May day! Arrested in Toronto

May 3, 2012

Back in September when I was arrested for the first time in my own country, I entitled my blogged reflection on that decision and its outcome ‘Because I love my grandkids’.  I was taking for my own a quote from Maude Barlowe’s Parliament Hill speech that day on the unspeakable generational crimes of tar sands development, delivery, shipping and consumption.  Since then, NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, arrested in Washington for his own act of civil disobedience, has characterised full tar sands development as a global signpost of ‘game over’.  Canada seems willing to sell its dope anywhere to anyone and if, he said, Obama is willing to stick the veins of his country with the dirty needle, it is clear that there are no means too outrageous to satisfy this addiction.

Occupy Toronto March September 2012
Taking a break at an intersection

I was thinking about my grandchildren last evening, as well, as seven of us, all members of the Occupy Toronto Chaplaincy team, huddled to debate whether or not we would put up a modest ‘chapel’ on the site of Occupy Toronto’s 24-hour May Day occupation.  It was not much more than netting strung over poles, expressing in concrete terms – a yoga mat, table, candle and two chairs – the solidarity of shared themes and passions: a moral economy, care for creation, the prioritising of the needs of people over the wants of corporate profiteers.

The choice of Simcoe Park, directly across from today’s setting of a meeting of the shareholders of Barrick Gold, a leader in the sullied global resource-extraction Canadian brand, provided another opportunity for Occupy to make its point: turn back the corporate coup d’état.  This morning’s news called the protest a ‘fizzle’ while, in the background footage, long phalanxes of suits made their way into the Convention Centre.  (Nothing against suits; their occupants just looked rather dull and penguinish next to the creative and colourful signs, slogans and suits of the Occupyers.)   I found myself wondering if any of them were grandfathers.

Though we had been warned that, if we continued, we would be arrested, we continued nevertheless, against an encouraging backdrop of chanting from the Occupyers and intense media scrutiny, the six of us trying in the dim light to thread poles through fabric sleeves.  Still, the contained violences of the police officer caught me off guard.  Some time has passed since I last felt my body moved against my will, without my permission – the support of the tent brought down sharply on my head, my arm roughly grabbed and twisted behind my back – followed by a brief reprieve as the media cameras’ swept our dance into their full glare.  Officer Joseph resumed his muscular drive of my body across the park, his grip and shove creating the bruises to which I woke up this morning.  I stumbled, almost fell from the stone platform on which we had planned to erect our chapel; I turned to grab my knapsack and was jerked back towards a low stone wall where, along with Barry, a United Church minister and Maggie, an Anglican priest, I was violently seated.

Ten thousand arrests today, someone says, in Occupy sites around the world.  I wonder if that figure is meant to include Cairo, where twenty have been killed, making our little venture disappear into oblivion by comparison.  Oakland police force seems once more to have distinguished itself in this part of the world with the brutality of its militarised response.  The world is watching, the Occupyers chanted as we were hauled away.  Apparently.

It’s a moral thing, this Occupy thing.  Its message is a moral one, its dissent from a morality of hierarchies and self-interest and an understanding of merit that leaves out all but a few; its withdrawal of consent is from economic, social and political ‘norms’ that distribute wealth upward in an ever-increasing theft from the Public from which foundation all wealth emerges.  Its refusal is a rational one, from the illogic of endless growth within a limited biosphere, its creaturely focus one of compassion.  It’s not about lists of policy demands that can be scrapped – along with the Movement, should they happen to fail.

Enclosed in my own personal metal cage in the police multi-cell van as it pulls away from the park, my thoughts are a jumble.  I think of my grandchildren, Owen and Morgan, and the earth they will inherit; I think of the words from Bruce Cockburn’s song advising us all to ‘kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight’.  And I think of the question posed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in response to criticism and demands to remove Occupy London from the premises of St Paul’s Cathedral:  What would Jesus do? Where would Jesus be?  Right here, sharing the risks, he said. And not just facilely taking sides but asking the awkward questions that were his trademark; the questions posed by his birth in poverty, his peripatetic life of a refugee, friend of outcasts and pariahs, socially marginal and averse to material possessions, a scourge to the rich and powerful, his apparent failure and execution by the state. Occupy also seems to be asking:  who changed the price tags?  what if all of our notions and standards of success and failure are upside down? What would it take to turn it rightside up? Love, Archbishop Rowan Williams concludes in his Christmas homily. And love is at the heart of all of this, love, committed, unshakeable love. Marked by love, there is no failure.


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