Anonymous Submission to North Shore Counter-Info
DRAG STORYTIME AT THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE
On Wednesday, February 8th, 2023, community turned out in big numbers to protect drag storytime at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, ON. This was the first major action called by the Save Canada boys since Renfrew, but despite the event being in the middle of the day, drag defenders outnumbered the fash about 200 to 30.
Defenders had been called to arrive by 10:30 am, half an hour before the start of the show, but the fash were spotted in the area at 10 am and moved in early to take up space by the door. It is clear that they were aware of the counter and came early. Numbers were fairly even at this point, and police began directing drag defenders to stand to one side of the door, and fash to the other side, with the space between held loosely by the cops. Though this was ostensibly to create a corridor so that attendees could access the event, it meant that those same attendees would have to walk past a gauntlet of fascists in all their screaming hatred.
A representative of our local corporate Pride played the role of police liaison. Despite our many reservations, they, the organisers of the storytime, supported the presence of counterprotesters and objected to the police directives. That created a strange limbo between the cops’ duty to protect private property and their regular animosity towards queer people, as it was Pride who had some nebulous legal authority over the venue. Of course, even with Gay, Inc. and all of its institutional weight tentatively on our side for once, just words alone would never have held back the cops and the fascists.
As more defenders arrived, some comrades moved in front of the fash with a banner to create a physical and visual barrier between them and attendees. It was initially tense as fash complained to the cops and police got in between, attempting to order defenders back. Some more liberal-minded defenders tried to reason and negotiate with police, which is always a bad idea, and even began to lose their nerve and step back. But enough comrades held their ground, giving other defenders time to come reinforce the line, and it held.
Defenders were able to create a long wall of large flags and banners blocking that entire side, from the building wall to the street. Large, pole-mounted banners were held high in the back, with a smaller, shorter line in front. Police lined up between the two sides, keeping some separation. The line in front was able to keep eyes on fascist movements and direct the line behind them, while those behind the back line were totally shielded from sight. This meant there were a lot fewer people engaging in pointless arguments with fascists, and most defenders did not have to worry about having someone get right up in their face screaming. It also meant that attendees were completely shielded from view and vice versa, and streamers were reduced to stalking along the flag line looking for an opening. Most of the footage is boring and unusable.
While a smaller core was responsible for setting up the first banner line and holding it against the cops, once it had been established, many more people quickly picked up what to do. That sequence shows how we might go about passing on tactics on the spot with strangers. Sometimes, it might only take initiative from a few strategy-minded people to model best practices and set a cascade into motion.
Defenders also used noisemakers and music to drown out fascist rhetoric. This was done so successfully that several attendees and even some defenders arriving later reported that they did not even see or hear the fash. One of the two drag performers even came out to the flag line to express appreciation for the presence and tactics of defenders, since this meant that young children and their parents were effectively shielded from having to see and hear angry, yelling adults. Remember that the police made no attempt to shield attendees from this hatred, and in fact actively worked to facilitate and protect their access.
A lot of fuss has been made online about the optics and respectability of using noisemakers, to which we respond that we are more concerned with protecting people on the ground from dangerous, violent rhetoric and denying streamers footage to further boost and reinforce that rhetoric, than with the opinions of those unaffected and disconnected from our struggle to defend our own community. No one goes to a protest to engage in good faith intellectual debate, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Also, if you are sensitive to sound, ear plugs go a long way to quieting down both noisemakers and screaming fascists, and are cheap and easy to have on hand and pass out to defenders. This should be standard practice in Ottawa given the sonic attacks the community endured last year during the occupation.
As the day went on and the flag wall became more coordinated, at the urging of some more experienced comrades, defenders began to take up more and more space. Every time the police had to step out of line to deal with the more aggressive fash, defenders stepped forward to claim that space. Defenders did a good job of communicating and learning from each other. The numbers were on our side and the cops seemed unwilling to agressively push back the line, and so resignedly accepted this tactic even though they were clearly not happy about it.
