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Maple Spring | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "maple spring"

Manifest Your Dreams, Montreal, Prelude to Night 73 (in C minor)


Or, a Complementary Composition for Rêve Général Illimité au Festival du Jazz de Montréal, 5 Juillet / July 5 starting at 18h / 6 p.m. in the open space outside Metro St.-Laurent

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.

A creative intervention within the open space outside Metro St.-Laurent, including outdoor musical and theatrical performances, visual art installations, and a screen-printing station, all inspired by the Québec student strike.

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 creativityinspiration, 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.”

HOWL! continues,

“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/).

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“No School[,] But Learning,” Montreal, Night 68


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–When I write essays in English — unlike when I blog or even speak (both too quickly) — I’m meticulous.

Writing, for me, is a political engagement and a political act(ion). It is not something I do as some sort of allegedly pure artistic self-expression, although part of being meticulous is the joy of wordsmithing. Nor is it commodified or compulsory labor. And it is never, ever passive. It springs from what I’m both participating in and thinking about, also referred to as praxis. It’s also not meant to be received passively. The Zapatistas, like the Situationist International, scribed a cornucopia of quotable, borrowable, graffitable slogans, and I know I’ve used and lent out this particular phrase before, but it always bears repeating: for those of us who struggle for and/or strive to prefigure a world from below, us misfits in a present-day world we should never fit into, “our word is our weapon.”

Writing, then, is always intended as a political intervention. That can mean my words are sometimes inspiring or sometimes critical, or if penned well, a blend of both. Sometimes, too, they are militant, thrown down as a challenge — to myself, first and foremost, and also to my antiauthoritarian comrades of many tendencies, and/or to those outside our circles, but usually not too far outside (those who’ve moved close enough, by learning to think for themselves, to actively listen and dialogue). Always my words are meant to contribute, in whatever way they can, to social transformation. So I only write when I have something to say, and I try hard — slowly, excruciatingly slowly at times — to pick each word carefully, for nuanced meaning, poetic beauty, and accessible clarity as well as to construct a sharp argument that aspires to “educate, agitate, and organize.”

This isn’t to say that I always succeed in any or all of this.

In particular, this past month or so, when I write blog posts in English — in another country, as participant-observer in a largely Francophone-influenced and organized maple spring — I’m (inadvertently) careless.

I say “careless” not because I don’t care. Just the opposite. The reason I’m sticking around Montreal is because I already care too much about this longest of student strikes in North America and most remarkable of social movements. I mean careless as in spontaneous and yet sloppy. I’m not an anarchist “foreign” correspondent, carefully checking into each and fact, or even (I suppose) relaying facts at all. My “Dispatches from Maple Spring” are more like the written equivalent of an impressionistic painting: my visible “brushstrokes” are merely aiming to portray movement, unusual angles, changing qualities — all with an openness of composition.

I say “inadvertent” because I didn’t set out to be careless, as in “sloppy.” But this week, I received two fairly lengthy emails about two of my fairly recent blogs — one quite critical of what I am not seeing here and didn’t write about; the other offering me a friendly behind-the-scenes backstory. Both gave me pause, and both made me think, like militant challenges thrown down. As I emailed back to the first of the two folks, their words were a gift. If we’re serious about social transformation, we need to think critically. We need to think and speak the truth, not just to “power,” but to each other, to ourselves, to the power imbalances and machinations within our circles.

I asked the first emailer if they’d be willing to publicly post their critiques as a “comment” to the particular blog post of mine that bothered them, but thought soon after I wrote them back that it was really up to me to bring some of their meticulous suggestions into my writing. To start seeing things I’m not seeing, because of my own blinders, assumptions, or plain lack of knowledge, and/or because certain things aren’t prominent parts of this student strike, or are inadvertently, carelessly carried forward within the student strike because they build on a history of struggles that had their own blinders. For instance, ideas of decolonization shook up Montreal for the better in the 1960s, but also highlighted (and still do) “the contradictions and ambiguities of applying ideas of decolonisation in Quebec” (see book recommendation below). In the same way that even as I write, there’s a “national” gathering of occupies going on in Philadelphia, the “birthplace of American democracy,” on the July Fourth weekend. I can clearly see that while well intentioned, the very choice of time, place, and phraseology for this “natgat” already makes so many people feel left out of any sort of remotely liberatory political project — say, indigenous peoples who were on the land before the birthing or black peoples who were forcibly enslaved to raise the newborn country, not to mention those who practiced (and still do) forms of direct democracy on this continent without need of or desire for states or nations. That’s “easy” for me to see — “easier,” for as an Anarchist Person of Color (APOC) friend recently said, to varying degrees of better and worse, we can only be racist antiracists, at best, in a racist society — as it’s been easy and frustrating to see throughout “occupy,” itself a contested term that, happily, created transparent space for continuations as well (frustratingly) beginnings of political interventions.

