Everything about night demo 100 in Montreal felt enormous.
There were the numbers of people — so many that when we were on long hilly streets, all you could see were people all the way back and people all the way forward for blocks and blocks; so many that when we reached a late-night, outdoor fashion show festival and thus a busy area, and hence the riot cops appeared to disperse us, it seemed as if every which way you looked, up and down different intersections, we still tightly crowded the streets; so many that it was impossible to guess how many, which means thousands and thousands, or ten thousand or more. This in contrast to recent night demos, where on the last one, we were lucky if we reached the “magic” number of over 49 to put us squarely in the illegality of special law 78. It felt, as one of my friends said, “Like the old days,” by which he meant the night demos of week 1, 2, or 3, way back when it was still assuredly Maple Spring, not the red-hot August 1 of last night.
There were, speaking of red, giant amounts of that too — more than usual, both in terms of mass quantity and dimensional size. It may not be clear from the red flag “100″ pictured above, but it was gigantic — many times taller than the person carrying it — and backed up by several equally gigantic plain red-square flags.
There was a huge contingent of drummers, all dressed in red, and it in turn was backed up by red-bedecked popular neighborhood assembly banners and an enormous three-dimensional fabric red square (on loan, I’m nearly certain, from the École de la Montagne Rouge [School of the Red Mountain] art collective — and the whole brilliant-red group was part of the ever-larger and also extremely red rolling wave of popular neighborhood assemblies and casseroles that started way north of downtown about two hours early and fused with each other as they met at multiple appointed intersections to then continue on together, ever larger and ever louder.
Most momentous, though, was the accidental line in the sand of this 5.5-month Quebec student strike: night 100 of the illegal manifestations and Premier Jean Charest setting the election date — September 4 — starting on August 1 too. For my non-Canadian friends, within certain parameters, elections are called by the party in power, and that can be used as a political chip in their favor if played well. Once called, candidates have five weeks to go all-out with promotion, and at the stroke of midnight as July 30 turned to August 1, I saw Québec solidaire (QS), a social-democratic and sovereigntist political party that includes candidate Amir Khadir, who got arrested this past June in a casserole while protesting special law 78, already busy putting up posters, including ones highlighting that QS stands for “free education.”
But the elections are already not playing well, at least not to the “audience” that poured unexpectedly by the thousands into the streets on this first illegal night march of August, turning the now-familiar “fuck law 78″ chant into a revised “fuck the elections.” As the majority student association CLASSE so well articulated in its manifesto, printed in the French-language paper Le Devoir the same day when rumors flew recently of Charest’s intent to call the elections, there is a grand divide right now between two worldviews — one represented by this night 100 versus day 1 of electoral campaigning:
“The way we see it, direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighborhoods. Our concept of democracy places the people in permanent charge of politics, and by ‘the people,’ we mean those of us at the base of the pyramid — the foundation of political legitimacy. . . . Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free. . . . Democracy, as viewed by the other side, is tagged as ‘representative’ — and we wonder just what it represents. While elections come and go, decisions remain unchanged, serving the same interests: those of leaders who prefer the murmurs of lobbyists to the clanging of pots and pans. Each time the people raises its voice in discontent, on comes the answer: emergency laws, with riot sticks, pepper spray, tear gas. When the elite feels threatened, no principle is sacred, not even those principles they preach: for them, democracy works only when we, the people keep our mouths shut.” (http://linchpin.ca/English/Share-Our-Future-%E2%80%93-CLASSE-Manifesto)
The first of August also signaled the calendar leap into the impending rolling wave of striking schools that are supposed to open soon — 13 of them, for instance, between August 13 and 17 — based on whether the impending rolling wave of student assemblies decide autonomously, school by striking school, whether they want to continue to keep their college closed. These highly participatory and/or outright directly democratic assemblies are an infrastructural legacy of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as I’ve mentioned before, and a long-lived practice within many of the now-striking schools. Students may have taken a break the past few weeks — and a well-deserved one, so as to rest up — but they are ready to jump back into their assemblies, where they already know how to make strike, blockade, direct action, solidarity, mutual aid, and other decisions about aims, strategies, and tactics. And starting next week, students will begin voting in their general assemblies as to whether they should continue the strike (see the schedule here,http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/2012/08/calendrier-de-la-rentree-des-grevistes/, along with a call for a convergence in Montreal to support the students from August 13 to 17, http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12).
But night demo 100 signaled another huge shift, potentially pivotal as well in relation to the elections: there are now numerous popular assemblies, begun over the past couple months. They weren’t there at the start of this student strike, nor at the start of the illegal night marches. Now, in many corners of the city, they meet weekly or every other week to talk about issues related to and springing out of the student strike, and many include students, parents, and teachers alongside other neighbor-allies. They also discuss steps toward a social strike (even if in small symbolic steps for now) and tangible aid for the upsurge soon in the student strike. Furthermore, the assemblies all use various forms of direct democracy. They share and borrow that from each other. For instance, the Mile-End popular assembly that I attend asked facilitators from another neighborhood assembly to come and facilitate our first couple assemblies (which they did), and we sent emissaries, supporters, and helpers to a new assembly started in the neighborhood just next door to Mile-End last week, in Outremont. We also did outreach for their first assembly during our weekly “orchestrole” (casserole plus marching band) on the Wednesday before their assembly, detouring into their neighborhood a bit to hand out flyers — ’cause lots of people come out to listen to loud music rambling down the night streets!
The assemblies could be bigger, and certainly more reflective of various population groups in Montreal — a problem not unique to the neighborhood assemblies, nor the student ones, nor those of Occupy (and on and on). As with other assembly experiments, those within them are aware of such shortcomings. And in this case, the assemblies seem to be particularly sensitive to two key things: first, they want their own autonomous identities, to grapple with the needs and issues of their parts of the city; and second, we’re all also under this pressure-cooker schedule of having to ramp up quickly in order to offer real aid to the striking schools, real soon. In Mile-End, for instance, we’ve been having 3-plus-hour assemblies once a week, along with 3-plus-hour weekly mobilization/social strike working group meetings (and other working groups, but that’s the one I’ve been going to), and our weekly evening orchestrole, a form of illegal demo, solidarity, celebration, and outreach. Oh, and they are also contending with the fact that in all likelihood, they too (like so much other dissent and organizing) are illegal in various ways under special law 78, and hence the sentiment of disobedience spelled out on the Villeray popular assembly banner:
Last Wednesday night, a week before August 1, back in Mile-End, at the end of our orchestrolling as some of us stood around in an intersection chatting, with 3 cop cars vainly trying to get us to go home, we discussed trying to get our assembly and neighbors to walk downtown as orchestrole/casserole and meet up with other neighborhood assemblies at various convergence points along the way. Several assemblies had done this several weeks ago for a night demo, and it was lovely. We figured: let’s make a Facebook events page, do outreach via email to our various contacts with other assemblies, and hopefully the “casseroles march downtown” will happen again — since that’s pretty much all it took last time. Over the next few days and into early this past week, before August 1, suddenly it seemed that multiple assemblies had had the same idea, had also made Facebook event pages and even posters, and had also started doing outreach (there is no centralized popular assembly list, even a bottom-up version!). And absurdly enough, many of us had picked many different and conflicting convergence points, with no way to pull those puzzle pieces together. Organizational enthusiasm seemed to be creating mayhem, which sort of seemed a good problem to me in this case, since it at least emphasized the enthusiasm part. At our mobilization working group on July 30, we decided what the hell, it is too confusing. Let’s just meet up at our orchestrole spot at 7:00 p.m. on August 1, since people are used to that in our neighborhood, and then do our best to find other neighborhoods. Of course, we hadn’t actually mentioned this meeting point to anyone at that point, so we went home and started trying to spread the word around Mile-End.
At 7:00 p.m. on August 1, there were 3 regulars and me, with our banner, 1 pot & spoon, and a horn. Then 4 more people showed up, than 3 more, along with dogs and kids, and so on, until at around 7:15 p.m. we had maybe 3 dozen, and off we marched — growing as we headed toward Laurier and St. Denis, where we knew some Plateau folks were convening, and then growing and growing again as neighborhood stumbled on neighborhood in this surging wave of casseroles. We, along with our fellow popular assemblies, thus became another big reason that night 100 was so enormous, numbers and energy wise. Indeed, having gone to both the full “casseroles march downtown” walk and entirety of the illegal evening demo last night, it was clear that by the time all the many neighborhood assemblies and neighbors reached the already-large crowd waiting at the now-regular Gamelin Park meeting spot, arriving at 9:00 p.m., we by far outnumbered those patiently expecting us.
Beyond sheer numbers, there was something extra poignant about seeing popular autonomous assembly banner after banner streaming through the streets together, each with their unique character, but all articulating a contrasting vision of politics to the one that Charest and all his suddenly numerous riot cops (and politicians of any stripe) uphold. I think it’s never been more apparent that this isn’t “merely” the longest-running and perhaps now-largest student strike in North American history; it’s plainly a social movement with a deep and widespread social basis. And now, as July turns to August, the students know for sure that they have popular support(ers) far and wide outside their college doors — all, also, trying to practice direct democracy as the organizational grounding for this movement and all, also, attempting to experiment with another type of politics beyond statecraft (slow, embryonic, and painful as that is at times — “painful,” unlike Occupy at too many moments, not because people are awful toward each other but rather because sometimes, at least in Mile-End, people are too nice, and our meetings go on way too long so everyone can really be heard and respected, which is another nice problem to have, I suppose.
Of all the neighborhood banners, I think I was most touched by the Outremont one — both because unlike many other assemblies, it only convened this past weekend, as I mentioned above, and also because of its black cat and message of “popular power,” which seemed to so well capture the spirit of this evening where everyone knew so much is now at stake in the coming days of August: not provincial election so much as enormous social contestation.
This grand battle was captured for all to see — writ large on night 100, like everything else — in the form of an enormous projection on a building wall, just as we thousands and thousands rounded a corner at a big intersection. Ahead in front of me, I could see people turning backward to face the part of the demo I was in, but instead of looking at us, I could see people looking upward, fingers pointing upward, eyes lighting up, illuminated by the illumination of Nous Sommes Tous Art. Click on this link to see it for yourself (http://youtu.be/CIgnVSkXWWs), but it involved a series of repeating words, including our street slogan “fuck the elections,” but also decrying phenomena like racism, capitalism, and neoliberalism, and contrasting representative democracy to self-management. Its grand finale was the logo/slogan that’s now appearing as wheatpasted poster and elsewhere around Montreal: “August 13. The Strike Continues.” Rather than agitprop or empty street art, though, this wall of words reflects the on-the-ground reality of what everyone is preparing for — to hold the strike — using the very processes that offer a working alternative to electoralism (whether people take 30 seconds to try to vote Charest out or not in the privacy of a voting booth, since clearly ousting Charest is widely popular within this Maple Spring, if only symbolically).
So perhaps beyond the numbers, beyond the boundless joy and creativity and sea of red, beyond the newfound power of the neighborhood assemblies, and even outstripping the clear challenge of direct versus representative democracy — more enormous than all of this on illegal evening 100 was the tension hanging in the air, accentuated by the return of the helicopter hovering low overhead, even as Anarchopanda was right below, giving out hugs and sporting his own big red square pinned to his black-and-white fur. Back were the riot cops in large and aggressive numbers, along with sound grenades, reports rubber bullets and pepper spray, attempts at dispersal and kettling, and definitely some arrests. I ran into someone today with bruises on the side of their face, and they told me how police had chased them down, grabbed them, told them to lie on the ground so they could be arrested, but when they did, a cop then punched them in the head several times before carting them off to a night in jail.
