G20 Protests Lead to Riots, Lead to Pissing Me Off

Today I walked through a shattered city. My city. A proud city, known worldwide for its tolerance and peaceful resolution to conflicts. My beloved city of Toronto.

Today, Toronto is bleeding.

Today is Saturday, June 26th, 2010. The G20 Summit has converged on downtown Toronto. Local law enforcement has been preparing for this, training riot squads and erecting barricades around much of the downtown core where the summit is to take place. Reasonable precaution? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?

Frankly, I don’t care. This shouldn’t have happened.

Naturally, everyone was expecting protests. Not only were the world’s most powerful leaders congregating to discuss how to further screw both the environment and the economy, but the security parameters were inconveniencing nearly the entire population of Toronto, a city not known for its patience.

Being the Capital of a province run by an apathetic Sith apprentice, we are used to demonstrations. Queen’s Park has been the site of more peaceful protests than a Gandhi-impersonator convention. Being the most multi-cultural city in the world, we are used to resolving, or at least tolerating, the differences between us. And while other cities refer to dark times in their histories, Toronto has suffered fires, blackouts, and, more recently, an earthquake with humour and a helping hand extended toward each other. Today, all that changed.

At around 3:40 this afternoon, a peaceful march protesting the G20 took a wrong turn for the worst, and soon became a full-scale riot. Windows were smashed with bricks and pieces of furniture looted from establishments that had also gotten their windows smashed. Fights broke out, tear gas was dispersed, rubber bullets were fired, and a police cruiser was set on fire. The fire spread, as did the rampant violence. Looting came next, with stores depleted of valuable merchandise (such as every single cell phone from a Bell store), as either an anti-consumerism protest, or, if you acknowledge how retarded that is, in an act of selfish greed. Personally, I don’t even know what statement they’re trying to make any more. Throwing feces through the window of American Apparel? Are you protesting the G20, or sweatshop-free clothing? Or hipsters?

Again, I don’t care. This is my home. This is my community. What makes these people think that they can shit on it?

I believe in freedom of speech. I believe in peaceful protest. I believe that British Petroleum is actually the Evil League of Evil in disguise, and any and all governments who support them are probably also secret super-villain cadres. I believe that unrestrained capitalism leads to corruption in society. I believe that the world’s governments must be held accountable for their actions or inactions. I believe that passionate individuals should stand by their statements and stay true to their positions, and not be persecuted for their beliefs. And I believe that no one should have to live in a police state.

But what I don’t get is how an individual can have a problem with the world and think that if they write that problem down on a piece of cardboard and stand near a building containing powerful people, one of them will read it and think, “hmm, capitalism is the root of all evil, is it? Well, I had no idea! I suppose I’d better roll up my sleeves and start dismantling the system, then.” Shouting “Fuck BP!” isn’t going to clean up the oil spill. If you’re just trying to get something off your chest, then fine, but do you honestly think that you’re going to solve anything by dressing weird and carrying a sign?

Well, maybe you will. And you know what? Bless your heart for trying. Optimism is inspiring, and if it’s only words, then you’re not hurting anybody. Right?

What I don’t understand are the people who take that step from saying things to throwing things. I don’t understand using violence to make your point. You want to protest the millions of tax dollars spent on safety barricades? Fine. You want to do so by attempting to storm the Convention Centre, thereby proving that every penny was well-spent? Retarded.

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right, and words have power. If you choose to exercise your right to this power, you must accept the responsibility of doing so. Remember what Spider-Man said.

Freedom means that you are able to make your own choices. It does not mean that those choices do not carry consequences.

The First Amendment doesn’t mean you get to set stuff on fire.

It is a horrible shame that peaceful demonstrators are often arrested, mistaken for the violent kind. But the way I figure it is this: if you are peacefully protesting when things get hairy, you’d be best to walk away. If you don’t, and you throw in with those who are throwing things, then that is a choice. Your choice has consequences. You might be arrested. Don’t act so surprised. And why would police arrest you? Because the group you represent are bringing anarchy to the streets, and cops tend to have a kind of zero-tolerance policy on that sort of thing.

