Our march, targeting the devastating problems caused by economic inequality in our communities, was set to kick off at 3:30 pm from the Thompson Center in the loop. Activists started arriving as early as 2:30 and by march time we had close to 50 brothers and sisters ready to make some noise for justice. we started by heading east to reach the main shopping areas of our fair city. On the march, we stayed on the sidewalks, banging on our pots and pans, shouting and chanting, accompanied by drums and various noise makers. and of course, police were present. We had an escort of 3-5 bike cops, 4-6 walking officers, and at least 2 squad cars. Our casserole march had no real destination, other than the shopping district, so we meandered through streets of downtown Chicago, our destination chosen as much at random as it was to make the officers get some exercise. After marching north on State Street for a while, we headed over further east on Wacker Drive to visit the Hyatt Hotel to deliver a message. We attempted to enter the hotel, but security and police prevented us from accessing the lobby. So we delivered a mic check right in front of their doors, highlighting the myriad of labor battles and terrible worker conditions Hyatt engages in, especially calling attention to the political connections of the wealthy Hyatt Heiress Penny Pritzker and Chicago’s 1% mayor Rahm Emmanuel. After that brief stop, we headed north on Michigan, headed for the “magnificent mile”, Chicago’s premier high end shopping district. Once we crossed the Chicago river, our police escort mysteriously disappeared, so naturally we took the streets. On this particularly busy Saturday afternoon in downtown Chicago, our 50 person #globalNOISE casserole march took over Michigan Avenue for almost a full mile! Traffic slowed as we banged our pots and pans and drums, chanting and inviting others to join. Several people walking by cheered us, and some even joined the fun! the march snaked north on Michigan ave, switching between north and south bound lanes for fun and excitement. At one point a police cruiser did show up, but with a very weak attempt to restore “order”, we ignored them and stayed in the street.
After reaching Water Tower Place, the consumerist palace capping the north end of Chicago’s magnificent mile, we decided to enter the building to bring our message to the shoppers. immediately upon entering, banging and clanging our metal pots and pans, the mall security set upon us, telling us we had to leave. We of course ignored them and kept moving up the stairs onto the main floor. We made a few circles around the elevators, chanting “while you’re shopping, bombs are dropping!”, and then exited through a Macy’s. Once outside, we began circling in the intersection, waiting for all our comrades. Then we took a quick consensus and decided to head west for a few blocks and then disband the march, regrouping later to discuss and critique the days actions.
Personally, I felt the overall march was a great success. we didn’t know how many participants to expect, or have any real expectations for the route of the march. In the end, a good amount turned out and the fact we were able to take Michigan Ave for so long unhindered by the police was quite exciting. The final action of entering Water Tower Place was more than i expected, and i hope provided a much needed element of reality to those blindly consuming goods in those halls of capitalism.
Montral, QC–Despite a weather forecast calling for rain all day, the drops held off until just as the last section of the Mile-End neighborhood’s Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike was being cleaned up and taken away. The folding tables from a nearby collective house/space were being wheeled away on a handcart along with the Outremont Popular Autonomous Assembly’s banner, which our next-door neighborhood friends had accidentally left behind. The disassembled pieces from the outdoor station for silk screening (sérigraphies) were on their way home too, and someone had probably already recycled the sign for it, as part of meticulously collecting any garbage in the trash bags we’d brought along. It was about 4:00 p.m.
At 9:30 a.m. earlier on this same Friday, August 10, a bunch of us from the Assemblée populaire autonome de Quartier (APAQ) met at “our” pocket park (private property, as a sign on the building next to it notes) at the intersection of Waverly and the main Mile-End commercial drag, St-Viateur. It’s where our orchestrole convenes every Wednesday — every Wednesday as of five weeks ago, that is — and where the casserole met before that earlier in the summer. The people living in the apartments above this “park” are clearly sympathetic to the Quebec student strike, since there are large red squares and anti-law-78 banners hanging from several balconies plus some cookware, in homage to the casseroles, dangling from a string. The French-language bookstore on the ground level, inside the building on the other side of a powerful political mural that abuts the park outside, is sympathetic too; someone mentioned that this small business is struggling to survive, as Mile-End gentrifies and moves increasingly toward English-language speakers.
When we decided about three weeks ago to do this street takeover, inspired by a “call” from the St-Henri APAQ for all APAQs to do some sort of festive and unpermitted “day of action” in their own neighborhoods on August 10 in solidarity with the student strike as it nears the crucial August 13 onward “forced reentry” couple of weeks, numerous good ideas and much enthusiasm filled our weekly three-hour mobilization working group meetings and additional three hours of weekly assembly, not to mention discussions on the street corner after the weekly orchestrole and the daily barrage of emails. We had a growing list of things we wanted to offer for free (teach-ins, music, food, hands-on art, performance, literature, and more), things we thought were crucial as infrastructure (bilingual posters, flyers, and other promotion and thus translation work, press release and getting CUTV to livestream, safety logistics and supplies, water, electricity, tables, chairs, and a laundry list of other materials), and things we had to discuss as dilemmas (whether and when to inform the businesses on the street, say, and what to do when the city bus wanted to come through our “social strike” area). We figured all the other APAQs would follow suit, and that we had plenty of time and people for all the details. But only two other neighborhoods signed on, both doing something later in the day. And thus we also agreed at the last minute to coordinate and host an all-APAQ press conference in addition to our block appropriation — during it — so that the assemblies could all voice their support for the student strikers even if they weren’t doing anything on August 10.
As of about a week ago, many of our ideas still seemed just that: concepts, filling up an ever-expanding bilingual Google Doc and filling out a bilingual Facebook events announcement, of what we aspired to do, publicly and illegally:
“On August 10th, the Mile End Popular Assembly (APAQ Mile End) is blocking a street in order to raise awareness about the strike, the effects of neoliberalism in Quebec, and the importance of collective action. A block party with food, music, art, workshops/teach-ins, performances, screen printing, and lots and lots of talking — all in the form of a mobilization around a social strike — disrupting society’s business as usual by taking over the street for an afternoon to start the mobilization toward real autonomous change! Come fill the street with us, and add your voice and your body to the movement!”
Yet when push came to shove, it all congealed, thanks to a remarkable — as in noteworthy but also extraordinary — feature of the Mile-End APAQ. All of its regulars in this approximately two-month-old directly democratic body and even many of the occasional participants are go-getters, full of energy and imagination and follow-through. Folks are self-motivated, and possess great ingenuity in making something from nothing. Everyone pitched in wholeheartedly, concentrating on what they were particularly passionate about doing, but also willingly pitching in when others needed assistance. It became a nonstop whirlwind of activity, but something that clearly all of us were loving. At somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. on the early, early morning of August 10, for instance, several of us were busily “liking” each other’s Facebook posts promoting our Dans la rue pour la grève sociale, and just as glad to see each other in person a few hours later.
The one thing we didn’t plan for, because none of us wanted to admit it was possible, was rain. At 7:00 a.m. when I heard a torrential downpour outside my window, I pulled the covers over my head to dampen the noise and tried to sleep.
Back to 9:30 a.m. at our park. I and other Mile-End APAQs trotted a line of orange chairs over from one of our assembly folk’s nearby homes; others had brought the chairs two blocks from the collective house/space the day before, to store in her backyard, taking care not to crush her plants. The plastic seats were wet from the rain earlier, and someone joked when we had them all stacked up in our pocket park that it looked like we were going to put on a Québec solidaire (QS) event, since orange is the color of this social democratic and sovereigntist political party, an underdog in the current provincial elections.
We scurried to grab additional red, the color of the Quebec student strike, as a counterbalance, such as balloons and fabric, even though many folks in the APAQ favor QS in the elections over Jean Charest’s neoliberal Parti libéral du Québec and the xenophobic sovereigntists of Parti Québécois. And even though a good chunk of the APAQers are Left-leaning or anarchist, it seems most are planning to vote, especially given the weight of this election in relation to the student strike. If nothing else, there’s the strong feeling that Charest has to go, symbolically, after all the outrage directed toward him by the movement (“fuck Charest” is always popular as chant and graffiti). Already there’s speculation about what will happen if he does get reelected on September 4 — riots that night? — or doesn’t — huge street parties? This isn’t just among my friends or people I know. Everyone seems to be talking politics since the elections were announced. At a farmers’ market today, for example, I was buying tomatoes, and the guy working the stand said something about my carre rouge (“red square”). I thought he was comparing the red of felt safety pinned to my shirt to the red of the tomatoes, but when I explained that I didn’t understand French well, he said in English this time, “I was thanking you for wearing the red square and supporting the strike. Me,” he continued, “I’m too scared to be around police so I stay in the background.” He looked to be traditional college age, but told me that he wasn’t in school, so anyway, it wasn’t really his issue, and besides, he really wanted Charest’s party to win again and was going to celebrate in the streets when that happened.
Our preparations for the street takeover continued. A couch appeared, with pillows labeled appropriately for our event, and tubs of vegan wraps and cake, along with red cardboard to mark our teach-in classroom space on the city street and a whiteboard to list the course schedule on, a bunch of red-felt squares and literature to give away, the folding tables, and so much more. Suddenly a couple dozen of us were scrambling to get everything set up in the park and on the sidewalk, hovering in wait for when we were going to pull it all into the street and grab one block of roadway between Waverly and St-Urbain, another corner often used as public space since the private church there has big steps to loiter on. We hung banners from various APAQs off the front of the church, as backdrop for the press conference, and set up a portable sound system there too.
Because of the looming gray clouds, it was clear that a tarp needed to be hung over what was going to be the on-site silk-screening station, so one APAQ person raced up into the apartment building next to our park, knocked on the door of the second-floor apartment, and told the person who answered that she needed to cut through to their balcony. Whether because they were still just waking up or too surprised to object, this stranger instantly let her walk through their home, and she and several other folks rigged up a tarp with ropes off the balcony. Electricity was run from the bookstore, even though apparently our new second-floor apartment comrades offered up their electricity too. Water was brought in as well; clotheslines for drying prints were hung; and sérigraphy screens and materials, such as ink and big sheets of paper and cardboard to print on, were all put into place.
Our plan to take and hold the street was this first step of meeting at 9:30 a.m. to pile a good percentage of our materials for that day in this private-property park, right on the edge of the city street. We also wanted to take over parking spot after parking spot as cars left when their meters ran out, before our 12:00 noon start, so that we would really have the whole of street. Someone at an earlier assembly had also said that if worse came to worse, and the cops kicked us off the street proper, we legally could occupy the parking spots — that is, if we fed the meters. That was Plan B. Plan A was the whole street. So each time we saw a car pull away, we ran over with orange chairs, threaded string between them, and taped a hand-written sign reading “occupé” on the string. We managed to clear most of the spots, as someone else went to each business to inform them that we’d be using the street for three hours (the plan we settled on after much discussion about when or whether to tell businesses). Most were fine with it, or already knew, since we’d heavily wheatpasted/taped up posters around the neighborhood earlier in the week; one grumbled, “Do I have a choice?” Unfortunately, that grumbler was from one of the cornerstone businesses of Mile-End, Café Olimpico, right across from our staging area, and a favorite for Italian coffee and schmoozing outside on a patio. I noticed that a big SUV had pushed aside some of our chairs, and it turned out to be related to this cafe. Someone managed to talk them into moving, but as noon neared, the cafe owner-grouch brazenly pulled another SUV (this time a BMW) into the spot right next to our park, removing our orange chairs again, with a flourish of attitude. I’m not sure how someone else got him to move his SUV, but he did it slowly, and was yelling about hitting us with his car (and, I seem to recall, how crazy we were) as he careened away. He was yelling a lot, and for a while. Fortunately, he was our one problem of the day. And so our orange chairs ultimately managed to save all the parking spots for us, so we could then move them once we’d secured the whole area — or rather, let them be what they were: chairs for sitting on in our reclaimed street.
Other neighbors, passersby, and delivery people were chill during the lead up to our social strike. Most were just curious, asking what was happening, and many said they were excited to return later, which many did. One woman came up to me with a pot and spoon in her hand at about 11:30 a.m. “When it is going to start? I’m so glad to see you people back. Everything quieted down so much, but we can’t let the students down,” she remarked, even though she then had to wait a half hour or so to join the orchestrole/casserole that kicked off our street takeover. We obligingly moved several orange chairs at one point to make way for a big truck to do deliveries, and delayed our bloc(k) party by five minutes, so they could finish their drop-off. Meanwhile, the lead person on our safety team unveiled reflective yellow suspenders for volunteers to wear as they took turns, later, staffing the two ends of the street, both to welcome folks and ensure we kept the block to ourselves. Originally, we’d planned on running red rope fully across both ends of the street to block it off, and then hang big red squares, literature, and posters from it as further barricade and educational component, but some APAQers had concerns about the ability to quickly get an emergency vehicle such as an ambulance in, so we settled on utilizing bright-orange chairs and bright-yellow caution tape, but leaving gaps to walk through, since the chairs could easily be pushed aside. Our safety crew also put up signs on the surrounding streets, redirecting traffic — signs made on the backsides of Charest’s political posters, which somehow had been torn down by someone and somehow had then found their way into the garbage, and so could be repurposed as traffic signs.
