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Casseroles | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "casseroles"

Casseroles & Anticapitalism, Montreal, Night 61


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–Ah, after about 5 days of me having to miss the nightly demos in Montreal — because I had to catch up on my freelance wage work –  what a lovely way to return!

1. Five hours in the streets, always illegally, starting with a tiny casseroles in Mile End, my temporary home for a couple weeks. It was just one part of  “the Casseroles Are Going Downtown!” neighborhoods & neighborhood assemblies, with their pots & spoons (& hopefully a newly formed “people’s orchestra” springing from the first Mile End Neighborhood Assembly two days ago), decided to march, make noise, and illegally wind their way to Gamelin Park to join up with the equally illegal night (61) demonstration–for more marching & more noise in another defiant display that maple summer is alive & well. Some of the convergence points this evening were: 6:30 pm at the corner of Jarry & St-Denis, 7 pm at Beaubien & St-Denis, 7:15 pm at St. Viateur & Waverly (where I joined in), and 7:45 pm at Laurier & St-Denis.

2. So yes indeed, walking to converge here & there with other casseroles, we headed downtown, growing in noise and numbers, increasingly (like all casseroles) drawing people out on to their balconies, out their doors, looking up from cafes, etc., to wave, bang pots in solidarity, and otherwise show their support.

3. Unlike any other of the casseroles, though, this one unexpectedly stopped for a short direct-action swarm of casserolers to rush into a Renaud-Bray, which describes itself as “the Largest Network of Francophone bookstores in North America,” because apparently its commitment to, again in its own words, “friendly meetings, discussions, and discovery” doesn’t apply to its employees if they wear a red square.

4. Onward from there, we continued walking as we wished against traffic, in the streets, to Gamelin Park next to Berri-UQAM Metro stop for the 8:30 pm nocturnal manif. Finding many more comrades awaiting us at the night demo 61 now-usual meeting spot, we quickly retook the streets in even larger numbers, not even giving the police time to drive their van up for the now-usual loudspeaker announcement that we’re illegal, they are here for our protection, we shouldn’t do this, that, and the other. Humorously, they tried amplifying that same message while following us from behind–almost visual acknowledgment of how the people are leading, and the police can’t figure out how to catch up or gain control.

5. As with other June Saturday night demos, this one had included a call for an anticapitalist/anarchist bloc (sporting this new CLAC banner), which also meant–happily–so many good conversations with various antiauthoritarian radicals & friends (old & new) about the history, meaning, and translatability (or not) of this movement to elsewhere. When we were finally down to about 100, mostly anticapitalists at around 11 p.m., and the police issued yet another of dispersement warning, people got on the sidewalks and headed off for poutine w/friends, etc., and I decided to start on the long walk to my temporary home, running into two great new student-radicals for more conversation. One of them asked about the dispersal (since they’d been part of our march earlier in the evening), kind of looked disappointed, and said, “People should have told the cops to disperse.” Then they quickly perked up and added, “But we’re just pacing ourselves. After all, this has been every night on the streets, and sometimes three times a day during the early part of the strike, for months, and it will likely be going on a lot longer.”

– Cindy Milstein –

Posted in #manifencours, StoriesComments (0)

“Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Nights 53 & 60


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Prologue, Night 60

Montreal, QC–I started this blog post about night 53 on night 53; tried to continue it on the afternoon of night 54, and then got thoroughly waylaid by all the marvelous things going on here in Montreal related to maple spring-summer. That meant little writing time, save for short vignettes from nights 54 and 55. Then, bam, reality check: capitalism! I had to turn to my paid freelance work, since I suddenly was precariously and foolishly close to missing a deadline.

I’m fortunate, relatively, within the unfortunate system of capitalism that so unconsensually structures the whole of our lives; I have a “flexible,” “self-employed” way of making “a living” that is by and large “pleasant,” and due to online “communications” technology, I can do “whenever I want to.” All those words ring hollow under capitalism, even if I do generally like my job, given the alternatives. Yet I’ve said this before, and it always bears repeating: even if I like my job, I still hate capitalism. The type of work I do for capitalism — copyediting — always feels qualitatively better when I do it for free as part of self-organized projects. It’s not “work” then, nor it is my “job.” And it’s rarely “my,” since these projects are always collective and collaborative. I don’t yet have a language for it, since we’re not in that world yet, but I know it’s a thoroughly different experience. I already know, though, that it feels like living one’s life, not merely inhabiting a life that’s manufactured for us. Or maybe it’s the different between the aspiration of “everything for everyone” and the reality of “almost nothing for almost anyone.” That sentiment is embodied in what people kept repeating to me during Occupy Philly and other occupy neighborhoods that I visited — “I’ve never felt so alive” — and is now being articulated in this maple spring-summer — “I want this to last.”

All to say, the writing that I want to do here — that I’m so compelled to do, consensually and joyfully, as what I hope is a gift and contribution to this moment — got interrupted by my relatively fortunate, relatively pleasant wage work. Hence my increased desire to want to live in a world where we can be wholly different selves in a wholly different society. Hence the beauty of what’s being enacted, in bits and pieces, in Montreal on a doggedly daily basis — and yesterday, June 22, in Quebec City, where thousands responded to CLASSE’s call to march in solidarity and without permission in the monthly “grand” demonstrations (manifestations) kicked off by the student strike on March 22, and, as dusk fell, many folks then defied the new city rule there against night demos, illegally continuing to reclaim the streets after the 11:00 p.m. curfew.

We are, increasingly, all illegal. We are all increasingly queer, in the sense of not fitting into the heterogeneous (even if sometimes pleasant for some of us) box or cubicle, cage or prison cell, of capitalism. On the crowded, untamable streets of Montreal yesterday for the grand demonstration of some 100,000 or maybe many more people, a friend told me about someone who is facing deportation — not as part of maple spring, but due to the suspicion of suspicion of suspicion of being maybe suspected of something by those who still fight the “war on terror” (oh, if only Kafka were still alive and writing!). It’s one of those stories that, if I could share the details, tear at the heartstrings. Yes, increasingly, in what we can only hope is the last gasps of nation-states that know that can’t contain us, “Western democracies” are turning to criminalizing the entirety of their populations, making everyone illegal in some way or another. But of course, increasingly, nation-states cruelly and evenly target specific people, or the queerest of queer, again speaking broadly: “misfits” within this racist, heteronormative, inhumane, hierarchical (to name a few) system that tries to destroy the whole of our lives.