Yet all that wasn’t so unusual in the course of this long student strike. And in fact, much of the tension that riot cops usually create seemed neutralized, precisely because people have now lived through it and gotten used to it. As many people commented, nearly everyone on the street displayed a remarkable lack of fear around the police, replaced by a militancy in the sense of not backing down. That meant different things for different people, including the police, who often ignored things like a bank window being broken (apparently a coop bank, so everyone in the vicinity laughed “Why not a real bank?” as some random guy calmly used the ATM next to the smashed window, causing the second amused & proud comment from the illegal night marchers: “Only in Montreal!”), and when the police encountered a dumpster barricade at one point, the ones on horses trotted through to follow the enormous demo from behind, but the cop cars behind the horses simply turned around and went a different way, leaving the dumpsters to hang out on their own on a now-quieted formerly busy street — with both disobedients and police gone.
The anxiety that the riot cops produced was not on this night 100 per se. Rather, it was what their larger presence signaled in terms of what’s to come. Everyone seems to be bracing themselves for the worst. But because neither cops nor let up on night 100, and because more candidate signs went up even as we marched, night 100 only seemed to add to the intensity of “What will happen?” in the next couple weeks.
For me, more than anything, night 100 illustrated the stark contrast between two types of “popular power” — liberatory versus mean-spirited. This is the power between citizens and neighbors, where people self-organize out of goodness and generosity toward all, or hatred, fear, and stinginess. And both are there. On the streets. It was illustrated in one potentially murderous act at the start of night 100, underscoring just how nerve-wracking a moment this is — when electoralism and riot police converge with student strike and neighborhood assemblies converge with aspirations for free education, social strike, and so much more, and all that converges with strong popular sentiments on all side, with all of it coming to a head in this already-hot August.
If last night’s marker of consecutive evenings of illegal marches ever since the passage of special law 78, a governmental tactic to try to quash the Quebec student strike, was a magnificent display of the strength and power of this social movement, it also revealed the social tensions brewing underneath, fueled by the machinations of the province/state because of the social crisis it clearly faces.
Early on in the evening, at 7:00 p.m., a bunch of us from the Mile-End popular assembly and other neighbors met up at our usual Wednesday night casserole/orchestrole spot, as I described above. We then boisterously walked over with our banner, pots & pans, horns, red squares, and whistles to greet the “Quartier Rouge” Plateau neighborhood folks around 7:30 p.m. and some several hundred of us were all joyfully reclaiming a busy intersection, waiting for our Villeray, Rosemont, and other neighborhood assembly comrades to meet up with us for the march downtown. It’s hard to explain the beauty of casseroles meeting each other from various directions, but add to that the pride of neighborhood assemblies, and when one neighbor starts marching toward another a block or two away, it feels like triumphant freedom fighters returning from hard-won battles into each other’s arms, which in a way, is what’s happening, as people struggle toward a wholly different version of the world, perhaps far ahead of us, that’s neither austere nor hierarchical.
Suddenly, within a group of hundreds in our intersection, all dancing and prancing around, I saw the front of a car coming toward me, with adults, kids, and dogs (most of them my comrades from the Mile-End popular assembly) “bouncing” off the hood, nearly being crushed under tires and hit by other parts of the automobile. It seemed so surreal that someone would simply intentionally drive into hundreds of people that I could barely register it at first. It had that slow-motion sense alongside horror. I and others leaped to help, and many folks threw pots and pans at the hit-and-run driver as they sped away; people ran after the car to try to get the license plate. There were lots of shaken folks who’d been brushed or hit by the car, including a kid who got hit in the knee, and one person seriously hurt (pictured below). Someone called an ambulance, and folks formed a circle around the wounded person, trying as best they could to medic. About five minutes later (despite police obviously lurking on the edges of our casserole), paramedics arrived. When I look at this picture, in hindsight, I realize that half the faces of those doing the caretaking are my neighbors in Mile-End and my comrades in the assembly.
The “silver lining” was how good everyone was to each other, and how it was clear no one wanted to let this stop night 100 from growing larger and larger, and us marching downtown. But many folks commented on how such willful brutality by other “neighbors” highlights that even if this really is a popular and widespread social movement, which it is, there are those who vehemently disagree and are willing to do almost anything (in this case, absurdly, purposefully try to injure or even kill) those struggling toward a better world for everyone, probably even including this hit-and-run drive, if I know some of my popular assembly mates.
At tonight’s Mile-End Popular Assembly (night 101), those of us who were there talked about this terrible incident, and I got this general update (hopefully accurate, since it was whisper translated to me in French): one of our assembly folks went to the hospital with the person who sustained the worst injuries to keep them company and help out. Apparently they had only arrived at our casserole convergence about 5 minutes before this hit-and-run and almost decided to stay home that night; at a previous night demo, they’d been kettled and arrested along with a whole bunch of other folks. Last night, they were hit in two places, but nothing was broken, and it seems like they’ll recover; they are just in a lot of pain now. People at the scene got the license plate number of the car, and they decided to give it to the police, who as of this evening somehow still hadn’t been able to locate the hit-and-run driver. Kids, dogs, and other casserolers are all OK, other than being upset by the experience. We processed that for a bit, and then returned to our assembly agenda, including working toward an August 10 “Mile-End: Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike” event (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/), where starting at noon SHARP on St. Viateur and Waverly, we need lots of people, including you, to help us create an outdoor red-square street full of free education, food, music, art, and a couple hours of social striking, to also bolster ourselves and others for the coming August 13 to 17 week of resistance and solidarity. And likely, an enormous amount of a whole bunch of things, including popular power and social tension.
The enormity of night 100, when all was said and done, is that everyone recognized its enormity. That’s why the streets were filled, with people, politicians, media, and riot cops. That’s why so many indie photographers took so many gorgeous pictures, a few of which are here, and why CUTV livestream reporters seemed to be around every turn, chatting with as many people as they could cajole to talk on air. That’s why so many people walked miles from their neighborhoods and then kept going, kilometers more, with heavy banners and/or heavy instruments in tow. That in itself was the portrait of popular power: the populace showed up in droves, on foot and bikes and wheelchairs, or leaning out windows and balconies to wave — as always — as we marched by.
As most of this blog post notes, night 100 was a marker forward, to what’s ahead and what’s now at stake, thanks to a student strike that has unleashed a host of crises, anxieties, possibilities, and difficulties. But the students who had the foresight to start organizing this strike some two years ago, whether they knew it fully or not, were also unleashing a bunch of small yet perhaps, cumulatively, pretty great victories. Maybe not the victory of stopping the tuition increase or ousting Charest, nor transforming electoral politics as usual into a self-governing society. Nor ending capitalism. Some or all of that might be lost, or just might take a longer horizon to achieve. But there are other ways of understanding our victories, perhaps by accounting for those things we hadn’t intended that happen along the way of what really is a social (and a sociable) movement, stretching in this case from night 1 to night 100.
So even though I posted it yesterday as a separate blog offering, I’m going to end with it again here: “100 Red Nights,” a gift of 100 little victories (words by me) set to 100 little images of the 100 red nights, offered as a collaborative labor of love by myself and Thien V Qn (who took the photos), just one of the talented crew of new friends I seem to be running with on the red streets these nights: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/.
After looking at our “100 Red Nights” piece during day 100, another of our talented friends, Amy Darwish, remarked to me last night as she and I started out on our long night of strolling at 7:00 p.m., basically this: “It figures that you and Thien would create such a gift. You’re the two romantics of this movement.” Romantic yes, because it’s hard as hell not to be when you dive into the spectacular beauty and innovation of this student strike. At one and the same time, though, I hope you’ll see that some of the victories contained in our “100 Nuits Rouges” are actually dilemmas, implicit critique, or as-yet only partial promise, which to me are indeed victories, because we’re making them visible and hence available for dialogue and deliberation, as something for the increasingly long agendas of the many self-governing bodies within this movement.
(Photo credits: red flags, red marching band, giant red square, Villeray and Rosemont banners, and red-brick building by Thien V Qn,http://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/; big crowd scene by Martin Martel,http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151960346950062.871472.666270061&type=1; QS sign, Outremont banner and outdoor project, and dumpsters by Cindy Milstein; aftermath of hit-and-run driver by Jesse Rosenfeld,https://twitter.com/kissmykishkas/status/230813774976794624/photo/1; and final romantic night 100 shot by another of my talented new friends, Kevin Lo,http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/08/100th-night-demo/).
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Montreal, QC–It’s a bit after midnight, and I just got home from a perfectly curated musical fund-raiser in the Mile-End neighborhood of Montreal titled carré rouge sonore (“red square sound”) organized by HOWL! arts collective. HOWL! was also largely responsible for dreaming up the Rêve général illimité (“unlimited general dreams/strike”), an unpermitted creative intervention during the Jazz Festival and hopefully another version will take place before the start/nonstart of schools here in Montreal on August 13. From what I’ve seen so far, HOWL! doesn’t sit back quietly but instead tries to use the language of cultural creation to voice political aspirations for a new world, as tiny as those voices might be right now or even for a long while to come. Social change is hard work. So conversely, it should be pleasurable hard work — or at least that seems to be part of the unspoken aim of HOWL! This arts collective doesn’t ask permission from arts councils or cops; rather, it imagines what music, say, might sound like in an altogether different form of social organization — one premised on what’s been facilitating and sustaining this student strike: direct democracy in various forms. (For those of you agitating just south of here, in that place still called the United States, and maybe even folks outside this Francophone province, please take heed: if anything is key to this strike, it’s the long-lived legacy, infrastructure, and practice of face-to-face decision making — not easily replicated quickly, but necessary nonetheless.)
For example, the École de la Montagne Rouge crew, made up of still-striking students who are still making posters and other brilliant (and often brilliant red) visuals for asocial movement instead of sitting quietly in rows of chairs in a classroom, brought their own collective envisioning of red squares to this musical fund-raiser by designing the logo (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefanchristoff/7625011812/).
Such infinite dreams, of course, are largely circumscribed by the present culture industry, but nights like tonight show that a few stray notes that can’t quite be captured by the capitalist logic manage to slip through to a few eager ears and open minds — many of them opened by the student strike itself. At the “red square sound” event, I ran into still-striking students who are busy taking gorgeous photos and writing indie news accounts for this social movement, or further discovering anarchism by recently taking a road trip to the Anarchist People of Color convergence in New Orleans; there were teachers there, also strike allies, and Mile-End popular assembly folks who are busy organizing a “casseroles and orchestrole” go downtown to illegal night demo 100 this coming Wednesday, August 1 (http://www.facebook.com/events/408425942526577/), and an August 10 “Mile-End Bloc(k) Party: Toward a Social Strike” (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/) — basically, hopefully, a large (perhaps red) square of street turned into an open-air classroom to illustrate what free education looks like, via a festive direct action in disobedience of special law 78, and to let the students know that the neighborhood assemblies are behind their strike, just ahead of the start/nonstart of their schools. It, in turn, emerged out of a call from the St. Henri popular assembly for a “day of action” in neighborhoods on August 10, building toward the notion of social strike in complement to student strike and, again, also just making visible popular support for the students, so they don’t feel alone. So they aren’t alone. Although if CLASSE has anything to do with it, its also-August 10 evening gear-up for the August 13 week “class or no class” — Nous sommes avenir (approximately, “We are the future”), http://www.facebook.com/events/422915807747262/ — will draw hundreds or thousands together to make that plain for all to see.