Both email interventions/dialogues with my blog words made me think long and hard, and that’s good indeed. It feels good to have one’s brain work long and hard, through something it doesn’t already know the answer to, because to quote another phrase I adore repeating, by Theodor W. Adorno, “Open thinking points beyond itself.” If we have any chance in hell, from within this hell, of changing the world, we need to actively, politically engage in open thought. From there, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to actively, politically engage in open experiments that point beyond themselves, like this student movement, which started as a student strike to challenge a tuition increase, and now points beyond itself, toward a social strike, too, and free education for all. With more open thinking and experimentation, who knows, it may point further still. Or not. Social resistance and reconstruction comes with no guarantee.

Neither do these blog posts. I will and am making mistakes, blunders, and typos. So I titled the blog piece in between the two recent emails I received with this phrase: “Lost in Translation.” I may do a few more parts under the same header, although I should more accurately have titled it “Lost (and Found) in Translation.”

For in thinking through critique and backstory both, I decided that what I’m doing, what I want to do, and more to the point, perhaps what I’m capable of doing here in Montreal, are impressionistic word-paintings. Maybe that’s why I’ve been especially drawn to commenting on visual culture, such as posters, street art, and graffiti. What you’re reading is, in essence, my open thinking. Sometimes it will point past itself; at other times, it might stumble and fall flat. I barely know the film An American in Paris, but its title, reworked badly, seems to capture my part here: An “American” in Montreal. Or better yet, An “American” Anarchist in Montreal. I finally just looked up the film’s plot, and it turns out that the main character, “the American in Paris,” is attempting to be a painter and of course he falls in love. It is, after all, a George Gershwin musical from the 1950s. I fell in love with maple spring in Montreal and now am attempting to paint it, clearly as the temporary expat who doesn’t believe in borders. Hopefully this movement-narrative will have a happy ending too!

So I’m going to embrace being that love-struck outsider and impressionistic word-painter role in a romantic rebel city, so that you — my love-struck outsider friends — can see this movement-narrative unfold, because I’m counting on that freshness, that openness, pointing beyond itself, to help us in our resistance and reconstruction elsewhere. If this is a foolhardy performance at times, that’s a risk I want to take, because of something that a 20- or 21-year-old student striker artist said to me and a friend several weeks ago. He said it in English, haltingly, so hence my notion that things actually are both “lost” and “found” in translation. What he said — versus what he probably would have more fully or altogether differently said in his French language — might not have been this at all: “No school, but learning.”

Since I know written English, I can now return to my wordsmithing for a minute. He didn’t write down these four words. So they could also have been: “No school but learning.” A little comma, like the little red felt square on so many people’s shirts and backpacks, can make a world of difference.

This person, one of the École de la Montagne Rouge (School of the Red Mountain) collaborators — I’ve rarely seen such almost-intuitively egalitarian collaboration, and one that produces new subjectivities and skills as well as such extraordinary and extraordinarily complementary/collaborative movement cultural creations  (but that’s a whole other blog piece) — was answering a question about how it felt to be using their classrooms-turned-into-studios for self-managed, self-directed, collective artistic experimentation after experimentation, teaching each other, free from constraints like grades, professors, or other institutional pressures. So he might have meant, “We’re not in school now, due to the strike, but we’re still learning anyway.” But another part of his explanation made me think he intended it otherwise, for he also said something to the effect that he didn’t want to think about how it would feel when school started again.

