Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.
Montreal, QC–There’s nothing like walking for some 4 to 5 hours, yet again, through Montreal with hundreds and hundreds of riot cops in tow–rows and rows of police cars with lights on, squads and squads of heavily suited-up cops in formation and running every which way, lines of police guarding any and every street leading to Grand Prix festivities; white vans with “intervention” written on the side, empty city buses waiting to be filled with people like us, a cop helicopter looming above. But there’s also nothing like walking for those many hours and kilometers, for the first time during my maple spring-summer stay, with hundreds of “veteran” anarchists–from CLAC, a relatively longtime anarchist organization, and people who’ve been to many a mass mobilization and other mayhem, such as Quebec City during the alter-globalization days–along with lots of new anarchists–many clean-cut students, such as the ones pictured below, walking from the Metro to the 5 p.m. planned disruption of a fancy Grand Prix dinner by anticapitalists/anarchists. There’s nothing like being on the streets of a city where people, anarchist and otherwise, don’t seem to be afraid of the police anymore.
The police always try to find ways to make people feel afraid, of course. This morning at 6 a.m., at the start of this weekend’s Grand Prix grand battle, for instance, they targeted specific anticapitalist/anarchist organizers’ homes and made some arrests. And after only a few minutes of anarchists and other radicals meeting up at the appointed spot at 5 p.m. to attempt to block elites from eating together–with one anarchist contingent arriving in a bloc fronted by two banners (pictured just below)–riot police swooped in from all sides so fast we didn’t know what hit us, and suddenly, I and several hundred others were kettled, pushed together by heavily suited cops with batons racing toward us menacingly. Then just as suddenly, four riot cops ran into our packed kettle, snatched a person, and pulled them out for arrest.
All this did, however, was kick people into organizing gear. Some folks handed out bilingual flyers made by CLAC with a CLAC legal support number for this weekend. Someone else gave me and many others something to use if the police used tear gas. People shared water, and wrote friends’ numbers along with the legal number on their bodies, loaning out pens. I was supposed to meet up with a friend for this demo, but he got delayed, and some new Francophone acquaintances (swiftly turning into friends) took this Anglophone into their temporary affinity group.
Beyond organizing, the fear tactics only served to increase people’s resolve. As cops shoved into our imprisoned mass with batons and some pepper spray to grab other folks (we heard they wanted people in masks, or as one friend tweeted to us later, “people in black with umbrellas”), anarchists linked arms, stood their ground, and tried to repell the police–and actually managed to “unarrest” some folks within the confines of our kettle. People screamed at the police; police made fun of them; people looked them in the eye, up close, when they charged in. After some 10 to 15 arrests, the police pulled up a white van with “technology” written on the side, pulled out a microphone, and suddenly–after maybe an hour–declared our kettle an illegal assembly and that we should disperse. As one of my comrades yelled back, “It doesn’t look like your own police can follow orders,” since not a one of them moved to let us out. This only increased the sense of nonfear and courage among us. And then, oddly, the riot cops parted, and we raced out–quickly reforming into another, even bigger anarchist bloc–thanks to other folks waiting for us outside the kettle–taking over streets and heading toward Crescent Street, where other Grand Prix visitors were partying.
One of my new friends needed to get his bike, so we left the march for a bit, and on our way to find it again, we saw police cars whizzing by, and a random woman near us suddenly screamed at the police with all her might and gave them the finger, many times over. My new friend looked at me, and basically remarked, “See, people aren’t afraid anymore.” This happens a lot, increasingly, he told me. He himself hadn’t ever really gone to demos or done any organizing before this, but when the government decided not to negotiate with CLASSE, probably the most radical and articulate of the student organizations, and isolate it a couple months ago, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t stand on the sidelines. In our kettle, he was among the first to link arms and push back against the riot cops when they pushed in with batons & spray to grab person after person.
We found one of our comrades from the earlier kettle, and she told us that the police had again attacked the anarchists, much more heavyhandedly this time, and arrested some more people. But for a third time–or at least third to my knowledge, because there seem to be different illegal marches each night in several or many places at once–anarchists regrouped, this time for the 7:30 p.m. “naked” student march (as in, I presume, the government isn’t being transparent with us, so we’ll be transparent to them). The numbers of fearless folks increased dramatically, into the several or many thousands, in a park, where to start this Grand Prix disruption march, some students draped a huge statue with a red cloth, and then several male-bodied students climbed up to the statue’s pedestal and stripped off their clothes to the cheering crowd below–with one of them sporting a red square stuck just above their penis. (Here’s a nice panoramic view of that scene, courtesy of a twitter post.)
