Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shutting down NYC, with help from the OBJ

As I mention often, I like to read small local and community papers, both for-profit and not-for-profit. The business community is no exception, with the Ottawa Business Journal and its offshoots frequently finding themselves in my stack of papers-to-read.

And I read them for gems like this edition. Meeting in the Capital, which is found alongside the Ottawa Business Journal, has an issue on conventions in Ottawa, including coverage of the upcoming construction on the new Congress Centre, with a nice representation of the pedestrian plaza on the Colonel By frontage. One particular article, "Protest THIS!" gives meeting planners tips on "how not to deal with" demonstrations, with a view to understanding the protesters.

The article relies heavily on the advice of Ken Fairchild, who is described as a "veteran in dealing with protests and demonstrations."

Fairchild recognizes that "many large organizations are invested in things that provoke controversy," and that "demonstrations are designed to attract attention." (Duh on both counts, IMO). He warns that protests might have unintended consequences; for example, unionized convention centre workers might not cross a union picket line. That would explain this clever deal with the trade union council to avoid worker strikes during the Congress Centre's construction.

Fairchild offers a few suggestions on neutralizing the threat of protesters. This includes the basic, like telling reclusive CEOs not to confront demonstrators, and the more counterintuitive, such as sending out refreshments to demonstrators to avoid provocation.

The biggest strategy Fairchild suggests is to establish a dialogue with protesters beforehand to learn what actions they plan to take, and to set up separate areas for demonstrations that keep them out of sight and out of mind of meeting attendees. That pedestrian plaza right outside the front door would make a great Free Speech Zone!

Advance notice is common for most Ottawa protests, including the one mentioned in my most-popular blog post, In Ottawa, Democracy is across the street, where I lamented the restrictions contained in a protest permit.

But not all protests have a preplanned route. As I was leaving Boushey's Fruit Market with my lunch on April 10, I saw a protest go by, chanting "So- so- so-, Solidarité!"

As you can see, there were only about 30 or 40 protesters here. What struck me was the large number of police officers. What you can't see in this picture is the seven marked and unmarked police vehicles following the group, all with their lights flashing. This included vans and armoured paddy-wagons. I was amused, as I usually am, at the ironic fact that these police vehicles were taking up more space on the road than the protesters were!

I later discovered that the protest was so thin and the police so thick because it was actually over. It had originally gone from the Human Rights monument to the Congress Centre, among other places, with no advance plans on where it would go. This last leg was apparently an encore presentation to the police station in response to one protester being unjustly arrested by the police.

The Associated Press reports on an upcoming protest in which these tips from the Ottawa Business Journal's magazine might come in handy. In response to the acquittal of the New York City police officers who shot an unarmed black man fifty times on his wedding day, Al Sharpton has vowed to shut down NYC with protests against this blatant miscarriage of justice.

Finally, a good reason to visit New York!

- RG>

No comments: