It's cool and clear out, on this morning of Friday June 25. The birds are singing. But these are not normal days, whatever the birdsong sounds like! We had an earthquake a few days ago, surprising shaking in the middle of the day. Was it the washing machine shaking the house? I wondered...since we tend to look for normal explanations first I gather. Others thought of explosions or bombs as an explanation and listened for the police to respond. That's because of the heightened atmosphere of fear and suspicion here these days. Pretty wild. Here's why.
The city is very empty, emptied out is what it feels like, because of the "guys with guns" thing (AKA the G-20 meeting and the attendant security) going on downtown. The police are walking around in posses and asking people what they are doing downtown, or asking for ID. I feel like the city has been stolen. The university is closed, with cement barriers blocking the access roads. It's pretty creepy, as if this "lockdown" means we're not allowed to think and not supposed to act either. There are still protests planned and 'counter G-20' talks and conferences around environmental, economic, health, etc etc issues, but the public life of the city has been chilled, and each of us who lives here is feeling the cold blast.
What to do? Most people's instinct when we see uniformed police is to feel anxious. And when we feel anxious we hesitate to hold our heads high and to think freely. We shrink and reduce ourselves. What's the corrective?
I have one good friend who takes a clear line, forcefully, to counteract those instinctive flinchings. She says, the police are my employees, I pay their salary. So I greet them cheerily and chat to them and get them to engage with me. And she does. I do too, but never remember that they are employees. I just do it to remind them that we are all citizens together and to get them to not feel afreaid. If the police get into an "us and them" feeling or dynamic with citizens, then we are all in danger. The danger is physical sometimes, given the noise canons and bullets and other weapons the security forces have, and it's political and social and cultural. I do not want this police-state vibe to become a pattern that recurs or that sticks around after the G-20 is over. Our job is to prevent anyone being damaged or alienated or radicalized by it.
Hard not to be alienated when the police are given last-minute special powers of search and arrest; when foreign security forces here to guard foreign heads of state etc are being permitted to arm themselves as they please; when schools are closed at short notice with no provision made for children; when public institutions are closed and the city's civic and civil life brought to a standstill with no consultation or compensation for the people on the ground.
Yes, I know I'm ranting. Sorry! But it's hard to remember what normal feels like right now. We expect eighty (!!!) motorcades to come into the city today. No wonder people are staying off the roads, those who can!
This state of lockdown is nothing compared to the daily seige in Gaza or the lockdown in many totalitarian states, where individual rights count for nothing. We are just getting a tiny taste. It should be sobering. It's a life lesson of sorts. So we need to hold our heads high, remember how lucky we are to be able to complain and feel entitled to complain and protest, and we need to remember those who don't have our freedom, remember them as individuals struggling each day to live with dignity. If it's hard for us here to not feel intimidated by the police presence etc, imagine what it's like where the police have absolute power always. And then pause to admire the people living with that, who still manage to speak out against injustices or assert rights.
Anyone reading this in the Toronto area, do please come into the city centre, use public transport or a bicycle, and walk the streets and eat at the eateries and shop in the markets and talk to your fellow citizens. It takes a village to make a village!
While you're in the middle of town, you'll notice that many of the trees in the Annex and the university and downtown have splotchy sidewalks around them: It's mulberry season, and this year the mulberry trees are dripping with fruit. What a treat. Occasionally you'll also see ripe cherries, but those are usually on someone's property, not fair game. The mulberries on the other hand are most often streetside. And now that there's no spraying, all they need is a quick rinse-off (though I'm often too impatient even for that). The best time to pick and eat is right after a rain, of course...
POSTSCRIPT: My sliced fingertips are healing, thanks, though still fragile. I heard of two other finger/hand injuries from friends, so I'm hoping it stops at the traditional three: Lillian sliced her pinky-finger tendon right through when it caught in the laundry line pulley. A moment of inattention in a rush to grab laundry when it started to rain and there she was. Horrible! It took general anaesthetic and a surgeon to stitch it back together. And another friend sliced herself deeply, on what? she doesn't know, broken glass perhaps? as she was washing dishes. Three domestic situations: veg prep, laundry, washing up; and three hurting injuries. Time out please!!