If the major student association, and the most radical and bottom-up one, CLASSE, has anything to do with it, its August 10 evening gear-up for the August 13 week “class or no class” — Nous sommes avenir (approximately, “We are the future”), http://www.facebook.com/events/422915807747262/ — will draw hundreds or thousands together to make that plain for all to see. Oh yeah, and then there’s the callout for an international convergence in Montreal to support the Quebec student strike during the week of August 13 to 17 (http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12). [Update: I could start adding a lengthy string of student and social strike organizing here, often starting to overlap in people’s enthusiasm to organize, which is a good “problem” to have in a social movement if one thinks about it. Indeed, as of the afternoon after I wrote this piece, there are now three separate calls for neighborhood casseroles and orchestroles to converge at the night 100 demo, and a 6 p.m. call by Anarchopanda to also do a solidarity demo in front of the Russian Consultate for the Riot Pussy women in jail. Somehow I imagine it’ll all work out, since after all, it’s great that there’s such widespread popular support for what’s called a “social” or “popular” struggle, and the point was to demonstrate to the students and greater public that neighborhoods, too, are behind the strike!]
Tonight’s sounds of the red square displayed a preview of this togetherness. It included the music of resistance, from jazz to the first-ever indoor orchestrole (with loaner cookware on hand, so others could join in, loudly and boisterously) to hip-hop to protest chant in between, amid a room full of red squares and rabble-rousers. Despite the forecast of rain, it turned out to be a lovely evening here in Montreal to raise legal funds for the Quebec striking students. Those funds are signaled by another graphic play on the red square in the logo of the legal helpers je donne à nous, a group that’s still gladly taking contributions for the coming storm of riot police and, as rumor has it, actual implementation of special law 78 when school soon starts/doesn’t start come August 13 onward.
The benefit was held in a neighborhood collective space, which felt both part homey, part social center. It was only a block or so from where the autonomous popular assembly of Mile-End met earlier tonight, in a local cafe that itself features local musicians all day until closing time at 6 p.m. Due to the potential of wet weather, the cafe folks loaned their space for this fledgling experiment in neighborhood direct democracy. There, in week 6 of so of our assembly, old faces and new ones heard a presentation by one assembly participant — also a lawyer — on special law 78. We’d decided this at last week’s assembly after doing a go-around of the some 45 or so people in attendance at our usual outdoor park spot about how we, as a popular assembly, wanted to lend support to the likely still-striking students when they likely will try to keep their schools shut during the increasingly key week of August 13-17, when some 13 schools are supposed to open by law — backed by the force of this new special law 78 that seemingly makes any kind of dissent criminal, including probably all neighborhood assemblies. We offered our views on comfort levels around “green, yellow, and red” zones, or levels of potential risk of arrest, and then seemed to concur that such designations would more likely be up to the police, not us. Banging a saucepan, for example, could flare into “red” in cop’s eyes. Wearing a red square that week could fuel the same overreaction on the police’s part. But despite varying degrees of worry over risk and the law, our go-round last week showed strong support for us tangibly supporting the students, though it’s unclear what that will look like other than, for now, remaining open and flexible, and creating as many links and lines of communication as we can between other neighborhood and student assemblies.
It’s not that we can’t start imagining various things we could do; rather, it’s because everything and everyone has to wait on the individual schools (and sometimes individual departments within schools) to hold their own student assemblies to decide whether to continue the strike or not, and if so, how. In what’s becoming a nail-biter moment for this social movement, student assemblies largely don’t convene until the few days before the start/nonstart of schools that August 13 week.
This nervous anticipation translates into low-grade inklings of what’s to come. For example, one of my friends who organized tonight’s fund-raiser said he got stopped by a cop yesterday for allegedly jaywalking some “three blocks away,” when clearly the cop couldn’t possibly see that far to spy the alleged infraction of the social order. When my friend asked if he was actually being stopped because he was wearing the red square, the cop’s face pretty much confirmed it. But it’s not just the cop versus people tension that emerging right now; it’s also the clock ticking away toward August, and how much needs to be decided, directly, before those school doors are supposed to open (or not) for classes. If Facebook is any indication of anything, student-strike-related invites are piling up and indeed overlapping for all things rebel red starting August 1, that pivotal day 100 of illegal contestation night after night in Montreal’s streets — a small count, relatively, compared to the soon six-month-old student strike.
Earlier this afternoon, I got a feel for the weight on the shoulders of these students, many of whom are probably pretty new to politics and also likely now have become fast learners and incredibly savvy at striking. Most of them have blocked many a door, seen many a riot cop up close, and gone miles on many an illegal demo, not to mention gotten really good at self-governance — or better than average, at least. I went and sat in on today’s UQAM strike council of some 75 people, give or take, mostly students (though most students are still away on break) in a lifeless UQAM lecture hall, but the room was brought to liveliness by the discussion — a bit slowly, though, since no one seemed to step up to facilitate what was clearly an informal direct democracy today. Brainstorming about everything from how to block classes to what logistics are needed to organizing solidarity demos, it suddenly became clear that this was an enormous puzzle given all the schools meeting as assemblies to decide whether to stay strong on their strike and then opening/not opening their schools within a tiny window of time in mid-August. The brainstorm also showed that nearly every school, for various reasons, thinks it is deserving of extra support, which of course is probably true.
Someone suggested they create a giant “calendar” on the chalkboard, which only underscored the incredibly complex communications and organizational task ahead. For instance, 4 schools open on August 13, and many of the schools are nowhere near each other geographically. How to communicate what all the student assemblies decide (including one that is supposed to meet the same day that the students are supposed to return to their classes at that school) to all the other schools, and all the students, and all the neighborhood assemblies, teachers, parents, allies, media, and the list went on. After some 45 minutes of trying to even begin to figure out a calendar, the task of doing so seemed to be abandoned in favor of trying to talk about the communications and organizational quagmire. I had to leave to get back for the Mile-End popular assembly, but the council meeting reminded me that, first, this strike is remarkable in that given all this complexity, the students have so far figured it out and stayed on strike, using these face-to-face decision-making structures; and second, as this sidewalk stencil from Mile-End urges, there’s a need to: “Prepare for August!”
Or better still, as this poster around Montreal proclaims: “On August 13. The Strike Continues.”
Or rather, both are true: there’s the need to prepare, and near impossibility of truly preparing given all the variables (elections, student assemblies, popular assemblies, police, special law, public opinion and especially material support, and the list goes on), and yes, it looks highly probably that the strike will continue nonetheless.
For now, as July draws to a close, so much radical subversion is being debated, imagined, and enacted through collectives and assemblies — the imperfect practice of what created a strike, what might let it go forward, and what might be its historical contribution more than anything else.
And likewise, so much of this radical subversion is being read through the tiny little red square. Sometimes, like in the photo below from much earlier today, taken on my walk to the UQAM strike council, all the eye thinks it sees is the pleasurable aesthetic of intended square converging with an accidental one, or the randomly lovely visual of this symbol in all sorts of places and spaces across the urban landscape, so quiet now during the two-week summer holiday that hits Montreal at the end of July. (In fact, there’s basically a voluntary “social strike” of sorts already going on, since many businesses simply close altogether for these two weeks and go on holiday too — making it maybe a little easier for folks to perhaps imagine what a social strike would look or feel like: leisurely noncompulsion, for starters, so as to do what one wants instead.)
Somehow, though, in the context of the building drama toward the opening/nonopening of school in mid-August, every scrap of red feels fraught with organizational and strategic difficulties, and yet ever so revolutionary.
(For more “Seeing Red” snapshots beyond those sprinkled through this piece, take a peek at my ever-growing archival record of red squares in Montreal and on Montrealers at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/.)
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.
Montreal, QC–It should not be surprising that the longest student strike in North American history, the one kicked off on February 13, 2012 in Quebec, has captured the imagination. For sheer persistence alone, it’s a gripping drama. But strikes can be dreary things when they drag on — a standoff bringing matters to an unproductive standstill, and wearing down strikers, strike supporters, strikebreakers, police, and “bosses” alike, although to differing degrees and consequences. What’s striking about this particular strike is that imagination itself has been a key ingredient from the start — and a generative one at that. That sensibility is alive and well, and so there’s rarely a dull moment, or positively put, imagination that willingly and critically rethinks itself has to date made for a dynamic movement.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word imagination, first and foremost, as “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality,” along with “the exercise of that [power].” Related phrases that spring to mind are creativity, inspiration, andinnovation. Rather than a shutting down (in this case, of school), the Quebec student strike has been marked by creation, “the act of making, inventing, or producing,” to quote Merriam-Webster’s again. And such acts, in turn, have the potential to strike at the very heart(lessness) of capitalism.
People typically think of strikes as purely economic in character, related to some specific injustice. Within that frame, some people also think of strikes as decrying capitalism’s inherent logic of an exploitative power-over our lives, with the goal being to eke out a slightly better deal from it — at best, a “new deal,” if such a thing is still structurally possible under neoliberalism, which is highly doubtful. And it must be remembered that the U.S. New Deal, notwithstanding its amelioration of certain types of human suffering at the time, was a band-aid measure on the part of the U.S. government to stop the spread of revolutionary movements/ideas and heal the wounds of the Great Depression with liberal reforms that, as Howard Zinn remarked in the 1960s, actually preserved the worst elements of capitalism.
Maybe, sometimes, people recall strikes that advocated or led to workers’ self-management. Increasingly, though, most people aren’t workers. Or they are compelled to do work that shouldn’t exist, like smiley-face greeters at the front doors of Walmart or the Gap, say, or slaving away at labor under neo-sweatshop and neo-indentured servitude conditions. Or work takes up too much of people’s lives, with the alternative being not an eight-hour-day but rather unemployment, underemployment, and precarious “temp” or day labor. Besides, self-management within capitalism is, largely, still self-managed misery with a kinder and gentler face. This isn’t to minimize the transformative power of self-governing one’s workplace with other workers, as the film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein on Argentina’s worker-reoccupied factories, The Take, illustrates so well. Yet in that same film, as the worker-husband protagonist speaks about his experience, his unwaged-worker-wife mentions how she looks forward to the day when they can afford McDonald’s “Happy Meals” for their kids again.
So alongside critiques of capitalism’s deadening effects, whether we reform or self-manage them, there’s also the “hidden” fact of most strikes revealed in The Take too: that wage-work strikers usually rely on unwaged still-working workers to keep caring for them. Not to mention that wage-labor “care workers” such as nurses are often prohibited by law from striking, or are caregiving “outlaws” who can’t strike, such as nannies without papers or sex workers. This has led to critical explorations such as that detailed in the essay “A Very Careful Strike” by the militant Madrid-based research collective Precarias a la Deriva, which proposes a notion of “caring strikes.” The overarching idea is that such a strike would be embodied in “everyday and multiple practice[s]” of de-commodified care writ large, since care, as one of the latest and most lucrative frontiers of commodification for capitalism, sadly needs to be reappropriated along with so much else. A caring strike would include, among other things, “transforming public space, converting spaces of consumption into places of encounter” — a notion germane to the Rêve Général Illimité. The Precarias a la Deriva collective asks,
“Why not begin to imagine and construct an organization of the social that prioritizes persons, that attends to our sustainability — from access to health care to the right to affect — which orients toward our enrichment as human beings — from the access to knowledge, education, and information to the freedom to move around the world — that listens to our desires?. . . [W]e want to think relations beyond those of the commodity mediations, following the logic of the gift, where one gives without knowing what, how, and when one will receive something in exchange.” (English translation from the Commoner, no. 11 [Spring 2006])
It’s hard to envision, much less see tangible evidence of, forms of caring strikes, and ones in particular whose own inherent logic brings out the heterogeneous “revolutionary potential of care” (as our Madrid friends put it) while also simultaneously defying capitalism’s hegemonic logic, whether consciously or not. Even when people are striking in more caring and careful ways, they are still often doing so against types of work and/or workplaces that are increasingly anachronistic, and hence in ways that are anachronistic or based on archaic notions like, in this context, the student as (factory) worker.