So maybe it’s appropriate that I’m now “troubling” linearity and leaping backward — ever with the aim of leaping forward — to night 53.

Queering It Up, Night 53

Two mornings ago [night 51], while working in a cafe, a guy sat down next to me to read Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. This simple act not only warmed my heart; it got me thinking. I and at this point hundreds of thousands of others haven’t so much been participating in illegal marches night after long-walk night in Montreal. Instead, we’ve been engaging in illegal and subversive dérives, in which we encounter the city in new and authentic ways — hence the subversive part — letting serendipity self-direct us, rather than the commodified or policed cityscape.

In a few hours, it will be consecutive night 54, with a call this evening for an anticapitalist bloc. Last night, a pink bloc got an early start, leaving at 7:30 p.m. (it later, serendipitously, crisscrossed paths with the 8:30 p.m. crew at about 9:30 p.m.). And the evening before that, night 52, some 300 people showed up early for a $10 red square tattoo just before they took to the streets. As the Facebook page for this collective inking read:

“They would like us to remove (our red squares). That is why we will put them on our chest in permanently. Imagine hundreds of people getting red squares tattooed on the chest at the same time, all in the same evening. A monumental ‘FUCK YOU’ to the authorities who would like to see (the squares) disappear.”

Night 1, so long ago now, began serendipitously too: to contest special law 78 until it was revoked. As a UQAM student explained to me two days ago, someone made a Facebook page at 5 p.m. on the same day that the emergency measure to criminalize dissent was passed, and by 8:30 p.m. that night, thousands and maybe tens of thousands showed up at Émilie Gamelin Park next to the Berri-UQAM Metro stop. Now, it’s common knowledge that every evening’s disobedient meandering begins there. This meeting point is also right next to UQAM [Université du Québec à Montréal], the public French-language university that came out of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, “a time when Quebecers became maîtres, or masters, of their own province, instituting changes that gave Quebec a more left-leaning bent than elsewhere in North America” (http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/05/11/from-quiet-revolution-to-not-so-quiet-riot/), and a hot spot/stronghold for the 2012 student strike. (As an aside, two UQAM students told me the same story separately a couple nights ago: when they first tried to do hard pickets — blockades — to enforce the strike in the early morning chill of winter, they suddenly realized that the above-and-below-ground UQAM sprawl was like “a pasta strainer [in reverse]: students and teachers can pour in from any direction.” That meant extra amounts of mobilizing to make sure they had every entryway covered starting around 5 or 6 a.m.–and could supply coffee to each other, plus rotate between those doorways with sun and those in the icy-winter shade.)

The point is: while these marches are and always must be illegal, because they are intended to defy the law that outlaws such manifestations, they are also turning everyone who joins them into, for all intents and purposes, what I’d lovingly call “criminals against capitalism” on a grand collective dérive. We nightly break with the way that “the spectacle” in the Debordian sense compels to walk through, see, and consume the city, whether as spectators (Debord’s day) or participants (present-day capitalism). Our encounters are always contingent, experimental, and random. We relate to the street as a giant board game of our own making and playing (since, as Debord observed in the 1960s — relatedly, around the same time that UQAM was birthed from radical social struggle — “boredom is counter-revolutionary”). I keep coming back to a friend’s Twitter post of many weeks ago: “the city is ungovernable.” Yes, but its usage also is daily — especially nightly — being redesigned or, in an embryonic sense, governed from below. More than that, we relate to each other and nearly everyone we pass–from concertgoer to cop–in contingent, experimental, and random ways, allowing curious or courageous as well as genuine interactions to unfold, along with new social relations (of cooperation and egalitarianism, say, not competition and exploitation).

Usually, here in Montreal, all I can see is red — recolored from its murderous, totalitarian associations, for me, with the Communist Party, orthodox Marxism, and various Communist states into something antiauthoritarian, or to put a prefigurative spin on it, liberatory. I incessantly stop on the unending walks here to snap photos of red squares, which I’m now archiving and sharing in a growing collection at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/archive, thanks to setup help from my friend Kevin Caplicki. (Several folks have kindly offered to add their own snapshots to this ever-increasing sampler, but besides being an archival account of red squares in Montreal, my “Seeing Red” tumblr is an archival account of my own dérive encounters.)

On night 53, though, all I could see was pink. It wasn’t so much that the maybe 100 or so folks who formed the pink bloc actually wore all that much pink; there was probably just as much red — from ruby lipstick to glittery gowns — and black — from painted-on moustaches to the (stereo)typical anarchist attire — within fabulous grouping. Sure, the main banners were fabulously pink, but there were relatively few of those either. And as we mingled in a corner of Émilie Gamelin Park, preparing to strike out into the streets on our lonesome an hour before the regular nightly demo, this bloc felt almost pitifully bedraggled despite all the flamboyant drag.

But I hadn’t counted on its courage, not to mention its cunning. From the moment it put high heel or heavy boot to the pavement, this pink bloc — which I soon found out was heavily weighted toward anarcho-feminist queers — (gender)fucked up the streets and befuddled the cops in a way that seemed as if it were a 1,000 or 10,000 people. And in its nearly 3 hours of wending its own merry way through the downtown, it seemed one of more footloose and headstrong of these illegal demonstrations that I’ve gone on. There may have been a plan — we were, for instance, supposed to leave at 7 p.m. and, I think, supposed to return to Émilie Gamelin Park in time for the now-regular 8:30 p.m. nightly manifestation, yet for no apparent reason we left late (7:30 p.m.) and for no apparent reason we brushed by the park (around 8:30 p.m.), ignoring the “normal” illegalista crew — but it felt more like whimsy carried us on its wings. That, and a whole lot of sassiness.

Perhaps the power of this small pink bloc was in its figurative meeting point: the intersection of queer-as-fuck and anarchist-as-fuck.

For example, there was nary a cop in sight when we first strode out of the park and into the Village, Montreal’s gayborhood, a closed-off street that’s maybe a mile long filled with open-air bars, clubs, and restaurants, and canopied (this summer) by tens of hundreds of thousands of strings of little pink “pearls” overhead. And gays. Lots and lots of partying gays. Our campy crew stood out, as did our queered anticapitalista chants, as spectacle and perhaps subversion of the spectacle we encountered.

