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Assembly | Occupied Stories

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I Take Your Stuff…


On the weekend of the Occupy Wall Street anniversary I attended a meeting of the Strike Debt assembly in New York. The meeting was a book release for The Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, but also a working meeting to get input from all that attended. At the onset of the meeting a couple of people shared their personal stories of debt with the group. This sharing of stories was intended to address the shame, frustration and fear that many feel in connection with their debt. I could understand the logic here, but I found myself having a very strong reaction to the idea of shame being a common reference point for our discussion of debt. I wanted to share my story, but I didn’t think it fit within this construct. I’m in debt, but it is not shame that I feel, it is outrage. I don’t buy into the common American debt narrative: you are in debt because you bought something you couldn’t afford, because you were living beyond your means, because you are lacking in personal responsibility, because you are lazy, etc. The underlying idea here is that debt is a product of choice. But debt is about much more than choice, it is a deliberate and coercive means of control.

After several people involved with Strike Debt had spoken about different aspects of the project, a facilitator asked us come up with a question concerning debt to be posed to the group. I wasn’t really sure how to frame my question, but I was eager to offer my input and get some feedback. So when the mic came around to me I asked, “How does debt relate to theft of resources by 1% corporations?” When corporations go into countries and steal resources to sell them on the global market, often back to those they originally stole them from, how does this relate to debt? The facilitators wrote down the questions people had posed, inviting us to break out into smaller groups and choose one of the questions to discuss. The group I was part of was interested in discussing several of the questions, one participant even adding a question of her own to the list. A few people in the group were particularly interested in the question I had posed and asked me to elaborate on it. I appreciated their interest and enthusiasm, but at the time I felt reluctant to do so. I was much more interested in engaging in dialogue and listening, than in elaborating on my question. Deference to leadership is common within our culture, a show of respect for those who appear knowledgeable and capable (or, in seeming contradiction to the origin of this nation, are divinely appointed). When this is coupled with individual ownership of ideas, another root tenet of our culture, it can be difficult to contribute to a conversation without appearing attached to the ideas one contributes. But if we are truly looking to evolve “our” ideas, and not simply own the soap box, perhaps we should be seeking to free them from ownership, to let them exist independent of individual ego and belief, to invite and encourage modification of the ideas through alternative perspectives.

When it comes to movement building I have always been a big proponent of broadening our focus to include allies internationally, to more objectively understand and address the obstacles we face, as well as to learn and share successful strategies for moving forward. While focusing on a single issue may seem like good strategy for mobilizing a specific group of people affected by and passionate about that particular issue, it can also create a kind of tunnel-vision, blinding us to the broader interconnectedness of multiple issues affecting our larger community. Similarly, we can become trapped inside our own cultural identities, unable to recognize that many of the obstacles we face are a function of these identities. Inclusion of alternative perspectives, free of this cultural bias, can often allow us to see past these obstacles.

International debt relief has been a focus of the global justice movement for many years, but that concept of debt appears quite different from the American (USA) model. It occurs to me that the major difference here is this American illusion of “choice.” When a Bolivian farmer is made to choose between paying for water or feeding his family – is this really a “choice”? When our seniors are made to choose between heating their homes or medicine to keep them alive – is this really a “choice”? When our youth are made to choose between getting an education or supporting their families – is this really a “choice”? All of these “choices” have something in common: resources that have been privatized and then sold off to make a profit. The corporations and financial entities (and governments that empower them) that have privatized (stolen) these resources have no intrinsic right to them and may have even received public subsidies to extract and/or refine them. We  are so indoctrinated into a system of individual ownership in the US, the very concept of “property” enshrined in our Constitution, that we can scarcely conceive of the commons belonging to us. When we provide our labor, why do we not conceive of it as a resource? When we speak of success, why is it not as a function of the combined labor (physical and intellectual) of those who have come before us? When the air, water and land we need to live is jeopardized by corporate abuse, why do we not simply take it away from them? Even our genetic information, the very mystery of life itself, is but another resource to privatize and commodify. Key here is that, once the resources have been extracted, the people will require assistance to make up for the loss to their economies, their livelihoods, their ability to provide for their people’s basic needs. And, as if on cue, in swoops the benevolent benefactor (you know – the same one that stole all your stuff moments ago) to generously provide that needed assistance – at a price…

So how can we recast this American debt narrative of “choice” to be more in line with the one that is known throughout the world? One person in our break out group suggested that we might come up with a sort of overarching metaphor, something to cut through all the complicated financial bs that insulates debt from critique. I mentioned something about native cultures’ conception of land as communal, a gift from the creator, rather than as some thing to be owned. It got me thinking that a deeper look at the concept of ownership itself might be helpful when examining debt. As the break out groups were called on to report back to the larger meeting, I quickly jotted this down in my notebook:

I take your stuff, then I make you pay for it. I take the lion’s share then I make you fight for the crumbs. Then I offer you a “loan” to make up for your loss. Then I sell your debt/use it to make even more money.

