As tens of thousands gathered in Quebec City on the morning of April 21, 2001, preparing to march en masse in protest against the free-trade agenda of the Summit of the Americas, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians electrified the crowd with her speech, responding to controversy around the aggressive tactics of some activists. An edited transcript follows.
I want to talk about what is on all our minds right now. We had an incredible day yesterday with the youth-led unofficial march and the penetration of the wall. We witnessed unbelievable police aggression and acts of great courage. Like all of you, I was in the thick of it and was hit time and again with tear gas. We also saw the television images of a small handful of demonstrators, or people dressed as demonstrators, throwing objects at the police and vandalizing some media vehicles.
I was bombarded with media interviews about these actions and asked if I didn't think they distort our message. "What are you going to do with your movement's young people?" I was asked. "What are you going to do to bring order?" It was a tough question. One answer, of course, is that they didn't ask me, or anyone else for that matter, for permission to engage in direct action. Nor would they have listened to my admonition to refrain from any but nonviolent protests. Nevertheless, these questions do pose a serious challenge to us as a movement. I want to say very clearly and without equivocation that we are a movement that embraces the Gandhian principles of nonviolence; in my organization, we have taken that position very strongly. We are seeking to reach the hearts and minds of the peoples of the Americas, and they won't be won over with tactics that mirror the system we oppose.
But at the same time, I need to say something else. I don't think that this question has been aimed at the appropriate target. These are not my youth. These are young people born into a toxic economy, a society that deliberately sorts winners from losers and measures its success by the bottom line of its corporations, not by the well-being of its young. These youth are the result of years of poisonous economic and trade policies that have created an entrenched underclass with no access to the halls of power except by putting their bodies on the line. Their anger is our collective societal responsibility. The question isn't what I am going to do with angry young people. The question should be put to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and President George Bush and all the other leaders here to promote the extension of this toxic economy: What are you going to do with them? It is your market economy, with its emphasis on ruthless competition and the wanton destruction of the natural world, that has created such deep wellsprings of anger in such large sections of today's youth, and it is you, the political leaders, so beholden to the private interests who put you in power, who must be held accountable.