It’s hard to unravel how aware various Quebec student strikers were of their own “anticapitalism” or the novelty of what they were about to do when they set out to organize what’s become known as the maple spring. From the beginning, though, there seemed to be an explicit awareness on the part of these young organizers of their own self-determining ability to do something that capitalism would have us believe we can’t: acts of making, inventing, and producing the world, or rather, our world. The seemingly totalizing social system that capitalism manufactures, by stealing nearly everything from us — from our labor and leisure, to love and imagination, to time and space, and so much more — through its seemingly unceasing acts of commodification, convinces us (or better yet, simply socializes us from day one) that this world is “natural,” and relatedly, that another world is unimaginable and certainly out of our hands to create. If we buy into capitalism’s story, we’ve already settled for crumbs from or maybe, if we’re lucky, a meager slice of the pie.
Whether wittingly or no, the still-striking-students seemed from the get-go to write their own script, strategically and astutely, as in “we want to bake the pie ourselves and then share it with everyone.” That beginning was about making, inventing, and producing, for example, their own time, as in not striking until they thought they were ready — meaning, they set a date in the future for the strike to start, and then worked hard for many months to build self-organized strength — rather than letting capitalism (and the province) make time for them. The simple premise of qualitatively “doing(-it-ourselves)” and “on our own time” in direct contestation with further commodification, it could be argued, is what allowed the strike to successfully, at least for now, gain power-from-below, forcing a top-down governance structure and its enforcement agents into a defensive crisis. That self-made time has also included, it should be noted, a long view, in stark contrast to contemporary capitalism’s dizzyingly ever-accelerated, “just-in-time,” attention-deficit-producing tempo (over a year ago, a study put the average life span of a tweet at under two hours; such speedups nearly guarantee that no one has time to think, question, organize, or even remember).
That script has also been a figurative and sometimes-literal multimedia work of art and labor of love, with its component parts ranging, figuratively and maybe literally too, from jazz improvisation-composition to street art to dérive to high theatrics and grand oratory (for my earlier musings on the notion of the maple spring dérive, seehttp://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/queer-feminista-anticapitalista-montreal-nights-53-60/). The student strike, also from the start, strategically and astutely, was about making, inventing, and producing new spaces, again both figuratively and literally. Perhaps beyond it’s wildest dreams, or again unwittingly, the strike has helped facilitate all sorts of new spaces, such as the de-schooling of classrooms into actual places of learning (used by strikers for such self-schooling as organizing, artistic creations, and assemblies, say). Or the reclaiming of the city and its streets, neighborhoods, balconies, parks, and festivals for a host of new encounters, new practices, and new social relations — boldly, disobediently without permission of riot police or special laws.
At a time when state and capitalism, along with other institutionalized forms of oppression like racism and heteronormativity, have either thoroughly privatized all space (as in making it a clear commodity, with enforcement mechanisms to back that up) or throughly made a mockery of the notion of public space (as in making sure that anything public is hierarchically governed and regulated, and various behaviors — like sleeping — are policed), there’s little of the the one space that’s ours: the commons. The commons is a place, space, or even idea (as in imagination!) that is there for us to mutually use, share, and enjoy, thereby implying, if it is to have any qualitative meaning and sustainable longevity, that it has to be mutually self-organized and self-governed, via formal and/or informal mechanisms of our making, inventing, and producing.
The space that perhaps the student strikers never envisioned — and may still only have inklings of — is that of critical thought and popular education. In helping themselves along with more and more of the “nonstudent” society to unlearn, relearn, and learn afresh through the various new physical and psychic spaces being experimented with now, the space of education has moved from the deadening architecture of the UQAM complex (a visible testament to how the “promises” of the Quiet Revolution were, like the New Deal, partially a way to contain revolution), implying that education happens in a specific building at a specific age for specific types of people in specific often-mind-numbing ways, to the enlivening architecture of the new city that’s being played with in multiple ways, including various engagements with this festival summer.
Thus, to return to the beginning of this piece, it isn’t so much that the strike grabbed people’s imagination, as that imagination ignited a student strike, which in turn is firing up notions of a social strike, which hopefully in turn will open up new possibilities, including around legacies of unfreedom. The student-and-social strikes are self-generative via the doing of imagination — as opposed to passive consumption of or even spectacular participation in “imagination,” usually of the corporate-sponsored variety.
Hence what really should be no surprise, but probably comes as one, is that, first, the striking students in Quebec were and increasingly are asking for a social good that structurally isn’t possible within capitalism — education for all, now and in the future, and what’s more for free. Education isn’t and likely never was a factory per se, though its form and content at present should be drastically rethought, and “students” are or should be part of what we’d want an albeit-free society and everyone in it to be: educated and engaged. (As a related aside, two University of Michigan students, Brian Whitener and Daniel Nemser, contend that there are presently four crucial ways that universities are connected to capitalism and profit-making more generally: construction, endowments, research and development, and student debt; for me, that means that students are almost like mannequins in a shop window within this structural shift in academia.)
This, secondarily, has opened up space to imagine all sorts of social goods, with people not doing things because of narrow, economistic self-interest but rather out of an expansive social solidarity. If you participated in any of the casseroles, especially in their “early” days, that was lavishly glimpsed on streets and balconies, as well as from kids in pajamas clanging on pots outside their front doors to night waitstaff joining in with forks on glasses outside their restaurants. A wide swath of the populace, in Montreal and places far distance, created an imaginative people’s music that was at once a wake-up call to those still not listening, a self-orchestrated celebration of popular power, and deafening solidarity for the student strike and all the shared austerity looming like storm clouds in the close distance.
And third, the forms facilitating this student strike were and are generative of other ways of making, inventing, and producing (as in experimenting with “not making capitalism”) everything from education to decision-making methods, cultural creations to city streets, to name a few — or to name another, as someone noted on a Facebook event announcement this week, a “manifestive.” A manifestive is itself an imaginative remaking of the French word manifestation (“demonstration,” and it could be added, in the double sense within English, a display of both “protesting” and “proving” something) and the ubiquitous summertime landscape of festivals here in Montreal.
There are many examples of this creative strike within maple spring-summer. And because there are so many, many examples, all emerging out of a shared and powerful demand — in essence, a society that’s abundant, not austere — the student strike has given renewed and prolific life to the phrase “a diversity of tactics,” itself invented during the height of the anticapitalist days of the alter-globalization movement. “Tactics,” however,” doesn’t do the manifold practices under this rubric justice. The student strike revolves around “a diversity of strategies,” which increasingly point toward a diversified world beyond the monocropping culture of state and capital, not to mention racism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy (alas: etc.) and legacies of colonialism (alas: etc.). This raises the unanswerable chicken-and-egg question of whether imagination generated this movement-from-below or this movement-from-below is generative of imagination. Happily, the response doesn’t matter. Thanks to the student strikers, imagination-from-below has all the power! At least for the time being.
Looking backward, that’s meant everything from the little red square growing up from its 2005 infancy to become a big and colorful superstar, but not letting this go to its head; anyone can add their personality to the red square, and they have and do (for an ever-increasing archival sampler of all the nonhierarchical making, inventing, and producing of red squares, see http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/), and many people carry around bunches of felt squares with safety pin attached as a caring-strike gift. That’s meant, too, creative ways of clothing and unclothing oneself, from anarchopanda to naked marchers. It’s meant as well a plethora of ways to fill one’s striking hours and configure self-educate, from imaginative methods of soft and hard blockades (including a try once at a huge group simply laughing for twenty minutes), to CLASSE congresses and neighborhood assemblies, to artist, translation, video, and livestream collectives, to repurposing classrooms as much more purposeful spaces, to disobedient yet joyous illegal reclaiming of the streets through everything from grand manifestations to nightly demos, from casseroles to F1 disruptions. And this list could go on . . . and indeed is going on.
Which brings us to this week and consecutive night 73 (July 5) of the illegal evenings of what could be seen as creative interventions into the culture and geography of self-organized resistance, and better still, caring and careful self-generated reconstruction: Rêve Général Illimité au Festival du Jazz de Montréal (for more info, see the Web site of the Montreal-based HOWL! Arts Collective, composed of cultural workers, artists, and activists working for social justice via artisticexpression:http://howlarts.net/post/26376871104/reve-general-illimite-au-festival-du-jazz-de-montreal).
From the inspiring large student strike to more modest flights of fancy like this Thursday, July 5′s creative intervention, or manifestive, at the Jazz Festival, toward general unlimited dreams. Wow! Or meow, as the striking graphic for the Rêve Général Illimité exclaims! (For the story and designer behind this graphic, see LOKI design’s Web site, http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/07/reve-general-illimite/.)
I’ll let the HOWL! Arts Collective’s description of this manifestive — to which HOWL! invites everyone to participate in (specifically, the call says to “dress in RED, and bring your placard signs, instruments and casseroles” at 6 p.m. to the open space at Saint-Laurent metro) — speak for itself for a moment:
“As the Liberal government’s political repression continues against the largest protest movement in Québec’s history, notably with the passing of Law 78 to silence dissent in the streets, massive cultural festivals are being planned without consideration of the ongoing political crisis.”
“The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is seen by people around the world as a symbol of the free spirit and cultural character of Montréal. As community artists based in this city, we feel the corporate sponsorship now driving the festival ultimately undermines the political, social, economic, and physical space that allows independent culture to thrive in Montreal. Is the spirit of jazz truly represented by Toronto Dominion, a bank responsible for pushing neoliberal economic polices in Canada, and profiting off the backs of poor and working people?”
Understanding how to relate to the spirit of festivals that dominate Montreal in the summer — a time when, due to the intensity of winter, it seems like this city lives outside and for unabashed enjoyable — was a delicate, seemingly tricky question as the festival season neared. The anticipation hung heavy in the air, where nightly a helicopter also hung low to surveil the illegal demos, as to what would happen with the first of the “festivals”: the Grand Prix. The student coalition CLASSE and the anarchist organization CLAC collaborated on various strategies to disrupt the F1 and its conspicuous display of wealth, sexism, and (as many people are fond of saying here), douchebags.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the disruption was grand, engaged in by so many people that the the police couldn’t tell “casseroler” from “anarchist” from “student striker” from “tourist” from “ordinary Montrealer” from “Saturday night partygoer” to even just a plain ol’ “douchebag,” and were thus at a loss to control it — the “it” being a shared “fuck the police” sensibility that encompassed a host of grievances and antagonisms, but also underscored yet again just how deep this movement is within this city. And best of all, the disruption also underscored the brutality of the police, absurdity of special law 78, strength of the student-social strike, and the reason behind targeting the Grand Prix. How could elites toss around so much money even as they are part of the crew, for all intents and purposes, trying to raise tuition and cut other social goods? How could they get so drunk on their own power “without consideration of the ongoing political crisis,” as HOWL! observes above in relation to the Jazz Festival, but probably more accurately, in complete consideration of the ongoing political crisis, as in a big “fuck the student strike” on the part of the rich.
Once again, imagination had won the day — particularly the imaginative strategy of dressing “normally” and walking into the closed-off downtown party streets for the Grand Prix with hidden disruption tools: pots and pans, ladles and spoons. Who would have ever thought that cookware could create such chaos!
