Large anti-war demonstrations have been a regular feature of recent weekends in Toronto. The last Sunday in March was no exception. What made this demonstration noteworthy, however, was the lead contingent: Beneath a banner reading, "A World Without War Is Possible," the Toronto Social Forum took to the streets. The "Parade and Protest" was the culmination of a weekend political event and cultural festival held at Ryerson University March 28 to 30, which involved more than 100 events and 1,500 participants.
The Toronto Social Forum is "based in Toronto but open to the world." It is an ongoing organizing process initiated in September, 2002, inspired by the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Last weekend's events attracted activists from Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. The Forum opened with a gala event, "Artists Against the Empire," featuring an impressive line-up of literati, musicians and comics emceed by dub poet Clifton Joseph. Order of Canada recipient and peace activist Dr. Ursula Franklin was the evening's featured political speaker. She was accompanied by local antiwar activist Abdul-Rehman Malik. The duo delivered a dramatic commentary on Picasso's "Guernica," its recent veiling at the UN at U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's request, and the enduring power of art in the service of truth.
Reza Baraheni, president of PEN Canada, called the event "historic" in its tremendous diversity. According to organizers, the integration of culture and the arts with radical politics was a central goal of the event, and helps define the new politics represented by the Forum.
The weekend featured an ongoing "cultural production" workshop in which forum participants made banners and painted murals. They also produced a dozen wondrous, eagle-sized bird puppets. Mounted on poles, the birds were constructed of wire frames adorned with strips of brightly-coloured fabric feathers. The puppet phoenixes starred in Sunday's parade, accompanied by clowns, stilt walkers and the Arhythmics, an activist street band from the Toronto Islands.
Numerous workshops featured music, singing, film and theatrical presentations. The mix-and-mingle soiree on Saturday afternoon included a stunning cultural program organized entirely through an e-mail call for activists with an art or an act to present themselves. More than a dozen did, including drummers, singers, a dancer, a storyteller, two bands and a choir.
"Culture Cauldron," an activist cabaret of five-minute acts performed by deaf and disabled persons, was another Forum high-light. According to organizer Catherine Frazee, "War creates disability. In war, the lives of some are found to be of less value than the lives of others. …