The Revolution May Be Twittered

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Greenbelt, MD. Erin and I have taken the kids as well as my mother-in-law Rosemarie and headed down to Washington, DC, where it appears that we’ll be experiencing far less security in the centre of the free world than most people this weekend are experiencing in the centre of the universe. And adding to our irony, Vivian, being a big fan of President Obama, is a little put out that we came to his house, only to find out that he left and went up to my old home town.

In spite of the oppressive heat, here, I am enjoying myself in Washington, seeing the sights and everything. Erin is hard at work (and loving every minute of it), being generally charming on Scholastic’s behalf at the American Librarian Association’s conference, as part of the publicity for Plain Kate. I myself have a writing commission that I really should get cracking on (the outline is due on Monday, but it’s going well), but in spite of all of the busy things we’re doing this weekend, news from home is filtering through, even here. Earlier today, I learnt that the TTC and GO Transit pulled a VIA, and yanked all subway, streetcar, bus and commuter train service out of the downtown core for the remainder of the G20 event.

Actually, earlier this week, I realized something. At 1:42 p.m. on Wednesday, I came down from my bedroom and heard the dishes clanking on top of my refrigerator. It was then I realized that the floor was shaking. What was going on? Had I just felt an earthquake?

Check Google News. Nothing.

Check Twitter. Dozens of tweets flash up, all basically saying, “What’s going on? Did I just feel an earthquake?”

And that’s when I knew that I had experienced the second earthquake in my life.

I must admit to being initially sceptical about the usefulness of Twitter. How could anybody possibly compress anything relevant within 140 characters of text? I started to come around when I realized that Twitter was really just a massive chatroom with an assortment of search tools that could let you follow certain conversations as they occurred. Now, I realize, I can grab information about breaking events as they happen. Sure, it’s not the detailed news analysis that the papers or even the blogs provide after the fact, but if you want to hear if an earthquake has occurred, or who the protesters are storming at the G20 summit, or what acts of police brutality have occurred, I now know where to turn in.

Case in point: check out Steve Paikin’s twitter feed. He was at the scene when a group of police in riot gear broke up what was otherwise a peaceful protest, assaulting a reporter for the Guardian, and generally giving Blogging Tory Stephen Taylor’s earlier comment that the police had reacted with restraint, a bit of a black eye. This is journalism at its most raw, and people picked up the news pretty much instantly. And so twitter joins cellphone cameras and blogs in democratizing the reporting process, putting raw information in the hands of the people, to do with as they please. Biased? Of course! (though Steve Paikin has always had impeccable credentials, and has has been very balanced in his twitter reporting) The search features of Twitter allow you to filter out most of the commentary that challenge your preconceived point of view. But it was always thus, and the information still gets out there.

It is sad to see all that has happened to my home town. The level of disruption that has occurred to the places I considered to be part of my neighbourhood hurt me as though a part of myself is hurt. I hate the fact that a minority of thugs could disrupt the lives of so many people who don’t deserve it. I hate how the majority who come out and exercise their right to peaceful protest have their actions marred by people interested only in destroying property. I hate how my city’s image has been tarnished. And I particularly hate those politicians and pundits out there who have framed everything in black and white, saying things like “the only people who are opposed to (what we support) are really… …groups of radical extremists”, putting up fences to shout down the average citizen as well as the unruly anarchist.

The reality is, my city got to host a major international conference. And I’m not ashamed of that. And a lot of people decided to make their voices heard during the conference. I’m not ashamed of that either. I’m also pretty pleased that, for the most part, Toronto’s police has acted with restraint. But a handful of people decided to hurt others, and engage in violence for its own sake. Some police officers appear to have gone too far in return. And, behind it all, some of our leaders have so overreacted to these threats that they’ve spent an incomprehensible amount of money making my city unrecognizable. I’m very ashamed of that. And I will carry that shame for a while.

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