Inside the Toronto Convention Centre a huge amount of hot air was voided tonight as the five Tory leadership candidates each took their final kick at the can in the scramble to see who will take Ontario still further down the bloody road of poverty, misery and want that has plagued this province since this crew took power in 1995.
Outside... hundreds of people danced, drummed and snaked their way through the downtown for several hours, snarling traffic and giving Tories and cops alike a massive case of indigestion before occupying an abandoned building and finishing the evening in a tense standoff with hundreds of riot cops.
People began to assemble in Moss Park in Toronto's east downtown at about six-thirty this evening. This was one of two demonstrations called by the Ontario Common Front, with the aim of making a disciplined but militant stand against the years of abuse this government has heaped upon Ontario's poor, homeless and working people. (Another demonstration will be starting at noon on Saturday in Allan Gardens).
Taking a cue from the people of Argentina and other Latin American countries, many participants brought pots and pans to the demo tonight. The cops were making a half-hearted effort to search some people as they approached the park and they confiscated a few flagpoles and pots, but most people were able to slip through unmolested..
Hiphop music blared from a portable sound system, hot soup was served to the crowd and the drumming and clatter of kitchenware gradually rose to a crescendo as the crowd quickly swelled to nearly a thousand people. Finally, with a huge cheer, we were off, quickly taking the street as several dozen police on bicycles made a futile effort to contain us to the sidewalk. After close to an hour of winding our way through the downtown, with especially noisy stops being made outside a couple of hotels where delegates were thought to be dining, the exuberant crowd approached the Convention Centre from the east. Immediately a line of riot cops assembled in our path, blocking the entire street in an apparent effort to funnel us in behind a line of barricades across from the building.
The Convention itself was not our main target this night - other plans were clearly afoot. Almost immediately the crowd tuned north, moving away from the Tory confab and weaving a slow course through the streets as the cops became increasingly confused and bewildered. Finally, the march wound up on Dundas St. E. where the crowd huddled close to a boarded-up building on the south side of the street. More speeches were made, then a loud chanting and drumming started as wood splintered and a large hole was opened in the door, allowing more than forty people to take possession of this two-story building! The lights came on inside and banners were unfurled from opened second-floor windows as people did for themselves what this government has steadfastly refused to do - create housing!
Either the cops were righteously pissed at being fooled (again!) or they were lying in wait,. because it seemed as though within about ten minutes hundreds of riot cops had arrived on the scene, blocking the street on both sides and effectively boxing the crowd in. The pigs advanced from the west, pushing people away from the building until dozens halted their advance by sitting in the street. Yellow tape was strung around the entire perimeter, and anyone wishing to leave at this point was being subjected to a search.
People continued to dance and drum outside, and speeches were made over a megaphone by the folks inside the building as the tense scene continued for more than an hour. At one point a whole line of cops made a sudden rush into the crowd from the east, violently arresting two or three people apparently at random before backing away once more.
The crowd was quickly dwindling by this time and peoples' energy was flagging from the cold and tension, so at a little after ten it was decided between the two groups that the people outside should attempt to peacefully disperse. We approached the lines of cops to the east, and (surprisingly) were allowed to slip through mainly unmolested. A few people were briefly patted down as they slowly advanced with their hands in the air, but no one else was arrested. The latest word is that the cops had gained entrance to the building and that the squatters were being removed.
The conduct of protesters was exemplary, despite the serious provocation and threat posed by the Boys in Black. (As well as the Toronto cops, reinforcements from the Ontario Provincial Police, and the neighboring municipalities of Peel and Durham were present). In many ways this demo can stand as a textbook example of the kind of highly confrontational yet disciplined mass action which appears to be the way forward in the post-September 11 era.
Stay tuned - there's more to come. Another demo by the O.C.F. will be taking place tomorrow, along with a large rally by organized labor.