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 –