Tamil Tactics in Toronto

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New Orleans A classic organizing problem has always been how do popular forces leverage local strength around global concerns? This question has always been difficult as anti-war forces saw most recently in trying to raise issues around Iraq and as 60’s veterans vividly remember from the protests to stop the Viet Nam war a world away in Southeast Asia. We are seeing this fight play out in a dramatic and interesting fashion right now in Toronto.

The Tamil community in Toronto is reportedly the second largest in the world after Chennai and southern India itself. The community has mobilized recently in a desperate life-and-death struggle to try to leverage its size in Toronto to force the Canadian government not to allow the Sri Lankan army to inflict genocide on the Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire in this country as the government bears down in its drive to wipe out the last vestiges of the long civil war in that country fought with the so-called Tamil Tigers. The United Nations

reported over the last 24 hours that somewhere between 378 and 1000 civilians were killed in this squeeze in recent days in a combination of the government attack and the guerilla utilization of civilians as human shields.

The Toronto Tamil community with relatives throughout the war zone has been engaged in one mobilization after another in an attempt to force the issue to the front of the pile for the conservative Canadian federal government. Most dramatically on Sunday after a long protest featuring yet more street blocking (which for decades has been one of my favorite and most effective tactics in countless campaigns), protestors left the area around Union Station’s train hub and block the expressway going through downtown Toronto hear the Rogers Centre where the Blue Jays play. They were immediately set upon by all manner of police and SWAT teams in a standoff that blocked the expressway for hours. [James Wardlaw, head organizer of ACORN Canada in Hamilton, brought all of this to my attention since he was caught on a bus and stranded for hours trying to get from Newmarket back down to Hamilton.]

In the Canadian multi-party system, the Tamil tactics have garnered support from the Liberal Party (which is not that liberal) that is pushing the governing party hard, and trying to cement its immigrant base in Ontario. The government has not formally moved to intervene.

News seems suppressed and spotty on these major actions around another war that is halfway around the globe, but all of this is worth careful watching not only because it is important and lives are at stake, but also because the Toronto Tamil community may be teaching all of us a master course in effective global organizing utilizing the local leverage you have available.