By Rob South
After weeks of build up in the local media, World Petroleum Congress protesters filled the streets on Sunday and Monday in a peaceful manner that took many by surprise.
Over 1,000 protesters marched to Olympic Plaza for the Rally for Oil Accountability and Responsibility on Sunday. The three main issues the organizers wanted to raise with the oil industry were global climate change, human rights violations and environmental degradation. Groups participating in the rally included Green Peace, the End of Oil Action Coalition, Students for a Free Tibet and the Sierra Youth Club.
"My message is that the oil and gas companies need to start looking at alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind, solar and micro hydro," said Yori Jamin, an SYC member.
The protesters’ large papier-maché puppets, colourful costumes and banners caught the interest of many passers-by.
"It was surprisingly small and surprisingly peaceful based on the hype and amount of people they flew in for it," said Calgary resident Brydon Foote. "There’s merit behind it–as long as it stays peaceful I have no problem with it."
Protesters were concerned with how their message would be received by the general public and took issue with the coverage they received in the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald. On Monday, protesters handed out pamphlets listing various adjectives the papers had used to describe them; the list included words such as mindless, unscrupulous and shadowy.
Calgary Herald Editor-in-Chief Peter Menzies stood by his paper’s coverage of the WPC protesters.
"I don’t think their complaint has any merit," said Menzies. "It takes place in the context of events that have taken place in the past which involve a lot of the groups taking part here."
Menzies commented on the difficulty his paper had covering the event as many of the protesters would not talk to the Herald because of their on-going labour dispute.
Calgary’s corporate sector received a visit on Monday as approximately 150 individuals marched around Calgary’s downtown core with a large police escort. Cars were often forced to wait as the protesters went from corporate headquarters to headquarters on bike and foot. Many office workers came to their windows to see the protesters chant, cheer and perform street theatre. Six members of the march decided to moon the Suncor office with the message "Wind Power Now" on their rear ends.
"The oil industry is not responsible," said University of Calgary student Adrienne Willott.
Along with several other protesters Willott was dressed as a solar panel to demonstrate the accessibility of alternate forms of energy.
The relationship between police and protesters was often contrary; occasionally they engaged in conversation and shook hands, at other times the protesters started chants accusing the authorities of acting like a police state.
"[The police] are basically protecting corporate interests over my right to express myself," said Augustana University College graduate Brad Goertz about the police blockades.
Calgary Police spokesman Inspector Murray Stooke defended the large police presence.
"In Calgary we have the benefit of the experience of Seattle, Washington and Windsor," said Stooke.
"We have found out from past experience that things can go wrong when not enough officers are on duty."
Stooke was very pleased with how the protests went.
"Things have gone really well; by and large we have seen peaceful non-violent protests in the city."
Mike Aldridge, a member of the Council of Canadians, was pleased with the number of participants and felt the ecological and human rights messages of the protest were well received.
"A good portion of the citizenry of Calgary showed support for the cause," said Aldridge.
WPC organizers and key participants were not available to the Gauntlet for comment.
With additional reporting by Еvan Osentоn and Mike Bowerman.