Once we hit the end of this pink-lined playground, though, and turned on to a wide open and trafficked street, motorcycle cops quickly steered our way, lights flashing and sirens wailing. They weren’t even pretending to play officer friendly. As genderqueer folks brazenly just pushed past them, the cops grew increasingly aggressive with their motorcycles, running them into the legs of pink bloc participants, who then started this mix of taunting with bodies and chants — like “Police, you suck, but do you swallow?” — and simply outmaneuvering the police. This entailed turning on to streets with oncoming traffic and walking in between cars, so that the police motorcycles couldn’t fit, which at one point so angered the cops they not only really tried so hard to hit us with their motorcycles but turned on near-deafening sirens. More often, this outmaneuvering involved skirting (often in glittery skirts) around the police, in a move that seemed so obvious, it was a wonder it fooled the cops–a whole bunch of times. A few genderfuck folks in the front of our itty-bitty pink bloc would pretend to comply with the cops when they formed a line in the street in front of us, and would walk over to the sidewalk, step up, kinda smile, and then simply dart around the police line, and jump back in the street with glee, while the rest of us raced around past the confused police to catch up with our comrades (up on sidewalk fast too and then back down the street again). Amid all the mayhem whenever this happened, I heard one pink bloc person yell exuberantly: “Are we anarchists?!” And another one of our bunch replied, “Qui! Pink anarchists!”

One of the remarkable things here in Montreal, in general, in relation to this student strike is that people increasingly don’t seem afraid of the police and don’t comply with their orders. The police, in turn, seem to keep trying every trick and tactic in the book — and then some — and increasingly nothing seems to really work. People only grow bolder and less afraid. So on the one hand, what amounted to a handful of queers showing no fear and outfoxing a nearly equal number of cops shouldn’t be that surprising. But on the other hand, it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to face off with police when there are so few of you, when the ratio is probably 1:1, when there are kids marching with you and a lot of people in inappropriate shoes for running (both true in this bloc), and when homophobia is so obviously apparent on the cop’s faces. So the tenacity of this bloc was extra remarkable, yet not because it stood up to the police like many people are doing, but it did it in a way that time and again worked. We went where we wanted to go.

And now I circle back to the dérive.

Seeing pink this evening helped me also see how being in the streets night after night, always illegally, intentionally so — whether “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” as in this pink bloc, or during the nightly marches in general — has blurred the lines between protestation and reclamation. And maybe that line has been so queered, now after nearly 2 months of contingency, experimentation, and randomness, that we have freed ourselves up to remake the streets on these night strolls in ways we’re hardly aware of and don’t think twice about. Of course we’ll try to outwit the police, sans fear! Of course, they won’t tell us what to do and where to go! Naturally, we’ll zig and zag our way where we please, seeing things anew, falling (or refalling) in love with Montreal, because it’s a different type of Montreal, one that we’re making our way through together.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post or two, but it’s as if the nightly demonstrations are grand civic experiments — in illegality and exercise — but on this queered-up night 53, it seems to me it’s also a grand experiment in dérives. No longer the province of a few artists and intellectuals, or something we do to mimic May ’68, but what dérives really should be: a collective exercise in uncommodifying our world, even if only in temporary ways that begin to show us how we could inhabit our streets, parks, schools, and neighborhoods. Or our festivals. But not just a collective one, and not just a collectively big one either. It’s when it also holds the power in its hands, even if temporarily, putting the powers-that-be on the defensive, where they are having to race around to try to catch up to us, and yet can’t figure out how to do that — like here, in Montreal, this fabulous maple summer, where a few rowdy and well-dressed queers can out-race the police over and over again.

And in this grand, people-powerful dérive that has already outlasted anyone’s wildest fantasies and desires, walking through the streets on these evenings always feels sensuous. One never knows where one will end up or with whom, who one will run into for a good conversation, how many new people you’ll meet or chance encounters, lovely and startling, that you’ll experience, what corners of the city you’ll see for the first time or in a different way, from a different angle — like prancing on the yellow line in the middle of busy street that can’t be busy anymore because it’s ours. On this pink bloc night, there was an extra dreamy quality of serendipity and remaking the city. Maybe it was because, randomly, anarchist friends I hadn’t seen in years suddenly appeared in front of me, for a big hug, and then hours of conversation during which our feet took us places we hadn’t planned to go. Or maybe it was because I’d come downtown thinking I was going to do the pink bloc for an hour, then join the nightly march, but the only time I encountered the nightly march was when it was marching toward our pink bloc as we crisscrossed inside this enormous free French-language music festival, Francofolies, around Place des Arts — surrounded by literally thousands upon thousands of concertgoers cheering us all on, after we’d already “crashed” this music festival, stopping to form a circle for dancing while singing/chanting “Dance, Dance, Dance, the Social Peace Is Over!” while encircled, again, by thousands of supportive concertgoers.

Or maybe it was because of how these nightly dérives are indeed going the distance to reshape social relations.

About a week before this pink bloc evening, our nightly march walked in the direction of the opening night of Montreal’s Francofolies Festival. As we trooped toward one of it’s “free” entrances, a line of police cut us off. Suddenly, from behind the cops, thousands of people raised red flags or pulled out a pot & ladle or simply applauded. The police thought they were separating protesters from nonprotesters; but we encountered “us” on both sides, with the police line suddenly losing all meaning or control. Still, we were barred from entry.

On this pink-bloc night, no one stopped us at the entrance. After dancing, we took our pink-square politics right up to the front of one of the main stages, to then wave anticapitalist and anarchist flags at the heels of one of the bands, as they displayed a red square on the stage above us. One security guard mumbled something about how we were “only girls,” so wouldn’t cause trouble. Then another security guard told one of our posse that the festival organizers had informed the private security and police that all those in favor of the student strike were welcome at the festival, that the festival welcomed and supported the strike. In fact, a bit later on this evening, on the biggest of the main stages, some of the striking-student spokespeople along the School of the Red Mountain artists’ collective were invited up on stage with the Canadian hip-hop group Loco Locass for their last song (“Free Us from the Liberals”) in a grand show of solidarity for this “squarely-in-the-red” movement.

It’s a complicated solidarity, at this festival and elsewhere among the supportive populace of Montreal. It’s partly related to sympathy for the students’ demand of low-cost –and increasingly, maybe even free — education for all those who come after them (contrary to what “popular wisdom” or the mainstream media would have people believe, these student strikers are clear that they won’t be the ones impacted by the tuition hike, which would be phased in after they have graduated, but are demanding that society live up to its promise of this social good). It’s partly related to anti-austerity struggles, here and globally. And it’s partly related to the unique history of Quebec Province, including righting what’s seen as historical wrongs, and related to cultural, language, and sovereignty issues.