My heart stopped when he said that. When I looked around at the Red Mountain crew in their red overalls, screen printing red ink on to 500 hundred posters that night, well into almost morning of the next day. There was such passion; they were indeed love-struck with each other and their creation, the School of the Red Mountain along with its growing body of work, literally crawling up the walls of their high-ceiled, reappropriated space. Of course he didn’t want to think about how it would feel. Having felt heartbreak time and time — and time — again, over people, places, projects, and movements, I know that the restart of school is going to feel devastatingly cruel and hurt more than he and his red-clad friends will almost be able to bear. I know that’s how it’s going to feel for all the other 17- to 22-year-olds (and some slightly older) who have been at the heart of meticulously making this revolt, with an openness — likely inadvertently — that has allowed for maple spring to become maple summer and probably spill beyond that. I oh so want it to have the Gershwin happy-ever-after ending; I also know that’s rarely how these social movement stories end.

But I’m also a “good” anarchist in the sense that besides steeling myself to heartache in order to have a wide-open heart left to fall in love again and again — and again — for a lifetime (because otherwise one gives up and becomes a coldhearted liberal, if even that), I don’t think narratives have a beginning or an end. There are no neat stories in real life; just a lot of twisted tales, messy manuscripts, and poetic passages, such as those being created by my artist friend and his collaborators. So whether he knows it consciously or not, I know he meant “No school but learning.” As in: “This strike has pointed beyond what we thought school meant or can ever mean. Now we know that we don’t learn through their schools, as this society has constructed and structured them, or through short-term places called college; we learn, always, by schooling ourselves. We learn by doing it ourselves, together. Our school is learning, for the whole of our life, and learning, throughout one’s lifetime, takes place in our own self-constructed school.”

When the strike ends, or is ended, and the Red Mountain’s paper prints come falling off their studio-returned-to-classroom walls like the red leaves of autumn, they and all their extraordinarily hardworking fellow “strikers” — no work stoppage here, but rather an outpouring of voluntaristic creation! — will likely experience the deepest of bloody-red wistfulness. But they can’t lose now, because they’ve already won so much.

If I miss the realism in my painting-words for the impressions of what maple spring is bringing to life — tinged, too, with impressions of its problematics — I hope you’ll still glean a few new ways of seeing this moment. And I hope you’ll send me your thoughts on where I’ve erred, in your view, or fill in some of the blanks — or post them as a public comment — so I can try to be a better artist-agitator.

I think if we’re humble about all we don’t know in this historical moment of grand transformations and turmoil; if we remain generous about each and everyone one of us collaborating and contributing to “making history” together; and if we stay open in thought and practice in order to critically yet constructively keep experimenting while this window onto history is still fairly wide open, we might just learn without school. I know I am, since I always believe, for better or worse, that there is no school ever like our own learning, even if I occasionally deserve a D for “damn, I missed something” or an F for “fuck, how I could have been so myopic?”

And even though this might only make sense to me and the person who critiqued me via email, I’d like to recommend a book that another smart friend recently recommended to me: The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties’ Montreal, by Sean Mills. I’ve only read a little bit of it (so far), but as backdrop to maple spring, at least for this “American” anarchist in Montreal, it seems thoroughly illuminating. Here’s a brief description:

“In a brilliant history of a turbulent time and place, Mills pulls back the curtain on the decade’s activists and intellectuals, showing their engagement both with each other and with people from around the world. He demonstrates how activists of different backgrounds and with different political aims drew on ideas of decolonisation to rethink the meanings attached to the politics of sex, race, and class and to imagine themselves as part of a broad transnational movement of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist resistance. The temporary unity forged around ideas of decolonisation came undone in the 1970s, however, as many were forced to come to terms with the contradictions and ambiguities of applying ideas of decolonisation in Quebec. From linguistic debates to labour unions, and from the political activities of citizens in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods to its Caribbean intellectuals, The Empire Within is a political tour of Montreal that reconsiders the meaning and legacy of the city’s dissident traditions.”

– Cindy Milstein – 

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The (Street) Art of Stirring Things Up, Montreal, Night 66


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–Yesterday, I shared some Montreal street art on my Facebook page. A Montreal anarchist friend had just introduced me to the work of this particular Montreal street artist, Harpy, who produced the piece pictured above (and who self-describes as: “Harpies have wings, they can fly and shit… Also, they turned against the Gods”).

