My Summit 2010: The protests

This post was originally featured at The Next Great Generation.

I was privileged to be one of the 150 Millennials from around the world invited to the My Summit 2010 event. Each delegate was invited to participate and talk about their ideas for the future and challenge the G8 and G20 leaders to devise solutions that will benefit not only our generation, but also the generations yet to come.

Leading up to the G20 Summit proceedings, the downtown core of Toronto drastically transformed. Stores closed, businesses shut down and security tightened up. Police were on hand to re-route traffic, keep the peace and encourage people to stay out of trouble. On Saturday June 26, 2010, the first day of the G20 Summit, the youth delegates happened to be on a coach bus in downtown Toronto as the day’s events for the My Summit 2010 were taking place outside of the G20 lockdown zone. As we tried to move around the city, we were forced to experience what it was like to be in the midst of a protest.

For upwards of two hours the youth delegates were trapped amidst the commotion. Besides the disappointment we felt for the destruction and chaos that was ongoing, the general feeling in the air was that we were unaware of the message that anyone involved in the protests were trying to convey. It was beyond frustrating to be stuck in the frustrating confines of the bus, locked in for safety as we tried to get where we were going, impeded and delayed by the activity in the streets.

Protesters are often typified as young and reckless. They get lots of media attention because they are loud, proud and, in this particular case, ironically destructive. While there is lots of excitement around what happens at a protest of such magnitude, all of this commotion detracts from the main event and the real reason that so many people have gathered together.

While on the bus, we had limited access to the news, so our Blackberries became our fuel for updates via Twitter and news sites. We were enraged, excited, dismayed, shocked and awed at what was going on directly around us. Things changed by the second and, as we were potentially a target, the feeling in the pit of my stomach worsened. It was similar to the feeling of wearing a blindfold and having someone be your guide. Our blindfold was our lack of knowledge, creating fear of the unknown and our only guide was our ever present connection to the digital world.

I’ve lived and worked in Toronto and I’ve called Toronto my home. But on that day in Toronto, the city looked and felt nothing like the Toronto that I knew. Where there should have been tourists, there were protesters – everywhere.

Everyone can have an opinion, but it’s what you do with that opinion that matters.

I respect the right to an opinion and the rights of others to have their own. I don’t, however, respect unlawful destruction and the absence of a cohesive voice or substantiated opinion. Finding purpose in your voice is what will ultimately create change, so why not put your effort into something constructive that will get your voice heard and make a difference?

Seizing the opportunity to wreak havoc on a city simply because they have bulked up security is not effective. It is a harmful, frustrating, ineffective, complete waste of time, energy and resources.

There are probably a few parallels between those involved in the protests and those involved in the My Summit 2010 delegation. Both groups are young, on average, and are extremely passionate about specific issues. However, one group chose violence and destruction, while the other chose a forum that gave their cause a constructive and actionable voice. And on Saturday, June 26, 2010, the group that chose violence won the battle to get the best media coverage, simply by making a spectacle.

The delegates are people that are passionate about their future and want to make sure that the issues that are important to them are heard. I believe that our generation is willing to take risks, speak up and speak out on what they believe in.

My hope for the future is that events like the G8 and G20 will happen without protest. We need forums where our world leaders can talk about what issues face us. As Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in his closing address, “we no longer have a national economy, we have a global economy.”

We persevered through the protests and by night’s end the noise, commotion, and destruction had died down. The broken Starbucks windows will be fixed quickly, and soon enough Toronto will be back to normal, without protesters, extra police and steel barricades. Many people will reflect back on the G20 Summit of 2010 and think of what happened in the streets of Toronto.

I will look back and remember the decisions that were made, the subjects that were talked about and that the voice of our generation was heard.