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Civil Disobedience | Occupied Stories

Tag Archive | "civil disobedience"

Montreal, Night 44: Some Short Notes on Another Long Evening


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 – Last night I joined about 9 people in a casseroles in Montreal; tonight [June 6], consecutive evening number 44, there were thousands, boisterous and carnivalesque, overtaking the streets to the cheers of people in houses and bars and cafes as we marched. I also stumbled across the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge crew at the start of the march. They were all wearing red coveralls with their collective name screened on the back, printing big posters on white paper in red ink to connect cuts to the arts to increases to education, as long lines of folks eagerly waited their turn for a fresh print, which many then pinned to their bodies for the march or took home as a revolutionary souvenir. A couple hours later, when the march passed the art students as they were packing up, I asked them if I could stop by their studio sometime in the coming week or so, and they said, “Come with us now!” reaching out a red-ink-stained hand to shake mine but quickly realizing a hello and smile was a better idea, as I trooped after them to their studio.

I want to write more on the culture & geography of resistance, and some of what I saw at Ecole de la Montagne Rouge’s giant 2-room studio, with their many screen-printed posters crawling up the high walls, and big cardboard posters leaning against walls, with sticks still attached so that two people can easily carry one sign in a demo. But for now, since it’s late yet again, seeing this space where striking students have been making art for months now–inspired by May 1968, Black Mountain, and Poland, as one of them told me, but also this movement and their excitement about it–only confirmed what I’ve felt on the streets when seeing art & revolution: that the two (movement & art) are hand in hand. Here, in this gorgeous studio, with the friendly group of artists happily showing me around, it was clear that their art is of and for the moments, the many moments, of maple spring. As one of them explained, they pull from the ongoing current events, quickly responding by quickly making a new design, trying to use French word plays and double meanings within images that, too, offer double or multiple meanings. We want to keep our art open, said one of the artists, so people can interpret it and make it their own.

One of the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge’s recent comrades, a sociology student this fall (“maybe,” he joked), went image by image with me, translating the varied meanings of words as well as art, and filling in some history, especially Quebec movement history, for me, such as the “Refus Global” (Total Refusal) manifesto by a group of 16 artists and intellectuals that is viewed as one of the influences for Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s and, as my guide explained, for the students now. As he talked to me about the Total Refusal’s manifesto, he pointed to his arm with a finger, ran the finger up his arm, and smiled, “Look, I have goosebumps just talking about it.”

One of the red-outfitted artists, with ink spots decorating his coveralls, said that the student strike had always been about something larger than a tuition increase. The increase, he noted, wouldn’t even impact the current students, since it would take several years to go into effect. It was always about future students, he went on, but more than that, about anti-austerity and, indeed, the future. He gestured with his hands, drawing them from his sides upward, saying that this student strike has brought out what was underneath: the feelings, concerns, and desires of people generally. For him, that was also about Quebec removing itself from Canada, not being under Harper, but being, in his words, its own state instead of a province–and a French-speaking one.

He and my impromptu guide both indicated a phrase on one of their posters in particular: “le combat est avenir.” It was printed on cardboard, back when they used to print more of their posters in quantity on cardboard as signs for demonstrations (paper is now easier for them to carry and print on in larger quantities, my guide said). I hope I’m not doing an injustice to the translation that they described, but they said “avenir” offered the mixed meaning of “in the future” and “to have” or “with a future,” and if I understood correctly, “for a future”–all added to “le combat” or fight. One can then see the waves as moving toward a future or creating waves now to make a better future, or other interpretations. Again, that’s the intention, the artist said: that even if I am translating it incorrectly, I’m drawing out my own meaning, engaging with the art and its words through the lens of my (and thousands of others) participation in, to borrow a grammatical phrase in English, a “future perfect.”

As for the march itself, there were so many poignant scenes on tonight’s manif in Montreal, from hearing and then seeing small casseroles after casseroles at various intersections as I walked about 2 miles to the usual 8:30 p.m. march meet-up spot, including going down one whole block where people filled nearly all the balconies on both sides to bang their pots & pans (all of them cheering enthusiastically when I strolled by and banged on my lone pot in return below them), to finding thousands converging at 8:30 in costumes, with big banners & flags & signs, a variety of instruments, and so much cookware making so much noise it reverberated for blocks away as I approached, to whole open-air bars full of people who stood up to applaud and bang whatever they could when our march quickly & loudly went by.