At noon, everything stood ready — ready to be dashed into the street once we’d made it ours. But there clearly weren’t enough people. A few of us tried to rally everyone to one spot, so we’d at least have a solid crew, and some coordination. We realized, suddenly, that we didn’t have a plan for this moment. We decided, quickly, to wait for the delivery truck to leave and also wait a few minutes until we had more of a critical mass (which did indeed happen, filled in by folks who’d come to teach the workshops, sing songs, do performance-art dance, set up a knitting and see-through “make-your-own” red square art area, play their instruments or bang their cookware, be part of press conference and lend solidarity from other APAQs, hand out literature, and offer up food, and just a whole lot of neighbors of all types). Those of us getting it going thought that the orchestrole was going to start playing on the St-Viateur and Waverly side, but saw they’d begun at the other end for some reason, and that the orange chairs and caution tape popped out to block the street there. So several of us ran to the other end, and more orange chairs popped out, followed by a table covered in red cloth, then other tables, and then the classroom signs taped on the ground. Viola! In the street for social strike!
A few police cars had appeared at noon sharp, but had stayed in the background. They then parked on either end of the street — but only after we’d already closed it off completely. A cop asked one of our APAQ crew, “What is this?” And when he told her that it was “a social strike,” she asked, “What’s a social strike?” He explained, and she responded with something like “oh, that sounds cool,” and mentioned that the police had asked the twice-hourly bus to reroute from the street until we were ready for it to resume again, and then the police left us alone. Our plan for the bus was to escort it down our street, opening and closing our orange-chair barricade, but we originally thought it only came once an hour, and were worried when we discovered that morning that it came through twice an hour. One APAQ person later said that they were glad the police took care of the one thing that would have made a mess of our day: get the buses to steer clear of us. Whether related or not, one of the first chalkings on our street was this (almost-done) piece:
Then, with a whole block of city street as ours, we turned the pavement into a temporary social strike for three hours. Or rather, I should say not “we” but all those who meandered into this autonomous zone of redesigned civic space. I’ve just spent a lot of time — well, my words, and your time — portraying how we grabbed this space. I often think we forget to document our own histories of how we remake the world, even in little ways, or maybe especially in all these micro-experimental ways (a picket line at one school; professors coming to stand by their striking stands at another; parents forming a baby bloc at a demo; and on and on for these many months until there’s a full-fledged social movement). But I also lingered on the preparation because it illustrates that fine, magical line between what seems a given — that parking spots are for cars — and what is possible — that an official-looking orange chair can reclaim space for something far more enlivening.
It’s not always possible, of course. It helped that we only had one irate business owner bothering us, although his threats of hitting us with his car were somewhat triggering, since a bunch of us had been next to or directly part of the hit-and-run during a casserole a couple weeks ago (for my report of it, see http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/popular-power-fuck-the-elections-montreal-night-101/), along with several likely bored and near-invisible cops. It also helped that it was taking place in Mile-End, an increasingly upscaling space that’s also been home for a while to artists and musicians, radicals and progressives, queers, intellectuals, bohemians, and other hip and increasingly hipster types, many of whom have flexible and/or comfortable livelihoods, such as freelancers or professors. Then too, it helped even more that this whole thing was taking place in the context of a long-lasting and relatively popular social movement, at a time when everyone knows that this movement is heading into the August drama of provincial elections and multiple striking schools being forced to decide whether to keep striking or not. Indeed, day by day of late, there’s a mind-boggling calculus of student assemblies deciding to stay on strike, to stop striking, to remain on strike if twenty thousand other students stay on strike, and so on, with Monday, August 13 looming as the onset of blockade battle zones. People are thus aware of the “why” for our street event, often are in support of the student strike, and frequently want to show solidarity in various ways, and I think, right now, are in extra need of sociality, community, and enjoyment before the intensity of next week. And alongside this context, which is key to making other things possible, it helped that our APAQ has been determined to do tangible things for the striking students as well as the neighborhood in particular and society in general, even when we disagree with each other (we don’t use consensus, nor really ever vote, but rely on dialogue, the autonomy of working groups, and trust, built largely because APAQers really take the time to listen to and understand each other, truly taking concerns in account).
Possibility, however, is always there in different ways; it’s more a matter of recognizing those “it helps” parts that are specific to different experiential undertakings of resistance and reconstruction. Because as I highlighted in my previous blog piece, “Social Goodness & Austerity,” the Quebec student strike has cleverly blended the “against” and “for” into nearly every moment, breaking down an easy binary. So part of the reason I wanted to lay out some of the preparation time of our day was to show how we were trying to deal with bringing something festive to life that was, at once, illegal and potentially confrontational, even as it probably reveals the almost-mundane quality of just bringing people, ideas, and stuff into a space and doing something different, something that’s not the usual — for (a) change.
My second reason for focusing on the time before our social strike was to somewhat demystify the idea of a social strike, which is at once so powerful as a concept unto itself, so ubiquitous here in Montreal as a notion of the “what’s next?” and so simple in terms of what it might be — sort of. I’ve sat through many a consulta, assembly, or informal discussion about what the hell a social strike is, or engaged in conversations about it on the streets while in all the many types of illegal demos, and there’s both an incredible lack of agreement or clarity on its definition, on the one hand, and an incredible abundance of agreement that it should happen. In my Mile-End APAQ, for example, it’s been tossed around from the beginning with little contestation or even much dialogue about it, and when the notion of our “In the street for social strike” came up, everyone almost instantly thought it was a good idea.
When I say that a social strike is simple, I mean that it gets at the simple but hard fact of the contemporary social reality that capitalism shapes everyone’s lives, not just the worker’s life, or even the person or people who sans wages help to reproduce the worker. And conversely, the “simple” way to strike is by collectively not doing what you’re supposed to — business as usual — but throwing a wrench into the everyday of all of what we do, work, school, leisure, street life, urban space, and anything and everything else. Even if definitions disagree here in Montreal, people seem to concur that it isn’t just about disruption, though that’s essential, but what you do during that time of disruption to create something different. I haven’t heard it expressed this way, but it could be said that the idea is for people to “strike” in various ways, and while striking, give new meaning to “social” through the doing of it in new ways.
Remaking society for three hours is obviously a far cry from a long-running social strike that would, in turn, transform society such that we never have to go back to a hierarchical business as usual, but can continually play with better versions of communities from below. Still, there’s a way in which the concept of “social strike” opens up possibility, in the same way that a “general strike” has kind of a grinding-to-a-halt industrial feel about it, making it seem far less possible or, in my view, even desirable comparatively. The few times I’ve heard talk of a general strike here, it’s been to hold up the social strike as better and also more doable. That is, the general strike would involve trade unions, and by and large, those aren’t the most bold, daring, and dynamic sectors; most haven’t even been all that forthcoming in terms of solidarity with the student strike, unlike the newborn APAQs, say. There’s also a mafia here — a real, working one. The beauty of the social strike is that it can really happen anywhere — anywhere that there’s a collectivity of people who want to stop the routine and jump-start some potential.
Again, I don’t want to minimize the difficulty, typically, of shutting down a street even for three hours to do what you want in it with a bunch of other people, or way beyond that, moving toward what people call here, often, the “infinite” or “unlimited” social strike, with the added play on the French word for strike (grève) as holding within it also the word dream (rêve). That in itself captures the distinct beauty of a social strike over a general one: that there’s a dream inside the making and doing of it.
So what did we make and do for our three limited yet infinite hours of dreaming together in the newly liberated space of our one block? We socialized it. Communized it. Made it anarchistic. All in the lowercase senses. That is, between the cheerful orange chairs and happy red balloons could be found an egalitarian and generous spirit, valuing everyone for what they brought into it, from each according to their abilities and passions, to each according needs and desires, all self-organized and self-managed with intention and spontaneity, without compulsion, for a delight that can only be found when we manifest it ourselves, even if it took a lot of work (and even if, as one of my co-organizing APAQ folks mentioned today when I ran into her, she went to bed at 9:00 p.m. last night after it and woke up at 2:00 p.m. today, still exhausted — and still pleased, and also wearing the T-shirt that she’d gotten silk screened during our time in the streets).
Tangibly, what we did was nothing particularly special or even unique, and involved many of the activities that are merely the stuff of regular life: eating, talking, creating art, listening to music, educating and learning, relaxing, reading, making friends, setting up and cleaning up. Even the way that we did it was nothing special or unique in the countercultural circles I’m used to: everything followed a do-it-ourselves sensibility, as it does in collective projects on the antiauthoritarian Left. So I kept wandering up and down the street, focusing on keeping the twelve teach-ins on track and taking photos, among other organizational odds and ends, and thinking, “It’s going well, but so what?”
Then one of my friends who I’d asked to do a teach-in came up to me, after his workshop had ended. He’s an anarchist too, and I figured from the look on his face that he also thought it was a sweet day, but nothing special; we’re used to participatory endeavors and unpermitted undertakings. Then he launched into an enthusiastic depiction of his teach-in, underscoring how distinctly different it felt to be engaged in free and popular education, literally in the streets, centered on issues directly related to this social movement, and offering a vision of what education might be like if the social movement has some success. A few minutes later, someone else found me to offer thanks for my friend’s teach-in, since they knew I’d asked him to do it, saying how smart he was, how he could and should be a teacher, how much they learned, and how different — in a good way — it felt to be sharing in learning with others. “We need to bring him back again,” they exclaimed, “for a lot longer conversation, for us and others.”
I refocused my own lens on how I was seeing these few hours, and started really looking at what was going on. Groups of people sat circled close together on the grungy concrete, conversely intently and eagerly on topics like “Understanding and Fighting Austerity and Crisis in Montreal,” “Solidarity across Borders,” “Why the Student Strike Matters: Tuition, Debt, and Neoliberalism,” “Bodies/Protest/Public Space,” and “Four Points about Neoliberalism and Its Impact on the Common Good.” Many of the “teachers” had moved their “classrooms” to more personally agreeable spots on the streets by simply picking up their red-square sign and taping it down elsewhere, and took initiate to gather a group of “students.” A lawyer who’s also part of our APAQ was going to do a teach-in on special law 78, but only a few people came to sit by her red-square classroom sign. One of them was a military person who had served a tour of duty, and on their return home, had received a couple citations under law 78, so her teach-in ended up doing a close reading of this real-live case; the military person had never heard of the law nor knew much about the student strike before. The person leading the “Making Our Movement Green and Red” teach-in had brought his own butcher-block paper, markers, and an easel, but ended up using the giant chalk we’d contributed for the day to create a participatory mapping of his topic on the street itself.
The Alternative University Project and CUTV (live broadcasters for the Quebec Spring) were on hand to lead teach-ins, but seemed to end up more informally sharing ideas or, perhaps better yet, showing by doing. CUTV, for instance, taped the press conference, where various folks from different APAQs met each other for the first time, and chatted about future ways to collaborate and lend solidarity to each other, even as they explained the genesis of the APAQs, how they were demonstrating wider social support for this movement, and why they would stand behind the striking students. Displaying solidarity too, Anarchopanda had kindly agreed to show up for the first fifteen minutes or so to draw crowds and ward off police, and thus help us hold down the street, but the person inside the animal suit must have been enjoying himself. He joined in the teach-ins, socialized, and stayed for nearly the whole time — fulfilling his light-hearted comment to me on Facebook (when I asked him to offer a philosophy course, his specialty) that he was coming to learn from others.
An area filled with red yarn, red fabric, red-berry muffins, and red translucent “paper” — courtesy of Le Milieu, which concentrates on dialogue, popular learning, and empowerment while supporting creative processes — became a hands-on learning lab as people shared knitting skills, a center of solidarity as people jotted down their thoughts for the students and movement on the see-through red squares, and a subversion of our decision not to put rope across the street for safety reasons — proving that the best-laid DIY plans will thankfully be rethought by others who have a better idea. That’s how red squares filled with words came to dance merrily on the breeze above people’s heads, as nearby participants munched gladly on the the vegan wraps and vegan cake that the Midnight Kitchen –a volunteer collective striving to provide working alternative to current market-based systems of food collection and distribution — had made in quantity the day before along with folks from our assembly and others as part of a big cooking day for us but also a bunch of other educational events and actions over the weekend.
Everything about night demo 100 in Montreal felt enormous.
There were the numbers of people — so many that when we were on long hilly streets, all you could see were people all the way back and people all the way forward for blocks and blocks; so many that when we reached a late-night, outdoor fashion show festival and thus a busy area, and hence the riot cops appeared to disperse us, it seemed as if every which way you looked, up and down different intersections, we still tightly crowded the streets; so many that it was impossible to guess how many, which means thousands and thousands, or ten thousand or more. This in contrast to recent night demos, where on the last one, we were lucky if we reached the “magic” number of over 49 to put us squarely in the illegality of special law 78. It felt, as one of my friends said, “Like the old days,” by which he meant the night demos of week 1, 2, or 3, way back when it was still assuredly Maple Spring, not the red-hot August 1 of last night.
