Pierre Trudeau Incites A Riot by Theo Rosen (Willy E.)
Pierre Eliot Trudeau is given a $50 a plate dinner at the Seaforth Armories by his party. The LSA/YS old-line Trotskyists organize a demonstration with the slogan. "End Canada's Complicity In Viet-Nam". (1) PET grants the Trots their wish and promises to speak to the demonstrators outside the Armories before his dinner. But the peoples mood at the Armory, he is to find, revolves not around the Viet-Nam War, but rather the presence of a goodly portion of the local bourgeoisie at the dinner.
This presence became evident when the (paying) guests started arriving at the side gates of the Armories. The emphasis was on big, expensive European cars: Rolls Royces, Bentlys, Mercedes. Most of the people were seeing the bourgeoisie in person for the first time in their lives. While the LSA/YS stayed around front with their sound truck, reciting bad poetry and enacting worse "guerrilla theatre" , the militants, a non-sectarian grouping of student radicals, Wobblies and street people, gathered around the gates. Everybody did their thing – The Womens' Caucus handed pamphlets on women's liberation to the young debutants in the cars. A woman from the Voice of Women, very prim, very middle class-looking, calmly stopped cars, making sure each one got her leaflet on chemical and biological warfare. The Feed-in people came with a free dinner of hot dogs and bananas, while the bourgeoisie ate God knows what. (Except that it cost $50) The huge automobiles lack of manoeuverability in the crowd, which led to several collisions, provided entertainment.
The hassling (for a change, it was the bourgeoisie that was getting hasseled) at the gates ended when Trudeau arrived around front. Trudeau had promised the Committee to End the War in VietNam (An LSA/YS front) a speech. Hilda Thomas, representing the Committee, gave a melodramatic, liberal speech on the "tragedy" of VietNam. Trudeau was supposed to respond to this. He was about to do so when a woman walked over to him wearing a sign saying "Hustle Wheat, Not Women" . Trudeau blew his male chauvinist cool and ripped the sign off her. Someone in the audience replied by grazing the back of his head with a banana peel. Trudeau jumped off stage and headed toward the front door of the Armory. A very interesting thing happened; Trudeau's security guards lost contact, momentarily, with Trudeau. If the people in the crowd had realized this, Trudeau would have been totally isolated from his security in the midst of the crowd. The ineptness of this guard became further evident in the ensuing scuffle at the door. Trudeau was able to take a swing at a couple of the demonstrators before they could stop him.
The front of the Seaforth Armories consists of two massive-garage size wooden doors plus a side door with a barred window. The crowd now detested Trudeau for his arrogance and male chauvinism. One group attempted to batter the door down. One brother found to his delight that the wrought iron door handles came off if twisted and pulled enough. This resulted in people banging on the doors with handles, placard sticks, boots, anything available.
Then the militancy of the crowd established itself in the most serious political act that can be undertaken in capitalist society. Property was destroyed. Some brother smashed the window to the side door with one of the handles. Others finished the job with placard sticks. This act transformed the demonstration into a combination of insurrection, festival and brotherhood, the crowd into a tribe. The smashing of the property hang-up (the ruling class defines violence in terms of damage to property rather than human life) was a liberating experience that led people to new levels of militancy. (2)
Now we must turn to the single most important element in the demonstration, without which the night's events could not have coccurred. One group of street people brought four drums. Throughout the night, in the crowd when Trudeau assaulted the demonstrators, in front of the cops when the festival took place, to the side of the gates when the bourgeoisie left the Armories, the drums maintained their rythmic tribal beat. Energy flowed into the people from the drums. They sustained people and kept their militancy at a high level. They helped make the demonstration a groovy thing, a high.
With the drums beating and leading them on, people started burning placards up against the main door. This rather innocuous act was later interpreted by the media to be an attempt to burn the Armories down. Symbolically, it probably was. The fire was what finally brought the pigs onto the scene. About fourteen cops, one of them carrying what some people identified as a container of MACE, took their places in front of the Armories doors. It was about this time that people started noticing plainclothsmen and photographers throughout the crowd.
The cops appearance set everyone in a festive mood. A tribal chant began around the drums. People grabbed up the fragments of placard sticks that had been used to break the windows and turned them into musical instruments, and a wooden clattering was added to the beat of the drums. Two large flags, one red and one black, became very effective props. Brothers and sisters took turns waving them in the cop's faces, in time with the beat. The flags, the chanting, the sticks, the drums, the dancing must have exercised a tremendously hypnotizing effect upon the pigs (it went on for two hours). The most effective chant (because it best combined street politics with musicality) was "Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers".
The people showed their creativity and spontenaiety by changing the mood of their militancy to suit the occasion, from one of militant anger after Trudeau showed his pig character, to one of joyousness when the cops came upon the scene (this was the most effective way top hassel them) and back to militant anger later on in the night after the first bust. This ability to change moods was also an asset in that it greatly added to people's staying power, to their ability to last through five hours of militant demonstration. Militancy is tremendously energy consuming. BY shifting the mood and character of the demonstration throughout the night, the militants in the crowd kept the fringes of the crowd from getting bored and leaving.
