Posted on | November 8, 2010 | 7 Comments
“More bullshit today?” I ask.
He nods, careful not to say anything about his brother’s trial that would break the Judge’s gag order and give the cops another excuse to harass his family.
“How you dealing with all this?” I ask.
“Pretty tired of it,” replies my old friend Jonah Hundert. “Pretty tired.”
There is an obvious change in Jonah since we first met eight years ago during the first day of Frosh Week. Strangely the difference isn’t physical. He is 26 but has the same hippy long brown hair and scraggly yet distinguished beard. He is 6’4 but somehow manages to not be physically intimidating due to his charming “I want to either fuck the shit out of you or get loaded with you” smile. He looks almost identical to his 18-year-old self, age hidden in hippy hair and beautiful beard. Yet the eyes are different.
“When it first happened I had a rough time with it,” he says, taking a slow drag on his smoke. “I couldn’t really think about anything else. I was working on a show at the time and it kept my mind out of it for a while. Then it ended and this was all I could think about. Things are different when it’s family. Sort of derailed me there for a while.”
“Now?” I ask.
“Sucks but I’m used to it,” he says.
“I think you can get used to anything,” I reply.
Jonah’s brother Alex Hundert has been in and out of police custody since police violently raided his house in the early morning on Saturday, June 26th. Before my meeting with Jonah his brother was arrested again for reasons Jonah won’t go into.
This much is known publicly.
His brother Alex Hundert faces charges of politically motivated conspiracy and counseling for his alleged role in the G20 riots. For some reason, Alex is not allowed to speak to media about his arrest, the charges he is facing or even politics in general as part of his bail agreement.
Which, according to Jonah, he rejected until prison officials threatened to keep him in solitary confinement. I’d like to say it doesn’t sound very Canadian, but the day after our interview Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto.
For me, the G20 protests exist as television clips of a burning cop car and the loud media outcry against the violent actions of the Black Bloc. Rallies against globalization and the horrors of capitalism on poster board shown in quick clips on the television news. Of listening to Jonah from the electronic sidelines as his world crashed down on him and my Facebook feed kept me up to date. In the occasional “Fuck you” from an anarchist for a column I wrote at the beginning of Colony of Losers where I tried to pretend I understood politics and took a couple jabs at the Halifax activist scene. My complaints were somewhat typical. I didn’t like the aesthetic of the chanting and the poster waving and the nothing that seems to happen as a result. Like many I lost the issues in my dislike for the people presenting them. Instead of what they were saying I got lost in how they were saying it.
I wasn’t in Toronto when the city shut down. I wasn’t at the rallies. For me the actions of tens of thousands of people boiled down to one television clip, a friend on Facebook and a lot of anarchists who wanted to kick me in the balls.
Only I can no longer accept that as an acceptable level of understanding about this conflict that has been ripping apart my friend’s life since June 26th, 2010. I need to understand why Alex Hundert is being denied the right to speak by the Canadian government. Since Alex can’t tell me, his brother Jonah is going to take me beyond the burning cop cars during those frantic few days in June.
Since high school, Jonah has been trying to find the balance between life as an activist and life as an actor. In university, he added academia, chasing women, drugs and alcohol to the mix. Activist slipped to the wayside.
Now at 26, he is being pulled in two directions at once.
It’s Tuesday, June 22.
Jonah’s play Golem is opening in a dance studio in the West End of Toronto, alongside four other scratch productions. Across the street is the Convergence Space, where protestors have gathered to plan out the week of protests against the G20 summit.
Jonah’s play “The Golem” is based on a popular Jewish myth; where the Jews of Prague were attacked and threatened by their Christian neighbors. So they built a man of clay and brought him to life to protect them. At first the Golem saves lives. Soon the monster turns on its makers.
The show goes well and Jonah is on the street, giving out trademark hugs to audience members. Across the street the last of the reporters are frantically jotting down notes.
Tomorrow, he will put aside the play and go to work against the G20. In the days to come he will think of the Golem.
But it’s Tuesday and his show went well and he doesn’t yet know what the future holds.
It’s Thursday, June 24th. The day the activist have chosen to protest in favor of Native Rights.
You might think Jonah would be focusing on the mass of cops surrounding the march in riot gear.
He has other things on his mind.
The smell hits him first.
Then he wonders what he just stepped in, that feeling of slipping on warm mud.