I’m not an expert in finance or debt. I have a BFA, not an MBA. But swimming in this financial cesspool of intentional obfuscation, perhaps more expert testimony is not what we need. Perhaps a bit of intuitive common sense instead. When the banking/brokerage kings of finance are allowed to sell 30-40 times more debt (most of it in bundled home mortgages) than they can back up with actual cash money (liquid assets), turning profit on every sale along the way, knowing full well that our taxes will bail their asses out when the junk debt they’re selling goes belly up; maybe we need to be looking beyond the paltry sums that we “owe” them – to the massive amounts of profit they make dealing “our” debt. Whatever we decide to focus on, we should keep in mind: it is only through our common consent to their hoarding of our resources, that we remain indebted to them.

-Thomas-

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Revving up for August, Montreal, Night 94


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 elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–It’s a bit after midnight, and I just got home from a perfectly curated musical fund-raiser in the Mile-End neighborhood of Montreal titled carré rouge sonore (“red square sound”) organized by HOWL! arts collective. HOWL! was also largely responsible for dreaming up the Rêve général illimité (“unlimited general dreams/strike”), an unpermitted creative intervention during the Jazz Festival and hopefully another version will take place before the start/nonstart of schools here in Montreal on August 13. From what I’ve seen so far, HOWL! doesn’t sit back quietly but instead tries to use the language of cultural creation to voice political aspirations for a new world, as tiny as those voices might be right now or even for a long while to come. Social change is hard work. So conversely, it should be pleasurable hard work — or at least that seems to be part of the unspoken aim of HOWL! This arts collective doesn’t ask permission from arts councils or cops; rather, it imagines what music, say, might sound like in an altogether different form of social organization — one premised on what’s been facilitating and sustaining this student strike: direct democracy in various forms. (For those of you agitating just south of here, in that place still called the United States, and maybe even folks outside this Francophone province, please take heed: if anything is key to this strike, it’s the long-lived legacy, infrastructure, and practice of face-to-face decision making — not easily replicated quickly, but necessary nonetheless.)

For example, the École de la Montagne Rouge crew, made up of still-striking students who are still making posters and other brilliant (and often brilliant red) visuals for asocial movement instead of sitting quietly in rows of chairs in a classroom, brought their own collective envisioning of red squares to this musical fund-raiser by designing the logo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefanchristoff/7625011812/).

Such infinite dreams, of course, are largely circumscribed by the present culture industry, but nights like tonight show that a few stray notes that can’t quite be captured by the capitalist logic manage to slip through to a few eager ears and open minds — many of them opened by the student strike itself. At the “red square sound” event, I ran into still-striking students who are busy taking gorgeous photos and writing indie news accounts for this social movement, or further discovering anarchism by recently taking a road trip to the Anarchist People of Color convergence in New Orleans; there were teachers there, also strike allies, and Mile-End popular assembly folks who are busy organizing a “casseroles and orchestrole” go downtown to illegal night demo 100 this coming Wednesday, August 1 (http://www.facebook.com/events/408425942526577/), and an August 10 “Mile-End Bloc(k) Party: Toward a Social Strike” (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/) — basically, hopefully, a large (perhaps red) square of street turned into an open-air classroom to illustrate what free education looks like, via a festive direct action in disobedience of special law 78, and to let the students know that the neighborhood assemblies are behind their strike, just ahead of the start/nonstart of their schools. It, in turn, emerged out of a call from the St. Henri popular assembly for a “day of action” in neighborhoods on August 10, building toward the notion of social strike in complement to student strike and, again, also just making visible popular support for the students, so they don’t feel alone. So they aren’t alone. Although if CLASSE has anything to do with it, its also-August 10 evening gear-up for the August 13 week “class or no class” — Nous sommes avenir (approximately, “We are the future”), http://www.facebook.com/events/422915807747262/ — will draw hundreds or thousands together to make that plain for all to see.

