Photo: Protester Alex Hundert tries to talk his way past the police and into the Chateau Montebello, 2007. Courtesy of the Calgary Herald.
July 24, 2010
In the wee hours of June 26th, Alex Hundert awoke to the sound of police breaking down his door with a battering ram. Members of the gang unit entered his home in Toronto with guns drawn, arrested him and his partner, and took them to the now infamous temporary jail set up in an old film studio.
By the time the mass arrests started on Saturday evening, Hundert had already been transferred to the Maplehurst jail in Milton, Ontario. Over the next days, over a thousand G20 arrestees were put behind bars, including 16 more organizers and activists from Southern Ontario and Quebec who continue to face a variety of serious and trumped-up charges.
All of this might seem like a far cry from the life of a self described former “ski bum” who grew up the oldest of two boys in a middle class Toronto home. But Hundert, who was released on bail July 19 and today faces various charges of conspiracy related to G-20 organizing, can trace a line from his early activism right through to today.
While studying at Wilfred Laurier University, Hundert’s early forays into organizing were typical of many university students. “I was thrust into situations where these big, very effective organizing efforts, like doing campus fundraisers for popular causes such as AIDS, were happening and we’d get hundreds of people involved. But then everyone one would go home and feel that they’d done their part and everything was okay,” he said. “I felt that no matter how much money we raised on a university campus, we were not really contributing anything to the solution.”
Doing support at the blockade in Grassy Narrows opened Hundert’s eyes to a far more holistic form of activism, and deepened his analysis of capitalism and colonialism. “In Grassy Narrows, I got to see first hand the extent to which many of the things we’re told about this country are flagrant lies, and the extent to which the exploitation of resources and labour is synonymous with the destruction of communities,” he said.
Judy Da Silva, Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabe (Grassy Narrows First Nations), who has worked closely with Alex since 2006, attributes the growing movement of non-natives in support of Indigenous land rights to the work of Alex and others in Southern Ontario. “Alex Hundert is a patient generous person who works tirelessly on environmental & social issues on behalf of mother earth and her inhabitants,” said Da Silva. “He has continued to supports us in our struggle to protect our boreal forest from logging and pollution and to raise awareness about our issues to non-natives.”
But instead of being out on the land in Grassy Narrows or elsewhere, Hundert remains under house arrest at his father’s home in Toronto. He jokes that he’s been reading too much Chomsky, but says being jailed confirmed events he’d been witness to through activism in support of Indigenous struggles.
On the inside, it was other prisoners who helped him do the simple things, like fill out forms and navigate the prison system, which Hundert says is designed to dehumanize prisoners and their communities. But he thinks the attempt of the state to quash dissent through repression will have the opposite effect.
“I think in the long run, its going to have the same effect that cracking down on legitimate dissent and the public voices of communities always has,” said Hundert. “The effect is strengthening the resolve of that very voice.”
Already, people with no interest in political radicalism have been radicalized, said Hundert. “For every person that they are pulling out of the movement, to the extent that they’re able to do that through criminalizing and incarcerating us, there are several people to take our place,” he said.
Hundert doesn’t want a focus on the criminalization of activism to obscure the reasons people are in the streets.
“Whether its remote-controlled airplanes dropping bombs in Pakistan, or whether its the OPP attacking Six Nations land defenders, or whether its the Integrated Security Unit criminalizing so-called anarchists, its all about the attempt to break people’s resistance to an imposed order,” he said. “It is important to question just how democratic or legitimate that order is, and lots of people know that, and hanging on to that conviction is just as important as being honest about the experience of criminalization.”
Though this has been a difficult time for Alex’s friends and allies, they remain firm supporters of his work. “Alex’s family and friends are proud that he is putting his future on the line in service of social justice,” said Amy Rossiter, a Professor at York University.
Asked how people can support those still in jail and facing charges, Hundert says beyond giving to the legal defense fund, making space for people to create new alternatives and imagine their own forms of resistance is vital. And although the Crown will appeal Alex’s bail conditions next week in a move that could put him back in jail, he’s clear about what steps organizers can take.
“I think the most important thing we can do is to make space for those communities that have been most silenced in shaping the current system to facilitate a process of transformation with their voices, visions, and practices,” he said.
The Kitchener-Waterloo Community Center for Social justice, which Hundert helped found, is one example of creating that space. “Once we make space it is a lot harder for them to take it away, and no matter what they do to us, other people can join that community and culture of resistance and fill it with what they want.”