The People’s Summit— A brief report back—

The 2010 People’s Summit in Toronto, two and a half days of workshops, movies, speeches, and training, opened on Friday night. The night of speeches took place at the CARLU building near Ryerson campus. 500 people packed the swanky art deco hall. The audience, seated at giant round tables, looked less like leftist agitators and more like they were waiting for someone to get married. The surreal formalness was not helped by the presence of the sleekly dressed banquet staff holding doors and giving out directions.

The speakers varied, in quality, tenacity and presence. The MC opened the night by stating, “creating space to talk about issues means being visible.” Mary Walsh kicked off the night with easily the best speech. It was funny, biting and short. Everything one could want from a speech. She noted that the fake lake was the perfect metaphor for the Conservative government; it’s shallow, phony and costly.

Over the next two days the People’s Summit hosted over a 100 workshops categorized into 6 themes: holding Canada accountable, tools and skills for change, human rights, economic justice, global justice and the environment.

The first workshop I attended was Latin America vs. the G8. This misnamed workshop was actually about Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution. Instead of being a discussion about the workings and experiences of the Venezuela people. It turned into a ridiculous debate between different Bolshevik and Trotskists groups.

The highlight of day one was the No One Is Illegal workshop. In an hour and half they presented a succinct analysis, covered different campaigns from different chapters and situated their struggles within an indigenous sovereignty framework. The speakers were clear, well prepared and powerful. Adil Charkaoui’s presentation about his experience being held on a security certificate was particularly captivating.

The next day I went to the inflammatory diversity of tactics workshop presented by Philippe Duhamel. This workshop, instead of drawing out a useful discussion on the uses of violence, asked loaded questions and showed video without context or discussion.

Between the coffee and the info tables there was a palatable sense of joy and fear in the air. There was joy in being part of so many discussions and feeling a sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself. There was also fear, fear of repression and fear of the unknown. The last workshop on Sunday, facilitated by Syed Hussan of the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, let people know what the upcoming week would look like. The workshop ended with these words. “We will leave no one behind.”

Fear and collective strength will be on display in Toronto all week. Which side will show fear and which side will show strength is yet to be determined.

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