The image provoked a lot of “likes” & shares, but also a lot of heated feelings on my Facebook page and others. Many of the comments concerned what the wheatpasted image was getting at — or not — in relation to capitalism/anticapitalism. They also touched a lot on yoga.

At the first meeting of a “popular assembly” last week here in my temporary Montreal neighborhood this summer, someone mentioned that street art — in the form of posters, but I’d apply it more broadly to cultural creation — should be two-way, sparking a dialogue. I’ve been thinking about that ever since, in an expansive sense: from dialogues that we have in our own heads when we see images, to dialogues between people looking at the same image at the same time, to street art that’s dialoguing with a current moment or social issue. And so much more. After posting that one Harpy piece yesterday — and some sixty-seven Facebook shares and counting later — “dialogue,” however, seems necessary but not sufficient. The debate that ensued over “Fuck Yoga. Smash the State” seems a far better role for art that finds its way on to the walls, parking meters, streetlamps, sidewalks, bus stops, and other “public” places that are no longer ours in any meaning sense.

Indeed, this evening — after the second assembly in this same neighborhood, where part of the discussion touched on the legality of even meeting with other people to talk politics — I was thinking about how rare it is that street art does what Harpy’s piece did: provoke, as in “to arouse,” “to incite,” “to call forth,” “to stir up purposefully.” And even when it does stir things up, it’s usually without an intention of doing so “purposefully” — as in provocation toward liberation, or at least to incite critical thinking — and more for shock value or out of some sort of ironic boredom, perhaps like a poster I saw (and yes, probably foolishly after one beer with friends, tore down) tonight that read: “ACAB — American Cops Are Better.” (If that was your poster, I’m happy to hear why it should have provoked me in a way that gets at “All Cops Are Bastards” in a far more clever manner than simply repeating ACAB, as in the spray-painted versions of those four letters that I’ve also seen numerous times today on Montreal walls.)

At this historical moment — and on this illegal evening number 66 in Montreal, in light of a popular assembly that underscored both a law that attempts to criminalize so much of human interaction and action related to making a better world, and simultaneously a student strike determinedly forging ahead nonetheless — perhaps the two best aspirations for cultural creation are: to purposefully provoke, and to just as purposefully prefigure. Or, as I argued a few years back in a piece called “Reappropriate the Imagination,” social critique and social vision, although I’d now argue with myself that “critique” and “vision” aren’t strong enough words given the transformations for the worse in the realm of cultural production. Words, after all, are cultural creation too, and shift how we think about and act in the world. Montreal’s “Place des Arts” has of late been renamed “Quartier des spectacles,” which maybe explains some of what happened during the recent Grand Prix spectacle, both among partygoers and party disrupters.

At any rate, on the provocation side, there’s way too much complacency with the “world as it is,” to the point where “even” us antiauthoritarians find it difficult to distance ourselves from our own life choices (which I hope are relatively enjoyable, despite capitalism, etc.) long enough to critique the social order that forever will try to recuperate everything. On the other side, prefiguration, there’s way too little imagination concerning the “world as it could be,” to the point where “even” us antiauthoritarians who busily run around doing things ourselves have a hell of a time not simply reacting to everything and everyone as what we call politics.

A bit of the context, for what it’s worth, on the Harpy image is that I found out today that it was intended for the lobbies of condos in a neighborhood that’s been structurally gentrified (i.e., like all/most gentrification, due to capitalism, development laws, and state/city policies, all of which are also deeply shaped by institutional forms of oppression like racism). Rather than read Harpy’s street art as decrying yoga per se — or any of the other veneers of what (en)forced shifts of peoples/cultures in neighborhood entail, such as “suddenly” being able to get excellent espresso in spacious new cafes — it seems pretty clear that this street art is contesting a hierarchical logic, not practices outside that logic. We not only need to work toward nonstatist forms of making decisions but also reclaim and/or reimagine altogether yoga, coffee, and cafes outside state and capitalism. Even if I love a quality espresso, which I do.