But at the end of this long night of walking and dancing at least — night 53, that is — it was definitely solidarity all the way, as in one of our favorite “squarely-in-the-pink” chants:

“Sol-sol-sol, so fucking gay!”

p.s. If you want a good intro to “queer” from an antiauthoritarian perspective — as in something so much more expansive than who you sleep with, because queering that up is often healthy and sex positive too, and so much about how you think about who you are and especially who you could be in so many ways if the socialization and institutions of heteronormativity (so bound up with capitalism and states, but distinct) weren’t constraining us all — then please download, cut, fold, staple, and read the “Gender” pamphlet by Jamie Heckert in our (’cause I’m part of this marvelous collective) Institute for Anarchist Studies new Lexicon series, hosted on the Web site of our good friends at AK Press: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/ak-tactical-media/ias-lexicon-pamphlet-series/.

– Cindy Milstein –

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Photos: June 9th, Anti-Sexism and Nighttime Mayhem


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.

Montreal, QC–At 5pm, activists gathered at Phillips Square for the anti-sexism demonstration. The manifestation was controversial among Montreal protesters because it explicitly advocated the abolition of sex work — prompting the moderator of the anti-capitalist CLAC (labor union association) listserv to issue an apology for disseminating information for the event.

The march stopped at various places to deliver speeches against Formula One’s chauvinist culture, like one at the Delta Centreville hotel, which condemned the business as a well-known spot for prostitutes to go with clients.

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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Photos: June 8th, Bahrain Solidarity and Grand Prix Clashes


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.

Montreal, QC–Around 6:30pm, the demonstrations began with a (noticeably) small protest at Dorchester Square aimed to show solidarity with the people of Bahrain.

The petite march ignored a call by the police to clear the streets, but complied when the troops moved to enforce it. Still in good spirits, the protesters sang a French chant meaning “on the sidewalk, until victory.”

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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Photos: June 7th Nude-In


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.

Montreal, QC–At 5pm, there was a demonstration at the corner of Notre Dame and des Seigneurs, which began with a megaphone announcement condemning the Grand Prix for its elitism and sexism. The protest was kettled as soon as it began, forcing a standstill.

By 5:45pm, police began selectively arresting individuals and pulling them back behind the police line. It was unclear whether this was for violating Law 78 (for example, by wearing masks), or for some other reason. Many protesters resisted, and some were successfully “de-arrested” — prevented from being pulled across the police line.

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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#J6: NY Student March in Support of Students of Quebec


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.

New York, NY–The students of Quebec are currently facing threats on their education system that would increase tuition by 75% over the next five years. As a response, the students of Quebec have called for an infinite strike, refusing to accept this new policy. Hundreds of thousands of students have taken to the streets of Quebec for over 100 days now.

On May 18th, The National Assembly of Quebec passed an emergency law: Bill 78. The law attempts to restrict freedom of assembly, protest, or picketing on or near university grounds and anywhere in Quebec. The law also places restrictions upon education employees right to strike.

#NYC Infinite Strike will continue to march in solidarity with the strikers of Quebec, while also working towards building a strong student movement here in the United States.

OUTSTANDING STUDENT LOAN DEBT IN THE UNITED STATES HAS REACHED $1 TRILLION.

– Giles Clark –

This is a selection of photos from Giles Clark’s collection; the full collection may be found here.

This is also one of many accounts of events that took place on June 6th; read multiple points of view of the first five minutes of this march, and a longer account of the march’s progression. An account of an arrestee may be found here, and jail solidarity in Chicago may be found here.

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“Hold the Line, Friend of Mine,” Montreal, Night (& Day) 48


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–Ryan Harvey, the second half (with me) of my solid affinity group this weekend, says of his raw video footage from June 9: “Watch as Montreal police attempt and fail to control massive crowds on the 47th consecutive night-march emerging from the student strike/anti-austerity movement”–in a weekend of trying (and often succeeding) to disrupt and highlight the show of conspicuous wealth that marks the Grand Prix here.

Odd that just over 24 hours ago, I was standing next to Ryan while he filmed this demonstration, or what might better be called a spontaneous convergence of convergences over many hours, illegal like every other one since emergency law 78 passed. It looks just as surreal in this clip as it did in person. Time and again, the police seemed to have no idea or capacity to gain the upper hand on a populace that seems to have lost its faith in and is in fear of the police’s authority.

Whenever I ask a Canadian about this, they pretty much all say, “If a law like 78 passed in the United States criminalizing dissent, people wouldn’t stand for it either.” The argument is that we in the United States, too, would be able to make our cities ungovernable and generate a serious political crisis for government. And I keep thinking, “Really?” Here, maple spring seems to have unleashed a profound awakening that Canadians don’t want to become like the United States. Whether watching scenes like this in person or experiencing casseroles and massive marches, the depth of belief that a society should obviously offer social goods–a social goodness too–from education to arts and more, seems diametrically opposed to popular views in the United States, where education, food, health care, and the like seem to be perceived as somehow things that will always be in scarce or limited supply, and correspondingly, things that people should individually earn or somehow individually deserve. Yeah, surreal here.

And overwhelming. So on night 48, I sort of took the evening off. A new acquaintance who went to tonight’s night march said it was “small” (meaning about a thousand), did a lot of snaking through downtown, and met with a ton of police in none-too-good a mood. I instead went to get a glimpse of Occupy Montreal at the end of a day of assembly and workshops–all seemingly small (as in dozens or less), and made to seem far smaller by the fact that it was being held in the large Parc LaFontaine. It was hard to find Occupy, in fact, amid all the many, many other people in the park in red–not only squares, but shirts, pants, hats, bikes, frisbees, and more.

On Ryan’s last night here on this weekend visit, he played to an even smaller Occupy crowd in this park as the warm sunshine of today mellowed into the gentle warmth of a summer evening; half his audience was me, three of his friends, and a new friend I’ve made on the streets of Montreal, plus two stray kids who wandered over and a dog that ran over with a ball in its mouth. But a couple of the folks there, including my new friend, were at that open-to-a-world-of-new-ideas point in their lives, as they were newly working to help make that new world through Occupy (here and, for my new friend, in the United States). So Ryan played to them–songs of rebellion, resistance, disobedience, and hope. He also, inadvertently, played to me with his final song–about how the police kept coming at people, time and again, and the people don’t back down. Here I was, sitting in a thoroughly lovely park, with charming graffiti on a nearby park cafe proclaiming “La Resistance,” and only about 24 hours earlier, he and I had been part of the police coming at people and people not backing down. For really real, in a way that Ryan’s video simply can’t capture. Yet in a way that the chorus to Ryan’s last song this evening eerily grasped for me:

“Hold the line, even if your voice shakes
Friend of mine, even if your voice shakes
Push forward, it’s up to you
See it through”

For really real, people did that by the thousands last evening, although with unshakable voices. Surreal indeed.

