Where were you the June 26 weekend of the full moon/lunar eclipse/G20? Did you feel it? Did you live it?
Astrologers had lots to say about this eclipse. To quote Toronto astrologer and musician Michael Moon, it had to do with issues of “power, control, inevitable sudden change, justice, war, sudden shifts of consciousness… new forms of creative expression, new artistic movements and enlightenment.” An interesting time to hold a Summit, no?
My weekend included a spectacular house concert by Jane Siberry. A fluid explosion of poetry, story and song, the evening was an exquisite heart centred gift, lending remarkable poignancy to subsequent G20 events. Sunday was spent scouting workshop venues. A friend of mine suggested a studio called Labspace on the corner of Lakeshore and Pape, and as I understood that the protests were further west I parked happily on Queen and started walking south toward Lakeshore.
A crowd came into view in the distance gathered right outside the studio I had intended to visit, lots of cute hippies on bikes with flags, and beyond them, rows of riot police. At this point I realized the street was quite deserted, except for folks on their front porches watching me walk obliviously toward the mayhem. I slowed to a stop and smiled at a woman on her front steps, commenting, “I think I picked the wrong day to look at studio rentals.” She raised her eyebrows and let out a sudden belly laugh. “I’d say so honey. They just gave a five minute warning.”
It didn’t take any more detail about what the warning entailed for me to figure it was time to head back to my car, but turning north to face Queen, I discovered that in the two minutes it had taken me to walk part way down Pape, huge buses had pulled up into the intersection at Queen and were spewing forth dozens of helmet-wearing, shield-carrying riot police. Within moments they were lined shoulder to shoulder, blockading Queen Street entirely, including the sidewalk that would have been my escape route. They stomped their boots and positioned their visors as they fell into formation. These gentlemen meant business.
Then, heading north came a flood of those cute hippie cyclists, presumably responding to the five minute warning, flying their flags bravely but faltering to a stop when they drew closer to the blockade. One of them called out to a street resident, asking if a nearby laneway provided an exit. No, was the answer. There’s no way out. Some of the cyclists began to circle nervously, looking panicked.
At this point, I asked myself what on earth I was doing here, protesters on my left and riot police on my right. A street full of folks with strong ideas upon which they were prepared to act, and little old me in the middle. I glanced at a resident and considered asking if I could pretend to live with them. Visions of the street slaughter scene in Dr. Zhivago flashed before me, only I was not up on the balcony with Omar Sharif. I was down there on snowy cobblestones with the communist rebels, staring at the armed cavalry. It was not a pretty sight.
As I looked back and forth between the two sides, observing fear bouncing like a tennis ball between them, I considered that simply being present in a state of peace might make a difference. After all, if we choose a vibration of love in any time or place, we are radiant. And radiant energy is contagious in its very nature. It sure can’t hurt.
The air seemed very still as the riot cops readied their batons. Then the leader of the cyclists called out and raised his arm, approaching them. He wanted to talk. The police allowed his approach and soon a few were in a huddle. Discussions went on. Then the cyclist headed back to the group lifting his flag high. “They have agreed to let us leave peacefully, in single file,” he shouted. “Anyone who remains will be arrested immediately.”
The riot police broke formation and formed a kind of funnel, much like the picture to the right, except shields and batons were at the ready. Now I remembered a snippet of a film I had seen only a couple of weeks prior about Irish prisoners having to walk naked between two walls of very similarly attired, stomping, shield banging police. The prisoners were beaten violently, anally searched and thrown into cells. But we were in Canada now, safely hidden from the world’s atrocities, weren’t we?
And so I stepped forward, along with the hippie cyclist leaders, between the walls of shielded riot police, and as I walked I looked at their faces, into their eyes. Some of them focused right through me as if I didn’t exist. Some averted their gaze quickly, to the next hippy in line. One stared back at me and granted a gentle smile. “Good afternoon” he said kindly, and nodded as if he might offer to take my coat. As the cyclists dispersed along Queen Street, one of them looped in a circle in the middle of the intersection, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Is this CANADA?! Is this CANADA??”