That’s only part of the context, though. Like all street art, there’s mystery and serendipity, and both did their parts in developing the five words within this etching from perhaps a century ago. Purposefulness and playfulness. Yeah, we likely need a healthy mix of both to provoke a new society. Along with the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Anyway, late this evening or rather the early hours of tomorrow, I’ve been trying to find a photo of another piece of Montreal street art to provoke — to provoke equally well — and I realize that I have little on my camera-full of images after some five weeks of taking pictures while wandering the streets. So here’s this one, taken in the Plateau, with thanks to Amy for the suggestion of an image to share. It’s a rather inadequate stirring up, and not nearly as likely to incite a hot & heavy dialogue, much less debate. The stenciled words translate to: “With you in the shadows.”

I sometimes wonder how these blog posts emerge, because they often feel like they are “called forth” while I’m writing them, rather than me setting out with some sort of predetermined direction. It’s actually similar to how I experience the illegal evening demos, as I wrote in an earlier post: as dérive. Come to think of it, that one little word probably best captures how I got here, to Montreal and maple spring, and how the whole of my time is shaped here.

Dérives, via random and contingent encounters, let us see things in new ways. And so my noncommodified manner of strolling through these blogs has, tonight, lead me to this: the longest student strike in North America, neither random nor contingent, has been a purposefully well-orchestrated shaking up of society, precisely because it’s provoked time and again. And it’s been able to do so because of how it’s prefiguring a new politics and a new culture. Maybe this student strike itself is the new form of street art. The only street art possible now. We have so little room left “in the age of electronic reproduction” and commoditized places of spectacle, when street art is somehow not supposed to disturb our days and walls, but be pretty and ironic, and when streets — whether private or public — are never supposed to be ours anymore, to say nothing of our minds and education.

* * *

For more on Harpy, see their own Facebook page, where you can dialogue with and debate them directly — well, indirectly via the mediation of social media (similar to the way that tonight, at our open-air assembly in a park, I think most of us saw the paradox in setting up something like five to six electronic ways to communicate for what is the start of face-to-face conversations about face-to-face politics and engagement). Or maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of Harpy’s wings, darting around a corner after a new wheatpaste on various open-air urban canvases.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Harpy/249684105126331/

– Cindy Milstein –

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Even Rebels Need to Rest, Montreal, Night 65


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 – 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.

-Cindy Milstein-

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Lost in Translation: Maple Spring, Montreal, Night 63


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

Montreal, QC – If it’s not self-evident from my writing over these past few weeks — for those who have been following it — I’m not Canadian, and I don’t call Montreal my home, much as I’m increasingly falling in love with this city-island and wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time here on a regular basis. Nor do I speak, read, write, or understand (save for a rudimentary understanding) the French language. For that matter, because my home base is in the United States, like most “Americans,” I have only the most rudimentary understanding of Canada and its history, economics, politics, culture, and so on, not to mention that of the various provinces. That means I’m on this accelerated learning curve here on multiple fronts — accelerated thanks to the longest student strike in North American history. Each day, thanks to the wisdom and sharing of the accelerated amounts of people I’m getting closer to and also newly meeting, I discover new extraordinary pieces of an ever-enlarging puzzle.

Increasingly, that means I’m able to see the trees for the forest. Because when one first arrives here from the United States, especially with the hindsight of occupy participation, the forest is mesmerizing, like peak-foliage weekend in Vermont’s Green Mountains, which are suddenly blazing with near-hallucinatory reds. But a hike through that autumn splendor reveals infinite variety on a branch-by-branch basis, until one is dizzy with the confusion of which leaf should be saved and pressed, enjoyed for the moment, has a blight, isn’t quite as stunning on closer look, or exhibits promise for further coloration — meaning more hikes.

With each step on the illegal hikes I’ve been taking here through maple spring, literally and figuratively, a new vista unfolds ahead, and often a thunderstorm or two. If I thought anything seemed “simply beautiful” on arrival — like the deceptively simple phrase “maple spring” — walking deeper into understanding with each day and night pretty much means finding out I’m always wrong. Nearly everything is far more complex and, often, far more nuanced. And in many cases, contrary to my experience of wandering ever deeper into occupy, that complexity and subtlety (or frequently, double or triple meanings, particular in relation to the French language) only makes maple spring all that more remarkable.