We left the park as darkness fell, and joined CKUT radio show host and now CUTV crew person too Aaron Maiden to hear Penny Rimbaud (formerly of Crass) perform poetry/words with some Montreal dancers/musicians at La Sala Rossa. Between Ryan’s songs in a lush-green park and Penny’s spoken word in a bohemian red-and-black performance space; Aaron telling us that La Sala Rossa had long ago been home to Arbeiter Ring (Workers’ Circle) and that as part of that, Emma Goldman had spoken in the same room; and knowing that as we watched what felt like something out of early punk days with an edge, people were convening at the usual march spot at Berri-UQAM Metro stop for night 48, I was again overcome by a surreal feeling. This time, it was a feeling of how amazing and almost unbelievable it is to live in this particular time, but a time that is also connected to so many other rupturous moments by threads and discontinuities, mistakes and heartbreaks, and sometimes a gaining of ground, a holding of the line. Sometimes even some wins, and a bit more freedom.

Earlier in the day, on my “day off,” I’d rented one of Montreal’s Bixi bikes so that I could join the “tour de l’ile en rouge” (tour of the island in red), which began from the same Parc LaFontaine where Occupy Montreal was having its assembly in another corner.

Our critical-red mass was made up of some thousand or more cyclists, most dressed in red, and pretty much everyone sporting the red square on their shirts or hats, or as a cardboard square within their bike wheel or square-red flag attached to their bicycle. Many also brought spoons, so many spoons, and a healthy chunk of pots too, making us more of a red casseroles tour of the island. One of the folks I biked next to the whole time–another new acquaintance, a Concordia student who told me about how hard it had been to try to maintain even a small strike there, especially when they attempted to do a hard picket line against exam day–mentioned how she always now travels with her spoon. You never know when it will come in handy–say, when a bunch of folks were already inside the Grand Prix outdoor party area on/near Crescent Street on Friday night. Spoons have become the new public enemy, along with red squares, red scarves, and black umbrellas, among other subversive objects! Police have been targeting, stopping, hassling, hitting, and/or arresting people for these household and clothing menaces.

Who knows, soon cops may be rounding up the little kids who are joining in too? Like the 8- or 9-year-old girl on this bike ride today who kept starting up chants all by herself, calling out the first part, with all the adults around her then calling out the second part–such as in “Charest” “Whoo-Who!” You have to hear this chant to appreciate it, resonating with what I’m told is a hockey cheer/jeer, and never failing to elicit glee among the participants. The glee on this young cyclist’s face, though, put all the others to shame: her little act of self-organization was working! And like kids who’ve grown up in Zapatista autonomous communities in Chiapas or MST communities in Brazil, to name two, maybe this child–and so many children I’ve seen on the Montreal spring, outwitting police cars during their neighborhood casseroles in order to take the streets, or already on the streets in situations like last night’s eruptive disruption, or organizing walkouts from their high schools, or even meandering into Ryan’s music tonight–will grow up in such a radically different society that she’ll think self-organization along with practices of mutual aid and dignity, for starters, are the “natural” norms.

I spent the near-three-hours of this gorgeous red bike ride–meant as a counterpoint to the noisy, fuel-unefficient, expensive Grand Prix happening on a nearby island–in friendly political debate with yet another new acquaintance (uprisings are good for the creation of social bonds and communities that usually feel far more genuine and mutualistic than most, and often last far longer too). He and I were basically arguing about political strategy and the related notion of a diversity of tactics–or, in his view, not. And yet here we were, on this stunning red bicycle ride on a stunning maple summer day, winding our way through Montreal neighborhood after Montreal neighborhood, and all around us were people going out of their way to raise their fists or wave hands in solidarity, display their own red flags or squares, bang their own pots, or even grab their bike and join us. While yesterday night, winding our way through the streets of Montreal, all around us were people going out of their way to raise their fists or wave hands in solidarity, display their own red flags or squares, bang their own pots, or simply walk off the sidewalk and join us. One calm leisure, and the other chaotic disruption. Both, though, evidence of the depth of social support for and involvement in this profound moment of people not only holding the line on austerity cuts but opening up space for their own collective empowerment and social solidarity. And both evidencing that there is increasingly, as I’ve noted before, not an “us” on daytime bike rides or nighttime disobedience with people watching from the sidelines but a growing “we” weaving through the whole fabric of this society in upheaval.

Like Occupy in the States, and no doubt Occupy Montreal and other Occupy sites across Canada, social and self transformation is a messy business, or rather a beautiful and messy experiment. There will never be a perfect “we,” neatly bounded like the perfect little red squares increasingly visible all across the Montreal landscape and Montrealers’ bodies. There will be the debates about strategy, tactics, and aspirations, and struggles over how to turn street power into popular, self-governing power. There already are, and many of the conversations with many of the new acquaintainces and friends–and old ones too–that I’m having on the streets involve both the surreal quality of this maple spring (in a breathtakingly dreamy sort of way!) and the constant lived experiences of the dilemmas it raises. Should we ride bikes, bang pots, play music, or riot, among other things, or all of the above? Which brings in more people? Keeps them there? Which scare people off? Or which, as Ryan’s video shows, only embolden them further?

