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Quebec City – Weaving the Web of Solidarity

by Barbara J. Walker Graham

The Summit of the Americas 2001 met in April in Quebec City to continue dialogue aimed at the signing of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), opening 34 Western Hemisphere countries to liberalized and globalized economic trade. The FTAA is an extension and evolution of the existing North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA).

Of the estimated 70,000 protestors, more than 400 people were arrested, some 120 people were hurt. The Quebec Legal Collective is addressing the reported instances of police brutality and injuries to protestors. Although the unusual security perimeter fence flouted Canadian civil liberties by breaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a Quebec judge ruled it was justified given the fears of unrest as experienced in Seattle in 1999. As many as 6,000 police officers provided security for the Summit leaders.

There was no one overreaching organization functioning as the brains of the protest action. Even so, there were major players among the protestors, including La Convergence des luttes Anti-Capitalistes (the Anti-Capitalist Convergence or La CLAC), OQP (Opération Québec Printemps 2001), and CASA (Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee). Joining the presidents of the 34 Western Hemisphere countries were the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Inter-American Development Bank, Organization of American States, Pan American Health Organization, and the World Bank. (See “What Are the Issues Involved with the Free Trade Area of the Americas?” at the end of this story.)

Police Tear Gas Protestors

On April 20, Canadian riot police repeatedly lobbed tear gas into crowds of protestors following the breaking down of the security perimeter fence at Rene Levesque Boulevard. By April 21, action had escalated with simultaneous confrontations between the police and protestors at many locations along the security perimeter. At some point, fires were set and left blazing in several places near the security fencing. Police alternated the tear gas with water cannon pulses, forcing the crowds back from the fence. Police squads were deployed from within the surrounding office buildings, marching in close order drill, repeatedly rapping their batons on their shields. Meanwhile, as the world leaders finished lunch in the heavily guarded Citadel within the Summit of Old Quebec, an orderly and peaceful labor march moved out through newer Quebec singing, chanting, and carrying banners and placards with slogans.

Feminist Action Against FTAA

She towered ten feet over us, her hair a flaming orange, her hands grasping foward! When she moved, her green skirts billowed, flaring out in the cool Quebec breeze. She is Nemesis, the angry and proud spirit of all the women of the Western Hemisphere. Women who are laboring under hazardous and illegal working conditions; women who struggle daily to feed their children and keep their loved ones alive, often under brutish political regimes and a declining standard of living. Nemesis!

Nemesis, a puppet on wheels, embodied the peaceful feminist action “Weaving the Web of Solidarity”, which saw a crowd of about 300 women making a powerful statement against the FTAA on April 19. Nemesis was pushed through the hilly streets of Old Quebec to the security fence access point at Rene Levesque Boulevard.

Prior to the march, women speakers from South America, Canada, and the US rejected the concept that opening up a Free Trade Zone here will create better living for all people. They cited statistics that 80 percent of the already grindingly-poor people in the 3rd world of Central and South America are women or children. The FTAA carries with it the potential for creating sweatshop labor, exacerbating existing poverty. It is also feared that the Zone will erode and destroy remaining indigenous cultures and destroy the fragile ecosystem because of the over-riding corporate economic need to exploit natural resources.

Sound Bites from the Women’s Action

“We are here as women to voice our disapproval of this undemocratic process, of which the implementation of the FTAA will only serve to increase women’s poverty.”

“This trade agreement is not about trade, it is about expanding the rights of corporations to legally exploit women’s work though out the hemisphere.”

“They are meeting within a 300-year-old militarized fortress, what does that tell you about this process?”

“According to the U.N. 70 percent of the 1 billion people living in extreme poverty are women. We are here as women to prevent that from becoming larger.”

“Under the NAFTA, 90 percent of the 27 million workers in free trade zones are women who are exploited. Expanding this deal to the rest of the hemisphere will lead to a corporate system of equal opportunity exploitation.”

Weaving the Web of Solidarity

Nemesis and the women were met with smiles and an open gate, at the Rene LeVesque Boulevard access point into the Summit’s perimeter fence. Only a minimal police force was visible, with six officers standing at ease in the gateway. Many of the women were “disguised” as being pregnant, evoking the sacredness of life. The Garden Affinity Group fielded two liaisons who negotiated with the police to allow us to hang our “Women’s Mural Against the FTAA” onto the fence, to graphically show the interconnections of life. Actually, the mural is made up of many different weavings created by women’s groups and Pagan covens from around Canada and the US. The “mural” was quite pretty, with ribbons and string art. Many were almost quilt-like, while others had banner sized macrame designs and were decorated with pretty accouterments. Eager laughter buoyed the women as they tied the hangings and weavings to the chain-link fence as night fell and the stars came out.

