that Saturday was nestled into the middle of the black block, as so far, the actual rioters responsible seem to have suffered far less than most bystanders or “peaceful protesters”. Nobody familiar with the history of political trails should be surprised by this fact, and the parallels here run right back to Haymarket Square in 1886, where many organizers were eventually hung for their anarchist views in lieu of actual evidence of wrongdoing. Read the trial statement of August Spies here to see how little has changed.

After reading his ruling on the co-defendants’ plea bargain, Justice Lloyd Budzinski gave his two cents on social change. In his statement, the judge talked about how they were being punished for their actions, not their beliefs. He stated that he too, as a judge, knew what it meant to feel excluded from the political process. He spoke of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and how they should have chosen peaceful civil disobedience instead.

I’ve mentioned a few times, in passing, the close relationship between this kind of scornful “pacifism” and state violence, but this statement really says it all. A senior official with the justice system, surrounded by armed men, in the process of sending protest organizers to jail for being on the receiving end of one of Canada’s biggest (and surely most expensive) acts of civil repression since Confederation, wants to talk about peacefully resolving problems? After over a thousand people were mass arrested, brutalized, sexually assaulted and put through legal nightmares with virtually no consequences for those police officers and politicians responsible, he wants to talk about accountability? This would be utterly hilarious if it weren’t so serious or offensive.

Of course the people pointing guns at us want us to object in the most peaceful and inoffensive ways possible. Just like our bosses will tell us day in and day out that unions won’t help us get better wages. Not only is it clearly contrary to their interest for us to resist in any way which is remotely effective, but there’s generally not much in their personal experience to suggest that the establishment won’t do anything they ask.

They myth of Gandhi has reached religious proportions in the West – a view, I’m told, which is not widely shared India. This conception of Gandhi’s philosophies is incredibly shallow (I’ve read most of Satyagrahaa, have you?), leaving out crucial ideas like local governance or economics. Historically speaking, it shows a total ignorance of the context – the fact that the British and American governments were facing fairly serious armed uprisings if they brushed Gandhi or MLK aside. Instead they focus on finger-wagging accusations aimed at “bad activists” for not being enough like their saints, and justifying violent repression on that basis.

Tactics like these aren’t peaceful at all. They acknowledge, accept and utterly depend on powerful violent actors to hear their cries and take action out of sympathy. Whether this means that those responsible for their oppression call off their troops, or neighbouring powerful folks sending in their own soldiers, these tactics don’t work in a vacuum. What if nobody is listening? And what if those perpetrating the attacks don’t care? This has been the case, for instance, in nearly all the world’s repression of indigenous peoples, from the Americas to Australia and everywhere in between. What then?

Equating what is “peaceful” with what the state finds acceptable means nothing but siding uncritically with the state. In conflicts which involve the state in question (Canada, of course, being one of those nasty G20 nations the protesters were so upset about), this is especially true. That anybody can consider two burning cars and a bunch of rocks thrown through windows to be more “violent” than the billion-dollar, thoroughly illegal mass arrest of over a thousand people, complete with beatings, pre-dawn tactical raids and cavalry charges shows this very clearly. The fact alone that an establishment which was (and in many ways still is) at war gives lie to anything they want to say about “peace”.

I know a lot of pacifists. Real pacifists. From the Christian Peacemaking Teams to the Quakers to the Peace Studies department at McMaster. They don’t uncritically accept systemic violence – they do everything they can to call it out and confront it. They don’t limit the actions they see as acceptable to those which are legal. And they frequently challenge the Canadian government and others for their brutality abroad. A perfect example might be the Ploughshares movement, a collection of often deeply religious and entirely peaceful folks who regularly charge onto army bases and begin tearing apart war machines with hand tools (attempting to beat “swords” into “ploughshares”), then willingly submitting to arrest. Many of these people are anarchists, and it’s hard to imagine where the anarchist tradition would be at without groups like Quakers and others. I may not always be an advocate of peace (few people are), but all of these people have my deepest respect. If the first casualty of war is the truth then the first remedy is brutal honesty.

Some very close friends of mine are going to spend the next couple of months in prison. That’s violence. Prisons are some of the most violent institutions imaginable, involving constant and consistent threats and violence from every angle. They’re academies of crime where people are sent to lift weights, get in fights and talk about crime, and it’s no coincidence that high incarceration rates tend to correlate very well with high rates of violent crime – just look at America. They’re some of the most ugly examples of systemic racism and classism, locking up hugely disproportionate numbers of poor, black, or First Nations people while letting anyone who can afford a lawyer get away with far more grievous crimes. Corporations and police budgets, on the other hand, gain huge windfalls of public money. Academically speaking, the “law and order” approach has been publicly acknowledged as a failure for decades. These sentences are the actions of a vengeful, vindictive and greedy ruling class and shouldn’t be seen as anything else.

“I am going to jail today. I have plead guilty and do not contest this. But I remember that whatever happens in the court is not the most important story. Even as this prosecution draws to a close, the truly important stories are ongoing, playing out among allies in liberated spaces everywhere, and in the hearts of my family and the people who care about me. It is those stories I will carry with me as I leave the courtroom today.” – Peter Hopperton (statement)

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