In the next week, people in Sudbury will be seeing a lot in the news about the G8 and G20 summits.
Politicians, big business leaders and bureaucrats from the most powerful countries on earth are gathering in Huntsville and Toronto to talk about the state of the world.
The news will probably include coverage of the ridiculous expense Prime Minister Stephen Harper has imposed on the people of Canada through the ways his government has organized the summit, with the "fake lake," high security costs, and all the rest.
This is important. It will also probably include excessive (and usually poorly informed) attention to the tactical choices of a small number of protesters. This is inevitable.
But I want to encourage people in Sudbury not to be distracted by these ways of framing the story.
Rather, I hope people are attentive to the bits and pieces of information we will be able to find in the media about what really matters — what the G8 and G20 do, and why so many people in Sudbury and around the world oppose them.
From the very beginning of this series of summits in the mid-1970s — in the first year it was called the Group of Six, or G6, and it did not yet include Canada — it has been about powerful people and institutions getting together to make sure that the world continues to work in their interest, to the detriment of the rest of us.
United States-based historian Vijay Prashad has done some important research in the archives from the earliest meetings.
He has shown that a very explicit goal of the rich countries that met was to undermine initiatives then being organized by a number of so-called Third World countries that had recently won their independence from European control.
Today, the world has changed a great deal, and elites — only elites, mind you — from a few of the largest formerly colonized countries have been invited to the party.
That is why, this year, it is permanently expanding from the G8 to the G20.
At times, recent summits have also used rhetoric about addressing problems that matter to ordinary people. Yet, somehow, once the ink on the official communiques has started to fade and their content forgotten, poverty in Africa, or whatever else has been chosen that year to create a veneer of popular legitimacy for the summit, remains as intractable as ever.
This year, the agenda may include things like climate change, and will definitely include the global economic crisis. These are certainly important topics, but given how the G8 and G20 work, what can we expect?
Popular mobilizations against climate change such as those of the climate justice movement have repeatedly pointed out that cap-and-trade and other market-based mechanisms supposedly intended to address climate change will not only be ineffective, they will also likely lead to enriching powerful corporations and intensifying environmental harm to the world’s poorest people. Yet, it is just such mechanisms that will be on the table if climate change is discussed in Huntsville and Toronto.
The current phase of elite response to the economic crisis is to push for deep budget cuts.
Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, as recently reported by the CBC, is warning of an "age of austerity," and governments around the world are already beginning to cut.
In the earlier phase of the crisis, hundreds of billions, even trillions, of dollars were pumped by many countries into the pockets of banks and rich people, from the taxes of ordinary citizens and through taking on major public debt.
Now, ordinary people are going to be pushed to pay for this enrichment of the wealthy through cuts to the services and other social benefits that many people depend on.
In these, as in so many other areas, the G8 and G20 are part of institutional arrangements that benefit people who are already powerful, and harm the rest of us.
The protest activities in Toronto include themed days of action in which, at various points, indigenous people, women, migrants, people with disabilities, and people focused on the environment and on war and occupation, can foreground the ways in which the G8 and G20 make things worse for them.
The largest event in Toronto is likely to be a labour march and rally on June 26, in which members of the striking United Steelworkers of America Local 6500 will be participating.
I’ve heard unconfirmed rumours that they may even be leading the march, because of the tight relationship between the policy agenda of these meetings and the things that the workers are struggling against in the current strike.
From my years of experience in social change efforts, I think it is a pretty safe bet that much of the mainstream media coverage will be unhelpful in understanding these deeper issues.
Yet it is important to understand why our neighbours, our kids, or our co-workers, might be heading to Toronto to protest, and why some of us are staying here in Sudbury and getting active.
Therefore, I encourage people to watch the coverage of events in Huntsville and Toronto with a critical eye, to avoid being distracted by the sensationalized framing that many of the stories are likely to have, and to extract the worthwhile nuggets of content.
And for those who want to take the time to get more detailed information, a great option will be the diverse yet in-depth coverage that will appear online at the Toronto Media Co-op, at toronto.mediacoop.ca.