To the credit of those many people involved in this maple spring-summer, a “diversity of tactics/strategies” is being applied to the festivals, since not all festivals are created equal.
Problematic as the sovereignty question is, along with its various tendencies (statist, racist, successionist, and/or independentist, for example) and various legacies (for instance, exclusion, oppression, brutality, and colonialism), the FrancoFolies with its definite Quebec-pride flavor, offered both an enormous and enormously sympathetic audience along with highly sympathetic musicians. Perhaps it was too sympathetic, as evidenced by the increasing appearance of Quebec flags and imagery among student-social strikers, and whether a further diversity of tactics/strategies around this free fest and the student strike should have occurred is an open, serious question. Those who engaged with this festival choose the path of least resistance (save for the Pink Bloc, which tried to queer it up!). So after an early episode with the police trying to block the nightly illegal demo from entering the festival, the festival organizers apparently made it clear that it was fine for any student strikers and their allies to come in and bring their message along too. The illegal demo thus easily made swings through the music-listening audience on various evenings, culminating in the band Loco Locass bringing student-strike spokespeople and the École de la Montagne Rouge up on stage with it, complete with “Quebec is Dead! Long Live Quebec” screen prints.
And this brings us around to the Jazz Festival, perhaps the flagship festival of the summer, especially for those many people and performers who flock into Montreal for its mix of free and ticketed performances but especially its open celebration of music and culture. Many people involved with or sympathetic to the student-social strike were already booked to play in the festival. As HOWL! noted, Toronto Dominion had already signed on as corporate sponsor. Likely everything about this gigantic festival is planned long, long in advance — maybe as long ago as the now-striking students began organizing toward their strike, although probably with a whole lot less vibrant of an imagination. So now knowing what the Jazz Festival knows of the political terrain, how could (or should have) it have honestly addressed the student strike, even if only to nod to its existence? How could (or should) it have incorporated themes, artistic and cultural, that grappled explicitly with this social crisis, even if that meant ticking off its corporate sponsors ever so slightly or more? How could it go on as normal, as if this summer were like any other, without some or a whole lot of mention of this historic and longest-running student strike in North America? Or is that even the Jazz Festival’s job, contrasting it to the FrancoFolies, which decided it was its job, but perhaps for some of the wrong reasons?
Maybe this is where street art diverges from festival art. It can, and should, intervene. So maybe the best of ways that the Jazz Festival could (and should) be engaged with in relation to the student strike is not by wanting it to make space but rather precisely by collectives and communities of resistance and reconstruction (from HOWL! to École de la Montagne Rouge to anyone and everyone who decides to join in this Thursday) taking their own space inside it. After all, in the open space of Metro St.-Laurent that is intended to become the people’s space during the Rêve Général Illimité manifestive, we will find not disruption (such as of the Grand Prix) or uncritical sympathy (such as with the FrancoFolies) but instead another type of path at another type of festival.
With the Rêve Général Illimité, we might discover the art of making culture collectively, the art of provocation as social critique and social vision, and the art of doing-it-ourselves. We might unleash the art of the new forms of strikes and strike solidarity, opening up literal and figurative spaces for de-commodified making, inventing, and producing. Then too, we might feel and share the art of the caring strike. And we might, and hopefully indeed will, engage in the art of manifesting our dreams — if only in a short, improvisational manifestive moment, to be strung together with the many moments, nights, and months of this still-imaginative student-social strike.
Maybe none of this will happen, and the general infinitely unlimited dream will feel like a nightmare afterward. That’s also the risk of experimentation. If there’s one thing — well, there are many — but if there’s one thing that the still-striking students have shown those of us not in college, it’s that careful, caring, yet courageous diversity of tactics/strategies, with a hefty dose of social goodand a hell of a lot of imagination in the mix, can fly far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. What’s your daydream for the Rêve Général Illimité? As HOWL! invites for this Thursday, July 5, at 6 p.m. for this creative intervention: play it, dance it, perform it, draw it, pantomime it, paint it, sing it, sketch it, dramatize it, recite it, print it, improv it, or casserole it!
* * *
Coincidentally, another creative intervention just popped up on Facebook as I reached this ending, which it seems is only beginning, if this student-social strike keeps up the way it’s been going: LIVRE CARRÉ ROUGE pour la 75e manif, or badly translated, SQUARE RED BOOK for the 75th demonstration.
And to forge ahead with my bad (online-assisted) translation: To mark the 75th night of demonstrations — this Saturday, July 7 — a book will be filled with 75 texts, 75 words of encouragement to the protesters, 75 thoughts to continue until victory! All participants and sympathizers are invited to write a thought, caricature, sketch, tag, or note. The book will be read starting at 7:30 p.m. at Place Émilie-Gamelin, followed by the nightly illegal demo.
For a more coherent French-language version, seehttps://www.facebook.com/events/441118925922776/.
* * *
My thanks to Thien for the three gorgeous photos of the Rêve Général Illimité sticker in action (for more photographs, head over tohttp://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/), and kudos to LOKi design, again, for the Rêve Général Illimité image. And especial appreciation to the person (who shall remain anonymous here, since I’m not sure if they’d want to be named in relation to the intervention or my blog) who when I asked how I might contribute to Rêve Général Illimité, asked me in turn to write something. I hope this goes some way toward what they were looking for, since their dedication to remaining a student of life and ideas, from organizing to the arts and/as politics to reading theory and history during the downtime of their wage-labor time, has gone a long way toward inspiring me of late.
Down with schools; up with education! Or as I wrote a few nights ago, “No school but learning” (http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/no-school-but-learning-montreal-night-68/).
Montreal, QC – I snapped a shot of today’s best-of sighting of a red square on my lengthy walk downtown to the Berri-UQAM Metro corner to then walk further in a miserably tiny pre-night-demo demonstration, the Journée annuelle des prisonniers et prisonnières politiques — slated for 7:00 p.m., but we sat around doing nothing until 7:30 p.m. — of about maybe 150 people in the desolate Old City, as drizzle fell from the darkening gray skies. For some reason, we marched on near- to completely empty streets to a near-empty court building after its closing hours, around 8:00 p.m., in what seemed like a bad choice of time and place to express our solidarity with political prisoners. Even the few police lazily following us seemed bored the whole time. For a minute, one of the cops appeared to try to shake off the lackluster quality of it all by telling the driver of a parked tourist bus (also empty) on a deserted street that we “were dangerous” — coincidentally, just when I noticed I was walking next to a dad with his 1- or 2-year-old all decked out in a tiny (baby) anarchopanda hat with a red square safety-pinned on to one of the felt black panda ears. Even that “provocation” by the cop, though, failed to stir much emotion on anyone’s part.
We trudged down a slippery cobblestone street and circled back around to the usual Berri-UQAM convergence point, again, to join about 250 more folks waiting there already. We hung out in quiet, low-key clumps of people from 8:30 p.m. until a bit after 9:00 p.m., until someone got up the nerve or was just plain sick of standing around, and started off the relatively small regular night demo. The march went right, then right, then right, and finally right again, until we were back at the same spot we’d started, having fully circled the one-block park. There was an awkward pause. The police had formed a loose line just ahead of us, as if they were only perfunctorily blocking the street, with the now-usual knowledge that we’d just walk around them on the sidewalk and then get back in the street again, which is exactly what happened. It didn’t feel like a surprise to anyone, save for a few folks at the front of the march who seemed pleased with themselves (hopefully this was their first experience and thus was actually empowering).
Both demos were illegal. That’s the point. To keep them going, as protest against the law that now outlaws them. But with small numbers, it’s harder to feel the force of that challenge. (Not that it’s always about numbers. But as someone said to me tonight, recently we got used to saying that 5,000 people was a small demo.) In the first demo, someone joked at the outset about people putting masks on, so we’d be illegal for sure — another part of what the new law criminalizes — since it takes over 50 people to make an illegal march under special law 78. Both times the police “blah-blah-blahed” us with their usual early-on loudspeaker announcement about how we’re illegal, need to disperse, and, well, blah-blah-blah, all from the safety and comfort of their slow-moving van. But the cops didn’t seem to have their hearts in it amplification, and the words were barely audible (said my French-speaking street companion). And anyway, no one listens anymore, whether from defiance or, in tonight’s case, inaudibility.
The person I walked on the demo with tonight (just the first march; they got feed up, and left before the second one) said they were committed to keeping these illegal evening walks going, since people promised they would do so until the emergency law is revoked and thus it’s symbolically important to keep up the pressure–and also exhibit solidarity with the striking students. I feel the same way. But they added, to paraphrase, “I’m not sure I can keep coming if it’s just a few-dozen people, because they are often the most annoying people.”
The usual night demo did seem unusually routine, lackluster, and filled with irritating folks. Someone kept kicking over construction cones for no apparent strategic value, and someone in a Guy Fawkes mask was following them from behind, stopping by each plastic cone to wave a plastic flower dramatically over it. I could hardly muster the energy or patience to tag along with this demo after about an hour — well, maybe even after about a half hour. It was clear it was kind of going in circles, figuratively, and when there are minimal amounts of folks on these evening walks — hundreds, not thousands, and someone said there was under a hundred the past two nights — those favoring sovereignty seem to dominate with their flags and voices. For instance, “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!” (always the French version, which now sounds much more pleasing to my ears, probably because I’ve chanted the English version once too frequently) morphed into “Who’s Quebec? Our Quebec!” (of course in French–err, Québécois French!)
All to say, this particular image of a red square — captured in my snapshot above — painted on the side of a building near a park, with some “natural” interruption in its “revolution,” reminded me on my lengthy walk home again that social movements and rebellions have their arcs, their fair share of highs and lows, and if successful for a while, more highs again. This maple spring-summer is still strong, still on the offensive, and still full of surprises ahead. But it’s also at a low ebb. The past few days I keep hearing this basic refrain, “Everyone’s tired. The students are especially tired. Everyone needs to rest, especially the students. We need to be ready for August.”
August is when everything will likely come to a head: school is scheduled to start, with old and new students; the students need to gather in their various decision-making bodies to determine whether to hold fast to their strike or not; if they do hold to their resolve, which seems probable, that likely means more blockades and hard pickets, lots of serious organizing and propaganda, the need for tangible help and solidarity from neighborhood assembly participants and many other folks including teachers, and facing up to a lot of heavy policing; the emergency law is likely to actually be used, with big fines and jail time (even though many say it will probably be thrown out in court eventually, that “eventually” won’t be in time for August, so it will have a simultaneous chilling effect on some and cause others to suffer punishment); Charest and crew will probably set an election date; and who knows what else will happen in this drama. One certainty: a grand chess game will kick back into high intensity.
Every other time I’ve been involved in a social movement in North American — not a huge number, but maybe enough — it seems we’ve ignored the group exhaustion, and not thought about it strategically. We didn’t take heed of the collective low tide, nor those moments when outside events perhaps meant that we either had the time to rest, or should have taken it to regroup and rethink. Occupy, I think, made this mistake, among many others. But perhaps it too hasn’t run its course and has time, which I hope people are using wisely now. Anyway, I found myself today feeling the emptiness that comes from both being overly tired and thinking I should push ahead anyway, because isn’t that what we need to do in such moments of revolt (even if I’m only participating as another body on the streets and by observing/writing)?