Even my rental bike became part of the surreal quality of this historical moment in Montreal, in yet another display of how imagery, symbols, and art are equal yet complementary partners in this uprising. All of the bixi bikes have advertising on them. (At one point a while ago, some anonymous culture-jammers printed up some 11,000 stickers with a few dozen or more different versions of short poems on them, and in a couple hours, covered over all the bixi ads with them [on 5,500 bikes.] They then put out a Web site that looked legit, claiming that bixi had decided to abandon the ads for the social good of beautiful words instead. When the prank was discovered, the Montreal bixi bureaucracy decried the vandalism and started ripping off all the poems. There was a near-riot, metaphorically, among the populace, which wanted those poems on those bixis, damn it! But I digress…as usual in this evening’s meandering blog.) My random choice of a bixi had this (red!) ad for RioTintoAlcan, which describes as “a world leader in finding, mining, and processing the earth’s mineral resources,” on its side and front:

And coincidentally, as if harkening to the night before on the Grand Prix party streets of Montreal, as if this bike had maybe even taken itself over there for a peek, this reworked (red!) version on its front:

I’m not sure where this blog post tonight is going, or like my lengthy rebel red bike ride, where it actually went, so I’ll end now with big hugs to a dear “friend of mine,” Ryan, who has the remarkable ability to be as gregarious as me, get as enthused about and engaged in revolutionary possibility as me, and inspire me, and who was a super companion on the streets and in the parks of Montreal. Plus he aided and abetted my obsession with taking pictures of red squares, including this one on his guitar case today:

– Cindy Milstein –

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The Universal Language: “Fuck the Police” (Montreal, Night 47)


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–I feel like I probably saw and was in the middle of only a fraction of all the tides of popular protests against the Grand Prix tonight. But to likely understate it, the police (SPVM to SQ) totally lost control and the people totally held the streets. And as one person said to us on the streets as riot cops swarmed by us for the umpteenth time–after about the umpteenth time that nearly everyone (and by nearly everyone, I mean an eclectic mix of thousands and thousands of people, many dressed in fancy Saturday night party clothes, far from “the usual suspects” and not a black bloc in sight) pushed the police back, or for all intents and purposes kettled the cops, and after the many umpteenth times that nearly everyone booed at and many threw plastic bottles (or a beach ball) at the police–there’s a universal language on the streets this evening, and it’s “fuck the police.”

Of course, there was plenty of good reason to speak this global language on Montreal’s streets this evening: tear gas, batons, the incessant beating on shields, pushing, harassment, pepper spray, injuries, arrests. But none of those tactics worked. Nor did the tactic of attempting to divide the thousands of people “marching” or simply filling the streets. Each time the police managed to split enormous amounts of people into two, three, or four groups, or seemed to have dispersed people altogether, seconds or minutes later, there was a new massive group, or several, or another hot spot, with no rhyme or reason, and definitely no coordination. The sheer beauty of a mysterious spontaneity birthed of some sort of popular will and determination. Whether tourist or local, student or person in their seventies, a kid a stroller or an adult in a wheelchair, white or black, out for a drink or out for a protest, and on and on, people just kept coming at the cops again and again and again, with little fear and lots of animosity. This constant onslaught, from nearly all people and definitely in all directions, was relentless, bold, and tough, but never felt out of our control–even though the “our” was thoroughly unclear, or maybe a better word would be “expansive.” The “our” was the populace. And no one was in charge. Somehow, though, there was a common understanding of what our tactics were: holding ground, screaming at the police, throwing objects at the cops that couldn’t really hurt them, but under no circumstances would we give the streets or intersections over to them, or especially, under no conditions would we let our disruption be disrupted by the cops. These tactics of ours didn’t include breaking store windows, or what seemed a far more likely target, smashing the windows or otherwise damaging the many extremely fancy and extremely expensive cars that we encircled time and again. Instead, we basically compelled the police to clearly “protect” the luxury cars from a nonthreat–other than the threat that we were walking the wrong way against traffic and making the car’s drivers/passengers come to a halt for hours. This only underscored the absurdity of this display of wealth in the midst of a governmental crisis over not meeting people’s basic needs.

When we started out at 8:30 p.m. from the park next to the Berri-UQAM Metro, it felt that the couple thousand or so of us were modern-day peasants foolishly thinking we could breech the castle with our modern-day pitchforks: pots & pans, flags, drums, horns, and a lot of chanting and hand clapping. We passed by the big, free French-language music festival, and hundreds of concertgoers cheered us on, as did numerous passersby, who also often joined us. Our demonstration tried a couple times to “assault” the Grand Prix party area, but to no avail, and it seemed like things had come to a standstill and that everyone was dispersing.

My affinity group of two (myself and Ryan Harvey, on our night two together), kind of figured it was over and started to aimlessly meander toward the F1 party area, and then just as quickly as the march had disappeared, hundreds of police cars, vans, and cops swarmed by us, lights and sirens blaring. So we walked a block over from where the cops seemed to be heading, landing ourselves on the completely packed Ste.-Catherine street, a few blocks from the heart of F1 entertainment excess. Within two blocks more, our peasant crew of a couple thousand was backed up by many thousands more–the rabble, who likely didn’t plan on being rabble that night–and it was instantly clear that like last night, protesters and the populace (or rather, the populace in protest) had again managed to outwit the cops and disrupt the Grand Prix’s evening bash. Even more so than last night, however, the cops were completely outnumbered, seemed completely at a loss as to what to do, and often yelled orders that they couldn’t possibly fulfill. Each time they tried to push the crowds away, people stood their ground until the last minute, moved back a bit against walls or doorways, and then as the cops retreated, simply moved back into the streets again–with pretty much everyone on the street participating (and there were thousands and thousands of people out tonight in this busy area). Frequently, we ended up chasing the cops away, or basically pushing them back instead of them pushing us, by the thousands of us simply walking briskly toward them, shouting at them in at least two languages.

It’s hard to describe, or rather hard to translate, how this all felt, especially since it felt like nothing that I or Ryan have ever experienced. Ryan kept remarking how on incredible this past year-plus has been–from Tunisia and Egypt, to Indignados and Madison and Occupy. We both marveled at this wave of revolt that sweeps this way and that, washing away prediction after prediction that it was disappearing the same way that tonight the people seemed washed away by the police, only to more turbulently sweep back into the streets that they so obviously understood as theirs, in their own maple uprising. They turned the normal life of a busy Saturday night street into a normalized yet extraordinary battleground of contestation and popular control, the 47th evening on top of something like 115 or so days of a massive student strike. People were clearly in complete, confident, calm (relative to the situation) collective self-command, and yet it was utterly rebellious, utterly disobedient to authority and cognizant of its own social power, and utterly populist.

I don’t want to minimize the fact that some people were arrested (CUTV reported that tonight marked the 9th attack by the SPVM on their crew in these last 3 days!), others were hurt, and many may only have been expressing anger at cops. Yet there’s also obvious widespread discontent at things like the evisceration of the promise of free education (a palpable memory of a promise some 30-40 years ago, mind you!) and increasingly harsh austerity cuts. There’s an obvious widespread disillusionment with the government and its police, with the word “fascist” being the most frequently used word to describe what people feel it happening to Canadian and especially Quebec society in light of special law 78.