With enormous red flags on tall poles leading the way, our semi-clad, barely clad, and completely naked mass struck out to push our way into a section of the city where Grand Prix visitors were lavishly wining and dining on public streets set aside for that purpose. And fully and overly clad riot police were soon everywhere, diligently shadowing and hounding us, but the march only grew louder and prouder and more naked, until we reached a point where it seemed we’d been kettled again. My anarchist crew and a bunch of others darted into what appeared to be nearby escape areas (one of my new friends laughingly said, “You don’t want to be arrested again, do you?” and gestured for me to follow into a big parking lot filled with fancy cars). In a flash, big riot cops with batons raised were racing toward us, as we darted between cars, and I along with my friends got shoved away from the cars with those batons. Lots of chaos; still no fear; and yet another regrouping and massive march.
More fearless and illegal taking of street after street, and more riot cops chasing and blocking us, as we headed for the opening night of a big outdoor French-language music festival near the Place du Arts. Yet again, kettling seemed likely. Yet again, people dispersed and regrouped, and suddenly we ended up in front of the free festival’s free entrance, with a line of riot cops keeping thousands in and us out. Hundreds of people on the inside, right behind the police, waved red pieces of cloth, joined us in chants, waved their solidarity, raised their fists, and some folks inside the free music festival dropped a big “FUCK CAPITALISM” over the side of the Place du Arts, also waving to us. We stood by the police line, facing them, ignoring them, looking at our comrades–people, so many varied types of people, who seem to be supporting this day-after-day-after-day struggle with both less fear and heightened hopes.
We heard there was another demonstration on the other of the festival–the group that had met up at the usual 8:30 p.m. nightly rendezvous point. My impromptu affinity group (all publishers, writers, and editors, and all or most of them anarchists) had mostly gone home by this time, and the last to stick with me, another new friend, said she was tired and was going to call it a night. I headed off in a different direction, and instantly saw 50-75 or more police guarding their own police station, and then in another block, a city bus sat idling with the destination “special” illuminated on its front and its lit interior filled with police; it soon raced off, followed by dozens and dozens of cop cars with their sirens blaring, and I heard the helicopter moving off with them too–off quickly, toward what was likely the other demo a mile or so away.
I kept heading home–about a 45-minute walk–and soon came upon another street festival. St.-Laurent was closed for blocks, and its bars and restaurants were extended with tents onto the street. People were drinking and eating, as if the scenes of radicals and police engaged in far more confrontational and tense situations than usual had not happened. Were not still happening. It’s hard not to start disbelieving, I thought, as I trudged wearily; so much boldness, and talk of that only increasing as the summer wears on and especially the school year starts (or doesn’t!); so much talk of not simply striking students but widespread unrest and anti-austerity sentiments. Widespread politicization and radicalization, and it’s spreading, inspiring others in provinces outside Quebec and places outside Canada. As the rain started to lightly drizzle, and I turned onto yet another street–St.-Denis–closed for yet another summer festival, still filled with tourists and bar-goers and others seemingly oblivious to social strike, in the distance, I heard the faint sound of pots and pans, the faint sounds of now-familiar French-language chants. (These chants are spread far and wide across Montreal nightly with the casseroles and marches that they are hard to get out of your head; earlier today, for example, I heard what looked like a 4-year-old absentmindedly singing one of the chants while she waited near me for the Metro–here probably home to dinner, and me heading with dozens of others marked by a red square on their backpack, hat, or shirt to the 5 p.m. anarchist convergence/disruption.) The clamor quickly grew, and there on this Montreal summer festival street appeared about 100 people in an 10:30 p.m. casseroles, making this uprising a festival of their own, as the rain started to come down harder. Because likely it will get harder, this weekend of attempted Grand Prix disruption and in the weeks and months ahead. Yet it doesn’t seem like much of anyone fears the difficulty.
As I reached my temporary home, I heard sirens and a helicopter, switched on CUTV’s livestream and glanced at twitter, and realized, yet again, on this night and probably a whole bunch more, anarchists and would-be anarchists and people acting anarchistically were taking over other streets, in flagrant and increasingly fearless defiance of special law 78, even as the cops were probably trying to stop them.
- Cindy Milstein -