Monday, August 20, 2007

hell no, we won't go

I'm sitting next to a guy holding a cup from Starbucks. He has the look of someone fresh off the boat. He's reading an article entitled "Retire Rich", and I'm craning my neck to see the magazne's recommendations and stock tips.

Just half an hour ago I was outside with the indignant masses - that is those protesting Bush's visit and the Security and Prosperity Partnership between Mexico, Canada, the U.S.

Ahhh, the eternal dilemma of an immigrant kid.

This weekend, after much research and mental consternation, I took a decision as to where to park the the nest egg I'm prepared to gamble in the hopes it will multiply and become a cushy retirement fund. And then I left the house. That's when I ran into the protest rally against this week's Montebello summit where President Bush, Prime Minister Harper and President Calderon will discuss the SPP.

How to honour one's parents' struggle to improve their lives, while also acknowledging that by taking part in the North American economy...and, umm, investing in multi-nationals, you're probably squeezing your very own relatives 'back home'?

I followed the protesters from an observer's viewpoint along the sidewalk. Stopping to buy coffee and a muffin en route. I sat on a low wall down the street from the Parliament buildings, popped the lid on my double double, and set in to watch.

Time was I couldn't attend a rally without joining someone I knew. This time - I ran into just one acquaintance. A former colleague from the Minister's office who once also worked for the UN. Did we take up signs and join the marchers?

No, no, my friends.

Instead, my partner in crime spotted and flagged over the new police chief in order to introduce herself as a fellow east coaster, and to say hello. We ended up talking to him and an outgoing police chief about how best to clean up Ottawa's streets. And you know what? Good ideas were shared.

While protesters chanted about the evils of private leaders' meetings, the new police chief, an old one, a government official and a lobbyist whose firm has ties to both the mayor's office and the very business executives advising on the progress of the SPP held one of sorts ourselves.

We talked about the dropping price of drugs in the city - how a hit of crack is now cheaper than a bottle of beer. We talked about the school teacher officers busted for prostitution last week - her income from teaching doesn't meet her living needs. We talked about another street walker who stopped officers and asked for treatment - two hours of searching later, they couldn't find a shelter or a treatment centre to which she could be referred.

And so we talked, too, about which community organisations might form a useful coalition in the fight for more treatment dollars, housing shelters, and against the trend of mainstream residents taking more and more serious drugs.

So perhaps the protesters' one-way chanting achieved more than media coverage today. It sparked an exchange and dialogue on the streets of Ottawa amongst those who might actually hold some sway.

Undisclosed, private meeting? Sure, you could see it that way. Self-serving conspiracy to maintain the power of the elite? Not so much, I'd say.