High school students recruited to pad protest numbers

Mark Hume
National Post
Aaron Harris, The Canadian Press
A protester taunts police at the entrance to
Willistead Manor where OAS delegates are meeting.

WINDSOR - After the expected mass crowds of anti-capitalist protesters failed to materialize at the Organization of American States conference in Windsor this weekend, demonstrators yesterday began recruiting at local high schools to try to bolster their numbers.

They managed to convince about 120 students from Walkerville High School, most of whom knew little about the OAS, to join 30 older protesters in a demonstration at Willistead Manor, where delegates were having a luncheon.

"Most of them are wearing Nike or Adidas stuff. It's ridiculous," said one girl who left protesting classmates to go back to school. Nike, Adidas and other corporations are targets of protest because they are accused of using cheap, Third World labour.

Some students felt joining the OAS protest was valid.

"I know they're trying to get more free trade," said Tyler Bunn. "I'm against that. I think it's fine with the free trade we have now.

"These countries are just going to be sweat shops if we let this go on," added John Conlon.

"The big thing I object to is the militarization of Colombia," said Richard Champagne. All three are in Grade 10 at Walkerville.

"I don't know that much about OAS -- but just from what I hear it's pretty stupid what they're doing," agreed Sommer Menard, who is in Grade 11, one of only five students to join the protest from Herman High School.

Four girls at the front of the march were less articulate when asked why they oppose the OAS.

"It's unfair, it's stupid -- and school is retarded," said one, causing them all to giggle. They declined to give their names, saying they had been told not to talk to the corporate media.

The protest was non-confrontational, until some of the veteran protesters brought it to an abrupt halt in front of the gate at Willistead Manor, a public park, blocking a busload of OAS delegates from entering.

Ontario Provincial Police repeatedly asked the protesters to move aside, but were met with chants of "police state!" About a dozen protesters then locked arms and sat in the driveway, while a riot squad and police dogs moved into position.

Some of the high school students were shocked by the development, and most moved out of the way.

"It's getting out of hand. It makes no sense," said one girl as she retreated.

"They're just high school kids," one OPP member reminded his officers as they waded into the crowd, using open hands to push the protesters back. They then broke the grips of those trying to form a human chain -- few of whom were students -- and dragged them out of the way.

While a small group screamed about "police brutality" and shook middle fingers in the faces of police officers, the bus rolled through.

Windsor had been billed by protesters as another Seattle or Washington, where mass demonstrations disrupted meetings held by the World Trade Organization and World Bank. Instead, only a few thousand people marched in Windsor on Sunday. By yesterday, the protest had been reduced to a handful of hardcore activists -- and whatever new recruits they could find.

Earlier in the day, organizers of "Operation Windsor" tried to put a brave face on events, saying that the demonstration to "shutdown the OAS" was a success, even though it barely disrupted the conference.

"We have made our point. We have put the OAS on the public agenda. Our goal was to expose the OAS as part of the jigsaw puzzle of global capitalism," said Anna Dashterg.

She said there will be bigger protests in the future.

"It's not going to end here... it's not going to die in the streets of Windsor," she said. "We're going to be seeing this all over. It's a global movement."

Protesters are talking about targeting the Democratic and Republican conventions in the United States this summer, a Quebec City conference of the heads of American States next April and a NATO conference in Victoria in October, 2001.

The OAS meeting yesterday focused on concerns about voting irregularities in Peru. Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's Foreign Minister, told OAS delegates: "The presidential vote in Peru is a matter of deep concern to us all. Left unexamined, it will certainly diminish the credibility of this organization."

He earlier criticized protesters. "They want these issues to be examined, they want them to be resolved, and yet they're trying to shut down the meeting, which is in fact engaged in exactly that exercise. Go figure," he said.