We circled up for a ritual calling for healing energy and empowerment for all the protestors. A large, joyous Spiral Dance to further raise and shape the energy flowed out across the boulevard — drum beats echoing through the canyon between office buildings. Together, we wove a large ribbon spider’s web representing the complex interconnections of life and spirit. We web holders walked in a circle and then pulsed the web up and down gently, wafting it on the rapidly chilling night air. We began toning an “om” to give structure to the energy, urging it to grow and coalesce around us and our web. We managed to keep up the toning for quite a long while, even through the inevitable pauses from the wider audience. Focusing, we sent that energy up to the Cosmos and then grounded it into the Earth.

In the morning, all the artwork and the puppet Nemesis were gone — seized and destroyed by Summit security.

The Pagan Cluster

The Women’s Action was augmented by the Pagan Cluster, a group of eco-spiritual activists from across the northern continent. The Pagan Cluster’s strategy was to use what its members are most skilled at — magical activism. Intending to provide pools of calm and healing energy, this cluster slowly and carefully marched around the security perimeter during the protests, singing songs and leading crowds of protestors in Spiral Dances. The dances and songs provided a focal point of calm, allowing protestors to regroup, breathe, and rejoice in their convictions about being a protestor. “We are in the right place at the right time,” “Birth the vision,” “Yes, we can!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” echoed down the narrow streets of Old Quebec.

Reflecting on the consensus process aimed for within affinity groups, feminist eco-spirituality author Starhawk noted: “In other actions we’ve had spokescouncils on the street, like in DC in 2000. But in this one, the level of noise, chaos, tension, danger, and the speed at which everything moved was much higher! Certainly a lot of decisions were made on the street by our scouts.”

Of the various rallying groups within the Pagan Cluster, Starhawk continued, “I think at many moments we provided a center in the chaos and a model of a focused, strong, coherent energy in the chaos. In the alley at St. Genevieve, we significantly changed the energy in what had been shaping up to be a rock throwing street battle and instead became a powerful, nonviolent confrontation. I think there were a lot of people out there who wanted to be part of just such a group as we were — strong, together, cohesive, nonviolent but willing to be confrontational and on the front lines. I think people felt the magic. The whole action was confusing, in that it was hard to get a grip on what to do as an action other than tear down the fence — but I think actually being up at the fence and confronting the barrier in a variety of ways was the action and contributed to the disruption of the meetings. There are a lot of ways the whole thing could have been more coherent and perhaps succeeded even more at disrupting. But the sheer energy, exuberance, wildness, power and chaos were also kind of wonderful. And everyone in our subcluster came away stronger, braver, and more empowered.”

Water is Sacred

Especially important to the women of the Feminist Action and to the Pagan Cluster is the concept of water and the sacredness of water, and its vital necessity to peoples. Handing out bottles of water labeled “May You Never Thirst,” the Cluster hoped to make tangible at least one of the many complex and interconnected issues surrounding the FTAA. The Pagan Cluster also provided leaflets describing the Cochabamba Declaration [see page 17], which was written in reaction to Bechtel Corp.’s privatization of the water supply in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This privatization raised water rates so much that poor and dispossessed laborers were unable to afford water. Massive civil disobedience resulted in the redistribution of the water rights — at least for a short time. The Bolivian government has since sent in armed forces to quell the peasant insurrection.

Water also figured highly in the Pagan Cluster’s Living River Action during the protests (see "Quebec City – River of Courage, River of Change").

Pagan Protestor’s Voices

Brendan (Cathbad) Myers is a Druid and a union member from Ontario. “The protest was a spiritual activity. In many ways the protest was the assertion of who we are, and also who we are not. We are not mere functionaries in the capitalist profit machine, as consumers or target markets. We are people. We are the land. I cried for my people and the land of my Canada, who I love so much, and I cried that the State was so willing to use such terror on its own people to impose its will,” Cathbad said.

“Firing tear gas canisters or rubber bullets is an act of violence against the people. Sanctimoniously denouncing protestors who threw bricks and molotov cocktails does not erase the police violence. The government of Canada is responsible for the violence at the fence line. Canada is not a democracy. The people were forcibly excluded from the debate at the Summit of the Americas,” Cathbad continued.