If the major student association, and the most radical and bottom-up one, CLASSE, has anything to do with it, its August 10 evening gear-up for the August 13 week “class or no class” — Nous sommes avenir (approximately, “We are the future”), http://www.facebook.com/events/422915807747262/ — will draw hundreds or thousands together to make that plain for all to see. Oh yeah, and then there’s the callout for an international convergence in Montreal to support the Quebec student strike during the week of August 13 to 17 (http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12). [Update: I could start adding a lengthy string of student and social strike organizing here, often starting to overlap in people’s enthusiasm to organize, which is a good “problem” to have in a social movement if one thinks about it. Indeed, as of the afternoon after I wrote this piece, there are now three separate calls for neighborhood casseroles and orchestroles to converge at the night 100 demo, and a 6 p.m. call by Anarchopanda to also do a solidarity demo in front of the Russian Consultate for the Riot Pussy women in jail. Somehow I imagine it’ll all work out, since after all, it’s great that there’s such widespread popular support for what’s called a “social” or “popular” struggle, and the point was to demonstrate to the students and greater public that neighborhoods, too, are behind the strike!]

Tonight’s sounds of the red square displayed a preview of this togetherness. It included the music of resistance, from jazz to the first-ever indoor orchestrole (with loaner cookware on hand, so others could join in, loudly and boisterously) to hip-hop to protest chant in between, amid a room full of red squares and rabble-rousers. Despite the forecast of rain, it turned out to be a lovely evening here in Montreal to raise legal funds for the Quebec striking students. Those funds are signaled by another graphic play on the red square in the logo of the legal helpers je donne à nous, a group that’s still gladly taking contributions for the coming storm of riot police and, as rumor has it, actual implementation of special law 78 when school soon starts/doesn’t start come August 13 onward.

The benefit was held in a neighborhood collective space, which felt both part homey, part social center. It was only a block or so from where the autonomous popular assembly of Mile-End met earlier tonight, in a local cafe that itself features local musicians all day until closing time at 6 p.m. Due to the potential of wet weather, the cafe folks loaned their space for this fledgling experiment in neighborhood direct democracy. There, in week 6 of so of our assembly, old faces and new ones heard a presentation by one assembly participant — also a lawyer — on special law 78. We’d decided this at last week’s assembly after doing a go-around of the some 45 or so people in attendance at our usual outdoor park spot about how we, as a popular assembly, wanted to lend support to the likely still-striking students when they likely will try to keep their schools shut during the increasingly key week of August 13-17, when some 13 schools are supposed to open by law — backed by the force of this new special law 78 that seemingly makes any kind of dissent criminal, including probably all neighborhood assemblies. We offered our views on comfort levels around “green, yellow, and red” zones, or levels of potential risk of arrest, and then seemed to concur that such designations would more likely be up to the police, not us. Banging a saucepan, for example, could flare into “red” in cop’s eyes. Wearing a red square that week could fuel the same overreaction on the police’s part. But despite varying degrees of worry over risk and the law, our go-round last week showed strong support for us tangibly supporting the students, though it’s unclear what that will look like other than, for now, remaining open and flexible, and creating as many links and lines of communication as we can between other neighborhood and student assemblies.

It’s not that we can’t start imagining various things we could do; rather, it’s because everything and everyone has to wait on the individual schools (and sometimes individual departments within schools) to hold their own student assemblies to decide whether to continue the strike or not, and if so, how. In what’s becoming a nail-biter moment for this social movement, student assemblies largely don’t convene until the few days before the start/nonstart of schools that August 13 week.

This nervous anticipation translates into low-grade inklings of what’s to come. For example, one of my friends who organized tonight’s fund-raiser said he got stopped by a cop yesterday for allegedly jaywalking some “three blocks away,” when clearly the cop couldn’t possibly see that far to spy the alleged infraction of the social order. When my friend asked if he was actually being stopped because he was wearing the red square, the cop’s face pretty much confirmed it. But it’s not just the cop versus people tension that emerging right now; it’s also the clock ticking away toward August, and how much needs to be decided, directly, before those school doors are supposed to open (or not) for classes. If Facebook is any indication of anything, student-strike-related invites are piling up and indeed overlapping for all things rebel red starting August 1, that pivotal day 100 of illegal contestation night after night in Montreal’s streets — a small count, relatively, compared to the soon six-month-old student strike.