I heard later that this particular group of protestors had actually been specifically routed to this location by the police, prior to the blockade. I don’t know if that is true. I also heard that a similar situation occurred at Spadina and Queen a bit later in the day. This time no truce was called, no brave cyclist with a flag, and no police huddle resulting in permission to let folks leave. Instead a large number of sudden and random arrests were made, a hundred or more people lined up against buildings to be sent off to join the thousand or so now in detention at the film studio on Lakeshore. But for the grace of some radiance, that could have been me. But we are in Canada, safely hidden from the world’s violence, aren’t we? Aren’t we?
Later in the day, with Pape now safely open to pedestrians, I returned with my grown sons to take some photos of the ongoing scene. They wanted to witness first hand what was taking place in their city, because if their mom could handle it, surely so could they. Two tiers of riot clad cops were walling off the detention centre as protestors in cut offs jumped up and down waving water bottles and shouting chants about democracy and fascism, as they awaited the release of detainees.
Eventually a few heroes were released, and emerged through the police lines one at a time in stocking feet, holding up their beltless pants and carrying clothes and shoes in clear plastic bags. Mostly they gestured triumphantly at the cheering crowd. One or two looked tired and upset, quietly putting on their shoes and going home. A few stayed to tell stories to surrounding supporters, some with gentle fatigue, and some with spit and rage.
The photos taken by my boys reveal a fascinating study in contrasts. The brazen, joyous exuberance of the crowd, and the closed, frozen, almost frightened faces of the police. Who knows what each of those officers imagined as they placed themselves before the oncoming crowd of dissenters, police haters and hired gun anarchists. And for that matter, who knows what causes were supported by the vast numbers of protestors who have taken to Toronto streets these past days. Has their voice even been conveyed in the midst of this? Was all of their commitment and risk worth it in the end? Does anyone know the range of issues that compelled them to march, ride, and run home in their socks, and do you think the world leaders noticed?
My uncle George Long was a Staff Superintendent, a man of some influence in the Toronto police force. He introduced radios to police cars, and hired the first women and officers of colour. For two summers when I was a teenager, he found me work in the clerical department of 42 division where I saw some fascinating things, and wondered about what I didn’t see.
My three children, born and raised as city kids, have had their fair, or perhaps unfair share of police run-ins, especially the boys with their knack for triggering the wounded masculine that seems to live in so many police and military men. One day I will write about their experiences, and those of some even unluckier friends. On their behalf, I have come to see a frightening number of police as aggressive, unconscious and drunk on petty power, some to the point of cruelty and abuse. It’s a bit of a journey for me, from the days of my own childhood when I was taught to believe that police were here to keep me safe, when they could be trusted to protect my family from the big bad world. Now they are more likely to be the big bad world, so I simply avoid them as much as possible, and pray my kids can do the same.
I confess, I’d have to be in a pretty desperate situation before I’d call on the police for help. My experience has been that as often as not their presence has made matters worse. I’m sorry, my dear departed Uncle George, because I know you were a good cop and a kind man, but these days, I don’t know how far I’d have to look down that line up on Lakeshore to find you in a uniform. And yet where would we be without those who choose careers as enforcers of our equally questionable laws? How do we make the leap from a world filled with rebounding fear and control to one of consciousness, compassion and mutual respect?
This weekend I had the chance to stand in the midst of conflict, and witness peaceful compromise unfold. I also had opportunities to observe the power of fear in its many guises, stirred to a conflagration of global causes and sparked by an astonishingly potent moon. Standing mid-way between hippy and oppressor, idealist and conformist, their common humanity was so clear. Sheep in wolves’ clothing. Sheep running from border collies. Children on bikes facing children with weapons. All of them quite beautiful, in an eerie way. And given the power of these moons, these times, perhaps the question is, what steps do we take, what choices do we make, in order to access enough radiance to shine upon them all…
Photos by Sandy Long Waldin and Cynthia Long.
© Cynthia Long