It’s like the student strike–some two years in the making/planning, and building on the history of other student strikes and the not-so-quiet Quiet Revolution of the 1960s to 1970s–was the first strike in a wake-up call that has now startled people into not falling asleep again. As one longtime anarchist on the streets tonight mentioned to us, basically: we anarchists (or more broadly, anticapitalists) have a lot to learn from this. There’s no way radicals could have brought about the social upheaval that is winning. That has already won many hearts and minds and actively engaged bodies in a way that’s way beyond any “mere” social movement. There’s a lot to learn about what it took to organize the student strike, what it took to build and sustain it, what it’s taking now to keep it going, and how the hell so much of the population here sympathesizes with and brazenly leaps into this struggle. And there’s the perplexing question of where it will all go. This particular anarchist friend said he thought June 22 was crucial; that it needed to be big. A second later he added, “But who knows? Maybe June 22 isn’t key.”

On Thursday night, a mere 3 days ago, with a couple hundred mostly anticapitalist folks (since that was the call for this demo) quickly kettled and thinking we were going to spend the night in jail, I thought the Grand Prix would go merrily on its way, untouched by this monumental and historic student strike. Now, in the early hours of Sunday morning, with the start of the Grand Prix’s noxious engines just a few hours away, I’m astonished that I’ve spent two nights smack in the center of the F1 party, as a society-at-large (rather than a handful of radicals or protesters) chooses that it’s worth the disruption in order to make the student strike and now widening social strike plain as day. Making it the story.

As usual, I walked the hour or so back to where I’m staying after the hours of near-riot tonight, passing late-night partiers and people walking their dogs, realizing it was nearly 2 a.m. as I turned on to Mont-Royal, which has been closed to traffic now for 2-3 days for a street fair, or mix of entertainment, food, and lots of sale items from the surrounding stores. There were still a fair amount of folks mingling around on the closed-off Mont-Royal, but most of them were all looking down at the road.

In the middle of the street, for some 6-8 blocks or more ahead of me, were gigantic street art pieces, composed of paint and chalk, each with the yellow line of the road vaguely appearing in the center. Some of the artists were still around, adding to their work, and I asked a young artist about his piece, after I noticed that the first 8 or 10 of these massive street drawings had red squares in them, not to mention casseroles or the number “78.”

“What is this? Were you supposed to include the red square in your work?” I asked him, noticing a red square pinned to his shirt.

“This happens every year, but we can create whatever we want to. A lot of people want to use the red square in their art. They say that us students are violent. Sometimes a window might get broken, but that’s not violence. It’s the police who are violent. They just get more violent. All we want is a better world. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

I saw him notice my red square too, and he added, “Thank you for wearing the square. It gives us students strength to see the square everywhere.”

And so 2 a.m. turned into 3 a.m. as I slowly walked down the line of giant paintings. I walked the line of thousands and thousands of red squares, alongside other people, without disruption. In the quiet of the late night/early morning, we whispered our appreciation and pointed at particularly delightful renditions of red squares. I kept thinking, this is a magical time to be alive, when anything is possible and everything is surprising: from a downtown with the streets held by people in rebellion to a neighborhood with the streets filled with the color of resistance.

– Cindy Milstein –

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Grand Disruption of Grand Prix, Montreal, Night 46


Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.

Montreal, QC–Ah, what an unexpectedly grand disruption of the Grand Prix, right in the middle of its own excessive and expensive street party, on night 46 of continual disobedient & always illegal streets demos! Or rather, grand disruptions, from crashing into the heart of the F1 festivities basically through a not-there-one-minute, but definitely-there-the-next “flash mob” casseroles; to later marching outward from the party that so many had disturbed and suddenly becoming not hundreds but thousands, who then seemed to disappear as quickly as they appeared when the cops shot rubber bullets and tear gas at us, only to reappear, reconverge, and retake the Grand Prix partiers’ streets. Hours of this self-controlled chaos meant that the massive amount of riot police were running every which way, often seemingly getting kettled between us, and it became nearly impossible multiple times to tell “protester” from the mobs of “other” people, because so many of those other people seemed to be joining in, or at least pretty clearly anti-cop, and often actively so. Surreal mix of huge amount of police in full gear, huge amounts of Grand Prix attendees in their own absurd full gear, and huge amounts of people with and without red squares contesting them both.

There’s so much I want to say about tonight, but it’s so late, and I can only muster a few thoughts.

For one, it was a joy to run for a bit with the CUTV crew, who are increasingly turning from livestreamers to live alter-newscasters, with good cheer and tenacity (even after, yet again, being attacked by police last night). If you haven’t watched, recommended, contributed to, said thanks to, or spoken with the CUTV folks, do all that and more soon.

Second, it was a delight to be in the streets, subversively and illegally, with so many who show such courage, calm, and grace under pressure, without fear and with the offensive, but tonight in particular, displayed an intuitive collective intelligence. It’s a mystery how people knew what to do when, where, and with whom; it was a pleasure to know that within all the spontaneity and unpredictably, people were making smart and strategic decisions. We were side by side with many expensive, fancy cars on display when we crashed the party, but no one trashed the cars; yet when we were side by side with many expensive, fascistic cops, people stood their ground, chanted “a-anti-anticapitalista,” and, say, threw eggs toward the police when tear gas came at us, but kept focused on the collective goal of making sure that “business as usual” (capitalism in the form of F1) can’t happen in the face of austerity measures and special laws making dissent a crime.

Third, it’s clearer than ever that maple spring has indeed become maple summer, and it’s deeper and wider than ever. Unlike any other protest or mass mobilization, or even occupy, that I’ve been to and participated in, this North American uprising isn’t an “us” versus “them,” or “protesters/occupiers” and “nonprotesters/occupiers.” Not everyone in Quebec is on the side of the student and social strike; that’s not what I’m arguing. But many, many, many people are–many people of all types–blurring the lines between protester and populace, because the maple summer has become popular. The police can’t police, because they can’t even tell who is or isn’t in a demonstration; who or who isn’t on a street “legally” or “illegally”; who or who isn’t in a big group walking around in evening to go to a festival or bar, or to bang pots & pans or engage in demonstration. Because it isn’t clear. I stood on various corners this evening along St.-Catherine, near Crescent and Bishop and other F1 party areas, and it was near impossible (save for some clear garish Grand Prix dress) to separate out the discontented from the drunk. It was a grand disruption of many more thousands than one could obviously “tag” by seeing a red square.

Maybe, increasingly, it could be said, “we are all wearing a red square.”