There were, speaking of red, giant amounts of that too — more than usual, both in terms of mass quantity and dimensional size. It may not be clear from the red flag “100″ pictured above, but it was gigantic — many times taller than the person carrying it — and backed up by several equally gigantic plain red-square flags.
There was a huge contingent of drummers, all dressed in red, and it in turn was backed up by red-bedecked popular neighborhood assembly banners and an enormous three-dimensional fabric red square (on loan, I’m nearly certain, from the École de la Montagne Rouge [School of the Red Mountain] art collective — and the whole brilliant-red group was part of the ever-larger and also extremely red rolling wave of popular neighborhood assemblies and casseroles that started way north of downtown about two hours early and fused with each other as they met at multiple appointed intersections to then continue on together, ever larger and ever louder.
Most momentous, though, was the accidental line in the sand of this 5.5-month Quebec student strike: night 100 of the illegal manifestations and Premier Jean Charest setting the election date — September 4 — starting on August 1 too. For my non-Canadian friends, within certain parameters, elections are called by the party in power, and that can be used as a political chip in their favor if played well. Once called, candidates have five weeks to go all-out with promotion, and at the stroke of midnight as July 30 turned to August 1, I saw Québec solidaire (QS), a social-democratic and sovereigntist political party that includes candidate Amir Khadir, who got arrested this past June in a casserole while protesting special law 78, already busy putting up posters, including ones highlighting that QS stands for “free education.”
But the elections are already not playing well, at least not to the “audience” that poured unexpectedly by the thousands into the streets on this first illegal night march of August, turning the now-familiar “fuck law 78″ chant into a revised “fuck the elections.” As the majority student association CLASSE so well articulated in its manifesto, printed in the French-language paper Le Devoir the same day when rumors flew recently of Charest’s intent to call the elections, there is a grand divide right now between two worldviews — one represented by this night 100 versus day 1 of electoral campaigning:
“The way we see it, direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighborhoods. Our concept of democracy places the people in permanent charge of politics, and by ‘the people,’ we mean those of us at the base of the pyramid — the foundation of political legitimacy. . . . Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free. . . . Democracy, as viewed by the other side, is tagged as ‘representative’ — and we wonder just what it represents. While elections come and go, decisions remain unchanged, serving the same interests: those of leaders who prefer the murmurs of lobbyists to the clanging of pots and pans. Each time the people raises its voice in discontent, on comes the answer: emergency laws, with riot sticks, pepper spray, tear gas. When the elite feels threatened, no principle is sacred, not even those principles they preach: for them, democracy works only when we, the people keep our mouths shut.” (http://linchpin.ca/English/Share-Our-Future-%E2%80%93-CLASSE-Manifesto)
The first of August also signaled the calendar leap into the impending rolling wave of striking schools that are supposed to open soon — 13 of them, for instance, between August 13 and 17 — based on whether the impending rolling wave of student assemblies decide autonomously, school by striking school, whether they want to continue to keep their college closed. These highly participatory and/or outright directly democratic assemblies are an infrastructural legacy of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as I’ve mentioned before, and a long-lived practice within many of the now-striking schools. Students may have taken a break the past few weeks — and a well-deserved one, so as to rest up — but they are ready to jump back into their assemblies, where they already know how to make strike, blockade, direct action, solidarity, mutual aid, and other decisions about aims, strategies, and tactics. And starting next week, students will begin voting in their general assemblies as to whether they should continue the strike (see the schedule here,http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/2012/08/calendrier-de-la-rentree-des-grevistes/, along with a call for a convergence in Montreal to support the students from August 13 to 17, http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12).
But night demo 100 signaled another huge shift, potentially pivotal as well in relation to the elections: there are now numerous popular assemblies, begun over the past couple months. They weren’t there at the start of this student strike, nor at the start of the illegal night marches. Now, in many corners of the city, they meet weekly or every other week to talk about issues related to and springing out of the student strike, and many include students, parents, and teachers alongside other neighbor-allies. They also discuss steps toward a social strike (even if in small symbolic steps for now) and tangible aid for the upsurge soon in the student strike. Furthermore, the assemblies all use various forms of direct democracy. They share and borrow that from each other. For instance, the Mile-End popular assembly that I attend asked facilitators from another neighborhood assembly to come and facilitate our first couple assemblies (which they did), and we sent emissaries, supporters, and helpers to a new assembly started in the neighborhood just next door to Mile-End last week, in Outremont. We also did outreach for their first assembly during our weekly “orchestrole” (casserole plus marching band) on the Wednesday before their assembly, detouring into their neighborhood a bit to hand out flyers — ’cause lots of people come out to listen to loud music rambling down the night streets!
The assemblies could be bigger, and certainly more reflective of various population groups in Montreal — a problem not unique to the neighborhood assemblies, nor the student ones, nor those of Occupy (and on and on). As with other assembly experiments, those within them are aware of such shortcomings. And in this case, the assemblies seem to be particularly sensitive to two key things: first, they want their own autonomous identities, to grapple with the needs and issues of their parts of the city; and second, we’re all also under this pressure-cooker schedule of having to ramp up quickly in order to offer real aid to the striking schools, real soon. In Mile-End, for instance, we’ve been having 3-plus-hour assemblies once a week, along with 3-plus-hour weekly mobilization/social strike working group meetings (and other working groups, but that’s the one I’ve been going to), and our weekly evening orchestrole, a form of illegal demo, solidarity, celebration, and outreach. Oh, and they are also contending with the fact that in all likelihood, they too (like so much other dissent and organizing) are illegal in various ways under special law 78, and hence the sentiment of disobedience spelled out on the Villeray popular assembly banner:
Last Wednesday night, a week before August 1, back in Mile-End, at the end of our orchestrolling as some of us stood around in an intersection chatting, with 3 cop cars vainly trying to get us to go home, we discussed trying to get our assembly and neighbors to walk downtown as orchestrole/casserole and meet up with other neighborhood assemblies at various convergence points along the way. Several assemblies had done this several weeks ago for a night demo, and it was lovely. We figured: let’s make a Facebook events page, do outreach via email to our various contacts with other assemblies, and hopefully the “casseroles march downtown” will happen again — since that’s pretty much all it took last time. Over the next few days and into early this past week, before August 1, suddenly it seemed that multiple assemblies had had the same idea, had also made Facebook event pages and even posters, and had also started doing outreach (there is no centralized popular assembly list, even a bottom-up version!). And absurdly enough, many of us had picked many different and conflicting convergence points, with no way to pull those puzzle pieces together. Organizational enthusiasm seemed to be creating mayhem, which sort of seemed a good problem to me in this case, since it at least emphasized the enthusiasm part. At our mobilization working group on July 30, we decided what the hell, it is too confusing. Let’s just meet up at our orchestrole spot at 7:00 p.m. on August 1, since people are used to that in our neighborhood, and then do our best to find other neighborhoods. Of course, we hadn’t actually mentioned this meeting point to anyone at that point, so we went home and started trying to spread the word around Mile-End.
At 7:00 p.m. on August 1, there were 3 regulars and me, with our banner, 1 pot & spoon, and a horn. Then 4 more people showed up, than 3 more, along with dogs and kids, and so on, until at around 7:15 p.m. we had maybe 3 dozen, and off we marched — growing as we headed toward Laurier and St. Denis, where we knew some Plateau folks were convening, and then growing and growing again as neighborhood stumbled on neighborhood in this surging wave of casseroles. We, along with our fellow popular assemblies, thus became another big reason that night 100 was so enormous, numbers and energy wise. Indeed, having gone to both the full “casseroles march downtown” walk and entirety of the illegal evening demo last night, it was clear that by the time all the many neighborhood assemblies and neighbors reached the already-large crowd waiting at the now-regular Gamelin Park meeting spot, arriving at 9:00 p.m., we by far outnumbered those patiently expecting us.
Beyond sheer numbers, there was something extra poignant about seeing popular autonomous assembly banner after banner streaming through the streets together, each with their unique character, but all articulating a contrasting vision of politics to the one that Charest and all his suddenly numerous riot cops (and politicians of any stripe) uphold. I think it’s never been more apparent that this isn’t “merely” the longest-running and perhaps now-largest student strike in North American history; it’s plainly a social movement with a deep and widespread social basis. And now, as July turns to August, the students know for sure that they have popular support(ers) far and wide outside their college doors — all, also, trying to practice direct democracy as the organizational grounding for this movement and all, also, attempting to experiment with another type of politics beyond statecraft (slow, embryonic, and painful as that is at times — “painful,” unlike Occupy at too many moments, not because people are awful toward each other but rather because sometimes, at least in Mile-End, people are too nice, and our meetings go on way too long so everyone can really be heard and respected, which is another nice problem to have, I suppose.
Of all the neighborhood banners, I think I was most touched by the Outremont one — both because unlike many other assemblies, it only convened this past weekend, as I mentioned above, and also because of its black cat and message of “popular power,” which seemed to so well capture the spirit of this evening where everyone knew so much is now at stake in the coming days of August: not provincial election so much as enormous social contestation.
This grand battle was captured for all to see — writ large on night 100, like everything else — in the form of an enormous projection on a building wall, just as we thousands and thousands rounded a corner at a big intersection. Ahead in front of me, I could see people turning backward to face the part of the demo I was in, but instead of looking at us, I could see people looking upward, fingers pointing upward, eyes lighting up, illuminated by the illumination of Nous Sommes Tous Art. Click on this link to see it for yourself (http://youtu.be/CIgnVSkXWWs), but it involved a series of repeating words, including our street slogan “fuck the elections,” but also decrying phenomena like racism, capitalism, and neoliberalism, and contrasting representative democracy to self-management. Its grand finale was the logo/slogan that’s now appearing as wheatpasted poster and elsewhere around Montreal: “August 13. The Strike Continues.” Rather than agitprop or empty street art, though, this wall of words reflects the on-the-ground reality of what everyone is preparing for — to hold the strike — using the very processes that offer a working alternative to electoralism (whether people take 30 seconds to try to vote Charest out or not in the privacy of a voting booth, since clearly ousting Charest is widely popular within this Maple Spring, if only symbolically).
So perhaps beyond the numbers, beyond the boundless joy and creativity and sea of red, beyond the newfound power of the neighborhood assemblies, and even outstripping the clear challenge of direct versus representative democracy — more enormous than all of this on illegal evening 100 was the tension hanging in the air, accentuated by the return of the helicopter hovering low overhead, even as Anarchopanda was right below, giving out hugs and sporting his own big red square pinned to his black-and-white fur. Back were the riot cops in large and aggressive numbers, along with sound grenades, reports rubber bullets and pepper spray, attempts at dispersal and kettling, and definitely some arrests. I ran into someone today with bruises on the side of their face, and they told me how police had chased them down, grabbed them, told them to lie on the ground so they could be arrested, but when they did, a cop then punched them in the head several times before carting them off to a night in jail.
Yet all that wasn’t so unusual in the course of this long student strike. And in fact, much of the tension that riot cops usually create seemed neutralized, precisely because people have now lived through it and gotten used to it. As many people commented, nearly everyone on the street displayed a remarkable lack of fear around the police, replaced by a militancy in the sense of not backing down. That meant different things for different people, including the police, who often ignored things like a bank window being broken (apparently a coop bank, so everyone in the vicinity laughed “Why not a real bank?” as some random guy calmly used the ATM next to the smashed window, causing the second amused & proud comment from the illegal night marchers: “Only in Montreal!”), and when the police encountered a dumpster barricade at one point, the ones on horses trotted through to follow the enormous demo from behind, but the cop cars behind the horses simply turned around and went a different way, leaving the dumpsters to hang out on their own on a now-quieted formerly busy street — with both disobedients and police gone.
The anxiety that the riot cops produced was not on this night 100 per se. Rather, it was what their larger presence signaled in terms of what’s to come. Everyone seems to be bracing themselves for the worst. But because neither cops nor let up on night 100, and because more candidate signs went up even as we marched, night 100 only seemed to add to the intensity of “What will happen?” in the next couple weeks.
For me, more than anything, night 100 illustrated the stark contrast between two types of “popular power” — liberatory versus mean-spirited. This is the power between citizens and neighbors, where people self-organize out of goodness and generosity toward all, or hatred, fear, and stinginess. And both are there. On the streets. It was illustrated in one potentially murderous act at the start of night 100, underscoring just how nerve-wracking a moment this is — when electoralism and riot police converge with student strike and neighborhood assemblies converge with aspirations for free education, social strike, and so much more, and all that converges with strong popular sentiments on all side, with all of it coming to a head in this already-hot August.
If last night’s marker of consecutive evenings of illegal marches ever since the passage of special law 78, a governmental tactic to try to quash the Quebec student strike, was a magnificent display of the strength and power of this social movement, it also revealed the social tensions brewing underneath, fueled by the machinations of the province/state because of the social crisis it clearly faces.