The problem with carrying a 60-foot-banner is navigating around street corners. You need a team of volunteers to carry the many interlocking parts and you have to move with a determined purpose. Sometimes making the many-headed dragon move the way you want is impossible. In this case they walked through a heap of horseshit. The sign says “Native Land Rights Now.” An expert banner maker took a long time to make it and requires a lot of people to help carry it.
Today is the Land Defenders March and the day Jonah Hundert joined the march. This makes sense as his brother’s involvement in Native Sovereignty issues made him realize that activism could actually affect change.
Many of the marchers are in indigenous ceremonial garb. This march began assembling at dawn with a sunrise ceremony held by the indigenous groups gathered in Queen’s Park.
Reporters are looking for the right person to talk to. Everyone is waiting for the sudden appearance of the Black Bloc.
The Black Bloc is a tactic employed large protests and are often involved in acts of symbolic violence against property and police. Despite popular misconceptions they aren’t an organization in and of themselves. Just a tactic that protestors can employ.
The energy is buzzing, high energy, enthusiasm and adrenaline. Drums play. It’s a concert. It’s the beginning of a war. Woodstock and Quebec City. Each day takes on a different struggle from Queer Transfolk, Environmentalists and labour, bringing them all together. Today Native Canadians lead the march. The raging voice of a minority under the lens of the paparazzi press.
Things for Jonah have changed a lot since he went to Quebec City as a teenager, danced in tear gas and spent a night in a juvenile detention center. Disillusioned by Quebec City and the effectiveness of protesting he lost interest during university. Jonah remembers that his brother Alex scoffed at him for going up to the protests in Quebec.
While Jonah was away at university changing the world one drunken sexual encounter at a time, Alex was fighting the government at Grassy Narrows for the rights of the native community living on a nearby reserve.
For people like me who were unaware of Grassy Narrows here is a brief rundown.
In the 70’s a nearby Reed Paper plant was poisoning the native communities water with excess mercury. Citizens began suffering from “debilitating Minamata disease, a form of Mercury poisoning named after the Japanese fishing village where it was first diagnosed in 1956.”(Canadianencylopedia.com) For years the community complained and no one listened. It took a Japanese scientist coming to Grassy Narrows and proving that the poisoning resulted from Reed’s nearby Paper Plant for the government to make the company stop dumping kilograms of mercury into the waters upstream from the reserve.
Once that was resolved, reparations were paid and apologies were offered and ten years went by and lumbering companies came for the forests around the reserve.
Which is where Alex Hundert and a lot of people like him come into the picture. When the logging companies tried to log without permission, they would find the roads blockaded 24/7. Alex lived on those blockades and gained the respect of the community. After a couple years living on the blockades, they had a few victories.
They targeted Grand and Toy and got the paper company to stop the logging. For once activism had actually accomplished something. Not that the struggle was over, or that companies have ceased sending loggers. Today the blockades are back up at Grassy Narrows. The ministry of Natural Resources is pounding at their door. But men like Alex will be there to stand against them and now that they have won small victories, they know they can in the future. Following these victories Alex’s group AWOL established a youth centre for at risk kids who would have the chance to be fed and talk to lawyers about their cases. Despite Alex’s advocation of a variety of tactics in the fight against the system he was opposing, the members of his group had never been charged with a violent act.
Now 2,500 people march the streets of Toronto banners raised, chants shouted rhythmically to the beat of ceremonial drums.
Jonah is in good spirits despite the shit he walked through. The Native community asked the Black Bloc to avoid the rally and let them proceed without violence. The request has been honored and for now Jonah’s biggest problem is figuring out how to navigate this gigantic banner around all these fucking corners and see if he can avoid stepping in anymore shit.
Friday is the “Justice for Our Communities March” and this time Jonah is playing bodyguard.
The day begins at Allan Gardens and the square is buzzing with excitement. Volunteers are serving delicious free veggie and venison wraps are being served to protestors. Jonah wonders where the fuck they got venison but satisfies himself in eating a couple rather than trying to find the answer. He is however looking for the organizer he is supposed to bodyguard.
Where did he go?
The organizer would have no trouble finding Jonah as his jolly, giant height makes him stick out. The organizer however is short and speedy and hard to keep track of.
Cops are trying to block the park’s entrance to prevent anyone else from joining the rally. They take away posters, saying that the sticks could be used as weapons. Jonah can see police searching people illegally as they try to make their way into the park. The protestors shout at the cops and demand to let their friends pass. Some go as far as to run out of the park, grab their friends and rush them through the police barricade.
