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Unbiased account from Whistler

by by James Richardson 3:11pm Sun Jul 29 '01 (Mo Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2001 at 8:25 AM

This is what my take on the whole whistler event is: After going through the painful process of reading several very mixed accounts of what happened in Whistler, I feel compelled to add my perceptions of the truth to the debate.

I arrived at Burrard skytrain at approximately 8:45. We were promptly informed that the police were turning away carloads of people at a "checkpoint" that they had apparently set up on the sea to sky highway. We were told to expect to be searched, and to be prepared to spend the day in Squamish. There was no police checkpoint. Where this disinformation came from I don't know.

We all filed onto the buses, and yes, there were definitely three buses, not one as was posted earlier. None of the buses were full. When we arrived in Whistelr we were greeted by a massive police presence. They were dressed for combat, some with dogs, some of them carrying what I felt to be somewhat menacing sticks. This was when I had my initial feeling of "What the hell is going on here?" I am confident that there were more police than there were protesters. There was a definite air of intimidation, which I think was fed by protest organizers bunker mentality before we even left Vancouver. At no point did I feel like I was taking part in something positive. Actually, that's not entirely true. The bus ride was pretty positive, and there was one other constructive point, which I'll get to later.

Once we parked the buses, there was some milling about in the parking lot as we tried to decide what we were going to do. A decision was made to march directly to the Conference center, where other protesters were already gathered.

We made it about half way before more milling about broke out. I witnessed several people being harrassed by the police, but was encouraged by those involved to continue on my way. Eventually a decision was reached to march back to the harrassed parties, and demand the police let them join us. Just as the group had managed to turn itself around and head back in the direction it had just come from, the police let them go. Then we turned around again, and headed for the conference center.

Or so I thought. Somehow, and to this moment I don't know how, we ended up in some kind of conflict with a massive police line about 100 yards from the conference center. The word I got was that someone had been arrested for wearing black. We stood around, a very confused, divided group, as no one seemed able to communicate information effectively. As we gradually realized that this was not in fact the PNWER site, the group split even further, some heading to the conference center, some staying to police the police in their handling of the prisoner. There were some very tense moments here, and I was jostled by police officers myself as I tried to get a better look at what was being done to the man in the plastic handcuffs.

Eventually that scene died down and we were one big group outside the conference center. We got the PA setup, and heard a few speakers before more trouble with police split the group again. Now someone was being arrested at the back of the group. In no time whatsoever we had stopped protesting PNWER and started bickering with the police again. Fortunately at this time some of us found an opportunity to engage in dialogue with many of the citizens and visitors in Whistler. This was the one other constructive point of the day that I mentioned earlier. Admittedly the exchanges had their fair share of rhetoric on both sides, but there was a definite willingness to engage in debate on the part of some protesters and some bystanders. I will point out here that in my discussions with them they expressed complete distrust and disapproval for the people who had their faces covered. As an aside, while I understand the neccesity of covering your face when being gassed, and the fear of police intimidation, I hope we are all aware of the stereotype that you put on the minute you wrap your face in a bandana, justified or not. Maybe we could actually wait for the gas before we start hiding our faces? I think we'd end up with a lot more credibility.

Anyway, in time there was talk of jailhouse solidarity, and a march to the police station. Yes, thats right, we somehow got persuaded to march away from the site of the PNWER conference, to the police station. This march stopped and started several times as we tried to keep people together in a large enough group to protect us from the police. As if this were possible given the police numbers, but that's another story.

We were herded to a T-intersection. On the left was the police station, guarded calmly by a wall of police, and on the right was a road that could have taken us back to the conference center. The police didn't let us go left, they didn't let us go right. When we began thinking about going back the way we came, we found another wall of police blocking that route too. Our ever thinning ranks milled about aimlessly for a while, before we got shoved on to the embankment, and off of the streets. Some spunky protesters stood toe to toe with the police on that grassy hill, calling them names, demanding an end to the police state, and encouraging them to think about who they were protecting. Of course the police themselves, while surely trying to contain their laughter, stood calmly by, hoping they would get home in time for dinner.

My analysis of this event is that we were intimidated and controlled by the police from the first moment. While we can talk about agents-provacateurs all we like, the simple reality here is that this whole event was a complete mess. There was no focus, there were not enough people to be effective, and I'm sure everyone who witnessed the whole exercise thought we were a bunch of twits. We may not need leaders, but we do need organization, and that has to come from people who do it out of conviction, not out of a need for attention.

I hope this debacle doesn't have a lasting impact on the Vancouver activist community, except to motivate us all to take a more personal hand in organizing for the next one, and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Anyway, that's my story, and I hope everyone that was there with me will recognize it as truth.

James Richardson

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Bandanas Disobedient Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2001 at 12:11 PM
In that case..... Mike Wednesday, Aug. 01, 2001 at 7:45 AM
okay... Disobedient Thursday, Aug. 02, 2001 at 7:04 AM

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