Unlike any other social movement or near-riot or other rupture I’ve personally experienced, there’s actual social power, because there’s a profound depth not simply of sympathy but also engaged support and even more engaged participation–often at a moment’s notice, like tonight, when the cops moved in en masse with batons and tear gas and rubber bullets, there were more people, not less.

It isn’t about the street fighting, although this evening, it felt totally right to upend this capitalist, patriarchal display of frivolity and uncaring–a sort of “let them eat cake” moment while the rich fill their bellies with liquor and power. Or try to. Because what this is about is, precisely, power–the hierarchical power that the elites and the police and the provincial government is losing, and tonight seemed to have lost, and the still-informal power-from-below that people have taken for themselves here in Montreal and environs. Street disruptions like this, where anyone or everyone could be (or is) on the side of popular power and social change, can only control the streets when there’s already been months and indeed years of organizing through student associations, general assemblies, anticapitalist convergences, and other groundwork; when people forget that they are scared and cowed, and instead believe that they are strong and have agency over their lives, since they can feel their own collective power in their bones and see it in the faces of so many around them, and know they aren’t alone anymore in wanting a far, far better society; and when little kids can hold pots & pans and become menaces, who just might grow up to be marvelously different people in a marvelously different world than we can imagine today.

– Cindy Milstein –

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Jail Solidarity in Chicago


Chicago, IL–Jail solidarity is one of those amazing things that has come out of Occupy but that you don’t hear talked about outside of the movement.  In case you aren’t familiar with the practice, when arrests happen at an Occupy protest, we gather outside the jail and hold vigil until our comrades are released.  This often involves staying overnight, but people bring food and a spirit of solidarity, making the most of the situation.

While working my second job of the day this past Wednesday, I was monitoring Twitter and feeling a bit guilty.  Some of my friends were in Wisconsin, marching against the failed Walker recall. Other friends were marching through downtown Chicago to the Canadian consulate in solidarity with the student protests in Quebec. And there was a memorial to a beloved mental health consumer and advocate who passed away in her sleep happening at both mental health clinic occupations.

I was missing all of the above because I was working, but I felt guilty because I had slept between jobs that afternoon instead of stopping by one of the mental health clinics or doing other Occupy activities.  I know that it’s a good idea to sleep on occasion, but with so much going on it’s easy to feel like I’m not doing enough.  Or at least that I wish I could do more.

I’m a nanny, and I was cuddling with an adorable baby girl (who happens to also be my niece) that evening, checking Twitter between wiping her spit-up.  As I watched in horror, my Twitter feed started to blow up.  First I learned that one friend had been arrested in Milwaukee as others were trampled by police horses.  Within minutes I was seeing tweets from my friends in Chicago describing unprovoked police brutality and many violent arrests.  I saw pictures of police officers using metal batons on protesters and heard that one young female comrade was surrounded by six cops, beating her brutally before they arrested her.  I was in shock; I hadn’t expected a relatively ordinary march to end this way.  My heart sank as I read the names of my friends who were taken away by the CPD, seemingly targeted for being main organizers within Occupy Chicago, but some of the most sincerely peaceful people I have had the honor of meeting.

Until this week, I had not participated in jail solidarity actions because one of my nannying jobs starts very early in the morning.  As I watched the violence unfold, however, I did some quick mental calculations.  I had slept several hours during the day; I could probably stay awake through the night and head directly for my morning job, given enough coffee and adrenaline.  By canceling a couple of daytime appointments, I could even get a nice nap in later.  It was the least I could do for my friends (who were later joined by those violently arrested in NY).  So I went home to get a change of clothes, some snacks, a blanket and pillow, charged my devices, then headed back into the city toward the jail.

As I pulled up across the street, I could hear them still banging on pots and pans, making quite a ruckus through the otherwise still night.  There were about 25 people, with more arriving periodically.  I said my hellos, gave a brief statement on livestream, and found a spot to set up.

A short while later, a group of plainclothes cops came out of the station.  The leader of the pack approached us with a printed copy of the sound ordinance in hand, telling us we had to stop making all that noise.  I didn’t hear the rest of the confrontation because I was distracted by a plainclothes cop who had come around the side, where I was sitting.  The most polite way to describe him is “meathead.”  He was wearing a tshirt that said, I kid you not, NATO SUMMIT 2012 – WE WOKE UP EARLY TO BEAT THE CROWDS.  He spent the next several minutes trying to provoke us and shining his flashlight in our eyes and cameras when we tried to take his picture.  Luckily we did get a couple of photos, even if they aren’t as close or as clear as we would have liked.

After that confrontation, however, they mostly left us alone.  We settled into card games, conversations, food runs, and cuddle piles.  We were able to use the bathroom inside the station, but it meant walking a gauntlet past at least ten pissed off cops for the dubious privilege of using a metal jail toilet.

Photo by Rachel Allshiny

At about 2am, I bedded down.  I never quite got to sleep, but I spent the next few hours lying on the sidewalk, drifting in and out of the conversations around me.  When there was a lull in conversation, the rustling of the rats in the bushes took over.  At about 3:30am the first camera crews showed up, but once I saw another press liaison had it covered I hid from the bright lights under my blanket and tried to tune it all out.  I gave up at 5, accepted a donated cup of coffee, and started getting ready to head to work.  None of the arrestees were released until after I left, so I didn’t get to hug them, but I’m glad I spent the night regardless.

Those early morning hours were very meaningful to me, and I wish I had enough words to express what I felt.  I was aware that I had given up the comfort on my bed to not-really-sleep on concrete in solidarity with my friends in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York who were doing the same inside jail cells.  I felt the warmth and camaraderie of my friends around me and those at home sending messages throughout the night.  I was overcome with the knowledge that if and when I got arrested for exercising my First Amendment rights, these same people would rally around me.  And I knew that I was part of something special, something that no cop in a stupid tshirt could take away.  We’re a family, and a community, and a force to be reckoned with.

Morning came and I went back to what I call my civilian life, but the experience of jail solidarity will always stay with me.  Unfortunately, it’s an experience I expect to have many opportunities to repeat in the near future.  But these arrests don’t weaken us; they make us stronger, individually and collectively.

I’ll see you all out in the streets.

– Rachel Allshiny –

Editor’s note: This post is one of many recounting events on June 6th, in which cities all over the world marched in solidarity with protests in Quebec. You may read about New York’s march here, an arrestee’s account of the experience here, and multiple points of view of the same march’s first five minutes here. The photo for this post above is by Abel Mebratu.

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