Thus, if it’s also not self-evident from my writings, I’m on a journey of discovery here — as an “American” anarchist in a Francophone-driven (actual) social movement in Quebec Province (details that all matter). I’m hoping that my words, from that vantage point — like autumn leaves raked into a higher and higher pile — are offering a better view of what’s going on, as I get better and richer understandings of it. All of it, from its history and context, to its organizational keys and dilemmas, to (perhaps most important of all for those of us who want to see wholesale liberatory social transformation) what’s “translatable” or what will get “lost in translation” if tried elsewhere — or lost in translation from me, as I try to translate its meaning to you via these blog posts.

There’s much I’d like to explore in that regard — what can and can’t be shared — but that’s too big a topic for one night. So I’ll focus on a single red leaf: the maple.

Months ago, via Facebook, I read that longtime Montreal organizer and anarchist Jaggi Singh had come up a simple though sweet phrase to describe the already-powerful student strike: “maple spring.” Jaggi has been (and still is) involved in so many innovative moments within the recent past of antiauthoritarian struggles in Canada that I didn’t initially doubt that claim — made not by Jaggi, but rather sourced by me from a Facebook “Friend” I don’t even know. I actually still have zero idea who came up with that phrase, but I tend to suspect it’s one of those things that no one will, or should, be able to copyright or assert authorship over.

About five weeks ago, when I first stepped foot into maple spring — happily, I’ve been to Montreal many times before this — that term seemed so apt, in large part, through my starstruck eyes, because it seemed so clear and unambiguous.

That view really was in the simplistic spring, for me, of this maple spring. As May turned to June, and I stuck around to start experiencing and writing about what’s becoming a stickier and likely hotter maple summer, I’ve realized how much more is bundled up in those two words. In fact, I discovered yet another bit of depth only yesterday — from a real-life Montreal friend (who is, not surprisingly, also a Facebook friend) while we were hanging out on a leisurely Sunday morning at a leftie neighborhood cafe whose staff was alternately cooking us yummy breakfasts and setting up an indoor yard sale of their old stuff for cheap. Just one more reason that I’m falling in love with Montreal, if you’ll pardon the digression.

So here’s what I learned yesterday.

Even though I was a Vermonter for years and always will be, whether there in person or spirit, I never heard the phrase “maple spring,” but my friend said that it refers to a spring in which the sap is running well. That is, a good maple season, when things maple or movement are pouring out in abundance.

My friend also mentioned, however, that the initial use of the “maple leaf” symbol, literally or figuratively, in the phrase “maple spring” felt for some like a clear reference to Canada.

Two “lessons” here for those U.S. folks in particular who may not know much about things Canada.

First, maybe this goes without saying, but the maple leaf is the symbol on the Canada flag. The flag is, in fact, known as the “Maple Leaf,” in the same way that people in the United States say “Stars and Stripes” as a name for the U.S. flag. Furthermore, the color of that maple leaf on the Maple Leaf flag is red. Red as in the Canadian state’s maple leaf; red, now in the context of the student strike, as in red square, meaning “squarely in the red” (in debt).

Second, and again maybe this is common knowledge, but Quebec Province has a troubled relation to Canada. There is the related troubled relations between First Nations peoples and Canada along with its various provinces. But for the purposes of this “lost in translation” tale on the “maple spring” term (until I’m corrected or learn more!), the crucial point here is, a maple leaf signals the Canadian nation; this student strike evolved from and is evoking struggles over, questions about, and aspirations for sovereignty — that is, Quebec secession. That takes many flavors, and has a much more complex history than a simple “antistatism” covers. It can carry everything from racist and xenophobic overtones all the way to liberation struggle, with many shades of tensions and complexities, too, between “British” and “French,” or Anglophone and Francophone.

So as my friend was explaining, the image of a pretty little red maple leaf within the “maple spring” phraseology conjured up, for some, battles between national and provincial, not to mention the sovereignty question. Those aren’t merely word games; this all underlines the intricate fabric and conundrums of this growing social movement/strike/crisis.