Earlier this afternoon, I got a feel for the weight on the shoulders of these students, many of whom are probably pretty new to politics and also likely now have become fast learners and incredibly savvy at striking. Most of them have blocked many a door, seen many a riot cop up close, and gone miles on many an illegal demo, not to mention gotten really good at self-governance — or better than average, at least. I went and sat in on today’s UQAM strike council of some 75 people, give or take, mostly students (though most students are still away on break) in a lifeless UQAM lecture hall, but the room was brought to liveliness by the discussion — a bit slowly, though, since no one seemed to step up to facilitate what was clearly an informal direct democracy today. Brainstorming about everything from how to block classes to what logistics are needed to organizing solidarity demos, it suddenly became clear that this was an enormous puzzle given all the schools meeting as assemblies to decide whether to stay strong on their strike and then opening/not opening their schools within a tiny window of time in mid-August. The brainstorm also showed that nearly every school, for various reasons, thinks it is deserving of extra support, which of course is probably true.

Someone suggested they create a giant “calendar” on the chalkboard, which only underscored the incredibly complex communications and organizational task ahead. For instance, 4 schools open on August 13, and many of the schools are nowhere near each other geographically. How to communicate what all the student assemblies decide (including one that is supposed to meet the same day that the students are supposed to return to their classes at that school) to all the other schools, and all the students, and all the neighborhood assemblies, teachers, parents, allies, media, and the list went on. After some 45 minutes of trying to even begin to figure out a calendar, the task of doing so seemed to be abandoned in favor of trying to talk about the communications and organizational quagmire. I had to leave to get back for the Mile-End popular assembly, but the council meeting reminded me that, first, this strike is remarkable in that given all this complexity, the students have so far figured it out and stayed on strike, using these face-to-face decision-making structures; and second, as this sidewalk stencil from Mile-End urges, there’s a need to: “Prepare for August!”

Or better still, as this poster around Montreal proclaims: “On August 13. The Strike Continues.”

Or rather, both are true: there’s the need to prepare, and near impossibility of truly preparing given all the variables (elections, student assemblies, popular assemblies, police, special law, public opinion and especially material support, and the list goes on), and yes, it looks highly probably that the strike will continue nonetheless.

For now, as July draws to a close, so much radical subversion is being debated, imagined, and enacted through collectives and assemblies — the imperfect practice of what created a strike, what might let it go forward, and what might be its historical contribution more than anything else.

And likewise, so much of this radical subversion is being read through the tiny little red square. Sometimes, like in the photo below from much earlier today, taken on my walk to the UQAM strike council, all the eye thinks it sees is the pleasurable aesthetic of intended square converging with an accidental one, or the randomly lovely visual of this symbol in all sorts of places and spaces across the urban landscape, so quiet now during the two-week summer holiday that hits Montreal at the end of July. (In fact, there’s basically a voluntary “social strike” of sorts already going on, since many businesses simply close altogether for these two weeks and go on holiday too — making it maybe a little easier for folks to perhaps imagine what a social strike would look or feel like: leisurely noncompulsion, for starters, so as to do what one wants instead.)

Somehow, though, in the context of the building drama toward the opening/nonopening of school in mid-August, every scrap of red feels fraught with organizational and strategic difficulties, and yet ever so revolutionary.

(For more “Seeing Red” snapshots beyond those sprinkled through this piece, take a peek at my ever-growing archival record of red squares in Montreal and on Montrealers at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/.)

– Cindy Milstein –

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Listen, You Can Hear the Sound of Direct Democracy, or Orchestroles, Montreal, Night 72


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 elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal-, QC – Among the many things to remark on here in Montreal in relation to the remarkable student strike and the maple movement it has engendered is that people don’t seem to beat tactics to death. When new tactics have strategic uses that are underpinned by solid aims, and crucially, when they exhibit a bit of novelty or flair, they stay in play. On the other hand, when tactics appear to have outlasted their usefulness and especially their vibrancy, they are abandoned, reworked, or take another enlivening form.

It’s still unclear exactly how this happens. Ideas are put out there — on Facebook, posters, or the streets, and especially at student and neighborhood assemblies — and clearly, strategic and tactical decisions are made as well as implemented. Directly democratic along with highly participatory forms of decision making have long been institutionalized at many of the schools on strike, and several members of the student coalitional association CLASSE have mentioned that this self-governance was pivotal to planning, organizing, and mobilizing this strike. Or more strongly, that the strike couldn’t have happened without those bodies.

But there’s also this curious way in which a sort of “general will” or popular consensus — outside any formal process, and more like a gravitational pull — makes it apparent that a particular tactic has people’s enthusiasm and participation, or not. And not in a cynical or mean-spirited way; people on the ground seem to somehow, inexplicably, concur that something feels right to do.