Early on in the evening, at 7:00 p.m., a bunch of us from the Mile-End popular assembly and other neighbors met up at our usual Wednesday night casserole/orchestrole spot, as I described above. We then boisterously walked over with our banner, pots & pans, horns, red squares, and whistles to greet the “Quartier Rouge” Plateau neighborhood folks around 7:30 p.m. and some several hundred of us were all joyfully reclaiming a busy intersection, waiting for our Villeray, Rosemont, and other neighborhood assembly comrades to meet up with us for the march downtown. It’s hard to explain the beauty of casseroles meeting each other from various directions, but add to that the pride of neighborhood assemblies, and when one neighbor starts marching toward another a block or two away, it feels like triumphant freedom fighters returning from hard-won battles into each other’s arms, which in a way, is what’s happening, as people struggle toward a wholly different version of the world, perhaps far ahead of us, that’s neither austere nor hierarchical.
Suddenly, within a group of hundreds in our intersection, all dancing and prancing around, I saw the front of a car coming toward me, with adults, kids, and dogs (most of them my comrades from the Mile-End popular assembly) “bouncing” off the hood, nearly being crushed under tires and hit by other parts of the automobile. It seemed so surreal that someone would simply intentionally drive into hundreds of people that I could barely register it at first. It had that slow-motion sense alongside horror. I and others leaped to help, and many folks threw pots and pans at the hit-and-run driver as they sped away; people ran after the car to try to get the license plate. There were lots of shaken folks who’d been brushed or hit by the car, including a kid who got hit in the knee, and one person seriously hurt (pictured below). Someone called an ambulance, and folks formed a circle around the wounded person, trying as best they could to medic. About five minutes later (despite police obviously lurking on the edges of our casserole), paramedics arrived. When I look at this picture, in hindsight, I realize that half the faces of those doing the caretaking are my neighbors in Mile-End and my comrades in the assembly.
The “silver lining” was how good everyone was to each other, and how it was clear no one wanted to let this stop night 100 from growing larger and larger, and us marching downtown. But many folks commented on how such willful brutality by other “neighbors” highlights that even if this really is a popular and widespread social movement, which it is, there are those who vehemently disagree and are willing to do almost anything (in this case, absurdly, purposefully try to injure or even kill) those struggling toward a better world for everyone, probably even including this hit-and-run drive, if I know some of my popular assembly mates.
At tonight’s Mile-End Popular Assembly (night 101), those of us who were there talked about this terrible incident, and I got this general update (hopefully accurate, since it was whisper translated to me in French): one of our assembly folks went to the hospital with the person who sustained the worst injuries to keep them company and help out. Apparently they had only arrived at our casserole convergence about 5 minutes before this hit-and-run and almost decided to stay home that night; at a previous night demo, they’d been kettled and arrested along with a whole bunch of other folks. Last night, they were hit in two places, but nothing was broken, and it seems like they’ll recover; they are just in a lot of pain now. People at the scene got the license plate number of the car, and they decided to give it to the police, who as of this evening somehow still hadn’t been able to locate the hit-and-run driver. Kids, dogs, and other casserolers are all OK, other than being upset by the experience. We processed that for a bit, and then returned to our assembly agenda, including working toward an August 10 “Mile-End: Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike” event (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/), where starting at noon SHARP on St. Viateur and Waverly, we need lots of people, including you, to help us create an outdoor red-square street full of free education, food, music, art, and a couple hours of social striking, to also bolster ourselves and others for the coming August 13 to 17 week of resistance and solidarity. And likely, an enormous amount of a whole bunch of things, including popular power and social tension.
The enormity of night 100, when all was said and done, is that everyone recognized its enormity. That’s why the streets were filled, with people, politicians, media, and riot cops. That’s why so many indie photographers took so many gorgeous pictures, a few of which are here, and why CUTV livestream reporters seemed to be around every turn, chatting with as many people as they could cajole to talk on air. That’s why so many people walked miles from their neighborhoods and then kept going, kilometers more, with heavy banners and/or heavy instruments in tow. That in itself was the portrait of popular power: the populace showed up in droves, on foot and bikes and wheelchairs, or leaning out windows and balconies to wave — as always — as we marched by.
As most of this blog post notes, night 100 was a marker forward, to what’s ahead and what’s now at stake, thanks to a student strike that has unleashed a host of crises, anxieties, possibilities, and difficulties. But the students who had the foresight to start organizing this strike some two years ago, whether they knew it fully or not, were also unleashing a bunch of small yet perhaps, cumulatively, pretty great victories. Maybe not the victory of stopping the tuition increase or ousting Charest, nor transforming electoral politics as usual into a self-governing society. Nor ending capitalism. Some or all of that might be lost, or just might take a longer horizon to achieve. But there are other ways of understanding our victories, perhaps by accounting for those things we hadn’t intended that happen along the way of what really is a social (and a sociable) movement, stretching in this case from night 1 to night 100.
So even though I posted it yesterday as a separate blog offering, I’m going to end with it again here: “100 Red Nights,” a gift of 100 little victories (words by me) set to 100 little images of the 100 red nights, offered as a collaborative labor of love by myself and Thien V Qn (who took the photos), just one of the talented crew of new friends I seem to be running with on the red streets these nights: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/.
After looking at our “100 Red Nights” piece during day 100, another of our talented friends, Amy Darwish, remarked to me last night as she and I started out on our long night of strolling at 7:00 p.m., basically this: “It figures that you and Thien would create such a gift. You’re the two romantics of this movement.” Romantic yes, because it’s hard as hell not to be when you dive into the spectacular beauty and innovation of this student strike. At one and the same time, though, I hope you’ll see that some of the victories contained in our “100 Nuits Rouges” are actually dilemmas, implicit critique, or as-yet only partial promise, which to me are indeed victories, because we’re making them visible and hence available for dialogue and deliberation, as something for the increasingly long agendas of the many self-governing bodies within this movement.
(Photo credits: red flags, red marching band, giant red square, Villeray and Rosemont banners, and red-brick building by Thien V Qn,http://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/; big crowd scene by Martin Martel,http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151960346950062.871472.666270061&type=1; QS sign, Outremont banner and outdoor project, and dumpsters by Cindy Milstein; aftermath of hit-and-run driver by Jesse Rosenfeld,https://twitter.com/kissmykishkas/status/230813774976794624/photo/1; and final romantic night 100 shot by another of my talented new friends, Kevin Lo,http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/08/100th-night-demo/).
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Montreal, QC–Thanks to the orchestrole, the past four Wednesday nights in Mile-End have been more than magical, which itself would be enough — in this neighborhood famous for its magical Montreal bagels (the one filling thing besides poutine you can get 24 hours a day). In the orchestrole, struments and cookware bang out a loud protestation against special law 78; friends, neighbors, and fairly new autonomous popular assembly participants reclaim whatever streets we settle on taking that evening — or rather, decide to borrow as we temporarily take them — as a marching illegal demonstration against the criminalization of dissent. The magic comes in because it’s festive to stroll down tree-lined streets as the sun sets and stars begin to appear, and people in their homes pop their heads out doors and windows to watch, listen, or wave, or step on to their balconies with their own instruments or cookware to join in, briefly, in our orchestral cry against the government trying to shut down the student strike. And magic, too, because some sort of addictive joy seems to come over us all while we’re orchestrolling (for my story on the first orchestrole, see here).
More important, however, the core crew of our popular assembly and neighborhood musicians have transformed protest into the art of prefiguration with this orchestrole invention. It is a creative intervention that reshapes public space on its own terms, without permits or permission, while expressing not only outrage but also solidarity for the student and social strike, and each other too, precisely because we’re doing it in a way that builds bonds between us, allows us to do political outreach and organizing, and shows that we can make our own culture, sans commodification.
Tonight’s highlights in our fourth orchestrole included the following:
The innovation of lyric sheets, in both French and English, to some of the songs put together by some of the musicians, who decided to do a practice session before the march this week. I’m not sure if this first rehearsal of theirs is because they are increasingly enjoying being the newly named “Mile-End Orchestrole” as musicians, in demand from others in our neighborhood who aren’t musicians, or due to the fact that they’ll be playing the first indoor orchestrole tomorrow night at a “Red Square Sound” fund-raiser for legal funds for the striking students, morphing our new protest-prefiguration form into new ways to contribute to the DIY sustenance of this movement as well.
We also handed out five different pieces of literature — up from nothing the first week, to one piece the second, and maybe two last week. One of those was an invite to a new neighborhood assembly, in nearby Outremont, so we swung into the edge of Outremont to lend aid and music to our autonomous assembly comrades with a bit of outreach for them. I’ve walked through that neighborhood several times in search of red squares, and there’s been hardly a one, so perhaps this explains why it’s taken them so long to call for an assembly, or may later explain why so few people show up. But several of our orchestrollers were insistent on doing neighborly solidarity for Outremont’s first effort in a park this Saturday.
As we marched on and night grew darker, we seemed to better have each other’s backs this week, more than ever, as we assuredly blocked the whole of St. Laurent, or the biggest, busiest of the streets that we borrowed for a while. Unlike last week, when some 100 or so folks showed up, there were probably 30 at most this week by the time we reached St. Laurent. We were only loosely blocking about half of the lanes, and you could feel the cars and motorcycles edging up behind us, menacingly, about to put foot to pedal and try to drive way too fast past us on the other half of this one-way street. One person within our posse looked at a few other orchestrollers, and said, “Should we take the whole street?” Bodies moved quickly in answer, without breaking the music, spreading out across all lanes, as the drivers grew visibly more frustrated at not being able to get by. Several folks turned to face the oncoming cars, went up to talk to drivers, and made sure there weren’t gaps that would allow a car to attempt a zip by us. One of our crew on a three-wheel bike kept sort of doing circles around the cars. Even those folks who’ve been concerned at the popular assembly about defying law 78 or engaging in what they perceive as direct action seemed completely pleased that we were holding the streets, safely, for each other. (I suspect this doesn’t seem like it “counts” as a direct action, which is one reason it and casseroles have opened us space for those who might be nervous about such activities).
As we neared the end of this long stretch of St. Laurent, and chose to turn left on the main drag of Mile-End, St. Viateur, and start winding down our orchestrole for the night, the police finally decided to catch up to us with some three cop cars for the remaining 25 or so of us. The cops began to act as if they were blocking the streets for us, staying well behind us. There was a brief moment where we turned to look at them, and then everyone quickly agreed in word and motion that we should just ignore them. We ended up hanging out in an intersection chatting for about a half hour while the police sat in one lane, telling us several times to leave, then helplessly watching when we didn’t. They finally pulled their cruiser up close, and one of our crew played them an instrumental solo of a song that isn’t exactly cop friendly — but they didn’t seem to understand. They were probably too busy wishing they could assert control over what was simply a group of friends and neighbors talking politics, life, and music in the night.
I know the police could have asserted their power; at the same time, the fact that no one paid them much mind seemed to go far in this context to shatter their authority. That, in turn, gave us extra time to have an informal organizing chat of sorts about next week’s orchestrole — on consecutive night 100 of the illegal downtown demos, when we decided to take our neighborhood assembly banner and orchestrole downtown (plans since then include multiple neighborhood casseroles meeting at various points to bring many assemblies downtown, and a solidarity demo for Riot Pussy called by Anarchopanda, plus the Mile-End orchestrole gathering at Gamelin Park at 8:30 p.m. to then take the streets with likely many people on this special marker of a night against the specially awful law).
This is, certainly, nothing earth-shattering or world-changing about the orchestrole, whether week one or four Wednesdays in. But like the little red squares that are scattered here and there, disappearing and reappearing, each of the many little illegal and prefigurative acts here in Montreal and Quebec have added up to a near-six-month-long student strike that only shows rebellious-red signs of reemerging in early August, when students return and school, well, maybe doesn’t open.
I’ll end this overview of orchestrole 4 with a personal favorite moment from the evening. We’ve taken to taking the one particularly upscale street within the Mile-End neighborhood, where there are a bunch of expensive restaurants with outdoor seating and lots of unsympathetic-looking patrons. My contribution to the orchestrole is making red-felt squares and filling up a pot, then banging on that pot, but also holding it out to folks to take a square, so they can then wear and spread the solidarity. People often take several red squares, for themselves and friends, and on this fancy street, the waitstaff frequently want one too. The well-heeled diners always stick their noses up at us, avoid eye contact, and refuse my squares. Which makes me put my pot under their noses, across their fancy dinner plates and wine glasses, just to annoy them. This week, when I did that to one woman who sported fancy dress, thinking she too would reject this gift, she instantly took a red square, then raised her fist and said, in French, but in words I now perfectly understand: “To the infinite social strike!”
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Montreal, QC–I’ve been doing dual-purpose with my pot to bang on during the weekly (now in week three) Mile-End Orchestrole by using it to hand out free red squares too as we orchestroll our way through the streets, sans permission. The Orchestrole itself, an outgrowth of the Popular Autonomous Assembly of Mile-End, is multipurpose: bringing friends and neighbors together, outreaching about the assembly that meets weekly on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in a neighborhood park, serving as a magical wake-up call in residential and business areas about the student strike and related austerity concerns, showing solidarity with the students, and asserting with our voices, sounds, and feet that special law 78 won’t silence people nor keep them from demonstrating . . . and making music. (For my earlier story, written about our first Orchestrole, see here.)