My friend also noted that any major worry that “maple spring” would read as Canadian nationalism were quieted with the reminder that Quebec Province is far and away the premier (only?) maple producer across Canada. So the term for this uprising suddenly took a positive spin, stressing what’s exceptional about Quebec, not what’s statist about Canada. Nearly everyone I talk to, no matter what their stance on the sovereignty question, observes that Quebec is a distinctly different province from all the rest. Indeed, part of the mainstream media’s, politicians’, and other detractors’ trope against the student strike has been: Quebec “kids” are spoiled because they already have vastly cheaper tuition than any other province, so why complain. That’s a whole other blog piece, but the rejoinder, as 18- and 20-year-old students keep reminding me, is: “This isn’t about us. The hikes won’t even apply for a few years, and we’ll have graduated. It’s about free education as a promise of the Quiet Revolution of forty years ago. It’s about future generations.” And many add: “Everyone all across Canada and elsewhere should get free [or cheap] education too.” Yet equally, every student and every other actor in this grand social grievance mentions, also, that Quebec isn’t like the rest of Canada.

As yet another aside before I move into the last bit of depth, so far, on the deceptively simple “maple spring” phrase is this: Canada’s flag is made up of two colors: red and white. Many here are adding other squares of colors to the red squares, to signal particular political stances. For example, some add a blue square, referencing the blue of the Quebec provincial flag (i.e., sovereignty). Since special law 78 passed, many have added a blue square, signaling the end of a democracy society because the law basically criminalizes dissent, free speech, and free assembly. Anarchists turn their red and black into their own version of that combo: the end of statist politics. A white square often gets added to the red square to signal “pacificism.” No one has mentioned this to me, but after my real-life friend noted that tension of nationalism versus sovereignty, I started thinking about how the national red-white national flag’s color combination has been thwarted (or maybe not?) by the tiny red-white squares on people’s shirts here.

Finally, at least for this evening, night 63 of rebellious Montrealers defying the emergency law to take to the streets, or until I learn more, there’s something I think I mentioned in an early blog post, but regardless, bears repeating here. I thoroughly missed the lovely wordplay — or rather pronunciation play — in the French-language version of “maple spring” (probably the first version, since Francophone students are at the forefront of this movment): Printemps Érable.

The first word means “spring”; the second means “maple.” Clearly enough, I thought, when I ran it through an online French-English translator program soon after my arrival, after seeing the two words on lots of posters and T-shirts, and wondering what the hell it meant. Duh, I thought. How could I have not known that?

But the École de la Montagne Rouge (School of the Red Mountain) artist collective, when I first toured their studio probably almost a month ago, pronounced it for me — twice: one way of stressing the “É” means “maple”; the other means “Arab.”

As divisions, debates, and dilemmas rage over the sovereignty question in this maplest of springs into summer, and hopefully on into autumn, the way “maple spring” slips off the tongue sends solidarity outward. This maple spring is bound to the Arab spring, which in turn bound itself to the Capitol building occupation in Madison, which harkened soon to “occupy fall” and then back around the world again to Spain, Greece, and so many other places. It is a solidarity that doesn’t know borders; it acknowledges instead our sense of deliciously sweet interconnectedness, mutual inspiration, and the shared project — notwithstanding all the very real contextual differences that make each uprising translatable and yet not translatable — of not only desiring but self-organizing toward new forms and contents of freedom.

It’s like hanging around the sugar shack, after the sap has run and been collected in buckets, after it’s been boiled down into a thick maple syrup, when people gather together to hold maple festivals and share treats like “sugar on snow” or maple candy. They get this collective high — the fruits of their labor suddenly tasting extra poignant.

Even though I know it’s not, as day after day here makes evident, maybe “maple spring” is pretty damned simple after all.

-Cindy Milstein-

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Postscript to “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Night 62


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

Montreal, QC–I forgot to mention this in my latest blog post, in which among other things, I conjectured that the illegalista evening demos are basically a grand experiment in collective dérives, but another argument in favor of the dérive notion is the way I’ve personally been “unschooled” and/or “reschooled” through the experience of walking as contingent, random, joyful re-encounters with civic space and other people. I seem to have forgotten that traffic lights, oncoming cars, police vehicles, fancy bar or shopping districts, expensive festivals, and other assorted forms of funneling us through commodified and controlled cities exist.

