Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Selling out the Cause

So I decided to make my way down to the front lines to touch the people, connect viscerally with ambient sounds and smells, and generally get a feel of the atmospherics. It had been about 15 minutes, standing pointlessly at the steel barriers, looking aimlessly at the overall ambivalent police officers, talking desultorily to the self-styled journalists, so, not seeing any reason in wasting good energy, I went into Chapters--the one on Rideau street, just steps away from the steal barriers from whence I was pointlessly standing.

I had the intention of only being a few minutes, since the rumor was that the presidential motorcade would be swinging by that intersection. Ambling into the Chapters, I caught the last words of a heated exchange on the inexcusable war crimes of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.

Two employees, in between cleaning counter tops and brewing inexcusably expensive coffee beans, fumed. In an attempt to be honest with the characterization of the exchange, I’ll preface, first, by saying that the argument was prompted by a red flag, clearly visible from the large bay windows, of Guevara being waved furiously against the brisk gale winds.

One employee, a verbose, smallish brunette woman, inveighed thusly: “He was responsible for countless mass killings”. To which the other employee, a demur, portly redheaded woman, queried: “So you want to live under an imperialistic, capitalistic, fascistic dictatorship?” (I’m assuming she was talking about the West). It was clear-- there was far more action here. I waded my way into the debate, if only momentarily, saying coolly and rather sedately, “it’s all debatable, all pragmatic, really”.

They both looked at me blankly.

I then asked if I was selling out the cause—wasn’t necessarily clear what the cause was, didn’t get the memo this morning—by being in Starbucks; being in Starbucks enjoying a hot chocolate in the warmth and comfort of apocryphal jet-setting protestors. They glazed over with bemusement. Actually, I think the brunette was feeling me, though that may only be a little revisionist history.

Nevertheless, I got my hot chocolate, whip cream and all, and sat down to enjoy, at that point, the sufficiently lame protest rally. It was only moment later, after engaging into superficial talk with two foreign and extremely attractive professional protestors, that a teeming mass of reinforcement protestors began marching westward up Rideau street. Insofar as I was warm—I was cozy, in fact—I was also trembling. Not of any particular chill, but rather because the formation of new protestors seemed to push the clouds closer against the descending sun. It felt as though darkness was walking down Rideau on a collision course with the police, who were now, naturally, but somewhat unexpectedly to me, dawning full riot gear.

I joked aloud, “gees, I forget to bring my gas mask—I was wearing a tie. I begrudgingly decided to leave the two worldly ladies with whom I had been exchanging idle prattle to go up to the second floor for a better look. As I made my way up, I was notified that all back doors, leading out towards the Market and, more chiefly, the American embassy, were closed. Surrounding all the windows and exits were private security personal, fully armed and in full body armor. I should remind the reader at this point, I’m inside Chapters. I was also notified that the store was now closed—no one could leave or enter. For now, I’d be stuck in Chapters.

The crowd of protestors, now tensely facing law enforcement, began bellowing miscellaneous chants about Bush’s intelligences, Iraq, and Bush’s eponymous relation to female genitalia. The crowd turned out to be surprisingly restrained, despite the roving, non-descript anarchist decked out in all black. Thinking the action had all but subsided, I walked over to a table and turned on my laptop to write the first part of this post, not realizing that the motorcade would soon pass by, thirty yards from clear sight of the bay windows, and unnoticed by me.

Something had happened, I intuited. I walked over to the bay windows and asked the group of females gathered there if they had seen the presidential motorcade pass. Glancing out the window myself, I saw a procession of SUVs making there way down Wellington towards the Conference center. They didn’t need to answer me; I knew. Evidently, the president’s limo (replete with the presidential crest and the small American flags) had passed. I was still stuck inside Chapters. Night fell and I looked out the windows as the crowd eventually moved on to other important things.

Check out these of the photos from another site.

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