Yet if the red-square movement is going to move toward a revolutionary sensibility and strategies — which it increasingly seems to be doing, from talk of a student strike and holding the line on tuition now moving toward wider conversations about social strike, austerity, and free education — it needs those refreshing downtimes. When I got home, I downloaded the photo I took earlier this evening, and noticed how the ivy seems to be tenderly embracing this revolutionary red-square moment, offering comfort and respite. It almost indicates that if we’re to forge ahead with social transformation, lovingly, we have to take care to do it in a way that sustains life, that sustains our ability to better think through and implement the next steps together, and that tries to extend freedom(s) beyond what’s already being envisioned, plus beyond who it’s currently being envisioned by, with, and for. There’s something that feels at once emboldening and calming as well as beautifully audacious about this photo, or rather, what’s captured in its frame, and that seems just the right picture now.
Because alongside the “we’re tired” phrase, another one keeps getting repeated of late too: “It’s good to have this time to rest. It’s good that the neighborhood assemblies are starting to meet, giving students a break. We’ll be stronger in August.” And in those assemblies — I’ve gone to three neighborhoods so far, but have heard similar reports from another few — people are talking about lots of things related to their sense of place, things they want to do with these directly democratic spaces, etc. Yet the commonality between them all is this: they are all talking about how they can support — moral to material to bodily support — the students come August. In turn, the neighborhood folks seem to be pacing themselves too. Casseroles are focused on special nights: like Wednesdays at “hot spot” intersections in various neighborhoods, or like last Saturday, when neighborhood met neighborhood met neighborhood (with sweet neighborhood-specific banners) to pick up people and steam as they grew in numbers and converged together downtown for a large, raucous illegal night demo, complete with a Saturday-night anticapitalist bloc.
“Getting some rest” has as much to do with being tired as it does with being smart, strategic, and knowing — intuitively or because there are enough good organizers — that quality is better than quantity. And that taking time means you can qualitatively organize to ensure the quantities of people necessary to start or maintain a strike. That’s what the students did some nine months before they started their strike: they waited. They waited so they could organize, so that they’d have enough people to ensure a strike would work. Controlling the time of our rebellions, setting the pace of the highs and lows, is part of getting and then staying on the offensive.
Maybe I’m giving too much “self-awareness” and “intentionality” to what is simply accident. Last weekend was basically the start of the traditional summer vacation period extending until early August or so; this coming weekend’s July 1 is the traditional moving day (leases by law all generally end on July 1, so it’s move-out mayhem apparently all over the city and lots of free stuff on the sidewalks); there are umpteen free music festivals around Montreal for the next month or so; and apparently many people usually leave Montreal for some or all of July on relaxing holiday in the countryside and elsewhere (though this still seems odd to me, since goodness, Montreal is about the most gorgeous of summertime cities!). Perhaps the slowdown is just normal for this time of year, irregardless of a popular social struggle.
I suspect it’s a combination of both conscious strategic planning on the part of smart radicals and just plain “I can’t do it anymore, at least for a bit” exhaustion talking. My street companion on the first demo tonight said a friend had begged and begged that they go out to a bar a couple nights ago, and once the first beer was drunk, my street companion said they remembered how much they liked drinking socially, and might need to do that for a while and skip protesting for a week or two. CUTV livestreamers said they might not make every night demo — maybe every second or third one in the coming weeks. Still, there are assemblies in different neighborhoods most nights, illegal demos downtown every night, red-square art exhibits and weekly or twice weekly casseroles, consultas, strategy meetings, political music and film interventions, talks both formal and informal, art and propaganda making, and, well, one can certainly keep maple-summer busy.
I suspect this time to rest a little is also going to be a time to reflect a lot.
The student strike started on February 13, over four thoroughly monumental, brutal, exhilarating, historic months ago. The illegal nightly demos are well over two months old. At this point, millions have taken to the streets at one time or another, and thousands have been arrested or injured, or both, by the police. Hundreds of thousands went on strike, and still are on strike, along with all the uncertainty of that and all the disruption that entails to their lives — and the lives of their teachers, support staff, and others who are allies. There’s been incredible innovation and experimentation and bravery; there’s been everything from the highest of humor to the most touching of social solidarity, from brilliantly complementary cultural production to brilliantly savvy mandated spokespeople, from careful and long-term organizing to sheer spontaneity.
There are also frayed and fraying edges to coalitions, ignored undercurrents and historical injustices, and a host of incredibly difficult questions that face this movement in the days ahead. Those dilemmas include, for instance, how to deal with (or not) provincial elections, if likely called; what a “win” would look like; how to build something capable of continuing to not merely hold the offensive but also to start prefiguring a workable basis for social self-organization to meet people’s needs/desires; how to address issues of austerity and the devastation of capitalism; exploring not just the Francophone/Anglophone, Quebec/Canada, immigrant/citizen divisions along with the “sovereignty/succession” question but also qualitatively struggling toward a “no Montreal (or Quebec or Canada or…) on Stolen Native Lands” — something, as someone pointedly pointed out to me after my last blog post, that I’ve failed to mention, which in turn is a reflection of the fact that I’ve barely heard anyone else mention it in the context of the student strike. (On my long walk this evening, I passed by the huge mural on the side of the building that houses the anarchist bookstore on St. Laurent here in Montreal; it’s a visual reminder of the powerful “No Olympics on Stolen Native Lands” campaign of two-plus years ago in Coast Salish Territory.)
Tiredness usually breeds cynicism within movements of resistance and reconstruction, or maybe that’s my own exhaustion (and the influence of U.S. anarcho-cynicalist circles) speaking. The organizers of the small demo related to political prisoners seemed quite pleased at the result of their efforts both right after the march, when they thanked us all, and later in electronic “thanks” on the Facebook invite page. Those in the illegal evening march by and large looked enthused. Both demos were filled with boisterious chants (fortunately including some “a-anti-anticapitalista” types alongside the Quebec nationalist ones). And as I hit the very edge of the neighborhood I’m temporarily calling home for much of this summer in Montreal, I saw dozens and dozens of a freshly hung bilingual poster promoting tomorrow’s neighborhood assembly. Some 15 minutes later, as I neared my place, I ran into a new friend, and she mentioned that she’d just run into two folks from our assembly — still putting up posters at 11:00 p.m. After all, the very first assembly last week in this neighborhood had resulted in a hand-painted banner being made that same night, a contingent in the “Casseroles Are Going Downtown” two days later, and an outreach table at a street fair the next day.
Maybe rest and relaxation is relative — and can be pleasantly revolutionary — when you’re a well-paced rebel in Montreal.
Below is a list of first-person accounts from the manifencours/casseroles actions in Quebec, and protests held in solidarity elsewhere. This page will be updated as we receive new stories, so check back often. Don’t let the corporate media speak for you; if you are in Quebec or working in solidarity, tell us what you’re seeing. Submit your story.
Montreal, QC — Fragility & Heartbreak, Montreal, Night 115 Within hours, the students went from having the offensive to letting the government’s scare tactics gain the upper hand again.
Montreal, QC — “In the Street for Social Strike,” Night 110 In Mile End, a three-hour-long mini social strike springs up to mobilize for August 13.
Montreal, QC — A Sticky “Maple Spring,” Night 103 At an assembly, Cindy meets a longtime organizer, and the two discuss language and branding for the strike.
Montreal, QC — Popular Power: “Fuck the Elections,” Night 101 The casseroles gain momentum again after the 100th night, and one demonstration is met with violence not by the police, but a rogue civilian.
Montreal, QC — 100 Red Nights / 100 Victories, Night 100 A gift of one love letter per night, for each of the one hundred nights that so many tens of thousands shared the streets of Montreal together.
Montreal, QC — Revving up for August, Night 94 As August draws quickly near, people in Montreal assemble to strategize the probable re-openings of schools.
Montreal, QC — Pieces from Orchestrole 4, Night 93 The fourth orchestrole march in Montreal takes the streets and passes through an upscale row of restaurants to meet the dining crowd.
Montreal, QC — A Small Red-Square Story, Night 87 After 3 weeks of the Mile-End Orchestrole, Cindy hands out red squares as outreach to a very receptive crowd.
Montreal, QC — Exile & Austerity, Night 86 Cindy Milstein discusses home, community, and exile in the context of the Maple Spring.
Montreal, QC — Lost (& Found) in Translation: Social Solidarity, Night 82 Cindy considers different acts and moments of solidarity personally experienced so far during the Maple Spring.
Montreal, QC — Making Our Own Revolutionary Dates, Montreal, Nights 75 & 78As August approaches, Montreal’s demos wane in participation but not in pace as the new term approaches.
Montreal, QC — Listen, You Can Hear the Sound of Direct Democracy, or Orchestroles, Night 72 One of the incredible things about the Maple Spring has been it’s ability to evolve tactics quickly and effectively.
Montreal, QC — Manifest Your Dreams, Prelude to Night 73 (in C minor) The student-and-social strikes are self-generative via the doing of imagination—as opposed to passive consumption of “imagination.”
Montreal, QC — “No School[,] But Learning,” Night 68: In a time of transformation everywhere, Cindy realizes the need to think critically in all matters.
Montreal, QC — The (Street) Art of Stirring Things Up, Night 66: In the midst of protests in Montreal, anti-authoritarian street art crops up and provokes its audience.
Montreal, QC — Even Rebels Need to Rest, Night 65: After a smaller than usual demo, Cindy Milstein reflects on the arc of the movement sweeping Montreal and the importance of reflection and rest.
Montreal, QC — Lost in Translation: Maple Spring, Night 63: ” I’m on a journey of discovery here — as an “American” anarchist in a Francophone-driven social movement in Quebec Province”
Montreal, QC — Casseroles & Anticapitalism, Montreal, Night 61: The casseroles march pauses for a brief direct action, but keeps on the move ahead of police.
Montreal, QC — “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Nights 53 & 60: The queer pink bloc march exhibits a fierce defiance against the police in Montreal.
Montreal, QC — A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55: The CLASSE Congress demonstrates a great example of direct democracy that puts others to shame.
Montreal, QC — Photos: June 10, Metro Profiling at the Grand Prix: Protesters are profiled entering the Grand Prix, causing many pre-emptive arrests without explanation.
Montreal, QC — Photos: June 9th, Anti-Sexism and Nighttime Mayhem: Scenes from an anti-sexism protest that unravels into police action and arrests.
Montreal, QC–There’s nothing like walking for some 4 to 5 hours, yet again, through Montreal with hundreds and hundreds of riot cops in tow–rows and rows of police cars with lights on, squads and squads of heavily suited-up cops in formation and running every which way, lines of police guarding any and every street leading to Grand Prix festivities; white vans with “intervention” written on the side, empty city buses waiting to be filled with people like us, a cop helicopter looming above. But there’s also nothing like walking for those many hours and kilometers, for the first time during my maple spring-summer stay, with hundreds of “veteran” anarchists–from CLAC, a relatively longtime anarchist organization, and people who’ve been to many a mass mobilization and other mayhem, such as Quebec City during the alter-globalization days–along with lots of new anarchists–many clean-cut students, such as the ones pictured below, walking from the Metro to the 5 p.m. planned disruption of a fancy Grand Prix dinner by anticapitalists/anarchists. There’s nothing like being on the streets of a city where people, anarchist and otherwise, don’t seem to be afraid of the police anymore.
The police always try to find ways to make people feel afraid, of course. This morning at 6 a.m., at the start of this weekend’s Grand Prix grand battle, for instance, they targeted specific anticapitalist/anarchist organizers’ homes and made some arrests. And after only a few minutes of anarchists and other radicals meeting up at the appointed spot at 5 p.m. to attempt to block elites from eating together–with one anarchist contingent arriving in a bloc fronted by two banners (pictured just below)–riot police swooped in from all sides so fast we didn’t know what hit us, and suddenly, I and several hundred others were kettled, pushed together by heavily suited cops with batons racing toward us menacingly. Then just as suddenly, four riot cops ran into our packed kettle, snatched a person, and pulled them out for arrest.