Last week, I made a friend quite anxious walking, by block after block, without stopping at jaywalk after crosswalk, or various combinations thereof. She suddenly reminded me after about a half hour and multiple near misses at me (or her) getting hit by a car, bike, pedestrian, or motorcycle that it might be nice to at least pause and look both ways at that transition known as a sidewalk and then a busy street. Beyond her admonition, though, I also realize that I’ve kind forgotten about walking on sidewalks at all. It seems much more “natural” to use the much wider and more expansive streets.

All to say, it’s kind of amazing that I even noticed this stencil on an actual sidewalk, because I was not only on the sidewalk today when I glanced this “street” art but I was also trying to re-remember that I need to slow down my brisk dérive pace for traffic lights so that there’s time to for them to change from green to red and me to avoid serious bodily harm.

Still, I somehow think that what people deem as necessary common senses of civic life — such as crosswalks or cops on motorcycles — would probably become unnecessary and senseless if we started to remember more and more that our dériveshave made evening strolls feel much safer ways to inhabit the cityscape, guided by a certain social solidarity, in which, for instance, cab drivers more often than not smile and wave when delayed by the night demos, and cars more often than not stop when they simply see people in front of them, and we cross where we know we can and want to, because we’re watching each other’s backs.

Maybe this sidewalk stencil’s irony won’t even make sense if these dérives keep up for another month or two, because like me, maybe a bunch of tens of thousands of people will have forgotten to remember to follow imposed orders of how to traverse their city, and people, cars, bikes, buses, skateboards, dogs, scooters, etc., will get better and better at working it out through consensual common sense (thanks to visiting new friends from Brooklyn for reminding me of something that I’ve almost, but not completely, forgotten in over a month here: it’s pretty damned magical out there in the casseroles/illegal manifestation streets!)

– Cindy Milstein –

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Casseroles & Anticapitalism, Montreal, Night 61


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Cindy Milstein –

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


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

Prologue, Night 60

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

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

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

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

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

Queering It Up, Night 53

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I circle back to the dérive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sol-sol-sol, so fucking gay!”

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

– Cindy Milstein –

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A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55


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

Montreal, QC–The past two days, I finally got my first chance to check out self-governance in Montreal: a neighborhood assembly yesterday, and the CLASSE Congress today. Both in 100% French, and my French is next to nothing. But I can recognize some words, such as “démocratie directe” and “autonomie.” Better yet, I can read the body language of good cheer and respectful interactions, and follow the informal & formal processes–all of which put most of what I participated in and saw within US occupy to shame.

Not that it wasn’t (& still isn’t) profoundly beautiful to see people start to work through direct democracy on a large scale with occupy. What my limited experience with this maple spring version shows, though, is what it looks like when people have been doing it a long while and have honed structure/processes (the students) and/or have a defined geographic area that they care about and spend their daily lives in (the neighborhood). A fair amount of homogeneity in terms of purpose, values, where they are in their life, etc., doesn’t seem to hurt either. More on this topic in the coming weeks, since I ♥ prefigurative politics, and even sooner, more on these two particular examples.

For now, one last remark. It felt moving to recall that at least one general assembly of CLAC (an anarchist organization still around from heyday of anticapitalist movement of late 1990s/early 2000s), using basically the same process, met in the same room as today’s CLASSE Congress, with a new generation of radicals and anarchists. I suspect CLASSE “borrowed” some or all of CLAC’s process, but I need to ask around. Anyone know?

– Cindy Milstein – 

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Photos: June 10, Metro Profiling at the Grand Prix


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

Montreal, QC–The Grand Prix racing event kicked off Sunday morning. I entered the metro around 10:15am with Nicolas Quiazua, editor of McGill University’s Le Délit newspaper. Our bags were searched, and we were told that no media was allowed to go onto the metro that day — so we entered as civilians. When I asked allowed “Is that even legal?” someone behind us responded, “Everything is legal under law 78!”

At the entrance to the event, the profiling was significantly more intense. Anyone with a red square (sign of solidarity with the student movement), or anyone suspicious looking (young) was searched and many were told to leave.

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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