I felt on a rollercoaster of emotions, propelled by the sense that this is what revolutionary social transformation really feels like. Night after night, and often day after day, people are engaging in widespread direct actions. It is not “just a march.” It is a walking toward the future, grabbing the future now. People are daily defying the laws of state–and have been now for months–to begin to make their own promises to each other, from students finding their voices and own education through blockades, pickets, making huge free meals during them, teach-ins and media (the art students showed me a weekly journal/booklet they’ve been designing for student writers and poets), to the populace now reshaping civic space and creating a people’s festival season (as I watch the Grand Prix start its build-up of a festival for the rich), to starting to meet more of one’s neighbors and also rethink neighborhoods via the beginning of assemblies. It’s hard to capture in words, but being on the street here each evening feels utterly distinct from the word used to describe it: “demonstration.” My reinterpretation or misinterpretation of the French word “manifestation” for that English-language term feels closer: something is continually being manifested on the streets.

So especially as the several-thousand-person march I was in almost ran the last long block of St.-Denis toward the Mont-Royal intersection (some 2 miles back right from where I’d originally come) where another thousand people “waited” for us with their march and a sit-in against arrests and repression–with the volume turning up so much I could barely hear myself think–I shed some tears at the beauty of it all. Equally, I felt the joy that accompanies the struggle of change, tonight in many forms, including several instances of anarchopanda echoes on hats, stuffed animals, and backpacks. And I felt awe at how doggedly determined this increasingly dispersed “refusal” and “reclaiming” is when, walking home after midnight from the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge folks–so awe-inspiring in themselves, already having produced this huge, living, useful, agitational, and remarkable body of work that continues to grow, alongside a movement that’s growing in similar ways–I ran across a small troop of extremely loud marchers-casseroles-chanters making their way along the bar area of St.-Denis, just as exuberant as when they likely headed toward the future some 4 to 5 hours ago, and some many weeks and months ago.

-Cindy Milstein- 

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Montreal, Night 43: Sometimes Less Is More


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 – This evening [June 5th], I returned to Montreal for another taste of maple spring, stepping out of the Metro at 7:45 p.m., just in time for a chilly rain to start falling in the Plateau, and then made it to where I’m staying by 7:55 p.m. After some 2.5 weeks of almost no sleep, exhaustion finally caught up with me. I had this notion that I’d be sensible and take it easy–on the 43rd night in a row of illegal street demonstrations in this city. But about 8 minutes later, in the distance, slowly growing louder: pots & pans.

Three days ago, while I was far away in Baltimore at the Mobilizing and Organizing from Below conference (where I heard a Quebec student striker, also at this conference, say that the key to this Canadian uprising was and is the assemblies), there was a daytime demonstration here in Montreal. It was raining then too, but several thousand people marched through the streets anyway–yet again–with their resolve seemingly only strengthened–yet again–by the government breaking off of negotiations with the students last Thursday. A banner at the front of this march read: “This isn’t a student strike, it’s a society waking up.”

 

So despite my weariness, I grabbed my now-trusty pot and what’s left of my metal spoon (sans the spoon, which decapitated itself after three nights of beating last week, and thus is now a metal stick), and headed out into the dark drizzle. I was glad to see a bright red fabric square hanging off the balcony of the apartment where I’ll be staying–added after I left last Thursday. At the same time, I felt sad not to have the apartment’s resident and my new friend by my side tonight. We met through an old friend, on much more riotous streets a couple weeks ago, before the casseroles began yet right after the “special law 78″ had passed, and she’s kindly been my host ever since. During my previous visit, we went out every evening together to the disobedient demonstrations, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands of people, as well as on the enormous day-100 march, which saw something upward of 500,000 clogging the streets. Now, she’s away for a couple weeks, and is doing me the incredible “mutual aid” of loaning me her home; it felt funny to head to the casseroles without her.

The bustling intersection a couple blocks from her apartment had been a hot spot for pot and pan banging before, so I expected the same this evening. At 8:15 p.m., though, when I rounded the corner, there were only three women, hooded up in their rain jackets, banging away. They cheered as they saw me coming with my pot, raising their pots in unison and greeting me warmly–in French. I somehow explained that I don’t speak French, and they somehow explained that they don’t speak English, but that only increased all our smiles, as we all raised our pots and the volume together. Some other kind of language was happening in the intimacy of our tiny casseroles. And so perhaps 10 minutes later, after 1 more person joined us–again to happy cheers and raised pots–a police car also pulled up, and one of the women turned to me, laughing defiantly, and said in bad yet discernible English, “Cops!” She grinned widely, then banged her pot all that much more loudly, this time in the direction of the police car.

