We are there to protest the FTAA, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the agreement that would extend the North American Free Trade Agreement throughout the hemisphere-overriding environmental and safety laws and opening resources to exploitation. It would also deeply affect the lives of women. Women make up most of the world's poor. Women are the majority of workers in the maquiladoras, the sweatshops of the Third World where near slavery conditions prevail. When food is scarce, women are the first to go hungry. And through the international sex trade, the bodies of a million women and children are bought and sold each year.
In our procession are women from the maquiladoras and women from the slums of the north, and many women from across Canada and the United States. We bring webs and yarn sent by women from all over the world, to place on the nine-foot-high chain link fence that has been erected by the authorities to keep protestors away from the Summit of the Americas, where the FTAA will be negotiated.
We've spent much of the day training for the possibility of arrest. The Summit has not yet begun, and the delegates are not yet inside the perimeter. We reach one of the access gates, and begin to weave and place the webs, banners and puppets we have brought. Some of the webs are works of art; others make simple statements. My favorite is woven entirely of bras! Some symbolize the negative web of corporate globalized power, others the positive web of support and mutual care that women can weave for each other.
When we've finished, we stand in a circle, and begin to sing and wind a spiral dance. We turn the spiral, and the women in the center begin to weave a web and dance, turning it like a wheel. The chant becomes a wordless sound that rises in a cone of power over the street. When we finish, I look over and see Nora Cortines, one of the women who founded the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina--the mothers of the Disappeared, the 30,000 people taken, tortured and murdered by the dictatorship during the 1970s and 80s for opposing its rule. She speaks movingly of how her only desire is to have those children alive again. No magic can bring them back to life, but as I look around the circle I sense something of their spirit alive in us and in the thousands who will fill these streets.
The following day, the Pagan Cluster has formed a living river to draw attention to issues of water in the FTAA. Dressed in blue, with flags and banners and billowing blue cloth, we follow a River Goddess puppet through the streets. Our goal is to flow across the perimeter and enter the Congress Center to present the Water Declaration written by the people of Bolivia, which declares water to be sacred and a human right, and calls for a worldwide treaty to protect water.
Black-clad figures run forward, grab the tear gas canisters at great risk because they are hot, and throw them back toward the police lines. The police are getting better at firing into the crowd. Over the course of the next two days, they will shoot over 4,000 rounds of tear gas, a toxic substance that can cause miscarriages and potentially, cancer. The whole city will be saturated with it. Peaceful marchers will feel their eyes sting and their throats close. Medics treating wounds from plastic bullets will be targeted with tear gas bombs aimed directly at them. Kids dancing under the freeway will be gassed and brutally arrested. The authorities will turn the city into a war zone, and still be unable to secure the perimeter.
This story is just my description of what I saw and some of what I did. I've seen people who have never been to an action grow daily in courage. I've seen the level of force the authorities are willing to use to protect their interests, and I've learned that we can hold a magical and visionary energy in the midst of a war zone.
I prefer the campfire, the clear stars. But I suspect that to turn the global system of destruction and exploitation into one of balance, with liberty and justice for all, we may be dancing with tear gas again.