The key point is: there’s a palpable and (compared to contemporary movements in the United States) profound lack of tactical, not to mention strategic, staleness.

So it is with the casseroles.

Nearly as quickly as they burst on to the scene in Montreal some six weeks ago, swelling in numbers and locations and volume, the casseroles diminished to the occasional few folks at an intersection for about fifteen minutes. They were magical while they lasted, and made their point, plus helped to kick off popular assemblies in various neighborhoods here, and offered an easy solidarity tool for folks in other cities and countries, such as the “Canada casseroles night” every Wednesday. And probably a sizable number of Montreal households now have a thoroughly dented pan as proud symbol of this struggle.

Then, the Saturday before last, various Montreal popular assemblies decided they would pull those battered pots into battle again, and head downtown to add strength to the nightly illegal demos. They each started casseroles on particular corners in their own neighborhoods, at staggered times, and then walked from neighborhood to neighborhood toward downtown, picking up people until a hefty contingent of casserolers with banners for each popular assembly converged at the usual meeting spot next to UQAM for the (second) illegal evening march, and everyone strolled out again together. There was also a flash mob on the way that swooped into a bookstore chain that had supposedly fired an employee for wearing a red square; inside, for several exuberant minutes, people banged on pots and waved red-covered books.

Meanwhile, a small group of diehards in the Mile-End neighborhood had apparently been bringing their cookware out on Wednesdays to two “hot spot” intersections at 8 p.m. At last Thursday’s Mile-End popular assembly, in the six-person breakout group on culture and arts, two enthusiastic guys — part of an enthusiastic collective space in the neighborhood — said they wanted to add an orchestra and bring it out into the streets at this Wednesday’s tiny casseroles, or our own neighborhood version of Montreal’s Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble, “born May 27th 2006 during the ‘Status For All’ march/demo in Montreal” (http://chaoticinsurrectionensemble.org/). Maybe it was another one of those “lost in translation” moments for me, but I could have sworn they said they didn’t want to promote it; just spread the idea via word of mouth, which is what happened. The breakout group ran the idea by the reconvened assembly, or what was left at it some three hours into our popular gathering in a public park. Everyone affirmed that it sounded good, and away we all went into the night last week.

At 8:10 p.m. this evening, at the appointed Waverly and St.-Viateur intersection, it was me and maybe three or four other folks with pots and pans. I started banging on my saucepan, filled with homemade red felt squares and safety pins in each (to give out when — or if — we really got going), and the rest of the cookware crew joined me, along with a couple dogs that started barking. At about 8:15 p.m., one of the two enthusiastic guys marched over to us with his drum, quadrupling (or more) our noise level. At 8:20 p.m., now with maybe six casseroles on pots and ladles, he asked me if I thought we should give up on the plan. He wondered if it had been promoted, though I reminded him that he and his friend been opposed to that last week. He then wondered if maybe we should just call it quits for this week, and promote it for the next one.

Fortunately, soon, our popular assembly banner arrived from one direction, and a definite scrappy DIY orchestra appeared in the other direction — horns, drums, tambourines, and perhaps the showpiece, a quiet bicycle with a big red-square banner. More on that in a minute.

Suddenly there were also more pots and pans, and more dogs, and some kids, and lots of red squares on bodies and instruments, and we set about “tuning up” our street-corner insurrection ensemble, and then . . . away we went, out into the unsanctioned streets as popular assembly marching band in solidarity with the student strike and social strike (because that’s been the clear sentiment at the first two assemblies). Or rather, out with our newly blended tactic: “Orchestroles”! Part instruments, musicians, and discernible songs; part cookware, neighbors, and clanging chaos.

Suffice it to say, the neighborhood came alive as we passed by in the streets, with people popping their heads out windows, doors, and balconies, and some zipping back inside to grab a pot and wooden spoon, and then join us. The musicians increasingly hit their stride, starting to really jam, and the sound of music — a mix of joyful and somber, mournful and celebratory — echoed off the buildings, wafting through the gentle night breeze, outward well beyond our numbers (maybe forty tops, but never the “true” illegal number spelled out in special law 78, which for about a minute, we chanted against with the usual “fuck you” slogan in French).