Maybe you are an Anarchist. A real one, the kind that believes in a self-governing populace, not the kind that spray-paints circled A’s on streetcars, throws tables through store windows, and screams “fuck capitalism” while breaking into an ATM. There’s nothing in the Anarchist manifesto as I understand it that advocates harming innocent civilians. And to those who are just trying to “fuck the Man” by vandalizing everything in sight: do you really think “the Man” is the one who has to clean that up?

I have friends who work at American Apparel, and other places which were torn apart by rioters. They are not “the Man,” they are people like you who are just trying to get by. Some cannot get to work at all, which is bad news during a recession. True, they were already diverted around the fence by the police, not the protesters, but at least they weren’t afraid to leave their house.

Look, the issue of protesting (and whether it accomplishes jack or shit) is one that hasn’t advanced in decades, and I’m certainly not going to solve that now. Nor am I about to offer answers for the issues that the G20 is here to address. I am but a humble citizen, and have no wisdom to share. All I have are my eyes and ears. And as I look around my own neighbourhood, and listen to the people on the streets, I realize that I am just as lost as the frightened, confused masses around me. No, I am not here to offer any answers. I am only here to ask a single question:

How dare you?

I don’t care how angry you are about the G20. I’m angry too. I was on your side. I believe in your right to express your discontent. You were supposed to be the voice of us all. How dare you take that responsibility and use it to terrorize a city? How dare you take your frustration out on the rest of us? How dare you burn our cars, smash our windows, and hurl shit at our buildings and our homes? How dare you make the decent people of Toronto afraid to leave their houses? HOW DARE YOU?

And to those who used the protests and ensuing riots as an excuse to pick fights and loot stores out of business, well, fuck the lot of you.

I’m angry too. It’s kind of my thing. But do you see how I handle my anger, rioters? Do you see how I express my discontent? With words, assholes. WITH WORDS.

Just where do you get off? How does it occur to you that it is okay to behave like this? Just what exactly is wrong with you? Can’t you look around and see what you’re doing? Don’t you know that you’ve entered mob-mode and are engaged in unjustified violence? How can you possibly think that this is okay?
Well, it’s not okay. Do you hear me? It is NOT OKAY TO RIOT. You will accomplish nothing of value. You will only ruin everyone’s day. If you think that mindless violence is a valid mode of expression, then you are a bad person.

But there will always be people like you. We’ll get over it. We’re resilient like that. We’ve survived blackouts, fires, earthquakes, and even unbelievable douchebags before, and we’ve always bounced back. You may annoy us, even frighten us, but you cannot destroy our resolve.

I am launching my own personal protest against both the G20 and the G20 protesters. I am not going to let you disrupt my life. I will walk down my street without fear, and though I may be cut and bleeding from your broken glass, this city will never know a broken spirit.

As I walked past Yonge and Dundas, I heard the drums. The drum band busking outside the Eaton Centre hadn’t even taken a break. The city burns while our leaders fiddle, and yet the band plays on.

Get over yourselves, violent protesters, you haven’t shaken up anything. If you have something to say, say it, and say it in a language we can understand. Personally, I don’t speak Flying Brick.

Give peace a chance?

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Who Doesn’t Like a Big Dick? Aside from, well… Everyone.

In an exclusive lounge that you have to be uber-rich to get into, a patron approached the bar. The bartender- whom I shall assign a fake name to, and since it is my blog, that name will be “Optimus Prime“- naturally said “what can I get for you?” “Scotch” said Mr. Rich Douche (referred to from here on as “Rouche”). “Neat. No ice. I mean it. If you put ice in it, I will come behind that bar and beat you.” Optimus, who knew perfectly well what “neat” meant, gave him the type of smile that only customer service professionals know, the smile that says, “you are way out of line, but any appropriate response I can offer will cost me my job.” Optimus’ co-worker, who was closer to the scotch than she was, started pouring. You’d think that this would cause the Rouche to lose interest in our dear Ms. Prime, but you’d be wrong, and kind of an idiot. “Seriously,” Rouche said with what he probably considered a grave smile, but since that isn’t a thing, was just a creepy leer, “I can do it. I’m certified.”
“I’ll bet you are,” thought Optimus, but she only laughed. “Really,” he insisted, “I’m allowed. I’m legally entitled to beat you.” As Optimus wondered how any human being could possibly get off saying such a thing, Rouche winked. “Not like that,” he said. “More like a spanking. I’ll spank you.”
That wasn’t the last poor Optimus saw of the Rouche that night, but since it doesn’t get any better, I’ll spare you. But FYI, there is no official certification that grants you the right to assault another person who has done nothing to deserve it, just so you know.