Perhaps the most noticable and promising aspect of the night's action was the collective nature of the crowd. When people moved top something new, they did it on a collective basis; when people did something dangerous (i.e., something that could lead to arrest) they did it collectively, so that the pigs found it difficult to single out individuals and bust them. For example, arounf 10 o'clock someone discovered that by climbing the barbed wire-topped fence around the side of the building, one could see into the meeting through a large door that had been left open for better ventilation. (it was hot that night.) This led people to going around from the front and brining enough people around to the side that a chant of "Trudeau vendu" was loud enough to be heard inside, in the middle of Trudeau's speech. Although this might seem a minor act, it symbolized the nature of the night; individual discovery led to collective action. People were continually searching for new ways to hassel the pigs inside and outside the building.
Around 11 o'clock the events inside the Armory ended. It was also about this time that the first bust was made. The cops couldn't have timed it better. (Didn't Abbie Hoffman say that the pigs were our leaders?) The mass of the crowd just arrived at the side gate (where they had come to escort the bourgeoisie out just as they escorted them in) in time to see the brother being hauled away by plainclothsmen. For the second time that night, people got angry. Only this time it was personal anger, the pigs had busted one of our brothers.
This was an extremely crucial moment; people could have easily freaked out and attacked the cops. If one or two brothers had tried it, the mass of the people would have backed them up. (3) This probably would have been suicidal: mass arrests, maybe some people shot, tear gas and/or mace for certain. People aren't quite ready for this yet; to go from a history of peaceful demonstrations to a full-scale insurrection in one night probably would have been, to try to get some meaning out of a purely rhetorical word, politically adventurous. People needed the experience of this demonstration before they experianced that.
So people decided instead to push the pigs to their limit, but not over it. (when I say people decided, I am not being rhetorical; collective decisions, and this is one of the lessons to be learned from the night can occur without people "getting together" in meetings without discussions collective decisions can, indeed occur, in people's separate heads at once; this, I suppose, is what we mean when we talk about spontenaiety. But I am not trying to mystify things here; people's "spontaneous" collective decisions are made on the basis of their specific situation, on the immediate circumstances and the immediate history preceding those circumstances. And, of course, on the basis of these peoples political consciousness as a whole. And the collective political consciousness of the people at Seaforth Armories consisted of two things; 1. that we are poor, and the rich bastards who are living off us are finally in front of us, where we can get them; and 2. that we are all facing day-to-day police repression and for once we have enough power to hassle them, the way they hassle us. People's heads were very far apart on most other things.
The hassling action consisted of allowing only enough room for the cars coming out of the Armories to get through the crowd with difficulty. As each car drove through, people yelled, kicked at the doors, threw saw dust and rocks at the windows, used sharp rocks and pen knives to scratch off paint, etc. Two brothers managed to rip off some chrome. Somebody managed to get some eggs, which were the most effective weapon, by far.
After a half hour or so of this, a rumor spread through the crowd that Trudeau had left through the now scantily-guarded front door. The rumor must have been true because shortly after, the pigs came out swinging. They smashed people with their elbows; a couple of brothers swung back. This cooling off action by the cops worked, beautifully from their point of view, the crowd did cool off and this marked the end of the night's militancy. Whether this was a mistake on the part of the crowd is hard to say. It is difficult to see the political value of what had happened could have been augmented by a couple more hours of the same. Mas busts are useful only if they increase people's understanding of the political realities of this society. (i.e., raise their political consciousness) A mass bust here, however, would probably have done nothing but put a lot of brothers and sisters on the line for a few months.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this demonstration (other than the publicity the press gave it) was that, for the first time in Vancouver political actions were not student-oriented, people learned things about revolution, the streets and themselves. They leraned for instance, the true nature of sectarian groups – that they organize to better their position, rather than make the revolution. (One Trot was seen leaving the area almost crying, because "they have ruined our demonstration" (4)
Above all, the people became aware of their own sponteneity and creativity; they learned that you only organize an event beforehand, that during the event you act according to your situation, and they learned how it feels to be part of a truly active collective, that "collectivity" is not the repression of "individuality". At the Seaforth Armories a lot of people took "a great leap forward" in the process of their progressive liberation from the hang-ups and restrictions of capitalist society, and in doing so moved closer to being up-against-the-wall revolutionaries.
Solidarity #2 July 1969
1. The LSA/YS (League for Socialist Action – Young Socialists influence on the left in Vancouver had been all but smashed in April, when a coalitionof radicals had formed an explicitly anti-imperialist VietNam march, distinct from the moralistically liberal Trotskyist march. The slogans for the militant march had been"Smash Yankee Imperialism", "Victory to the NLF", "Their Fight Is Our Fight"; for the LSA march, "End Canada's Complicity in VietNam" and "Bring the GI's Home Now". The Trots had been previously crippled when their most respected members, those closest to the student movement, had left the organization over policy conflicts. These two factors, coupled with the LSA/YS's very revealing activity at the Trudeau demonstration, have probably destroyed the organizations relevance to Vancouver politics in the immediate future.
2. In regards to the people, it is both interesting and important to note that as soon as the demonstration became militant, the "democratic centralist" groups left the scene. In addition, the "heavies" of the student movement, with a couple of exceptions, either did not stick around long or stayed at the edge of the crowd, uninvolved. This demonstration was truly the action of the people, i.e., the rank and file of the movement.
3. Evidence for this speculation lies in the events of next Thursday, when 16 people were busted for assaulting two policemen, smashing the window of a police car, etc. This was the result of the cops trying to bust a 16 year old girl for drinking under age outside a dance hall. More than 50 people were involved i the riot.
4. The young woman with the "Hustle Grain" sign was accosted by a group of Communist Party hacks as she was leaving the demonstration and was told among other things that she destroyed the demonstration and that she was an agent provocateur etc.