Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Walls of walls

So, AFP reports, there was this big meeting among Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and our own Shrub in Quebec on Monday and Tuesday to discuss trade and security.

Apparently, however, these powerful men, powerfully surrounded, despite all their terrorist-stomping bravado, actually were terrified: The self-described "Three Amigos" ran like scared rabbits into their closed-door meeting. The Globe & Mail (Canada) said that
Mr. Harper was accompanied in the cavalcade of carts by security personnel and members of his staff, some hanging on for dear life as the tiny vehicles whipped their way up the hotel's main drive
and the Toronto Star (Canada) observed that upon greeting Bush, Harper said “Geez, you’ve got a small army with you there” and that
security in the summit compound was so tight that even Harper’s closest staff had to pass through scanners.
These people really do seem to live in a bubble of paranoia, convinced that at every single moment they are in grave danger of massive violence putting their lives at risk. And just who were they afraid of in this case?
"[A]n eclectic group" of demonstrators united in opposition to further integration of North America.

Hundreds of anti-globalization protestors, environmentalists, peaceniks, and civil rights groups joined to taunt
and jeer the secret meeting. Okay, yes, you're right, it wasn't exactly a secret meeting: It was known, announced, when and where it was happening. So the existence of the meeting was not a secret, just what went on there. And even that wasn't entirely secret.
A group of powerful business executives has been invited to make a closed-door presentation Tuesday at the summit on changes they believe the continent needs. No such invitation was extended to scientists, environmentalists, or other social activists.
So yes, some were allowed into the inner sanctum to plead their case, but only the chosen few.
Indeed, during the summit, protestors [were] kept out by a fence, three meters (10 feet) high and running 2.5-kilometers (1.5 miles) around the meeting place.

They [were] "seen and heard," but only virtually - via an audio-video feed set up by organizers.

The arrangement is "in compliance with (a Canadian) court's decision that protesters have a right to be 'seen and heard,'" said Sandra Buckler, a spokeswoman for host Stephen Harper.
Exactly what sane person would seriously argue that having a TV screen in the lobby of a hotel carrying a remote feed from
a forest clearing set up for [protestors] by summit organizers
over a kilometer from the meeting site amounts to "seeing and hearing" a protest goes unexplained.

To the credit of the demonstrators, they refused to be confined to their "cage" and hundreds marched to the gates of the compound. Still, a massive police presence was deployed with the intention of insuring that the high priests of government would not be disturbed by the rabble. It was so bad, the determination to not even acknowledge the existence of protest so extreme, that officials of the Canadian government would not even accept delivery of a petition at the site, even though they had previously said they would.
“This is clearly not a security concern but a political prohibition,” says Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “This is yet another strong message from the Conservative government that they are not willing to hear the concerns of Canadians on the Security and Prosperity Partnership.”
And that, ultimately, is the point. It's the rich and powerful consciously and deliberately isolating themselves from the hoi polloi, the everyday person-on-the-street types who bear the brunt of their decisions, who feel the hunger, who shed the blood. Such "political prohibitions" are part and parcel of that other world they inhabit, one described by C. S. Lewis:
The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) is clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.
It's just that now their separation is being made more obvious, the diminishing of the public sphere more pronounced, illustrated by the fact that this was neither an isolated occurrence nor will it be the last, as Johnno at The Open Mind lets us know with regard to the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) summit taking place in Sydney, Australia a week from Saturday.
I was thinking of going down to get some photos but there seems to be a general feeling of "STAY AWAY" in big red letters.
The security arrangements include 300 new high definition CCTV cameras observing public places, a new water cannon, closing three city train stations for three days, high-tech blocking of mobile phone calls in Sydney's central business district, a harbor exclusion zone, the banning of all aircraft - including remote control planes and model helicopters - within 80 kilometers (roughly 50 miles) of the city, and the deployment of 1500 active-duty and reserve troops to "assist" police.

But symbolically at least, the most telling arrangement is the plan to build a huge concrete wall around the central business district to protect potential targets from protestors.
Dubbed the "ring of steel", the 2.8m [81/2 feet] high concrete-reinforced fence will shield well-known businesses such as McDonald's and Starbucks amid fears they could be attacked by demonstrators. ...

The wall will surround much of the city's center, according to the Daily Telegraph.
"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," Robert Frost wrote. Whatever that something is, it surely is not the titans of government and industry that conceal themselves and their doings behind barriers both physical and mental. But I suppose it is worth asking: Are they actually concealed? Or under siege?

I know, I know - but it is, again, a matter of the hope that helps with surviving a dark time.

(Thanks to Cat at Liberal Catnip for the links to the Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Council of Canadians.)

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