Last night’s Cassarole action downtown got a little tense at points. Not with the police, not with the black bloc, communists or even bystanders, but with a group who showed up to ‘crash the party’, sporting their own megaphone. To the horror of other participants, who’d come again to show support for striking students in Quebec, they began a long monologue about topics like the United Nations, global warming and the Bank of Canada. From the outside, it started to look a little like we were marching over conspiracy theories, given our lower turnout in the bad weather, and people started getting a little annoyed. They avidly filmed those who asked (then demanded) they stop, and the crowd, in turn, started to drown them out by banging pots and chanting (our original plan for the evening). Eventually tempers flared and people started chanting “SHUT UP” in unison, and the march dispersed shortly thereafter.

For those not familiar with them, these guys are associated with the “Canadian Awareness Network”, a notorious group of local conspiracy theorists, in the vein of Alex Jones or the movie Zietgeist. I met them through the Occupy movement, and despite some fairly conflicting views, there’d never been much of a problem before. Two weeks ago they started a weekly news show for Youtube, and given recent articles like “Return of the Black Bloc Stooges and how many times they claimed “the green movement is the new red (communist) movement”, it’s pretty clear they were looking for a confrontation and a spectacle.

It feels a little weird, as an anarchist, to be complaining about such things. More often than not, we’re the ones accused of “co-opting” other people’s events. These “Cassaroles” put this in a little better perspective. What little organizing has happened for them and other student solidarity demonstrations in town has been shared by anarchists, communists, union members and students (and a few who fit into all of the above catagories). There’s differences, to be sure, but we work together in the spirit of solidarity, because that’s a hell of a lot more productive than bickering. For the record, I haven’t worked with this many communists in ages, and it’s been downright enjoyable. I cannot say the same for certain others…

While protests, by their very nature are chaotic, there are still rules. Protest culture is built upon decades of tradition across dozens of movements. If “the left” seems like a conspiracy, it’s because these issues are connected in very real ways, and the struggles that made it into the history books were those which successfully linked them. Solidarity is more than a slogan, it’s a tradition of backing each other up, even when we don’t have to, so that someday, when we need it, someone else will have our backs. That’s how you build movements. In the spirit of solidarity, a huge number of very different groups all mangage to coexist (mostly) peacefully in some very stressful atmospheres, and even occasionally manage to win.

There were many anarchists at the Casserole, but we left our black flags and masks at home. There were communists – they left their red flags at home. There is a time and a place for such things, but in a smaller crowd it risks distorting the message. Tuesday night in Toronto was a much larger crowd, where our flags fit in as a few out of many, rather than an overpowering presence. Everyone who spoke to me about mine seemed pretty happy it was there. Even for the black bloc, there are generally accepted protocols, such as not rioting around children and vulnerable crowds, which is why breakaway marches are so often involved. We go to demonstrations to show what we have in common, publicly denouncing each other kinda defeats the purpose.

If anybody wants to engage in a constructive discussion about “Agenda 21”, the Bank of Canada or any such topic, I’ll be glad to, but that was not the point of the Casserole yesterday evening. Talking over everyone else with a megaphone at the precise time, and in the precise place they’re trying to send a message to the public isn’t “free speech”, it’s an act of disruption aimed at the free expression of others. Neither I nor many of the other marchers feel that global warming is a conspiracy, and don’t take kindly to red-baiting. Those evil socialists you’re talking about? That’s us – and believe me, we’re not getting paid for this.

This is why nobody wants to be associated with conspiracy theorists.