See, the irony here is that Optimus had attended a mandatory Health and Safety meeting only two days before, outlining the new, extremely extensive Bill Amendment for Worker’s Rights, or some such nonsense. Some of these rights involved refusing work if one felt unsafe ( like for example, if a patron threatens violence or bodily harm against a worker), and the necessity of escorting such a patron outside the premises via security, even, in some cases, calling the police. Were any of these actions taken? Did you miss the part where he was rich?

When I rule the world, we will not need a 1,000 page document telling us how to not abuse people. We won’t need bills and laws defining exactly what constitutes discrimination, harassment, or assault. We won’t need procedures to be ignored in the case that something awful like this does happen, and we certainly won’t need to be told which words we are or aren’t allowed to find “offensive.” There will only be one law, one Sacred Commandment unto God and Man upon Earth:

Don’t be a dick.

Why is this so difficult to understand? Why is this rule so seemingly impossible for everyone to obey? Because some people are dicks. They apparently like being dicks. They are satisfied with being dicks, and why not? They get away with it.

Okay, I get that there might not be a clear consensus as to what does or does not constitute a “dick move.” But really? Are we really that unsure? Because it seems to me that the only people who would be defending a dick move as a non-dick move are themselves dicks.

Fine, the word “dick” may be offensive to some. Maybe it sounds like it’s just a male thing (it isn’t. Chicks can be dicks, but they’re not to be confused with she-males, who are chicks who have dicks). If you prefer “asshole,” “jerk,” “prick,” or, as situations warrant, “douche bag,” then be my guest. The point is, it’s the intent that counts.

And okay, we’re not telepathic (unless you’re Professor X, but then, if you are, you already know what I’m going to say, so why are you reading this?), so we can’t know what a person’s intent is. But the law is not to “catch someone being a dick.” It’s to not be a dick yourself. You are responsible for your own behaviour, no one else. If you find yourself justifying your actions, then you’re probably being a dick. If the reason you want to do something is because it’ll hurt someone else or make them uncomfortable (which maybe you get off on), then you’re definitely being a dick. Rules shouldn’t be about catching bad guys after they’ve broken them. They should be about taking responsibility for your own behaviour, and not breaking that rule in the first place. Law enforcement should be pro-active, not re-active. People shouldn’t be dicks.

Ms. Prime has a ripe sense of humour herself. She is not easily offended, and, like an eleven-year-old, giggles at the word “teabag.” She is the first to announce “that’s what she said!” after someone mentions fitting a large pole into a tight hole. Detailing exactly what words are or are not “appropriate” or “offensive” only serves to censor communication and construct barriers between people who are no longer free to express themselves, or share a laugh with another reasonable human being. It wasn’t that she found the word “spank” to be rude- it was that the Rouche wasn’t being funny. He wasn’t being carefree with someone whom he had built an understanding dialogue with. He said what he said because he likes to watch powerless people squirm. He threatens those who cannot defend themselves in order to feel like a big man. He thinks he’s entitled, thinks he’s better than you, and that he can get away with it. In short, he’s a dick.

If you’re just being yourself, laughing in the moment, sharing a joke with a friend, or even a stranger, then it shouldn’t matter what you say, because it’s coming from a genuine, friendly place. But if you are contriving a situation in which you are in a position to make another person feel inferior, and you justify it by assigning words like “certified” and “entitled” to yourself, then it doesn’t matter what you say- you’re a dick.

So, if you are not a dick, then congratulations. You may live in the New World, once it exists.

And if you are a dick… well, just stop it already.