Still, not so disobediently, we walked back and forth across the intersection, in the crosswalk, when the red light stopped traffic for us. As the rain kept lightly falling, I felt the dampening of the magnificant and massive social strike I’d experienced on my prior recent visit. I kept glancing up the busy street in one direction and then the other, hoping that a large group of people would come marching down the street–in the street, illegally–to meet us, as had happened before, but no, not tonight. My 4 companions, strangers all but likely neighbors, chatted away happily with each other, in French, and kept smiling happily at me, and all the while kept banging away at their cookware. They didn’t seem to notice in the least that we were so few. I recognized half of them from earlier casseroles, and it was clear that they were glad for the chance to converse and glad, too, for the opportunity to keep up the momentum of these nocturnal manifestations of people power. I was just about to leave, because it felt so dispiriting, when in the distant we at last heard other pots, and then saw a loud and rebellious crew–of 4. They swiftly marched up to us, yelling happily at the tops of their voices, and that in turn dramatically increased our collective noise.

The 9 of us created metallic, grating music of solidarity, and I decided to stay. We weren’t exactly breaking the law–a small group of us on the sidewalk. But when our miniscule numbers converged, everyone’s spirits seemed to soar, as if there were indeed thousands of us, as if we were indeed holding down what’s almost become a tradition of nightly resistance, as if it mattered that we were offering ourselves along with our lungs and our arms and our legs to this uprising. Despite the language barrier, for now a few others spoke English-only, we all gestured that we needed to march, and I had the feeling that all of us suddenly thought that yes, of course, there must be many more people in other parts of the city doing the same as us. Perhaps we’d find them and become a large demonstration?

What we found instead were lone or small batches of wanderers, who afforded us an unending maze of individual acts of solidarity and rebellion as they crossed spontaneous paths with us.

Over the next couple hours or so that I marched, cars stopped to join us for a minute or two, repetitively honking their horns, or people pulled their car over to temporarily park so they could jump out with a pot and bang as we walked past. A passenger in one car waved an open umbrella out their window at us, with a red square hand-colored on its cloth. People walking by clapped in tune to our pots, or jangled keys, or used their umbrella against a lamppost to make noise; one person pulled a whistle out of their pocket and blew hard as their momentary contribution. Solitary folks leaned out windows as they heard us coming, ran back into their apartment, and then reappeared with kitchenware in hand. People sitting in restaurants tapped on their glasses with utensils as we raised our pots and pans to acknowledge their support. Workers ran out of stores and cafes to make whatever sound they could as we passed, and many who couldn’t come outside instead held up raised fists and offered us enormous smiles. Bicycles careened joyously toward us, so they could ring a bell or simply wave. And on and on.

Hundreds upon hundreds of separate people lent solidarity for short bursts. With each interaction there was a distinct acknowledgment of us as a tiny but hardy casseroles crew, and we in turn gave our impromptu collaborators a distinct recognition for pitching in, if only for a second or minute. Most of the time, we were able to make eye contact with those joining us, and then we all made eye contact with each other, and I don’t think there was a minute in all our marching when we stopped smiling and laughing–the language that was binding us this evening.

Over the course of our 2-plus hours of marching and sometimes skipping, always at a brisk pace, we’d subdivided a couple times, and added a person here or there–but always remained at 5 or 8 of us. One person who joined us was a woman who ran up with her backpack, indicating that she had a pot inside and was it OK to become part of our group, to which–yet again–everyone cheered and raised their pots in unison while banging them loud as hell. The women I’d started with went home after about 45 minutes of walking, and I then mostly spent time with the 4 people who’d originally joined us, which included a teenager who couldn’t get enough of shouting and laughing and banging as loud as she could whenever anyone acknowledged us–which was pretty much constantly–so I started shouting and laughing and banging as loud as I could too. We both spoke English, but for some reason, the shouting and laughing were far better and more accurate communication much of the time. Still, at one point she turned to me after we’d seen a man behind the plate-glass window of his gyro fast-food place raise his fist to us and grin, and she tossed back her head, wrapped in a red bandana, and laughed until I thought she’d burst: “You love this so much too!”