As I hold out my saucepan filled with red squares to passersby or folks who come out of their front doors to see the clanging, singing, dancing, and beautiful-sounding (and growing, with well over a hundred folks this time) band, people first hesitantly peer in and then their faces light up. If they are in support, of course. That’s usually a lot of people — except when we swing through the more upscale part of Mile-End. So many people are so appreciative and excited about getting this surprise gift as they are wandering down the streets when our ragtag solidarity march goes by. Others, strangely enough (or strange to me), ask me how much the squares cost, and then are overjoyed when I say, “Nothing! They’re a gift.” Last night, I must have given away some two hundred red-felt squares, and I can see — to my great joy — that people generally pinned them on their shirt or bag ASAP. And multiple folks asked for me extras, for friends or to give out. One guy told me, “Great, a new one! I’ve given away about ten and figured I’d never be able to keep one of my own.” I told him to take about ten, which he did. I arrived home last night with maybe twenty squares left in the bottom on my pot, and sleepily put it aside, knowing that tomorrow I wanted to get more felt to make more squares.
So this morning, when I emptied out the few remaining red squares in this saucepan before heading off to the fabric shop, I was surprised to find $6 in coins underneath–either from confused or kind people, and magically, just enough to buy another yard (at $6!) of felt today to cut out more red squares during tonight’s popular assembly in Mile-End.
I’d been to this same fabric store before. The cashier is a talkative — really talkative — woman. But she didn’t seem to be there. Instead, a completely silent guy took the bolt of red felt from me, and without any words, cut the two yards I’d requested — since I figured, the more squares, the merrier, and so why not double my good luck of last night’s donation with my own $6. He set my felt on the table and then, just as wordlessly, disappeared.
The talkative woman rushed back in, apologizing profusely that I had to wait maybe thirty seconds for her to ring up the sale. Then she launched into a much-longer tale of how she went out to take a cigarette break, after working hard all day, and had asked the guy who helped me (who apparently isn’t allowed, in the workplace hierarchy, to use the cash register) to keep an eye on the counter. Apparently, too, she’s not allowed to take such cigarette breaks, because she told me that her boss had run after the guy when he went to out to fetch her and admonished her severely. She told her boss that she’d only been taking out the trash, because she’s supposed to do that. “But he smelled the smoke on my breath!”
She then looked at my red felt on the cutting table and the red square pinned to my shirt. “To make red squares? For the student strike?” “Qui,” I responded. “Good! Good luck! Good!” she exclaimed over and over, as she raised a thumb’s up high into the air. So I, in turn, figured it was OK to wish her “good luck” with maybe telling her boss that she deserved breaks. She kept her thumb in the air and smiled a knowing smile, without words, as I walked out, my red felt in hand ready to be turned into other small red squares.
* * *
Photos by Thien, who made and gifted me many of the red squares I handed out last night. He also told me recently (something that others have said too) that what’s great about the red squares, among many other things, is that they open up a space to smile at people on the street who are also wearing them and sometimes talk to them about politics too. For many other magnificent photos of his documenting the red of maple spring-summer, see here.
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
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 is probably to be expected, if one can “expect” anything in relation to novel social movements, that after some two and a half months of gathering at the same spot, at the same time nightly to take the streets without permission, thanks to and precisely in contestation of Quebec’s special law 78 criminalizing a variety of dissent, these nocturnal strolls would slow down. While the actual pace hasn’t mellowed much, the number of participants has certainly diminished. But even if there are just barely over the “magic” illegal number of forty-nine people on hand, and when there are even fewer, these marches go on, like clockwork. That fact alone makes them rather remarkable. There’s this notion that even if a lot of students are resting up after nearly five months of strike for the flash point of striking schools “starting” or likely not in August, and even if many other folks need breaks from night-after-night marches, the illegal demos are seen as a must — until victory. Still, of late it can be a dispiriting and often-annoying experience, given how few show up, and often who those few are.
So I’d (almost) forgotten how revolutionarily romantic it is to walk for five hours non-stop through a summertime Montreal evening with hundreds or thousands of fellow disobedients. Because as I realized last weekend, there’s nothing like a special occasion — consecutive illegal night 75 — to encourage the rebellious spirit & a big, festive, feisty evening demo, complete with enormous red flags (and lots of little ones too).
Some of the highlights of this particular night were careening through the last evening of the crowded, corporate-sponsored outdoor Jazz Festival, with us as clearly the larger spectacle that caused people to actually listen, whether with lots of thumbs up or more than the usual number of thumbs down; watching the cops “protect” people coming off a bridge from seeing fireworks, so we wouldn’t walk on the bridge; and coincidentally (?) meandering past UQAM’s college complex just as a circus-dance troupe dressed in red performed on four levels of a main building, including spinning red umbrellas from the rooftop and creating giant red squares out of red lights in windows on two floors.
But why these big, hours-long outlaw outings feel so particularly romantic is, as night 75 reminded me, the connection(s) we end up feeling toward each other and our temporary autonomous community. It’s like a great big special evening out, a great big wink between us all — reclaiming not just the streets but also that old spark, or a notion of what’s special among and about us, “the people,” as CLASSE’s manifesto brilliantly reminds us (printed in Le Devoir on July 12, as strategic brilliance and counter-move in the chess game of the government hinting strongly at setting elections for August in an effort to distract from and destroy the student strike and social crisis):
“For we, students, are also renters and employees; we are international students, pushed aside by discriminating public services. We come from many backgrounds, and, until the colour of our skin goes as unnoticed as our eye colour, we will keep on facing everyday racism, contempt and ignorance. We are women, and if we are feminists it is because we face daily sexism and roadblocks set for us by the patriarchal system; we constantly fight deep-rooted prejudice. We are gay, straight, bisexual, and proud to be. We have never been a separate level of society. Our strike is not directed against the people.
We are the people.”
(For the English translation, see http://www.stopthehike.ca/2012/07/share-our-future-the-classe-manifesto/#more-1230; for a PDF of the likely much more brilliant French original, see http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/).
The law that catalyzed these illegal demos is not special at all; that’s the countermove of our special, revolutionary dates — to reveal the contrast, publicly, on the romantic streets of Montreal. Such laws are, unfortunately, increasingly ordinary, or what governments around the world are doing more and more — criminalizing everything and everyone that gets in their way, which is pretty much everything and everyone. More and more, people around the globe are not putting up with it. CLASSE’s manifesto briefly and beautifully lays out the great contest at hand: direct democracy, the commons, the people, the public good, and wholesale egalitarianism on the people’s side, and “representative” democracy, the commodity, the elites, private gain, and wholesale inequality, on their side.
As an acquaintance here in Montreal just noted, if you read nothing else from or on the student strike — and I’d add, if you read nothing else right now for a good long while — read this manifesto. And weep. It’s that poignant. It’s that revolutionarily romantic. But it’s also just the common sense that we know and feel when these consecutive nights are jammed packed with hundreds and even thousands of us, expressing a love for humanity and social goodness that seems to radiate between us. Because here in Montreal at least, so vastly different from that place called the United States a mere hour or so south, people still hold to a notion of a common good — which likely, sadly, makes a copycat of this movement near impossible.
Yes, I’d almost forgotten that feeling, which comes through so much clearer when you’re on hour two, still with hundreds and maybe thousands of people on the streets, always illegally, and an anarchist you just met offers to teach you their favorite chant in French (“no gods, no masters, no borders, no bosses…”). Or we’re all on hour three, and another person I don’t know good-naturedly makes fun of my US English accent on the French chants, thinking I’m trying to make fun of “Americans” saying those chants at solidarity demos in the United States, but then we end up talking and it turns out we were both in Quebec City in 2001 for the Carnival against Capitalism during the Summit of the Americas. Or a new Montreal friend dashes up to me with handfuls of bright-red felt squares, their safety pins shining under the street lights. We both then dash around together, handing them out to cab drivers stuck in our illegal street marches, people sitting in outdoor cafes who cheer when our demo walks by, parents out for the Jazz Fest with their kids, or groups of teenagers hanging out, just ’cause it’s Saturday night. Our red felt squares makes person after person smile, and my new friend and I laugh and smile at each other, as my hand is refilled for our two-person gift economy spree.
All the little interactions that mean nothing and yet everything, happening in multiple microscopic ways, night after night, student assembly after popular assembly, the picket lines last winter and those to come in August, here in illegal Montreal. Because as the CLASSE manifesto notes, “Direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighbourhoods. . . . Our democracy banishes cynicism, instead of fuelling it. As we have shown many times over, our democracy brings people together. Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free.”
Earlier in the day (of night 75) at a directly democratic consulta, some striking students were worried about whether there was enough support to hold the line come mid-August when school is supposed to begin, which given special law 78 in particular, means students need a whole lot more tangible solidarity against the government/police trying to crush Maple Spring. That same night 75, it seemed to me that when there’s the need to rally, to get lots and lots of people out and activated, there’s a popular social movement ready to strike. The same was true three nights later, night 78 contra law 78, when again people came out to the streets in relatively large numbers, especially for a Tuesday evening, for yet another special night. And that same day, two Facebook event invites showed up in my messages: one for July 22, the monthly “grand demonstration” day, which has gathered hundreds of thousands on other twenty-seconds the past several months; and the other for August 1, illegal consecutive-night-demonstration 100.
In previous blog posts, I’ve talked about revolutionary time, when in rebellions past, radicals have shot out the clocks in the public towers so as to make their own time, or victorious revolutionaries started their own calendars, for the new times ahead. Or how time within social movements like Occupy and Maple Spring feels luxuriously ours, foreshadowing what it would feel like to have all time clocks, alarm clocks, or the constant smartphone clocks banished as our measures of us as “productive” members of society.
Night 75, night 78, July 22, and soon night 100 all point toward another time — the kind of time I experience on these evening strolls with hundreds and often thousands of others: revolutionary dates. Those times that Maple Spring movement has and does set aside, intentionally, as special nights to be together, voluntarily and with delight, even if the evening falls flat or is downright hard. Because sometimes that means facing off with riot cops and awful new laws and heartless governments and administrators, and not necessarily to people’s advantage in terms of personal safety and longer-term ramifications. For instance, the upcoming dates of August 13 to 17 are also intentionally being set aside, since thirteen of the key striking schools are supposed to go back to class during those five days, and pretty much everyone agrees that it’s going to be tense and intense — and difficult — and most or all of the striking schools will resist. At other times it means savoring the joy of our social power alongside the pleasure of simply, intentionally being together on a perfect summer evening — with the police playing pitiful chaperone.
I realized on night 75 and again on night 78 how many of these revolutionary dates there have been, and there are in the near future, and how people seem to only want to create more and more of them. At the Popular Assembly of the Mile-End Quarter, for instance, folks eagerly agreed this evening — at what someone pointed out was a slow first few dates, but that was OK, because it was important to get to know each other — that we will now always hold the assembly on Thursday nights and always hold the new casserole + orchestra, or “orchestrole,” on Wednesday evenings, which at the second one last night, offered not only the romance of “a little night music” but also a red-hued sunset behind our red-square-tinged gathering.
There’s something of a sensual pleasure in not only deciding for ourselves — a la direct democracy, like as the sun set this evening, but this time over the triangular neighborhood park during the Mile-End popular assembly, just as we were all marveling at the pleasure of this new form of gathering, discussing, and deciding. There is also pleasure in deciding for ourselves to make dates together where we both commit to each other and this movement, at least for the time being — which so far, has been a long time in this longest-running student strike in North American history; where you can always count on someone being there for you, with you, in innumerable special ways, even and sometimes especially because the dates can turn ugly (like on night 78, when the police kept insisting on crashing our date and then arrested about a half-dozen); and where people share intimacy with many, many people and a collectivity too over the course of one date.
Looming ahead, as I mentioned above, are some dates that this student strike is setting aside — that concentrated period when a baker’s dozen of striking schools are by law supposed to open — for their participatory student organizations and striking students to make their own tough choices. They will intentionally, autonomously figure out what they want to do — consensually. Do I stick by these people I’ve been going out with for many months now? Are we getting serious? If I decide to stay in this relationship, will my family — teachers, support staff, workers of all types, the popular assemblies, the wider populace — support me in a social strike?
But CLASSE’s manifesto offers the real love letter:
“For months now, all over Quebec, the streets have vibrated to the rhythm of hundreds of thousands of marching feet. What started out as a movement underground, still stiff with the winter consensus, gathered new strength in the spring and flowed freely, energizing students, parents, grandparents, children, and people with and without jobs. The initial student strike grew into a people’s struggle. . . . Now, at a time when new democratic spaces are springing up all around us, we must make use of these to create a new world.”