Today, a Black Bloc contingent has assembled with a banner, faces masked. Bodies swathed in black.
Tension is higher than it was the day before. It always is when protesters bloc up.
There he is.
Jonah walks up to the organizer and pats him on the back.
“Missed ya there for a minute.”
Protestors are being broken up into something called affinity groups. An affinity group is basically a classification of what tactics the protesters are willing to employ and people with similar limitations are grouped together. The organizer was known for leaving his affinity group and going where the action is.
Impassioned speeches from the back of a truck that serves as a podium and a moving radio station add an Eye of the Tiger like anticipation of what is to come. The speeches describe the worldwide injustices that people are fighting against. What the G20 has done to the people they are fighting with and those like them around the world. From unfair treatment of women to government supported prejudice against the LGBT community and the imprisonment of immigrants and illegals.
Slowly the massive protest leaves Allan Gardens.
Cameras flash as photographers try to capture the moment.
Protestors ask to not have their pictures taken. Some requests are more polite than others.
The march is lined with cops decked out in full riot gear.
For Jonah it feels like being in a parade or a claustrophobically packed circus car. It’s a high wire act, cops and protesters watching each other to see how the other will react. As the Black Bloc moves onto the street you can feel the cops readying themselves for action.
Cheers are shouted.
Easy does it.
Everything goes according to plan and the tension maintains itself, ready to snap.
The march turns down the corner College and Yonge and cops have it completely blocked off.
The march tries to turn and find their way blocked again.
“Super riot cops,” says Jonah, pointing out the three 7 feet tall cops decked out in the most intense riot gear he has ever seen. Batons bang against riot shields. It’s clear that the police are prepared for this to get ugly. Strangely enough, they seem to be beating their batons in rhythm, as if they were keeping time for the music blasting through the rally.
Dance music bangs from speakers hanging out the back of a truck in the center of the rally.
Kids are dancing in chaotic circles.
“Whose streets? Our streets,” shouts hundreds of voices in unison.
Once more the organizer is missing.
Jonah is running through the group. Shouting his name.
“No fences! No borders! Fuck law and order!”
A few voices shout a cheer that always brings a smile to Jonah’s face.
“What do we want? Socialism! When do we want it? Now!”
At every rally he has ever gone to, there is always the lone group of Marxists shouting out this lonely chant. About as predictable as the 9/11 truthers showing up to every rally to try to further their cause.
“9/11 was an inside job,” shouts someone off the right.
Where the fuck is he?
“No justice, no peace, no racist police”
He sees the organizer. Exchanging what he assumes are not polite words with the cops.
Jonah rushes through the crowd, contemplating how to cool the situation when he notices the cops yelling a young black man to step back and get off the sidewalk. The black man doesn’t seem to understand what he is doing wrong. Big immovable lines of bikes and shields form a wall slowly surrounding the young man.
“He’s death,” someone shouts.
The cops tackle him to the ground.
More protestors move to the police line. All shouting the same thing.
“He’s death, he’s death.”
Someone from the crowd is trying to offer to interpret for him. A guy and two girls try to push their way through. The cops begin beating up the deaf man in front of a wildly screaming crowd.
“He’s fucking deaf,” shouts Jonah.
The organizer is livid and moving towards the front.
“We have your badge numbers,” he shouts. “We have your badge numbers.”
A cop sucker punches the organizer in the face and the little man drops to the ground.
Jonah moves to pick him up and push him off to the side of the seething chaos gathering around the police line. This same cop punches Jonah in the face.
What the fuck? Jonah doesn’t know how to react to being punched like this. He can feel the anger bubbling up.
People keep chanting the policeman’s badge number.
The interpreter and their two friends are also now being beaten.
The deaf man doesn’t get up.
Defeated the protestors go back to Allan Gardens and begin to set up their tent city. Anger and excitement run through the crowd like waves. Strangely enough the atmosphere is more excited than afraid.
Jonah is assigned security duty at 6 am and makes his way to crash at a friend’s house.
On his way home his bike gets a flat and he has to walk the rest of the way. After what seems an endless trek he arrives home, he crawls into bed and sleeps for a few hours. At some point before his alarm clock goes off he staggers awake, not realizing that the next time he will sleep it will be inside of a detention center, with his hands cuffed. He gets on a street car and tries to wake himself up.
His phone rings.
He thinks it might be Allan Gardens asking him to come in for his shift early.
“The cops surrounded Alex’s place. They broke in and they all had guns. Your brother and Leah have been arrested”
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