About halfway through our casseroles, one of our crew got the idea to start banging his pot against metal street-sign poles, and then it seemed as if there really were well over 49 of us, the legal limit under the new law for groups of people. So we began to stop and do this often, and my new-found comrades particularly took pleasure in doing this outside fancy restaurants in which the patrons weren’t paying us heed. Two of my posse started to scream chants as well, including the French version of “fascist” and some other insults in relation to Charest, and my comrades this evening began to take special delight in hollering at police cars when they passed by us. At one point, we came upon an intersection with a big street post that featured a handmade sign I’d seen last week: “FUCK C78 CHARESt.” The intensity of our participatory show of force for this sentiment grew to new heights, and silently (since at this point we could hardly hear each other anyway), we stood our ground by this sign and made a racket, gathering many onlookers.

Two new people had recently joined our tiny group, both quite mild-mannered looking, and each with two pans lids that they could bang together. They awkwardly hesitated for a minute, and I was convinced they were going to leave, because it was getting wildly loud. The 4 folks who had merged into my original group were now all banging their pots against the same metal post with the “FUCK” sign on it, and the noise was deafening. Their laughter also seemed to increase, if that were possible. Our 2 new companions were suddenly overcome with the exuberance of the moment, and it was like we were some big brassy band that couldn’t be contained or controlled, mostly because many of the onlookers were also just as eager to spontaneous add their nods or smiles or claps or cheers.

I did see more people this evening than before we ignored us or seemed displeased. Two or 3 folks took the time to complain about what we were doing–in French, but from their faces, the general content was plain enough. And we never did find any other casseroles, much less a large demonstration. We walked past groups of 2 to 3 with pots and pans, such as two punks, one with a Crass T-shirt, who asked me where the big march was, and when I invited them to join us, they ran off in search of bigger and better prospects, but again, our numbers never rose above 9 all night.

Perhaps this is the beginning of the end. Or the tiredness and routine that starts to set in when an uprising stretches past its initial upsurge and innovation. Perhaps people are becoming more polarized, drawing different lines in the sand, or maybe many are sick of the nightly noise (one man clearly yelled at us about being woken up evening after evening). Maybe it’s becoming difficult for students strikers and other social strikers to figure out a strategy to win something, or perhaps folks are resting up to contest the Grand Prix starting this Thursday (with its excess of wealth and power in contrast to the excess of social good that this strike is increasingly demanding).

I should have felt disappointed tonight. And I should be sleeping. But again, I’m awakened by what’s going on here, for in all the little interactions this evening, there was something that was thoroughly qualitative, thoroughly defiant, as our casseroles uncovered the many, many, many varied instances of shared solidarity–shared enthusiasm and a shared sense of injustice–made possible precisely because we were so few, yet nonetheless still so determined way beyond our numbers, as if we were many. For everywhere we went, individual by individual, there were many.

As we marched by the street where I’m staying, I waved goodnight with my pots to these strangers that now didn’t feel strange at all, thinking 2.5 hours was good for tonight. I also thought how odd it was that we felt comfortable, rather than odd, in creating a loud demonstration up and down busy streets; how odd that it didn’t feel weird to simply bang pots together with 4 or 5 people when no one else around you was doing the same thing. The teenager ran over to me, hugged me tight, and whispered in my ear, “What’s your name?” We both smiled, whispered our names in each other’s ear, and she leaned back to grin and then yelp, “It was so great to meet you!” then ran after the rude metallic orchestra continuing on, noisier–somehow!–than ever. Once home, I could still hear them, 4 blocks away, for another 5 minutes or so, as I perched on the balcony outside where I’m staying, on a quiet residential street in this yet-disquieted city.

-Cindy Milstein-

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My Court Statement Re: Barricading Myself in the Woodlawn Clinic


Chicago, IL – Since I did not get to publicly protest on this movement, I took an opportunity to put my thoughts into the public record in court when I pled guilty for criminal trespassing for being barricaded inside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic on 4/13.

They call me Sugar. Being a protester with the Occupy Movement has meant that ever since the mayor’s budget proposal, which included closing half of the mental health clinics while privatizing the other half, I knew my battle. My family has a history of mental health issues. I still have the scars on my wrists from when I tried to kill myself and I still fight panic attacks. I understand why these services save lives.

On Wednesday, April 11th, I heard a rumor that clients were going to occupy the Woodlawn Clinic. As a protester, I was motivated, but I knew my role in this battle was not to protest. It was to be a neutral medic providing a service to these clients in their desperate attempt to save their lifeline.