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
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 should not be surprising that the longest student strike in North American history, the one kicked off on February 13, 2012 in Quebec, has captured the imagination. For sheer persistence alone, it’s a gripping drama. But strikes can be dreary things when they drag on — a standoff bringing matters to an unproductive standstill, and wearing down strikers, strike supporters, strikebreakers, police, and “bosses” alike, although to differing degrees and consequences. What’s striking about this particular strike is that imagination itself has been a key ingredient from the start — and a generative one at that. That sensibility is alive and well, and so there’s rarely a dull moment, or positively put, imagination that willingly and critically rethinks itself has to date made for a dynamic movement.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word imagination, first and foremost, as “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality,” along with “the exercise of that [power].” Related phrases that spring to mind are creativity, inspiration, andinnovation. Rather than a shutting down (in this case, of school), the Quebec student strike has been marked by creation, “the act of making, inventing, or producing,” to quote Merriam-Webster’s again. And such acts, in turn, have the potential to strike at the very heart(lessness) of capitalism.
People typically think of strikes as purely economic in character, related to some specific injustice. Within that frame, some people also think of strikes as decrying capitalism’s inherent logic of an exploitative power-over our lives, with the goal being to eke out a slightly better deal from it — at best, a “new deal,” if such a thing is still structurally possible under neoliberalism, which is highly doubtful. And it must be remembered that the U.S. New Deal, notwithstanding its amelioration of certain types of human suffering at the time, was a band-aid measure on the part of the U.S. government to stop the spread of revolutionary movements/ideas and heal the wounds of the Great Depression with liberal reforms that, as Howard Zinn remarked in the 1960s, actually preserved the worst elements of capitalism.
Maybe, sometimes, people recall strikes that advocated or led to workers’ self-management. Increasingly, though, most people aren’t workers. Or they are compelled to do work that shouldn’t exist, like smiley-face greeters at the front doors of Walmart or the Gap, say, or slaving away at labor under neo-sweatshop and neo-indentured servitude conditions. Or work takes up too much of people’s lives, with the alternative being not an eight-hour-day but rather unemployment, underemployment, and precarious “temp” or day labor. Besides, self-management within capitalism is, largely, still self-managed misery with a kinder and gentler face. This isn’t to minimize the transformative power of self-governing one’s workplace with other workers, as the film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein on Argentina’s worker-reoccupied factories, The Take, illustrates so well. Yet in that same film, as the worker-husband protagonist speaks about his experience, his unwaged-worker-wife mentions how she looks forward to the day when they can afford McDonald’s “Happy Meals” for their kids again.
So alongside critiques of capitalism’s deadening effects, whether we reform or self-manage them, there’s also the “hidden” fact of most strikes revealed in The Take too: that wage-work strikers usually rely on unwaged still-working workers to keep caring for them. Not to mention that wage-labor “care workers” such as nurses are often prohibited by law from striking, or are caregiving “outlaws” who can’t strike, such as nannies without papers or sex workers. This has led to critical explorations such as that detailed in the essay “A Very Careful Strike” by the militant Madrid-based research collective Precarias a la Deriva, which proposes a notion of “caring strikes.” The overarching idea is that such a strike would be embodied in “everyday and multiple practice[s]” of de-commodified care writ large, since care, as one of the latest and most lucrative frontiers of commodification for capitalism, sadly needs to be reappropriated along with so much else. A caring strike would include, among other things, “transforming public space, converting spaces of consumption into places of encounter” — a notion germane to the Rêve Général Illimité. The Precarias a la Deriva collective asks,
“Why not begin to imagine and construct an organization of the social that prioritizes persons, that attends to our sustainability — from access to health care to the right to affect — which orients toward our enrichment as human beings — from the access to knowledge, education, and information to the freedom to move around the world — that listens to our desires?. . . [W]e want to think relations beyond those of the commodity mediations, following the logic of the gift, where one gives without knowing what, how, and when one will receive something in exchange.” (English translation from the Commoner, no. 11 [Spring 2006])
It’s hard to envision, much less see tangible evidence of, forms of caring strikes, and ones in particular whose own inherent logic brings out the heterogeneous “revolutionary potential of care” (as our Madrid friends put it) while also simultaneously defying capitalism’s hegemonic logic, whether consciously or not. Even when people are striking in more caring and careful ways, they are still often doing so against types of work and/or workplaces that are increasingly anachronistic, and hence in ways that are anachronistic or based on archaic notions like, in this context, the student as (factory) worker.
It’s hard to unravel how aware various Quebec student strikers were of their own “anticapitalism” or the novelty of what they were about to do when they set out to organize what’s become known as the maple spring. From the beginning, though, there seemed to be an explicit awareness on the part of these young organizers of their own self-determining ability to do something that capitalism would have us believe we can’t: acts of making, inventing, and producing the world, or rather, our world. The seemingly totalizing social system that capitalism manufactures, by stealing nearly everything from us — from our labor and leisure, to love and imagination, to time and space, and so much more — through its seemingly unceasing acts of commodification, convinces us (or better yet, simply socializes us from day one) that this world is “natural,” and relatedly, that another world is unimaginable and certainly out of our hands to create. If we buy into capitalism’s story, we’ve already settled for crumbs from or maybe, if we’re lucky, a meager slice of the pie.
Whether wittingly or no, the still-striking-students seemed from the get-go to write their own script, strategically and astutely, as in “we want to bake the pie ourselves and then share it with everyone.” That beginning was about making, inventing, and producing, for example, their own time, as in not striking until they thought they were ready — meaning, they set a date in the future for the strike to start, and then worked hard for many months to build self-organized strength — rather than letting capitalism (and the province) make time for them. The simple premise of qualitatively “doing(-it-ourselves)” and “on our own time” in direct contestation with further commodification, it could be argued, is what allowed the strike to successfully, at least for now, gain power-from-below, forcing a top-down governance structure and its enforcement agents into a defensive crisis. That self-made time has also included, it should be noted, a long view, in stark contrast to contemporary capitalism’s dizzyingly ever-accelerated, “just-in-time,” attention-deficit-producing tempo (over a year ago, a study put the average life span of a tweet at under two hours; such speedups nearly guarantee that no one has time to think, question, organize, or even remember).
That script has also been a figurative and sometimes-literal multimedia work of art and labor of love, with its component parts ranging, figuratively and maybe literally too, from jazz improvisation-composition to street art to dérive to high theatrics and grand oratory (for my earlier musings on the notion of the maple spring dérive, seehttp://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/queer-feminista-anticapitalista-montreal-nights-53-60/). The student strike, also from the start, strategically and astutely, was about making, inventing, and producing new spaces, again both figuratively and literally. Perhaps beyond it’s wildest dreams, or again unwittingly, the strike has helped facilitate all sorts of new spaces, such as the de-schooling of classrooms into actual places of learning (used by strikers for such self-schooling as organizing, artistic creations, and assemblies, say). Or the reclaiming of the city and its streets, neighborhoods, balconies, parks, and festivals for a host of new encounters, new practices, and new social relations — boldly, disobediently without permission of riot police or special laws.
At a time when state and capitalism, along with other institutionalized forms of oppression like racism and heteronormativity, have either thoroughly privatized all space (as in making it a clear commodity, with enforcement mechanisms to back that up) or throughly made a mockery of the notion of public space (as in making sure that anything public is hierarchically governed and regulated, and various behaviors — like sleeping — are policed), there’s little of the the one space that’s ours: the commons. The commons is a place, space, or even idea (as in imagination!) that is there for us to mutually use, share, and enjoy, thereby implying, if it is to have any qualitative meaning and sustainable longevity, that it has to be mutually self-organized and self-governed, via formal and/or informal mechanisms of our making, inventing, and producing.
The space that perhaps the student strikers never envisioned — and may still only have inklings of — is that of critical thought and popular education. In helping themselves along with more and more of the “nonstudent” society to unlearn, relearn, and learn afresh through the various new physical and psychic spaces being experimented with now, the space of education has moved from the deadening architecture of the UQAM complex (a visible testament to how the “promises” of the Quiet Revolution were, like the New Deal, partially a way to contain revolution), implying that education happens in a specific building at a specific age for specific types of people in specific often-mind-numbing ways, to the enlivening architecture of the new city that’s being played with in multiple ways, including various engagements with this festival summer.
Thus, to return to the beginning of this piece, it isn’t so much that the strike grabbed people’s imagination, as that imagination ignited a student strike, which in turn is firing up notions of a social strike, which hopefully in turn will open up new possibilities, including around legacies of unfreedom. The student-and-social strikes are self-generative via the doing of imagination — as opposed to passive consumption of or even spectacular participation in “imagination,” usually of the corporate-sponsored variety.
Hence what really should be no surprise, but probably comes as one, is that, first, the striking students in Quebec were and increasingly are asking for a social good that structurally isn’t possible within capitalism — education for all, now and in the future, and what’s more for free. Education isn’t and likely never was a factory per se, though its form and content at present should be drastically rethought, and “students” are or should be part of what we’d want an albeit-free society and everyone in it to be: educated and engaged. (As a related aside, two University of Michigan students, Brian Whitener and Daniel Nemser, contend that there are presently four crucial ways that universities are connected to capitalism and profit-making more generally: construction, endowments, research and development, and student debt; for me, that means that students are almost like mannequins in a shop window within this structural shift in academia.)
This, secondarily, has opened up space to imagine all sorts of social goods, with people not doing things because of narrow, economistic self-interest but rather out of an expansive social solidarity. If you participated in any of the casseroles, especially in their “early” days, that was lavishly glimpsed on streets and balconies, as well as from kids in pajamas clanging on pots outside their front doors to night waitstaff joining in with forks on glasses outside their restaurants. A wide swath of the populace, in Montreal and places far distance, created an imaginative people’s music that was at once a wake-up call to those still not listening, a self-orchestrated celebration of popular power, and deafening solidarity for the student strike and all the shared austerity looming like storm clouds in the close distance.
And third, the forms facilitating this student strike were and are generative of other ways of making, inventing, and producing (as in experimenting with “not making capitalism”) everything from education to decision-making methods, cultural creations to city streets, to name a few — or to name another, as someone noted on a Facebook event announcement this week, a “manifestive.” A manifestive is itself an imaginative remaking of the French word manifestation (“demonstration,” and it could be added, in the double sense within English, a display of both “protesting” and “proving” something) and the ubiquitous summertime landscape of festivals here in Montreal.
There are many examples of this creative strike within maple spring-summer. And because there are so many, many examples, all emerging out of a shared and powerful demand — in essence, a society that’s abundant, not austere — the student strike has given renewed and prolific life to the phrase “a diversity of tactics,” itself invented during the height of the anticapitalist days of the alter-globalization movement. “Tactics,” however,” doesn’t do the manifold practices under this rubric justice. The student strike revolves around “a diversity of strategies,” which increasingly point toward a diversified world beyond the monocropping culture of state and capital, not to mention racism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy (alas: etc.) and legacies of colonialism (alas: etc.). This raises the unanswerable chicken-and-egg question of whether imagination generated this movement-from-below or this movement-from-below is generative of imagination. Happily, the response doesn’t matter. Thanks to the student strikers, imagination-from-below has all the power! At least for the time being.
Looking backward, that’s meant everything from the little red square growing up from its 2005 infancy to become a big and colorful superstar, but not letting this go to its head; anyone can add their personality to the red square, and they have and do (for an ever-increasing archival sampler of all the nonhierarchical making, inventing, and producing of red squares, see http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/), and many people carry around bunches of felt squares with safety pin attached as a caring-strike gift. That’s meant, too, creative ways of clothing and unclothing oneself, from anarchopanda to naked marchers. It’s meant as well a plethora of ways to fill one’s striking hours and configure self-educate, from imaginative methods of soft and hard blockades (including a try once at a huge group simply laughing for twenty minutes), to CLASSE congresses and neighborhood assemblies, to artist, translation, video, and livestream collectives, to repurposing classrooms as much more purposeful spaces, to disobedient yet joyous illegal reclaiming of the streets through everything from grand manifestations to nightly demos, from casseroles to F1 disruptions. And this list could go on . . . and indeed is going on.
Which brings us to this week and consecutive night 73 (July 5) of the illegal evenings of what could be seen as creative interventions into the culture and geography of self-organized resistance, and better still, caring and careful self-generated reconstruction: Rêve Général Illimité au Festival du Jazz de Montréal (for more info, see the Web site of the Montreal-based HOWL! Arts Collective, composed of cultural workers, artists, and activists working for social justice via artisticexpression:http://howlarts.net/post/26376871104/reve-general-illimite-au-festival-du-jazz-de-montreal).
From the inspiring large student strike to more modest flights of fancy like this Thursday, July 5′s creative intervention, or manifestive, at the Jazz Festival, toward general unlimited dreams. Wow! Or meow, as the striking graphic for the Rêve Général Illimité exclaims! (For the story and designer behind this graphic, see LOKI design’s Web site, http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/07/reve-general-illimite/.)
I’ll let the HOWL! Arts Collective’s description of this manifestive — to which HOWL! invites everyone to participate in (specifically, the call says to “dress in RED, and bring your placard signs, instruments and casseroles” at 6 p.m. to the open space at Saint-Laurent metro) — speak for itself for a moment:
“As the Liberal government’s political repression continues against the largest protest movement in Québec’s history, notably with the passing of Law 78 to silence dissent in the streets, massive cultural festivals are being planned without consideration of the ongoing political crisis.”
