Peter’s Statement to the court

 I have plead guilty to co-writing a callout entitled, Get off the Fence – a call to go beyond. It was a letter to the many passionate people across the country who share our values of equality, free co-operation, and solidarity with people in struggle, inviting them to participate in a march. In this letter, we posed some questions, and now, a year and a half after the G20, I feel drawn to reflect on them again.

We wrote,

“Will we accept that the elites take away our city and give us back a tiny scrap in which to exercise our freedom? Will we be content to wave a banner, listen to a speech, and go home believing that our voices have been heard?”

This question has been answered in a thousand ways since the day of my arrest, in millions of voices both here and around the world. They have answered No, we will not be content with empty gestures. While I was on house arrest, I spent a lot of time reading the news, watching the way the austerity policies advanced at the Toronto G20 lead to massive resistance in France, then in England, then South Korea and Spain and Italy and Greece.

Like many around the world, I was riveted as the people of Egpyt and Tunisia rose up to overthrow their governments, and I watched them inspire the people of Wisconsin, then people all across the United States to take back space and make for themselves the decisions that affect their communities.

When we wrote, “We will take back our city from these exploitative profiteers, and in the streets we will be uncontrollable,” many chose to hear only a call to chaos and destruction. But to hear only this is to miss something important. The larger significance of this feeling is more in line with the question posed by the freedom fighters of Tahrir Square: Once the streets are controlled by the people, what next? In Cairo, they organized neighbourhood assemblies to protect their communities and feed their residents; they gathered freely to discuss, to make proposals, and ultimately, to offer some compelling alternatives to the system they had previously lived under.

It is the same question the occupy movement asked in Oakland and New York City once they were in control of the squares there: once we have taken back this space, how do we go about creating freedom? It is a question powerfully answered by the people of Grassy Narrows and KI, who, in a struggle that is often life-or-death, managed to take back land from exploitive profiteers while nourishing their cultures and communities.

These are just some of the people and communities who, while I was on house arrest, were not content to just go home. They refused to settle for scraps of freedom.

Locally, many people made the same choice. In Toronto, it has looked like challenging the manufactured budget crisis at city hall that is being used to further attack the most marginalized people of this city. In my city of Hamilton, people are organizing together to confront bad bosses and landlords, to monitor the police in our neighbourhoods, and to maintain community education projects. In my life, it looked like the outpouring of support and generosity that came as the exuberant mobilization against the G20 flowed into a longterm commitment to supporting its prisonners.

The prosecution that lead to my conviction was deeply political from the beginning, and so I believe it’s important to emphasize the wider story of movements for social transformation of this past year and a half. My going to jail is just one small part of this overwhelming current. But there is a personal level to this too. Because of this political prosecution and this political conviction, I may never see my Grandfather again. He is an American who lives in Florida, he fought in the second world war and is now ninety-five years old and can’t travel himself. Up until these charges, I visited him at least once a year, but now it is at best uncertain if I will be able to cross the border again.

The pain of being separated from our loved ones by borders is felt by an increasing number of people as the federal government moves to further restrict immigration. In this context, my situation is not extraordinary. But when telling the story of the G20 Main Conspiracy prosecution though, I want to remember the perspective of a 95 year old veteran who is missing his grandson. I want to honour all the walks we won’t be taking, and all stories that I now will not hear.

I am going to jail today. I have plead guilty and do not contest this. But I remember that whatever happens in the court is not the most important story. Even as this prosecution draws to a close, the truly important stories are ongoing, playing out among allies in liberated spaces everywhere, and in the hearts of my family and the people who care about me. It is those stories I will carry with me as I leave the courtroom today.

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