Ruby Perry is a 48-year-old Witch from Vermont. “I believe that the FTAA and the growing power of the corporations are a very real threat to everything that I value. I felt ready to take my magical training to the streets, to join with other like-minded folks, and to become a part of the life-affirming movement that is the anti-globalization movement,” said Perry.

“I am a Witch, and I believe in our power to make real change through the work that we do. I was responding to an inner ‘call’ to bring my body to this place at this time.” Ruby was frighted by the incendiary devices lobbed at the police, saying “there is a great potential to escalate the violence. Yet I believe that the police are going to escalate it regardless, it seems to be the nature of the beast. I think the fires are the logical outcomes of unchecked testerone and frustration.”

Perry doesn’t think the world summit leaders ‘got it’ or understood what the protests were all about. “I think our effectiveness is limited by narrow, unfree and unreflective mainstream press. In order for the ‘leaders’ to get it,” Perry said, “it would take a major personal transformation that just isn’t going to happen. We are a growing movement, building awareness, changing the way we think as a culture, as a society. This takes time and cannot be judged action by action. The real power of what is happening now is how much we are developing ourselves as a movement, our communication, our capacity to act together, our capacity to face violence and our ability to love ourselves, our world, even the forces allied against us.”

Beau Williamson is a 28-year-old Pagan from Montreal. “My main concern is maintaining a healthy environment. My spirituality depends on it. While I do hold human life sacred, I do not hold it above the other life forms that share our planet,” Williamson said. “Personally I did not feel that our protests would be heard behind the wall without our actually being able to physically disrupt the proceedings. I knew that the only way to do that was through some level of violent direct action. I was not, however, prepared for such action. I acted as scout for the Pagan Cluster’s Living River action, which consisted of our group flowing to spots where there was tension and trying to ground the energy and turn the situation peaceful.”

Williamson is also concerned about the growing power of governments to disregard their people, and at the same time the level of damage that they are allowing to happen to the environment. “Capitalism is overtaking democracy. The government that we have today reflects the ideas of Facism — Facisim in the sense of a government that supports the rights of capital over the rights of political structure and approves of the use of power in maintaining its ideals,” Williamson asserted.

Support Actions Across the World

Many concerned ecoactivists concentrated their energies and imagined sending those energies to the FTAA protestors in Quebec. Feminist spirituality groups in Germany held support rituals during the Women’s Webspinning and Living River Actions, channeling strength and energy to the protestors. Similar ritual support was offered by groups in Washington, D.C.

One such feminist spirituality activist, Jennifer from Eugene, Oregon sat knitting all day during the city’s Earth Day celebration. “I was knitting to weave a web of solidarity, sending my good thoughts and wishes to the folks who were in the streets of Quebec City to stand in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. I was on the streets of Eugene to bring the message to this city: That the FTAA is anti-democracy, anti-human rights, anti-environment, and anti-peace. I was there to remind people of the reasons why folks were in the streets of Quebec City — because they love this planet and they love freedom and they love humanity,” Jennifer explained. “All protest is not about smashing windows or tearing down fences — a lot of it is beautiful and peaceful. But don’t misunderstand! I support those who are tearing down the ‘wall of shame’. The wall is an affront to democracy and human rights and deserves to be torn down. The people tearing it down should be celebrated as heroes, not vilified as vandals,” she continued.

Another “No FTAA” rally occurred in Calgary, Canada. Guest speaker, Tracey, spoke about how “statistics can be manipulated to support any argument, creating an air of impersonality around this issue. A faceless reality can be dismissed as ‘not my problem.’ Let me tell you about how wimmin in factories are victims of disciplinary measures such as being forced to remain standing in the sun; having their mouths taped shut, being forbidden to go to the bathroom or to drink water. Let me tell you about how wimmin are expected to pick up the slack for the State when programs for children and elders are cut. But when we hear about these atrocities we believe that ‘they’ are responsible for them, and not ‘us.’ When we ignore wimmin we marginalize them. I stand here because I believe that agreements like the FTAA should be debated and discussed by all citizens. I stand here because I don’t want to find one day that the water from my tap is too polluted to give to my child. I stand here because I don’t want to purchase goods produced at the expense of other wimmin’s lives. I stand here in solidarity with the Pagan Cluster who have brought a new vision of what protesting can be, sending healing and affirmative energies to the protestors, who have stood their ground in the face of tear gas and police action.”