Whine Tasting: An Exercise in Civility

What would you do if someone offered you a glass of fine red wine, priced at one hundred dollars a bottle? If you did not answer “swill it around, spit it into a communal bucket for some poor sap not even making tips to empty out, and be sure to spill a little onto the white tablecloth without even thinking about the person who’ll have to clean it up,” then clearly, you are not civilized.

A wine tasting, for the 0.5% of this blog’s readership who is not aware, is an event at which rich snobs taste- not drink, mind you- wines presented by wineries who have poured their life’s work for hundreds of years into a glass which they then, rather unceremoniously, dump into a slop bucket destined for the drain.

“But these refined connoisseurs appreciate such beverages for their history, as well as their flavour, which they eloquently describe with such with phrases as ‘refined yet unpretentious, with a clean finish,’” says renowned wine expert Dr. Tedius Pratt. “They’re not there to get drunk, but to appreciate the rich intricacy of vineyard growth cycles apparently evident in the fermented juices of every precious grape. These scholars of viticultural Epicureanism are knowledgeable on a level the casual sipper can never understand.” But is Pratt correct?

Actual overheard conversation snippet from a recent wine-tasting event:
Connoisseur: I didn’t know Beaujolais made a white.
Winery Rep: That’s a Niagara chardonnay.
Wine snobs are full of shit.

Don’t get me wrong. I myself enjoy a bottle or two of wine with my evening meal, and enjoy parsing choice phrases to nonsensically describe the experience. But once you witness a drunk woman (so they do get drunk!) clean her baby on a bar (not in a bar. Actually on one), you will realize that at least part of the mystique is accurate: this is truly a level of class to which most of us can only aspire. Or rather, whatever the opposite of aspire is (de-spire? Pre-spire? Per-spire? I bet it’s perspire).

Which brings us to the topic of civility. If in our grunting caveperson days we were not civilized, as is the general assumption, then what changed? How did we evolve into civilized beings? What precisely distinguishes a large herd of beasts from a civilization? What constitutes civility?

I would argue that civility is rooted in an awareness of one’s self in relation to one’s surroundings. Knowing where you stand with others, and acting accordingly. Treating others as you would like to be treated in their place.

Say you spill blood from a fresh kill all over your cave floor. Naturally, being the disgusting pig that you are, you don’t clean it up. Then, maybe, one day, it occurs to you that blood tends to go rank after a while, or attract scavengers or vermin, or present a very real slip-and-fall hazard. So, you actually clean up after yourself. Congratulations, you’ve just invented civilized behaviour.

At what point exactly does “being civilized” require a reversion to the floor-of-blood days? At what point does carelessly tossing red wine on to a white tablecloth and walking away without claiming responsibility for your own messiness become the pinnacle of civilized behaviour? The answer probably lies around the time we started hiring servants to clean up after us, taking on the burden of consideration toward others so that we don’t have to. We are waited on and cleaned-up after. Like the caveman who left blood on the floor, you simply wait for the lower species to do your dirty work for you, and go carelessly about your way. While this may be the hallmark of high society, I consider it to be the height of uncivilized behaviour.

At a recent conference on urban youth violence attended to mostly by social workers, former young offenders, and other supposed dregs of the lower rungs of society, lunch was served. There was also food and drink throughout the day, and the venue staff, used to cleaning up after wine tastings, prepared themselves for the ungodly mess that was sure to follow. They were completely shocked to find, upon the guests’ departure, virtually no mess whatsoever to clean up. All trash and debris had been properly disposed of by the guests themselves, and all spills were cleaned up by those who had spilled. It seemed that the street thugs and underpaid government minions who work to keep them off the streets (hoping to make them “house thugs” or even “office thugs”) demonstrated the ultimate in civilized behaviour: politely cleaning up after yourself even when you don’t have to, because you are not an animal.

While everyone likes a good wine now and then, the ability to discern a Niagara Chardonnay from a variety closer to the Burgundy persuasion does not make you more worthy than those who clean up your messes, whom you could not do without, and who may in fact drink Bud Light Lime (it is surprisingly refreshing). The wine crowd may have the street violence crowd beat in big words and fancy dress, but the latter displayed greater civilization. Their event was refined yet unpretentious, with a clean finish.