At some point the police line turned around to face the fash. This is very unexpected as we know that the police always face towards us. Drag defence is a very unique situation where our desire to defend people, and especially queer community, is temporarily aligned with the desires of capital to protect property rights. This is why the cops have been relatively quick to remove fash from inside the venue, but will do nothing to shield children from screaming adults on the sidewalk. This temporary alignment should not be mistaken for an alliance – the enemy of our enemy is sometimes still our enemy, and the police will not hesitate to criminalise defenders if they see an opportunity. It’s important, especially for anyone new to this work, not to expect this relatively gentle treatment at other types of actions, or to allow their lukewarm defence of drag events be used to justify, legitimise, and expand policing. At least one officer was seen with a thin blue line patch on their uniform. ACAB.
As they lost ground, the fash grew increasingly frustrated. Several retreated back across the street. Others stalked along the flag wall looking for an opening or a fight. Still others went around, into the road, to try to find a way into the crowd from another side. Two were arrested for this – Nico who moved through the crowd screaming into a megaphone, and the older Alexander brother for being in the road and disobeying police orders. Streamer and wannabe-celebrity Chris Dacey, who lives at the top unit of 71 Genest Street in Vanier, was present alongside outlets like Rebel Media to video these arrests, more fodder for the far-right outrage machine.
More concerning were the fash who decided to go alone, quietly, through the crowd to enter the building. The younger Alexander was arrested for trespassing after refusing to leave the NAC. At least two others were confirmed to have entered the building, with one even succeeding in filming some footage before being removed. This is not the first time fash have been seen to go ‘undercover’ of a kind, and it’s a strategy and a threat that defenders should be on the lookout for.
Everyone’s least favourite wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing lawyer was up to her usual tricks, manufacturing content, centering herself, and attempting to dox defenders. Much has already been written on this subject and won’t be repeated here. But while word has largely gotten around about the danger Caryma poses, the tactics used so far are slightly misplaced. It is important to note that Caryma uses a cameraman, and it is more effective to block his camera than to try to block her movements. Forget about her theatrics entirely and flag his camera so that the footage is unusable. Just be prepared for Lee to get physically aggressive as he has in the past, and also know that he will back up to try to get pictures of you, so make sure your bloc is in order before engaging. Be mindful that the two of them keep extensive records and cross-reference old video to look for new targets.
The fascists were not having a good time and started to descend into in-fighting. This is the ideal scenario for drag defence, where our efforts can start to have an impact not only in the immediate defence of a particular event, but start to undermine fascist organising more generally. A lot of this was only possible because we were not aggressively peace-policed by liberal counter-protestors, who largely stayed back away from the flag wall, dancing and having a good time. The flag wall not only protected attendees from the fash, but served to shield our own comrades from liberal peace policing, allowing a strong line to be held between the two groups.
After the event ended, local Pride organisers asked defenders to pack up the banner line. Immediately, the bulk of the crowd complied, even though there were still at least a dozen fash and several dozen counter-protestors present. This created a risky situation where the fash were able to mingle with the counter-protestors. As far as we’re aware, there were no incidents, but safety should never be left up to luck or fascists’ whims. Dispersal is safest in larger numbers, with barriers up to maintain separation of our sides until everyone is ready to move out and has a way to get home.
WINTER PRIDE ON SPARKS STREET
Just two days later, community networks circulated a last-minute callout in response to threats against drag events scheduled for that same weekend. Further complicating defence was that the storytimes were part of a full three days of outdoor Winter Pride programming. The original schedule had three separate storytimes and over fourteen hours of drag events in total, making the kind of large one-off defence we’d seen at the NAC impossible to repeat. The callout included a hashtag encouraging people to share reports of fash activity online.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2023
Friday evening was the beginning of Winter Pride, with an evening outdoor drag show on Sparks St, only one street over from the usual fash hangout spot where they have been gathering every Friday evening and Saturday afternoon for over a year. As expected, the fash moved in shortly after the start of the show, and were met by drag defenders with banners. Numbers were close to even, and there was a standoff. This particular group was not particularly motivated to disrupt drag, and decided their time was better spent building snowmen in the middle of Wellington St and then eating at the Red Pepper like they do every Friday.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2023
Saturday was a trainwreck that vividly demonstrated how not everyone on “our side” actually gives a fuck about the communities they say they’re there to support.
