Posted on 24 June 2012.
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 –