Along the San Diego/Tijuana border, activists held a teach-in for youth about the FTAA and then joined a march of about a thousand to Larsen Park in San Ysidro. Many of the protestors walked to the pedestrian border crossing and passed through to Tijuana. The Border Fence is an ominous structure about 12 feet tall that runs along the border and several hundred yards into the sea. On the beach side of the fence, an artist had hung a mural “Alto A Guardian!” (“Stop Operation Gate Keeper”). A Mexican rally attracted about 500 participants, and included a presentation about Maclivos Rojas, a maquiladora community that had created its own neighborhood, activist center, and stronghold. Capping the weekend, a rally of some 60,000 people celebrating Earth Day at Balboa Park in San Diego provided a receptive audience for activists educating about the dangers of globalization and environmental destruction, according to Mary Pjerrou of the “Save the Redwoods/Boycott the Gap Campaign.”

A humorous action in New Haven, Connecticut pitted globalization-themed “SuperHeroes and SuperVillains” in spandex tights battling it out over liberalized free trade. Such villains as The Corporate Claw, The Hegemon, The Commodifier, The NAFTA Baffler, and The Free Trade Fat Cat sought to outmaneuver Superheroes The Mobilizer, Fair Trade Frank, Transparency Grrl, Captain Americas, Democracy Man, and the Green Lantern.

FTAA: The Issues at Stake

  1. The FTAA expands the proven disaster of NAFTA. In the US almost 400,000 jobs have been lost since NAFTA with worker’s new jobs paying on the average only 77 percent of the wages of earlier employment. In Mexico since NAFTA, on million more Mexicans earn less than the minimum wage, and 8 million families have slipped from the middle class into poverty.
  2. The Agreement is being written in secret. FTAA negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors in secret. Citizen groups and public participation have not been allowed, however, hundreds of corporate representatives have been actively advising the US negotiators and helping to write the rules.
  3. The agreement will undermine labor rights and cause further job loss. Based on experiences from NAFTA, corporations move high-paying jobs to countries with lower wages and bust unionization drives with threats to transfer production abroad. Under FTAA, corporations will pit exploited workers in Mexico against even more desperate workers in countries such as Haiti and Guatemala.
  4. The agreement will exacerbate environmental destruction. The export-driven growth model promoted by free trade agreements and the policies of the World Bank and the IMF have destroyed ecosystems around the world. Under this unsustainable model, many countries in the Global South cut down their forests, over-fish their waters and exploit other natural resources to earn hard currency.
  5. The agreement will put lives at risk. The FTAA would expand NAFTA’s rules on monopoly patents to the whole hemisphere. Intellectual property rules are especially important for the pharmaceutical industry, which uses the regulations to stop countries from producing less expensive versions of brand name drugs. If expanded intellectual property laws prevent the making inexpensive life-saving drugs, the AIDS crisis and tuberculosis epidemics will worsen.
  6. The agreement will lead to privatization of essential services. The FTAA is expected to contain commitments to privatize services such as education, health care, and energy and water utilities. When Bolivia privatized its water utility, water rates increased 200 percent, leading to riots that resulted in six deaths.
  7. The FTAA may provide a back door for establishing Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) enabling “investor-to-state” lawsuits. These allow corporations to sue governments for compensation if they feel that any government action, including the enforcement of public health and safety laws, cuts into their profits.
  8. The agreement will spread the use of GMOs. US trade negotiators are trying to force other countries to accept genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But environmental groups warn that these technologies haven’t been adequately tested, and food security exports say that GMOs could increase hunger in poor nations. Additionally the environmental repercussions have not been evaluated.
  9. The agreement will increase poverty and inequality. Without debt cancellation and rules to curtail rampant capital speculation, countries in the Global South will remain dependent on the Global North, inequality will increase, and the hope of achieving sustainable development will be diminished.
  10. There are proven alternatives (visit Global Exchange, Citizens groups from across the Western Hemisphere have written an “Alternative Agreement for the Americas” that offers a picture of what socially responsible and environmentally sustainable commerce would look like.

For more information, visit “Stop the FTAA!” at

Barbara J. Walker Graham is a freelance writer and single mother living in Gainesville, Florida. A journalism graduate of the University of Florida, she is manifesting a life dream of covering and photographing direct action political protests.