“The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is seen by people around the world as a symbol of the free spirit and cultural character of Montréal. As community artists based in this city, we feel the corporate sponsorship now driving the festival ultimately undermines the political, social, economic, and physical space that allows independent culture to thrive in Montreal. Is the spirit of jazz truly represented by Toronto Dominion, a bank responsible for pushing neoliberal economic polices in Canada, and profiting off the backs of poor and working people?”
Understanding how to relate to the spirit of festivals that dominate Montreal in the summer — a time when, due to the intensity of winter, it seems like this city lives outside and for unabashed enjoyable — was a delicate, seemingly tricky question as the festival season neared. The anticipation hung heavy in the air, where nightly a helicopter also hung low to surveil the illegal demos, as to what would happen with the first of the “festivals”: the Grand Prix. The student coalition CLASSE and the anarchist organization CLAC collaborated on various strategies to disrupt the F1 and its conspicuous display of wealth, sexism, and (as many people are fond of saying here), douchebags.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the disruption was grand, engaged in by so many people that the the police couldn’t tell “casseroler” from “anarchist” from “student striker” from “tourist” from “ordinary Montrealer” from “Saturday night partygoer” to even just a plain ol’ “douchebag,” and were thus at a loss to control it — the “it” being a shared “fuck the police” sensibility that encompassed a host of grievances and antagonisms, but also underscored yet again just how deep this movement is within this city. And best of all, the disruption also underscored the brutality of the police, absurdity of special law 78, strength of the student-social strike, and the reason behind targeting the Grand Prix. How could elites toss around so much money even as they are part of the crew, for all intents and purposes, trying to raise tuition and cut other social goods? How could they get so drunk on their own power “without consideration of the ongoing political crisis,” as HOWL! observes above in relation to the Jazz Festival, but probably more accurately, in complete consideration of the ongoing political crisis, as in a big “fuck the student strike” on the part of the rich.
Once again, imagination had won the day — particularly the imaginative strategy of dressing “normally” and walking into the closed-off downtown party streets for the Grand Prix with hidden disruption tools: pots and pans, ladles and spoons. Who would have ever thought that cookware could create such chaos!
To the credit of those many people involved in this maple spring-summer, a “diversity of tactics/strategies” is being applied to the festivals, since not all festivals are created equal.
Problematic as the sovereignty question is, along with its various tendencies (statist, racist, successionist, and/or independentist, for example) and various legacies (for instance, exclusion, oppression, brutality, and colonialism), the FrancoFolies with its definite Quebec-pride flavor, offered both an enormous and enormously sympathetic audience along with highly sympathetic musicians. Perhaps it was too sympathetic, as evidenced by the increasing appearance of Quebec flags and imagery among student-social strikers, and whether a further diversity of tactics/strategies around this free fest and the student strike should have occurred is an open, serious question. Those who engaged with this festival choose the path of least resistance (save for the Pink Bloc, which tried to queer it up!). So after an early episode with the police trying to block the nightly illegal demo from entering the festival, the festival organizers apparently made it clear that it was fine for any student strikers and their allies to come in and bring their message along too. The illegal demo thus easily made swings through the music-listening audience on various evenings, culminating in the band Loco Locass bringing student-strike spokespeople and the École de la Montagne Rouge up on stage with it, complete with “Quebec is Dead! Long Live Quebec” screen prints.
And this brings us around to the Jazz Festival, perhaps the flagship festival of the summer, especially for those many people and performers who flock into Montreal for its mix of free and ticketed performances but especially its open celebration of music and culture. Many people involved with or sympathetic to the student-social strike were already booked to play in the festival. As HOWL! noted, Toronto Dominion had already signed on as corporate sponsor. Likely everything about this gigantic festival is planned long, long in advance — maybe as long ago as the now-striking students began organizing toward their strike, although probably with a whole lot less vibrant of an imagination. So now knowing what the Jazz Festival knows of the political terrain, how could (or should have) it have honestly addressed the student strike, even if only to nod to its existence? How could (or should) it have incorporated themes, artistic and cultural, that grappled explicitly with this social crisis, even if that meant ticking off its corporate sponsors ever so slightly or more? How could it go on as normal, as if this summer were like any other, without some or a whole lot of mention of this historic and longest-running student strike in North America? Or is that even the Jazz Festival’s job, contrasting it to the FrancoFolies, which decided it was its job, but perhaps for some of the wrong reasons?
Maybe this is where street art diverges from festival art. It can, and should, intervene. So maybe the best of ways that the Jazz Festival could (and should) be engaged with in relation to the student strike is not by wanting it to make space but rather precisely by collectives and communities of resistance and reconstruction (from HOWL! to École de la Montagne Rouge to anyone and everyone who decides to join in this Thursday) taking their own space inside it. After all, in the open space of Metro St.-Laurent that is intended to become the people’s space during the Rêve Général Illimité manifestive, we will find not disruption (such as of the Grand Prix) or uncritical sympathy (such as with the FrancoFolies) but instead another type of path at another type of festival.
With the Rêve Général Illimité, we might discover the art of making culture collectively, the art of provocation as social critique and social vision, and the art of doing-it-ourselves. We might unleash the art of the new forms of strikes and strike solidarity, opening up literal and figurative spaces for de-commodified making, inventing, and producing. Then too, we might feel and share the art of the caring strike. And we might, and hopefully indeed will, engage in the art of manifesting our dreams — if only in a short, improvisational manifestive moment, to be strung together with the many moments, nights, and months of this still-imaginative student-social strike.
Maybe none of this will happen, and the general infinitely unlimited dream will feel like a nightmare afterward. That’s also the risk of experimentation. If there’s one thing — well, there are many — but if there’s one thing that the still-striking students have shown those of us not in college, it’s that careful, caring, yet courageous diversity of tactics/strategies, with a hefty dose of social goodand a hell of a lot of imagination in the mix, can fly far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. What’s your daydream for the Rêve Général Illimité? As HOWL! invites for this Thursday, July 5, at 6 p.m. for this creative intervention: play it, dance it, perform it, draw it, pantomime it, paint it, sing it, sketch it, dramatize it, recite it, print it, improv it, or casserole it!
* * *
Coincidentally, another creative intervention just popped up on Facebook as I reached this ending, which it seems is only beginning, if this student-social strike keeps up the way it’s been going: LIVRE CARRÉ ROUGE pour la 75e manif, or badly translated, SQUARE RED BOOK for the 75th demonstration.
And to forge ahead with my bad (online-assisted) translation: To mark the 75th night of demonstrations — this Saturday, July 7 — a book will be filled with 75 texts, 75 words of encouragement to the protesters, 75 thoughts to continue until victory! All participants and sympathizers are invited to write a thought, caricature, sketch, tag, or note. The book will be read starting at 7:30 p.m. at Place Émilie-Gamelin, followed by the nightly illegal demo.
For a more coherent French-language version, seehttps://www.facebook.com/events/441118925922776/.
* * *
My thanks to Thien for the three gorgeous photos of the Rêve Général Illimité sticker in action (for more photographs, head over tohttp://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/), and kudos to LOKi design, again, for the Rêve Général Illimité image. And especial appreciation to the person (who shall remain anonymous here, since I’m not sure if they’d want to be named in relation to the intervention or my blog) who when I asked how I might contribute to Rêve Général Illimité, asked me in turn to write something. I hope this goes some way toward what they were looking for, since their dedication to remaining a student of life and ideas, from organizing to the arts and/as politics to reading theory and history during the downtime of their wage-labor time, has gone a long way toward inspiring me of late.
Down with schools; up with education! Or as I wrote a few nights ago, “No school but learning” (http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/no-school-but-learning-montreal-night-68/).
Philadelphia, PA–I’ve done the All in the Red casseroles marches weekly in New York and was curious to see what it would be like in a different city. Arriving to the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia on Sunday, this was my first march as part of the National Gathering, and my first ever protest in Philadelphia, and I was unsure of what to expect but mostly optimistic and excited. It would be interesting to participate in a march that (as far as I knew in the United States) was only happening on a regular basis in my home city, but this time in a new place with a group of unfamiliar people.
Shortly after we began, there was a split between those who wanted to take the streets and those who did not. I recognized those who organized and were pacing the march were from New York; where we’re from, taking the streets is a risk in which you may be arrested immediately for setting one foot in the road. But the cops here cruised on their bicycles, letting us move freely. The pacers responded by mic checking that they supported autonomous action but were not recommending or suggesting we walk in the street. But once it seemed as though the police truly did not care, they and most of the march poured into the street.
Because many of us are from different cities, and therefore have varying experiences with different police forces, everyone seemed to react differently to the authorities. I was not in Philadelphia the day before, so I had no previous experience with the Philadelphia Police Department and could only go by their indifference to our taking the street, and felt that the police were being very permissive and respectful. But a few people taunted the police while others yelled at comrades in the streets things like “Good luck getting arrested!” Few of us from out of town anticipated the police’s leniency, and I probably wasn’t the only one who wondered how long this would last.
The bulk of the march was spent walking east on Market Street. I had been here before a few times years ago, going across the river to Philadelphia for concerts in my teen years, but the new context made the place seem rather alien. The last time I visited here was before I moved to New York, and today the city seemed desolate and devoid of people—but here on Market Street, people stopped, stood and watched us.
We approached Penn’s Landing, and many of us out-of-towners weren’t quite sure where the bridge led to. We took the bridge, and when we made it half-way across we circled around and came back. “We shouldn’t have turned around,” I heard someone say behind me. “Why don’t we cross to the other side?” A few steps after our turn-around we stopped again with a mic check from a pacer: apparently, we were originally meant to cross the bridge but the front of the march had come upon a wall of cops on the other side. Not wanting to start conflict with them, those in front decided to turn around and walk back. But some protesters took issue with this and wanted to face the cops. Would we continue on this new path, off the bridge on the side we entered, or confront the police?
Opinions divided, and the march did as well. I followed the group that went back towards the police, but there was no clear strategy as to what to do once we met with them. What were we here for? Some said confronting the police was exactly the reason why we had all come together; others said this march was only to educate and raise awareness to the student debt crisis, and that conflicts with the police would only muddy that message and invite criticism we didn’t need. So we ended up doing a lot of standing and sitting on the other end of the bridge in front of the police. I heard one guy gossip that obviously an undercover had suggested that we move back towards the police instead of re-routing; another one was showing rumors that he received on his phone that police re-enforcements were on their way to kettle and arrest us all.
There was slight conflict with civilians when the police opened up space in their wall to allow civilians from a street festival on the other side of the bridge to pass. I wasn’t so close to see what happened—I expect protesters tried to squeeze through—but I heard a lot of yelling as a mother and her kids (and then other civilians, but she was doing the yelling) walked past us looking flustered. One girl said it best: “They see us as an inconvenience, and don’t realize that this inconvenience is a public service.”
We eventually decided to march back to Franklin Square Park. Again, we were divided between those in and out of the street, but the walk back was largely casual, with fewer chants. We made it back with pretty much no conflict, and lots of support from bystanders and drivers.
– Joe Sutton –]]>
Montreal, QC–When I write essays in English — unlike when I blog or even speak (both too quickly) — I’m meticulous.
Writing, for me, is a political engagement and a political act(ion). It is not something I do as some sort of allegedly pure artistic self-expression, although part of being meticulous is the joy of wordsmithing. Nor is it commodified or compulsory labor. And it is never, ever passive. It springs from what I’m both participating in and thinking about, also referred to as praxis. It’s also not meant to be received passively. The Zapatistas, like the Situationist International, scribed a cornucopia of quotable, borrowable, graffitable slogans, and I know I’ve used and lent out this particular phrase before, but it always bears repeating: for those of us who struggle for and/or strive to prefigure a world from below, us misfits in a present-day world we should never fit into, “our word is our weapon.”
Writing, then, is always intended as a political intervention. That can mean my words are sometimes inspiring or sometimes critical, or if penned well, a blend of both. Sometimes, too, they are militant, thrown down as a challenge — to myself, first and foremost, and also to my antiauthoritarian comrades of many tendencies, and/or to those outside our circles, but usually not too far outside (those who’ve moved close enough, by learning to think for themselves, to actively listen and dialogue). Always my words are meant to contribute, in whatever way they can, to social transformation. So I only write when I have something to say, and I try hard — slowly, excruciatingly slowly at times — to pick each word carefully, for nuanced meaning, poetic beauty, and accessible clarity as well as to construct a sharp argument that aspires to “educate, agitate, and organize.”
This isn’t to say that I always succeed in any or all of this.
In particular, this past month or so, when I write blog posts in English — in another country, as participant-observer in a largely Francophone-influenced and organized maple spring — I’m (inadvertently) careless.
I say “careless” not because I don’t care. Just the opposite. The reason I’m sticking around Montreal is because I already care too much about this longest of student strikes in North America and most remarkable of social movements. I mean careless as in spontaneous and yet sloppy. I’m not an anarchist “foreign” correspondent, carefully checking into each and fact, or even (I suppose) relaying facts at all. My “Dispatches from Maple Spring” are more like the written equivalent of an impressionistic painting: my visible “brushstrokes” are merely aiming to portray movement, unusual angles, changing qualities — all with an openness of composition.