Several fascists, including an out-of-town streamer, arrived on time for the first 11 am storytime. While some defenders were present, others were late or only available later in the day. Many who were present hung off to the side, unwilling to actually engage the fash, even when the fash brought out a transphobic sign and filmed performers and attendees.
Eventually, a couple people began trying to block out the streams, and the flags and banners came into play. This did not last for long. A mix of more insistent cops, poor numbers, and general liberal nonsense meant that the contingent of counter-protestors ended up standing around pointlessly with their banners across the street while the fash waved around their sign unobstructed.
More specifically, the four or so liaison officers ordered defenders to clear the path. They used cajoling lines about being respectful and minding the optics of the situation, but always with that underlying threat of force. They positioned themselves around the fash, such that while defenders were relegated to the sidelines, the fash had free run of the place. Of course, the cops had no complaints about them standing in the middle of the path, subjecting passersby at a Pride event to their Christofascist rhetoric. While under other circumstances, a dozen or so determined defenders might be able to hold space against just four intermingled cops, the present group seemed largely uninterested in even trying.
All this came to a head when three of them, plus sign, took front-row seats before the stage. They were able to do so because of this hands-off approach, where no one even moved to get in their way. Defenders belatedly tried to block their sign from view, but the biggest problem was now that fascists were perfectly positioned to harass performers and drive away attendees. This obviously would have prevented any programming from going forward.
To reclaim the space, an antifascist sat down next to them. That person was instantly swarmed by cops, as well as a certain liberal streamer and snitch, all demanding they stop “escalating” the situation. Three other defenders joined them on the bench, linking arms as fascists heckled. The peculiar standoff ended only when an event-runner made the call to move the benches back to create a dance area. Finally then, after more jockeying for space, the fash left when it turned out that that particular storytime had no drag performers involved.
A far right streamer filmed one short clip of that morning storytime, including long panning shots of the crowd showing children’s faces. The otherwise innocuous footage of glamourous Queens in evening wear reading a children’s picture book has elicited exactly the kind of vehement rhetoric you should expect from right-wing reactionaries: hundreds of transphobic, homophobic, and misogynistic comments. They couch their eliminationist rhetoric in a flimsy, insincere “concern” for children, but their performative outrage and pearl-clutching is just that: a performance more exaggerated than the one on the stage.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2023
For Sunday morning’s drag storytime, there was a notable increase in the number of defenders, as well as Winterlude staff, who were handing out pride flags, and police. However, the fash largely made themselves scarce. One couple with New World Order and anti-mask sandwich boards were easily blocked with a banner, and after unsuccessfully trying to draw defenders into a debate, wandered off in search of softer targets. Liberal counter-protestors and the police initially wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, with one officer arguing “come on, they’re not even here for that,” but they were later spotted on the hill with known fash. We maintain that fascists are always a threat to queers, and we will give them no quarter.
Storytime finished without further incident. Individual and small groups of fash did make their presence known throughout the rest of the day, walking through the crowd at the outdoor drag show later on, but they kept quiet and didn’t linger.
The fash have been showing increasing willingness to go stealth, removing their flags or other insignia, in order to infiltrate events and either film inconspicuously or wait for their opportunity for disruption. This is a concerning development that is more difficult to counter.
Liberal peace police have argued that confronting the fascists in any way, including blocking recording of the event, obscuring their signs from view of the audience, or attempting to drown out their dangerous rhetoric, is playing into their hands by “giving them content.” Self-declared allies argue that we will “win the battle on social media” by engaging in respectability politics. In other words, queers should turn the other cheek, let fascists shut down our events and drive us out of public life.
As queer community defenders we reject this argument. We will not allow fascists to take up space on our streets unopposed in hopes of winning some hypothetical moral battle.
With all their talk of optics, liberals that weekend were at times indistinguishable from the actual police. They carried out the same roles—trying to talk down and chastising and even laying hands on queers who stand up to fascists. With allies like these, who even needs enemies?
We will not allow those who are more interested in optics, clout chasing, and dancing for the camera to dictate our strategy. We are fighting for our collective survival and liberation.
We keep us safe. Queers bash back.