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Beneath the cobblestones… a beach Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by , Canada Sep 25, 2004
Citizen Journalism   Opinions


Surprisingly enough, the walls of the campus weren’t covered with posters to announce Toronto’s seventh annual Reclaim the Streets party that took place on September 17th near Kensington market.

The event isn’t just an outdoor version of some random rave party. It is drawn by the fierce explosion of accumulated but legitimate anger against the omnipresence of the media; the crowd of urban environmentalists gather to free the streets from the cars and to protest against the endemic loss of public space that our planet currently faces.

As Ursula Franklin, Professor Emeritus at U of T would say, our city’s streets are literally occupied; there’s very few spots left untouched by the laws of the market where you can wander without having a five meter squared pop culture model look directly at you. The discomfort this publicity causes in our every day life is a general pain from the moment you consider that everyone is or will be more annoyed than interested by having a Canadian Armed Forces ad popping onto his face when he is at the bathroom or by catching a glance of the logo of Pepsi staining the surface of our beloved moon.

Is that a reason for eliminating publicity? Would it be better if the only information about the goods and services offered to a customer would be provided in the Yellow pages? Certainly not; it’s a flagrant lack of respect to others who don’t share your personal tastes than to claim that the McDonald’s publicity campaign, for example, should be banned from public waves. This would be a flagrant case of censorship that prejudices the ideal of freedom that the western world (militants included) cherishes so much. The creed of an activist being intolerant isn’t worth much more than the irresponsible choices of an informed person. We should use the media and the streets in a more constructive way, for example by diffusing material and resources that would help the citizens in their consuming duties.

In fact, there would be nothing to complain about if the assaults of publicity were aimed straight at customers that decide to allow some of their precious time to investigate about the social, moral and environmental impacts of encouraging the companies they select for satisfying their needs. As Oliviero Toscani, the former publicist of the United Colours of Benetton wrote, publicity in that case is an “insult to intelligence”. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses the sufficient knowledge or is mature enough to be irreproachable in the way he uses his purchasing power.

There’s something society should definitely get rid of, it’s the false stereotypes that left-wing activists are the only ones who boil inside when they see a big Tommy Hilfiger panel and who never drink Coca-Cola. The people mobilising are the ones who learned that the president of the clothing company said that he designed his clothes only for the high-class Whites and that if he had know that Blacks and Latin American would wear them, he wouldn’t have made them that nice. They are the ones who know that the soft-drink company managed to eliminate a worker trying to create an union and is seriously threatening the reserves of drinking water in several countries.

On the other end, should a person aware of the awful work conditions in the Third World sweatshops that still decides to buy a pair of Nike shoes is to be considered as a victim of subtle manipulation? Is it worth boycotting such a large company unless everybody does so? It is difficult to convince oneself to exclude certain brands before starting shopping. But a diminished income for these companies would ring the bell for an eventual improvement in the way they do business. And partying at Reclaim the Steets shows our support to the UN representatives that unsuccessfully tried to pass a motion to create a commission on corporate standards of ethics.

Reclaim the Streets started in UK in 1998 during the days of G-8 and WTO meetings in Birmingham and Geneva. From there on, it became an international network that serves as a vector to oppose neo-liberal globalisation, to denounce the lack of sites for free artistic expression, to reach a concern about pollution, etc. Naomi Klein, in her best-seller No Logo, points out that these parties are “extremely difficult to categorise”, especially when pointing out that they never end up the same way. The best way to know what goes on is definitely to join the party.

Émanuèle Lapierre-Fortin



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Je suis étudiante en économie du développement au Canada, présentement volontaire en prise en charge socioéconomique des personnes vivant avec le VIH SIDA au Burkina Faso. Je m'intéresse particulièment aux mouvements sociaux et aux questions d'équité et d'oppression.
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