All this did, however, was kick people into organizing gear. Some folks handed out bilingual flyers made by CLAC with a CLAC legal support number for this weekend. Someone else gave me and many others something to use if the police used tear gas. People shared water, and wrote friends’ numbers along with the legal number on their bodies, loaning out pens. I was supposed to meet up with a friend for this demo, but he got delayed, and some new Francophone acquaintances (swiftly turning into friends) took this Anglophone into their temporary affinity group.
Beyond organizing, the fear tactics only served to increase people’s resolve. As cops shoved into our imprisoned mass with batons and some pepper spray to grab other folks (we heard they wanted people in masks, or as one friend tweeted to us later, “people in black with umbrellas”), anarchists linked arms, stood their ground, and tried to repell the police–and actually managed to “unarrest” some folks within the confines of our kettle. People screamed at the police; police made fun of them; people looked them in the eye, up close, when they charged in. After some 10 to 15 arrests, the police pulled up a white van with “technology” written on the side, pulled out a microphone, and suddenly–after maybe an hour–declared our kettle an illegal assembly and that we should disperse. As one of my comrades yelled back, “It doesn’t look like your own police can follow orders,” since not a one of them moved to let us out. This only increased the sense of nonfear and courage among us. And then, oddly, the riot cops parted, and we raced out–quickly reforming into another, even bigger anarchist bloc–thanks to other folks waiting for us outside the kettle–taking over streets and heading toward Crescent Street, where other Grand Prix visitors were partying.
One of my new friends needed to get his bike, so we left the march for a bit, and on our way to find it again, we saw police cars whizzing by, and a random woman near us suddenly screamed at the police with all her might and gave them the finger, many times over. My new friend looked at me, and basically remarked, “See, people aren’t afraid anymore.” This happens a lot, increasingly, he told me. He himself hadn’t ever really gone to demos or done any organizing before this, but when the government decided not to negotiate with CLASSE, probably the most radical and articulate of the student organizations, and isolate it a couple months ago, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t stand on the sidelines. In our kettle, he was among the first to link arms and push back against the riot cops when they pushed in with batons & spray to grab person after person.
We found one of our comrades from the earlier kettle, and she told us that the police had again attacked the anarchists, much more heavyhandedly this time, and arrested some more people. But for a third time–or at least third to my knowledge, because there seem to be different illegal marches each night in several or many places at once–anarchists regrouped, this time for the 7:30 p.m. “naked” student march (as in, I presume, the government isn’t being transparent with us, so we’ll be transparent to them). The numbers of fearless folks increased dramatically, into the several or many thousands, in a park, where to start this Grand Prix disruption march, some students draped a huge statue with a red cloth, and then several male-bodied students climbed up to the statue’s pedestal and stripped off their clothes to the cheering crowd below–with one of them sporting a red square stuck just above their penis. (Here’s a nice panoramic view of that scene, courtesy of a twitter post.)
With enormous red flags on tall poles leading the way, our semi-clad, barely clad, and completely naked mass struck out to push our way into a section of the city where Grand Prix visitors were lavishly wining and dining on public streets set aside for that purpose. And fully and overly clad riot police were soon everywhere, diligently shadowing and hounding us, but the march only grew louder and prouder and more naked, until we reached a point where it seemed we’d been kettled again. My anarchist crew and a bunch of others darted into what appeared to be nearby escape areas (one of my new friends laughingly said, “You don’t want to be arrested again, do you?” and gestured for me to follow into a big parking lot filled with fancy cars). In a flash, big riot cops with batons raised were racing toward us, as we darted between cars, and I along with my friends got shoved away from the cars with those batons. Lots of chaos; still no fear; and yet another regrouping and massive march.
More fearless and illegal taking of street after street, and more riot cops chasing and blocking us, as we headed for the opening night of a big outdoor French-language music festival near the Place du Arts. Yet again, kettling seemed likely. Yet again, people dispersed and regrouped, and suddenly we ended up in front of the free festival’s free entrance, with a line of riot cops keeping thousands in and us out. Hundreds of people on the inside, right behind the police, waved red pieces of cloth, joined us in chants, waved their solidarity, raised their fists, and some folks inside the free music festival dropped a big “FUCK CAPITALISM” over the side of the Place du Arts, also waving to us. We stood by the police line, facing them, ignoring them, looking at our comrades–people, so many varied types of people, who seem to be supporting this day-after-day-after-day struggle with both less fear and heightened hopes.
We heard there was another demonstration on the other of the festival–the group that had met up at the usual 8:30 p.m. nightly rendezvous point. My impromptu affinity group (all publishers, writers, and editors, and all or most of them anarchists) had mostly gone home by this time, and the last to stick with me, another new friend, said she was tired and was going to call it a night. I headed off in a different direction, and instantly saw 50-75 or more police guarding their own police station, and then in another block, a city bus sat idling with the destination “special” illuminated on its front and its lit interior filled with police; it soon raced off, followed by dozens and dozens of cop cars with their sirens blaring, and I heard the helicopter moving off with them too–off quickly, toward what was likely the other demo a mile or so away.
I kept heading home–about a 45-minute walk–and soon came upon another street festival. St.-Laurent was closed for blocks, and its bars and restaurants were extended with tents onto the street. People were drinking and eating, as if the scenes of radicals and police engaged in far more confrontational and tense situations than usual had not happened. Were not still happening. It’s hard not to start disbelieving, I thought, as I trudged wearily; so much boldness, and talk of that only increasing as the summer wears on and especially the school year starts (or doesn’t!); so much talk of not simply striking students but widespread unrest and anti-austerity sentiments. Widespread politicization and radicalization, and it’s spreading, inspiring others in provinces outside Quebec and places outside Canada. As the rain started to lightly drizzle, and I turned onto yet another street–St.-Denis–closed for yet another summer festival, still filled with tourists and bar-goers and others seemingly oblivious to social strike, in the distance, I heard the faint sound of pots and pans, the faint sounds of now-familiar French-language chants. (These chants are spread far and wide across Montreal nightly with the casseroles and marches that they are hard to get out of your head; earlier today, for example, I heard what looked like a 4-year-old absentmindedly singing one of the chants while she waited near me for the Metro–here probably home to dinner, and me heading with dozens of others marked by a red square on their backpack, hat, or shirt to the 5 p.m. anarchist convergence/disruption.) The clamor quickly grew, and there on this Montreal summer festival street appeared about 100 people in an 10:30 p.m. casseroles, making this uprising a festival of their own, as the rain started to come down harder. Because likely it will get harder, this weekend of attempted Grand Prix disruption and in the weeks and months ahead. Yet it doesn’t seem like much of anyone fears the difficulty.
As I reached my temporary home, I heard sirens and a helicopter, switched on CUTV’s livestream and glanced at twitter, and realized, yet again, on this night and probably a whole bunch more, anarchists and would-be anarchists and people acting anarchistically were taking over other streets, in flagrant and increasingly fearless defiance of special law 78, even as the cops were probably trying to stop them.
– Cindy Milstein –
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.
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.
Montreal, QC–As is true with occupy, time has its own logic with the Maple Spring–a logic outside that of capitalist time.
So much that’s extraordinary happens in such a short time, it creates a dissonance in how we’re used to understanding the temporal experience of daily life, or a way in which it’s hard to process all that seems different from week to week, day to day, and often hour by hour because it’s simply moving too fast. Faster, that is, than the sped-up logic of contemporary capitalism, which seems to be increasingly producing “attention-deficient disorder” in nearly everyone as another way to ensure we’re too distracted to defy its social order.
Yet oddly, the rapid speed of transformation in moments of uprising–with their spontaneity, surprise, and solidarity–seems to also to slow time down. Each day can feel like a week because of all that’s compacted within it. Interactions can appear luxurious and leisurely, and filled with a depth that usually takes years to forge. We notice things–many things–details large and small, things about ourselves and our neighborhoods and comrades and new friends, things about what is suddenly, inexplicably possible. Our attention, highly charged and accelerated–like the racing heartbeat of new love–isn’t deficient at all, but extremely focused.
The weeks, days, hours, and sometimes even seconds, like the seconds when the police appear from nowhere to kettle hundreds, operate on a different clock from capitalism, faster and slower, jumbled and nonlinear, pulling the past into the present which is already the future.
It isn’t that we’ve stopped capitalist time, even if we’re basically hitting the button on our alarm clocks at the same instant and then throwing the clock soundly against the wall across from our beds. It’s that we’re putting that time on notice, not clocking into the work of capitalism; it’s that we’re contesting and contrasting the time of capitalism, waking people up–ourselves first and foremost–with our own communal timepieces. Here in Montreal this past week, the uprising alarm goes off at 8 pm, with pots and pans (paint cans, cheese graters, garbage can lids, you name it) asking people to wake up to what’s going on, but also wake up to what’s inside them. What kind of time they can take and make.
For all the many other reasons that time has a different logic during an uprising, there is the enormous one: we’re making history, writing ourselves into time. But equally enormous in my mind is this: we’re making the minutes our own, writing our own narratives, learning what we’d do with time when it is, truly, our own. Uprisings only begin to give us a taste, and here’s where rebellious time perhaps gets most interesting: in the slow savoring of each second, as if it’s in ultra-slow motion.
Here I have to pause–within what should be the capitalist work time of my day–to thank some lovely folks in Montreal for inviting me to lunch. In savoring a banquet of homemade delicacies beautifully laid out on a long wooden table, enough food for a week, and each dish tastier than next, ending with a heaping bowl of tiny red squares of watermelon lightly tossed in yogurt, during a lunch that stretched four hours, much of what I’m blogging about here was part of what we touched on–and hence, my gratitude. We talked about this time of casseroles over our luxurious and leisurely time of breaking bread and enjoying conversation together. None of us “had time” for this lunch; but because of what’s going on, we “made time.”
And just like thousands upon thousands of other people, night after night for what’s now night 36, we’ve also “made time” to stand with the student strike and, now, to defy law 78 openly (I think it’s night 36; fortunately, I’ve lost track of the quantitativeness of number of nights in favor of the qualitativeness of being on streets each evening, even for only my 8 or so evening visiting here).
The wake-up call of casseroles is part of that time of ours. For instance, a bit over a week ago, when marching through Montreal’s wealthy Westmount neighborhood with some 10,000 others to attempt to reach Premier Charest’s house–marching for hours to get there, finally to scale the hills past castle-like buildings with flags waving in some new version of a rebel commune that was part storming the Bastille and part May ’68, as I already posted on a Facebook status right afterward–a young woman came storming out of her fancy house to scream at me and my friend: “Why don’t you go make noise in your own neighborhood? Why are you waking us up? You woke up my 7-year-old niece!” While that particular women probably still doesn’t like the now-much-louder noise of the casseroles, I now see household after household bringing their little 7-year-olds and 3-year-olds and babies out to join in the noise making, and as the hours pass, as we walk through sleepy residential streets, people spill out on to their balconies and the street, bringing their little kids with them, in their little pajamas and bathrobes, holding onto their teddy bears or tiny tin drums or saucepan, sometimes rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Bedtime isn’t by the clock, it’s after the casserole, for these kids and their families.