On Thursday, April 12th I took my place in a proud history of street medics, which began during the Civil Rights Movement out of necessity to treat protesters being brutalized by police, a system, and society. Today’s suppression and abuse comes from the Rahm Machine and focuses its violence on the mentally ill and poor, leaving it to the emergency rooms, police, and courts like these to replace treatment.

As the primary medic at the Woodlawn Occupation I have helped clients feel safe and cared for. I listen. I hug. And, more often than should happen, I treat handcuff injuries on protesters and the strong, amazing, and desperate clients who do not back down from the Rahm Machine. I have witnessed a community step up and lend their voices, provide food, and share their stories of why these clinics are important to them. This movement has moved me in ways that I do not even know how to express.

What Rahm is doing is wrong. His priorities are skewed. He claims that closing these clinics is about money. But how is it fiscally responsible to close these clinics to save “$3 million” when it throws onto the hospital and justice system the extra workload and expenses, which well exceed the $3 million in savings, and also allows people to die? How is it that he can pressure Pastor Finny to lie about owning property in order to illegally evict the Woodlawn Occupation and get away with it?

Everyone in this movement has personally felt the hand of this immorally, repugnant machine come smacking down. Yet we stand, unwavering. I am honored and humbled to have the backs of those on the front line.

I plead guilty today, not because I am on the wrong side of history, but out of necessity. I wish I could go to trial, but speaking today has got to be enough. I stand in solidarity.

The judge smiled and thanked us for the work we were doing to improve the community. She respected what we were doing and respected us as individuals.

-Sugar- (photo from the Occupied Chicago Tribune)

Editors note: Read more of our ongoing coverage of the Woodlawn Occupation (still going strong!)

Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic Occupation

The Woodlawn Occupation is Not Leaving

 

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Civil Disobedience on Wall Street


NEW YORK – I have come to three ‘Spring Training’ marches now—but today [April 20th] was by far the most exciting. The weekly marches on Wall Street have become increasingly well-organized and effective at getting occupiers in front of the stock exchange for the closing bell every Friday.

The marches are designed as a fun way to practice new protest tactics before May Day. The police stop us blocks away from Wall Street when we march in a group, so we have developed different tactics of going “civilian,” breaking into small groups to penetrate the police lines that circle the stock exchange before reforming the protest on the other side. This week, when we began to arrive, there were many occupiers already there who have been occupying the steps to Federal Hall since they got pushed off of Wall Street earlier this week. The police had barricaded the steps and control access to what they officially refer to as the “first amendment rights area.” Seriously, they really call it that. In addition to the NYPD, there were counter terrorism, federal park police and SWAT.

As the crowd swelled the police began making arrests and clearing the sidewalk. The police pushed aggressively and isolated everyone who had just arrived from the group that had been occupying the steps to Federal Hall, arresting at least three. Tension was high, but the crowd calmed before the people’s gong—our response to the closing bell of the stock exchange. We mic checked to the people behind police lines on the barricaded steps and celebrated together before breaking into the familiar chant, “A – Anti – Anti-Capitialista,” this time in the very heart of capital. There were police barricades and lines of officers keeping us apart, but there were a few hundred of us dancing right across from one of the most potent symbols of power; the energy was high.

A mic check broke our chant.

“Ten occupiers are laying down on the sidewalk right now, they know they will be arrested and wish to go peacefully!”

Two weeks ago a group began sleeping on the sidewalk, following the exact specifications for legally sleeping on the sidewalk as a form of protest from the the 2000 U.S. district court decision Metropolitan Council V. Safir. The occupation grew larger each night until last week, when the police started arresting people. The occupation shifted half a block to Federal Hall, which as federal property was beyond the jurisdiction of the NYPD. This was where the “first amendment rights area” had been set up. Direct Action had video cameras in place to film the occupiers laying down in accordance with the law, then immediately getting arrested for it.

“Mic Check! Next week we are going to invite everyone to come lay down!”

It was powerful. The NYPD has tried very hard to prevent us from growing roots anywhere in the city. The last few weeks have been filled with arbitrary arrests, sleepless nights and scant media coverage, but for the first time in a while, it felt like the tide was turning today; it felt like we were winning.

John Dennehy

Editor’s note: This is part of series of stories detailing how different occupies are getting ready for May Day. Read what other’s are up to and tell us what’s happening where you are.

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