A casseroler had brought flyers about our next assembly, and she and I handed them out to curious onlookers, who leaned out open-air cafes to get a peek or stopped on their bicycles to savor the music. Mostly, I held out my saucepan full of freshly made red squares to people who seemed more than curious. They’d peek inside, a big grin would spread across their face, and more often than not, they’d exclaim their surprise at this gift. I could never hear what they said, due to the orchestroles’ overwhelming din, but expressions can speak louder than words sometimes. They’d eagerly grab one, pinning to their shirt or bag, again looking astonished at this gift that allowed them, too, to participate. I didn’t invent this tactic; it’s one I borrowed after seeing a few folks do it on previous casseroles. Several members of our orchestroles realized I had these red squares, and since they weren’t wearing one, they ran up to me to get a “loaner,” and soon I could see my saucepan was nearly empty. Then one of our popular assembly crew — a striking student — sidled up to me, asking if I needed more, and then pulled out a ziplock bag full of them. This student told me that they made them in batches to give out at their student association meetings. So voila! Refilled saucepan, ready to be emptied again!

We took the streets, our popular assembly banner at the head, musicians toward the front, cookware all around, and bicycle with banner at the rear, all of us illegal and self-directed, winding our way through quieter residential streets and busier commercial ones in Mile-End, nearly always against traffic, for about an hour. And just when we were nearly back at our starting point, which clearly (via that inexplicable general will) was going to be our ending point, suddenly one, then two, and then five cop cars with lights flashing decided they had to intervene — with the usual excuse of, as they told one of our orchestroles, “preventing an accident.” Their method to ensure our “safety” was to use the front of their cars to “nudge” several us off the street. When someone would “insist” on remaining in the street, they’d turn their cruiser toward them, brushing car against person’s body. Without any “fuck you cops” or confrontation, our orchestroles just stayed its course, in our streets, back to our beginning intersection, where we raised our pots and pans as the musicians raised the volume in a gorgeously insurrectionary finale, with smiles all around.

“Next week?” “Yes, next week!” “Hey, can’t we do an encore now?!”

We engaged in short and sweet schmoozing in the street instead, while the five cop cars sat ineffectually nearby. “Hey, we must have been successful tonight,” someone observed happily. “Look, they sent five police cars for less than fifty people!” At one point the police used a microphone to announce that we needed to get out of the streets and stop socializing, but like the bigger nightly demos, no one listened. The police aren’t who people listen to these days. We talk and listen to each other.

Which brings me back to the quiet bicycle with the big red-square banner, with one word (well, two, if you count the French and English versions): LISTEN.

LISTEN. That’s what direct democracy sounds like. A whole lot of listening, to each other, and what we need, desire, and feel good about doing. Maybe that goes a long way to explaining why neither tactics, strategies, or aspirations go stale. People here in Montreal, in building toward and moving forward with this student-social strike, have made use of and/or are creating deliberate spaces for listening, from assemblies to the wake-up calls of casseroles and now orchestroles.

Which brings me to an anecdote about a different kind of interaction this evening.

At one point in handing out my homemade red felt squares, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, waved me over to her front door. When I held out my saucepan, she said in perfect English, with not a moment’s hesitation about whether I would understand or not (coincidence or not, this is something that’s always been my experience at demos, when someone wants to complain about the strike, which is heavily Francophone inflected and organized), “Don’t you think you’ve protested enough? You’ve already lost, no one agrees with you, and the government isn’t going to give you what you want.” Her initial smile turned to hostility, and her voice got an angry edge. “But look around you. Can’t you see that there’s lots of support, right here on your block?” I responded, because hoards of people all around us had come outside to wave and cheer the orchestroles on, and even start participating too.

She dived, agitatedly, into the tired and misguided line that the students were spoiled, they had it better than students elsewhere, and so on. I dived, calmly, into the idea that everyone should have cheap or free education, and maybe health care and housing too. “Like you do,” I said, because I was looking right into her lovely home, its front door wide open.

She started pointing a finger at me, about to yell, and I quietly pointed my finger at her T-shirt, which sported a big heart made out of hundreds of little versions of the wordlove. Even more calmly, I said, “Isn’t that what love is about? Love in the most expansive sense, as a love of humanity? That we believe that each of us — you, me, and everyone around us — is deserving of what they need and want?” She stopped, looked at me, less sure of herself. I could hear her listening, maybe not to me, but to something inside her head, like she was now forced to have an internal dialogue because she’d listened to that word love — a word that she herself was wearing, perhaps without even thinking hard about its meaning before.

LISTEN. Nightly and daily here, for the time being at least, you can hear the faint but growing sound of things changing.

-Cindy Milstein- 

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