I’m sure the noise of the casseroles annoys some, disrupts their capitalism time, but night after night, street after street, one sees the joy of this taking and making of a new time. Besides simply displacing bedtime for some, cars have to slow down, and you’ll see people get out of their stuck-in-casseroles-traffic car (many, many, many cars, buses, trucks, taxis, stuck, night after night–an inconvenience, one could say, or a lovely intervention in disturbing capitalist time by slowing business as usual, often with obvious monetary impact) to wave, cheer, and sometimes even pull out their own pot and ladle to join in the noise.
In this din, a different temporal space of engagement is created. Neighbors meet neighbors, whether because at 8 pm they come to the same corner, or because they appear on their balconies to see the casseroles march by at 10 pm, and turn, smile at each other, and one can imagine or dream (as I am), that this is the start of more interactions, political conversations, perhaps assemblies or shared projects like organizing to improve their nearby park.
There is the time of finding each other, the simple beauty of a time of sociality outside commodification or contrivance. Again and again, on the streets, you experience the far more genuine smiles of acknowledment: that we’re here, together, making this time of illegality, yes, but also a new way of seeing, participating in, and reclaiming the city. It’s only a start; the city still functions, seemingly normally, by day. But the next night, those smiles seem to acknowledge more–like, “yes, I remember seeing you yesterday!” “Oh, you live down the street from me?” “Ah, the police don’t know what to do! We’re the ones determining where we want to go!”
Then there is the time of resistance, where people are “promising” themselves and each other to be there, night after night, in the streets until they win. What the “win” will be is increasingly unclear. It seems clear that the people have the upper hand, that it’s the government “negotiating” and the students and society that has the power to ask for things, perhaps a whole lot more than they imagined. That might not happen. And as I wrote yesterday and likely the day before, each minute of our time, they (police & government & the wealthy & elites) are using their time to determine countermoves. For now, our unpredictable maneuverings and differing temporality from theirs is giving this social movement a time of its own, and the the powers-that-be one hell of a time trying to keep up.
So in the time, two of the best ingredients in the casseroles appear (here’s where I’m especially thankful to my lunchmates for noting this together):
First, the casseroles may start at 8 pm, but there’s no telling when they will stop, where they will go, how many bands large and small there will be, when you’ll be on your own with 4 friends and 3 pots between you, or suddenly hear the walk-up call of the metal din growing louder in the nearby distance. It must look amazing from a bird’s-eye view, a time-defying swirl of people and noise going every which way, looping around, running into each other, breaking apart into smaller groups, diverging and converging. A sea. That red sea of red squares and silvery metal objects. And smiles. So many miles (er, kilometers) of smiles. People take so much time for that.
Second, and my lunchmates and I all agreed that this was the most beautiful moment of the casseroles nights, is that time when one casseroles crew turns a corner and sees another crew–perhaps 1,000 in one group, and maybe 3,000 in around. For some unexplainable reason, one group will speed up, rushing toward the other, with bigger smiles than ever. And the other group will slow down, oh so slow, until stopping, then a euphoric cheer nearly as loud as the pans will rise up as everyone raises their pots higher still, beating on them loudly. Suddenly, for what’s probably only a couple minutes, it’s as if the two groups meet in molasses-like slow motion. People look in each other’s eyes, really look at each other, turning this moment over in their minds that are trying to comprehend this new time, the time they are taking and making to take and then maybe make some new world that no one has quite put words to yet here.
These nights on the street here feel so out of the ordinary, out of the routine of capitalist time, that these moments of convergence when one casseroles meets another seem like something everyone–without quite knowing it–wants to hold in a stop-action, freeze-frame embrace, like our lunch today, to savor for many more hours than they have time for. So they will remember this feeling, later, when it’s gone. When this moment of uprising has passed, or perhaps fallen short, or failed altogether.
The best I can understand–being a “foreign” correspondent from the place south of here still called the United States–is that by and large, people think they want to not become like the United States, where education is a high-priced commodity that’s more about universities as economic engines (R&D, construction, endowments, etc.) than learning or wisdom; where health care isn’t care at all, but insurance, and more often than not, not even insurance; and the list could go on. There’s “austerity” here, of course, but it is far less austere (impoverished and inhumane) than what’s going on in the United States. But in this demand for somehow trying to hold back time, so that neoliberalism somehow doesn’t touch this place called Canada and unravel the time of a certain type of “safety net” or certain sensibility that there should be “social goods” like free or cheap education for all, a new time is emerging, hinting at a wholly different logic of how we count what’s valuable, or as one of my lunch friends said, how we move from a world of things that are judged by price to one where the whole of our time is filled with the priceless.
(Photo, taken on my cell phone last night: Tail end of Mont-Royal casseroles: tree-bike w/red leaves & red blinking lights, & anarchopanda wannabe kid w/tiny pot)
Author’s Note: If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at my Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/
– Cindy Milstein –]]>
Montreal, QC–A week ago last Sunday night, I was sitting around a table at a friend’s house with two other friends in the Plateau East neighborhood of Montreal, having a quiet & delicious dinner after the Anarchist Bookfair weekend, when at 8 pm we heard the singular noise of someone banging on a pot in the nearby distance, then two, and maybe three or four. My friend got up to peek around the corner, to see which of his neighbors was making the noise, telling us that there was a Facebook call to bang pots & pans in solidarity with the student strike (as it turns out, it was a professor’s idea, and he did indeed post a FB page for it).
Last night, May 27, that same friend and I met up with other friends at the “usual” corner on Mont-Royal near St-Denis on the Plateau West side of this Montreal neighborhood. At first a handful came, right at 8 pm, like us, and then dozens, growing quickly to hundreds. It was my second night at this intersection, near to the home of another friend, and already I recognized most of the faces, and people nodded at each other, and more of them talked to each other (and my two friends and others are busily organizing toward their first neighborhood popular assembly this coming Saturday).
As we moved from crossing with the light, to crossing at the traffic light, to finally taking the intersection, a group of young children–barely teens–among the many young children on the streets with us, decided to lead a breakaway march, skirting past the police car that had now arrived to “help” us manage the traffic. We adults quickly ran after them, laughing, as our children at the front lead us for some 15 minutes away from that cop car again and again, turning a corner at the last minute to allude the police, and when we got to a big road, the kids took over the other side too, at one point nearly encircling a second police car to ensure we could all get ahead of the police! And soon we turned a corner and that, voile, was another band of casserolers, and soon we ran across another, and then our big casserole met another huge casserole at a main intersection, and everyone raised their pots & pans in unison to joyfully greet each other. The police couldn’t keep up with us, neither children or adults, or bikes or dogs, wheelchairs or skateboards.
Hours later, after marching with thousands and thousands of people who never stopped banging on the asundry metal noisemakers as we snaked our way for miles through Montreal, past tiny stickers of red or with words on street signs and lampposts, or big swathes of radical graffiti slogans, it was hard to tell whether our legs or ears hurt more–or as my Plateau East friend said, Emma Goldman may have wanted a revolution to dance to, but this “walking” revolution is hard on the feet! Then we looked at each other and marveled how, just a mere week ago, there were four lone pots beating out a tune of solidarity & disobedience & freedom in his neighborhood, and now, so few days later, young children are teaching themselves rebellion, and as another friend said to me on the street, we anarchists are struggling to catch up to what the tens of thousands of people are doing here in Montreal. He too marveled: “And to think I was thinking of moving away from Montreal a year ago. This has been the best year of my life already!”
Of course, much as the police and politicians have, for the time being, lost control of this city; they struggle each night to figure out new ways to police and control their out-of-their-control uprising. Last night, that involved this unusually tall and lengthy, sparkling-white oversize van–nearly a truck–with few windows, and those windows blackened so we couldn’t see inside it. This truck-van appeared out of nowhere behind us, swerved toward a building wall, and equally oversize riot-type police jumped out, pushing someone against the wall, grabbing him, throwing him in the van, and whisking away. Some cops next to us on horses (we were, at that point, at the back of the thousands-of-people casseroles-march) said something about a new “Intervention” unit, and then “helpfully” told us to move in front of him, so he could “protect us” in case of “an explosion.”
Some 20 minutes or so later, as the demonstration was nearing a point that would signal the end for many of us–near a Metro, for some, and near our still-long-walk home for us–that van-truck appeared again. I tried to capture a photo of it, but my cell phone isn’t the best of cameras, especially as the van-truck started speeding toward us, flying past another new police vehicle labeled “technical.” We conjectured about whether they were gathering “intelligence” on us, listening in to cell phones, tracking people via their cell phone GPS, or putting out incorrect info.
For instance, the SPVM police maintain a “friendly” lie-filled Twitter, with the supposedly calming slogan “Always closer,” and they used it last night to deny nearly beating a man to death, also just over a week ago, when people took control of a stretch of St. Denis to build barricades and fend off the cops. Counter reports from witnesses and those involved in this uprising are that this man is still in a hospital, in a coma, potentially paralyzed and brain damaged. People used this Twitter access to the police to last night ask them again and again about this beating, and the police again and again assured people everything was OK. But there are video images of the man being beaten, first to the ground by one cop, and then again by another, after he’s on the ground. And an eyewitness mentioned she saw the second cop use his bike as a weapon in the beating. Indeed, last week, when we were on the street during the St. Denis uprising on that evening, a woman came up to us to say a man had died; that she herself had seen him lying on the ground, not moving, for 20 minutes. We were skeptical, thinking the street takeover would have turned into an outright riot, if someone had died. Now, a mere week later, it seems the police have potentially destroyed yet another life.
All to say, the joy of watching preteens defy the authority of the state, so adroitly and swiftly, with such confidence, under the approving eye of thousands of us adults, has to be balanced by the presence of that same authority, even if cowed for the moment, lurking in vans and shadows, strategizing somewhere in bureaucratic offices, trying to figure out how to win this cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-anarchopanda) game of communizing Montreal, whether they end up using brute force or carrot-and-stick for the students–or both.
It’s 7 pm, an hour before this evening’s casseroles slowly but surely but noisely begins again, at the “usual” corner of Mont-Royal, where tonight my friend will hand out flyers about the popular assembly to be held in a neighborhood park this weekend (for the parks here are still far less “privatized,” and much more anarchic and community oriented than many in the United States). Tomorrow another friend, the one who is glad he didn’t move away, is helping to initiate “Nos-Casseroles for justice for low-wage immigrant and placement-agency (day-laborer) workers” in another neighborhood, and a day or two ago, the Rosemont neighborhood held its first assembly–150 people, who broke into four working groups.
Last night, a friend mentioned how it was important that we go to these street manifestations, night after night, because they evidence the determination and anger, and hopefully the dreams too, of this movement that currently has power-together in its grasp. I realized, as I walked for another five hours last night, how cynical I’ve grown about marches in the United States. We scream in front of banks, chant as we walk, proudly hold banners and signs, make noise and reclaim the streets and sidewalks temporarily–but the contrast here is: there’s really social power behind those same acts now, and everyone knows it. The question, which everyone also seems to know, is what to do with that power–hence the move to kick off neighborhood assemblies and put out calls for people to come greet, meet, and disrupt the impending, lucrative Gran Prix in early June. Meanwhile, the power seems to just keep growing.
Each night here, I see the differences, even if subtle, from people walking by on the streets at 5 pm with pots and pans clearly in their backpacks; stores putting red squares on their merchandise on display in the windows; indeed, more and more red squares, large and small, hanging off more and more balconies; restaurant workers and others stuck in dreary low-paid jobs come out of those jobs to bang pots for a few minutes as the big casseroles marches pass by; and last night, we saw people in an expensive hotel in downtown Montreal holding big red squares in the windows high above us, raising their arms in silent cheer to our noisy answer from the street below.
– Cindy Milstein –
Author’s Note: If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at my Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/]]>