I say “inadvertent” because I didn’t set out to be careless, as in “sloppy.” But this week, I received two fairly lengthy emails about two of my fairly recent blogs — one quite critical of what I am not seeing here and didn’t write about; the other offering me a friendly behind-the-scenes backstory. Both gave me pause, and both made me think, like militant challenges thrown down. As I emailed back to the first of the two folks, their words were a gift. If we’re serious about social transformation, we need to think critically. We need to think and speak the truth, not just to “power,” but to each other, to ourselves, to the power imbalances and machinations within our circles.
I asked the first emailer if they’d be willing to publicly post their critiques as a “comment” to the particular blog post of mine that bothered them, but thought soon after I wrote them back that it was really up to me to bring some of their meticulous suggestions into my writing. To start seeing things I’m not seeing, because of my own blinders, assumptions, or plain lack of knowledge, and/or because certain things aren’t prominent parts of this student strike, or are inadvertently, carelessly carried forward within the student strike because they build on a history of struggles that had their own blinders. For instance, ideas of decolonization shook up Montreal for the better in the 1960s, but also highlighted (and still do) “the contradictions and ambiguities of applying ideas of decolonisation in Quebec” (see book recommendation below). In the same way that even as I write, there’s a “national” gathering of occupies going on in Philadelphia, the “birthplace of American democracy,” on the July Fourth weekend. I can clearly see that while well intentioned, the very choice of time, place, and phraseology for this “natgat” already makes so many people feel left out of any sort of remotely liberatory political project — say, indigenous peoples who were on the land before the birthing or black peoples who were forcibly enslaved to raise the newborn country, not to mention those who practiced (and still do) forms of direct democracy on this continent without need of or desire for states or nations. That’s “easy” for me to see — “easier,” for as an Anarchist Person of Color (APOC) friend recently said, to varying degrees of better and worse, we can only be racist antiracists, at best, in a racist society — as it’s been easy and frustrating to see throughout “occupy,” itself a contested term that, happily, created transparent space for continuations as well (frustratingly) beginnings of political interventions.
Both email interventions/dialogues with my blog words made me think long and hard, and that’s good indeed. It feels good to have one’s brain work long and hard, through something it doesn’t already know the answer to, because to quote another phrase I adore repeating, by Theodor W. Adorno, “Open thinking points beyond itself.” If we have any chance in hell, from within this hell, of changing the world, we need to actively, politically engage in open thought. From there, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to actively, politically engage in open experiments that point beyond themselves, like this student movement, which started as a student strike to challenge a tuition increase, and now points beyond itself, toward a social strike, too, and free education for all. With more open thinking and experimentation, who knows, it may point further still. Or not. Social resistance and reconstruction comes with no guarantee.
Neither do these blog posts. I will and am making mistakes, blunders, and typos. So I titled the blog piece in between the two recent emails I received with this phrase: “Lost in Translation.” I may do a few more parts under the same header, although I should more accurately have titled it “Lost (and Found) in Translation.”
For in thinking through critique and backstory both, I decided that what I’m doing, what I want to do, and more to the point, perhaps what I’m capable of doing here in Montreal, are impressionistic word-paintings. Maybe that’s why I’ve been especially drawn to commenting on visual culture, such as posters, street art, and graffiti. What you’re reading is, in essence, my open thinking. Sometimes it will point past itself; at other times, it might stumble and fall flat. I barely know the film An American in Paris, but its title, reworked badly, seems to capture my part here: An “American” in Montreal. Or better yet, An “American” Anarchist in Montreal. I finally just looked up the film’s plot, and it turns out that the main character, “the American in Paris,” is attempting to be a painter and of course he falls in love. It is, after all, a George Gershwin musical from the 1950s. I fell in love with maple spring in Montreal and now am attempting to paint it, clearly as the temporary expat who doesn’t believe in borders. Hopefully this movement-narrative will have a happy ending too!
So I’m going to embrace being that love-struck outsider and impressionistic word-painter role in a romantic rebel city, so that you — my love-struck outsider friends — can see this movement-narrative unfold, because I’m counting on that freshness, that openness, pointing beyond itself, to help us in our resistance and reconstruction elsewhere. If this is a foolhardy performance at times, that’s a risk I want to take, because of something that a 20- or 21-year-old student striker artist said to me and a friend several weeks ago. He said it in English, haltingly, so hence my notion that things actually are both “lost” and “found” in translation. What he said — versus what he probably would have more fully or altogether differently said in his French language — might not have been this at all: “No school, but learning.”
Since I know written English, I can now return to my wordsmithing for a minute. He didn’t write down these four words. So they could also have been: “No school but learning.” A little comma, like the little red felt square on so many people’s shirts and backpacks, can make a world of difference.
This person, one of the École de la Montagne Rouge (School of the Red Mountain) collaborators — I’ve rarely seen such almost-intuitively egalitarian collaboration, and one that produces new subjectivities and skills as well as such extraordinary and extraordinarily complementary/collaborative movement cultural creations (but that’s a whole other blog piece) — was answering a question about how it felt to be using their classrooms-turned-into-studios for self-managed, self-directed, collective artistic experimentation after experimentation, teaching each other, free from constraints like grades, professors, or other institutional pressures. So he might have meant, “We’re not in school now, due to the strike, but we’re still learning anyway.” But another part of his explanation made me think he intended it otherwise, for he also said something to the effect that he didn’t want to think about how it would feel when school started again.
My heart stopped when he said that. When I looked around at the Red Mountain crew in their red overalls, screen printing red ink on to 500 hundred posters that night, well into almost morning of the next day. There was such passion; they were indeed love-struck with each other and their creation, the School of the Red Mountain along with its growing body of work, literally crawling up the walls of their high-ceiled, reappropriated space. Of course he didn’t want to think about how it would feel. Having felt heartbreak time and time — and time — again, over people, places, projects, and movements, I know that the restart of school is going to feel devastatingly cruel and hurt more than he and his red-clad friends will almost be able to bear. I know that’s how it’s going to feel for all the other 17- to 22-year-olds (and some slightly older) who have been at the heart of meticulously making this revolt, with an openness — likely inadvertently — that has allowed for maple spring to become maple summer and probably spill beyond that. I oh so want it to have the Gershwin happy-ever-after ending; I also know that’s rarely how these social movement stories end.
But I’m also a “good” anarchist in the sense that besides steeling myself to heartache in order to have a wide-open heart left to fall in love again and again — and again — for a lifetime (because otherwise one gives up and becomes a coldhearted liberal, if even that), I don’t think narratives have a beginning or an end. There are no neat stories in real life; just a lot of twisted tales, messy manuscripts, and poetic passages, such as those being created by my artist friend and his collaborators. So whether he knows it consciously or not, I know he meant “No school but learning.” As in: “This strike has pointed beyond what we thought school meant or can ever mean. Now we know that we don’t learn through their schools, as this society has constructed and structured them, or through short-term places called college; we learn, always, by schooling ourselves. We learn by doing it ourselves, together. Our school is learning, for the whole of our life, and learning, throughout one’s lifetime, takes place in our own self-constructed school.”
When the strike ends, or is ended, and the Red Mountain’s paper prints come falling off their studio-returned-to-classroom walls like the red leaves of autumn, they and all their extraordinarily hardworking fellow “strikers” — no work stoppage here, but rather an outpouring of voluntaristic creation! — will likely experience the deepest of bloody-red wistfulness. But they can’t lose now, because they’ve already won so much.
If I miss the realism in my painting-words for the impressions of what maple spring is bringing to life — tinged, too, with impressions of its problematics — I hope you’ll still glean a few new ways of seeing this moment. And I hope you’ll send me your thoughts on where I’ve erred, in your view, or fill in some of the blanks — or post them as a public comment — so I can try to be a better artist-agitator.
I think if we’re humble about all we don’t know in this historical moment of grand transformations and turmoil; if we remain generous about each and everyone one of us collaborating and contributing to “making history” together; and if we stay open in thought and practice in order to critically yet constructively keep experimenting while this window onto history is still fairly wide open, we might just learn without school. I know I am, since I always believe, for better or worse, that there is no school ever like our own learning, even if I occasionally deserve a D for “damn, I missed something” or an F for “fuck, how I could have been so myopic?”
And even though this might only make sense to me and the person who critiqued me via email, I’d like to recommend a book that another smart friend recently recommended to me: The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties’ Montreal, by Sean Mills. I’ve only read a little bit of it (so far), but as backdrop to maple spring, at least for this “American” anarchist in Montreal, it seems thoroughly illuminating. Here’s a brief description:
“In a brilliant history of a turbulent time and place, Mills pulls back the curtain on the decade’s activists and intellectuals, showing their engagement both with each other and with people from around the world. He demonstrates how activists of different backgrounds and with different political aims drew on ideas of decolonisation to rethink the meanings attached to the politics of sex, race, and class and to imagine themselves as part of a broad transnational movement of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist resistance. The temporary unity forged around ideas of decolonisation came undone in the 1970s, however, as many were forced to come to terms with the contradictions and ambiguities of applying ideas of decolonisation in Quebec. From linguistic debates to labour unions, and from the political activities of citizens in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods to its Caribbean intellectuals, The Empire Within is a political tour of Montreal that reconsiders the meaning and legacy of the city’s dissident traditions.”
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Below is a list of first-person accounts from the manifencours/casseroles actions in Quebec, and protests held in solidarity elsewhere. This page will be updated as we receive new stories, so check back often. Don’t let the corporate media speak for you; if you are in Quebec or working in solidarity, tell us what you’re seeing. Submit your story.
Montreal, QC — Fragility & Heartbreak, Montreal, Night 115 Within hours, the students went from having the offensive to letting the government’s scare tactics gain the upper hand again.
Montreal, QC — “In the Street for Social Strike,” Night 110 In Mile End, a three-hour-long mini social strike springs up to mobilize for August 13.
Montreal, QC — A Sticky “Maple Spring,” Night 103 At an assembly, Cindy meets a longtime organizer, and the two discuss language and branding for the strike.
Montreal, QC — Popular Power: “Fuck the Elections,” Night 101 The casseroles gain momentum again after the 100th night, and one demonstration is met with violence not by the police, but a rogue civilian.
Montreal, QC — 100 Red Nights / 100 Victories, Night 100 A gift of one love letter per night, for each of the one hundred nights that so many tens of thousands shared the streets of Montreal together.
Montreal, QC — Revving up for August, Night 94 As August draws quickly near, people in Montreal assemble to strategize the probable re-openings of schools.
Montreal, QC — Pieces from Orchestrole 4, Night 93 The fourth orchestrole march in Montreal takes the streets and passes through an upscale row of restaurants to meet the dining crowd.
Montreal, QC — A Small Red-Square Story, Night 87 After 3 weeks of the Mile-End Orchestrole, Cindy hands out red squares as outreach to a very receptive crowd.
Montreal, QC — Exile & Austerity, Night 86 Cindy Milstein discusses home, community, and exile in the context of the Maple Spring.
Montreal, QC — Lost (& Found) in Translation: Social Solidarity, Night 82 Cindy considers different acts and moments of solidarity personally experienced so far during the Maple Spring.
Montreal, QC — Making Our Own Revolutionary Dates, Montreal, Nights 75 & 78As August approaches, Montreal’s demos wane in participation but not in pace as the new term approaches.
Montreal, QC — Listen, You Can Hear the Sound of Direct Democracy, or Orchestroles, Night 72 One of the incredible things about the Maple Spring has been it’s ability to evolve tactics quickly and effectively.
Montreal, QC — Manifest Your Dreams, Prelude to Night 73 (in C minor) The student-and-social strikes are self-generative via the doing of imagination—as opposed to passive consumption of “imagination.”
Montreal, QC — “No School[,] But Learning,” Night 68: In a time of transformation everywhere, Cindy realizes the need to think critically in all matters.
Montreal, QC — The (Street) Art of Stirring Things Up, Night 66: In the midst of protests in Montreal, anti-authoritarian street art crops up and provokes its audience.
Montreal, QC — Even Rebels Need to Rest, Night 65: After a smaller than usual demo, Cindy Milstein reflects on the arc of the movement sweeping Montreal and the importance of reflection and rest.
Montreal, QC — Lost in Translation: Maple Spring, Night 63: ” I’m on a journey of discovery here — as an “American” anarchist in a Francophone-driven social movement in Quebec Province”
Montreal, QC — Casseroles & Anticapitalism, Montreal, Night 61: The casseroles march pauses for a brief direct action, but keeps on the move ahead of police.
Montreal, QC — “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Nights 53 & 60: The queer pink bloc march exhibits a fierce defiance against the police in Montreal.
Montreal, QC — A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55: The CLASSE Congress demonstrates a great example of direct democracy that puts others to shame.
Montreal, QC — Photos: June 10, Metro Profiling at the Grand Prix: Protesters are profiled entering the Grand Prix, causing many pre-emptive arrests without explanation.
Montreal, QC — Photos: June 9th, Anti-Sexism and Nighttime Mayhem: Scenes from an anti-sexism protest that unravels into police action and arrests.