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Maple Spring | Occupied Stories - Part 3

Tag Archive | "maple spring"

Photos: June 9th, Anti-Sexism and Nighttime Mayhem


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–At 5pm, activists gathered at Phillips Square for the anti-sexism demonstration. The manifestation was controversial among Montreal protesters because it explicitly advocated the abolition of sex work — prompting the moderator of the anti-capitalist CLAC (labor union association) listserv to issue an apology for disseminating information for the event.

The march stopped at various places to deliver speeches against Formula One’s chauvinist culture, like one at the Delta Centreville hotel, which condemned the business as a well-known spot for prostitutes to go with clients.

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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Photos: June 8th, Bahrain Solidarity and Grand Prix Clashes


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–Around 6:30pm, the demonstrations began with a (noticeably) small protest at Dorchester Square aimed to show solidarity with the people of Bahrain.

The petite march ignored a call by the police to clear the streets, but complied when the troops moved to enforce it. Still in good spirits, the protesters sang a French chant meaning “on the sidewalk, until victory.”

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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Photos: June 7th Nude-In


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–At 5pm, there was a demonstration at the corner of Notre Dame and des Seigneurs, which began with a megaphone announcement condemning the Grand Prix for its elitism and sexism. The protest was kettled as soon as it began, forcing a standstill.

By 5:45pm, police began selectively arresting individuals and pulling them back behind the police line. It was unclear whether this was for violating Law 78 (for example, by wearing masks), or for some other reason. Many protesters resisted, and some were successfully “de-arrested” — prevented from being pulled across the police line.

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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Red Square Vignette, Montreal, Night 54


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–Walking through Montreal looking for red squares is like playing “Where’s Waldo,” only Waldo is everywhere. And for those of you who have visited or hung out with me here in Montreal, and have meandered around with me for a bit, you know that I’m obsessed with taking pictures of the red square–so that means stopping, often a lot, to snap a shot of one. Someday soon, I’ll load my many red squares on to a Flickr album, so you can look at them (and no doubt, I can keep adding to them.) But hopefully someday soon, I’ll write about this humble little red patch, hanging on so precariously with a safety pin to many a shirt, hat, pant leg, scarf, sling (for a broken arm–a red square I didn’t capture on film), dog collar, purse, backpack, underwear (at the naked march), and the list goes on. It functions here as part symbol, part subversion, part provocation, part history, part future, part pride, part conversation-starter, part solidarity, part flagging, and this list goes on too.

For now, a vignette. Or rather, a snapshot of what happens when I snap a shot.

The photo above is rather dark, because it was taken at night, tonight, or night 54 of the illegal evening marches. It’s a front door into someone’s apartment, with three panes of colored glass: two blue and one red. I’ve walked by this door once or twice before, also at night as I zigzag home from one of these manifestations (“demonstrations” in English), and meant to take a photo, but I had probably stopped once too frequently that previous evening, and whoever I was walking with that night probably was tired of stopping. This evening, I was tired. I am tired. So I wasn’t stopping as much. But when I got to this door, I decided to grab a photo because it’s an example of one thing I want to say in this increasingly epic “Seeing Red” essay that I plan to write soon(ish).

It is an example of how one really does see red squares everywhere, and yet many of them were likely just “normal” red squares before this maple spring catapulted them to fame (not yet to fortune, but if capitalism has anything to say about it, fortune is probably in their future as well). This door’s colored-glass square window panes are likely just a decorative feature, not meant to reference the student strike at all. The red square in the door unintentionally takes on new meaning in the current rebellious context, and the people inside could very well not even think twice about their stained glass–similar to so many things we get so accustomed to that we barely take notice of them, and certainly don’t impute new meaning to them with changing political conditions. What interests me in this and other examples is in fact whether people are aware of such “accidental” red squares on, say, their homes, and if so, what do they do if they don’t support the students and the widening social uprising? What if they actually oppose it? Should they paint over the offending little red square? Or maybe they aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on at all with this popular movement and, again, hardly see that red-glass pane, unlike me, who can basically only see red squares no matter what direction I look in here.

Nearby to this door, in what I thought was the adjacent apartment, three women were sitting on an open window ledge, drinking, talking, laughing. It’s Montreal in the summer, and it seems like nobody ever goes inside to do anything. I tried to be surreptitious, grab a photo, and leave without them noticing me. Of course, the minute I push the button on my red-square-filled smartphone camera, one of the women leans out the window and yells out to me, “Hey, what are you doing? Are you taking a picture of us?”

I’m not good at being surreptitious apparently. I already know I’m not good at lying. So I answered honestly. “I’m taking photos of red squares because I’m going to write a story about them.” The minute I said it, I thought: “That sounds like a lie. What a weird thing to tell someone at 11 p.m. on a dark night, on a dark street.” She and her friends all broke into peels of laughter, and she yelled again, this time with pleasure, “My mom painted that red! My mom also put a red square on our dog’s neck. She says, ‘The dog is a political thinker too.’ My mom’s for the students and the strike!”

If every other red square could speak in Montreal, increasingly, it would probably say the same thing.

– Cindy Milstein –

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“A-Anti-Anticapitalista,” Montreal, Night 51


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

Montreal, QC – This past weekend in Montreal’s unfolding maple-spring saga pitted the Grand Prix’s blatant display of wealth and sexism against the brave display of disruption and solidarity. Many of the always-illegal marches were a collaborative call from CLAC, an anarchist organization that’s at least 10 years old and probably more like 12 or so, and CLASSE, the most radical of the student associations, including many anarcho-syndicalists in particular from what I hear. The success of the unrelenting, principled, and courageous crashing of the Grand Prix party for 4 days and especially nights did much to underscore what a police state Montreal has become (I rarely use such rhetoric, but in this case, between coming on 120 days of student strike and 51 nights of illegal marches, the unrelenting, unprincipled, and dangerous cop presence is indeed a police state). It also seems to have solidified an (antiauthoritarian) “a-anti-anticapitalista” turn as maple spring heads into the summer. More on that later, probably in another post another night–although I can’t resist inserting just one photo from today’s (on day/night 51) rally in front of the International Economic Forum conference meetings that soon, after I shot this photo, turned into a large anarchist breakaway march that disrupted the busy lunchtime downtown by snaking the wrong way through traffic.

 

That breakaway march, by the way, seemed completely spontaneous, catching the police off-guard, and so it actually was able to be one step ahead of the police–that is, get entangled in the oncoming traffic, bringing it to a halt. Yet again, a good percentage of the drivers stalled in their cars and cabs were either supportive or at least not annoyed. The breakaway also seemed to be largely initiated and kicked off by what I’d call, with admiration, a cute merging of a “baby bloc” and “black bloc”: teens in black hoodies, and lots of ‘em.

I ran into one of the CLASSE anarchist organizers during this illegal daytime demo, and they told me that it wasn’t spontaneous at all. It was an orchestrated agreement of sorts between the critical-of-capitalism folks who did the noontime rally today outside the Economic Forum and more direct actionista anticapitalists. Apparently, the CLASSE person told me, part of the disaster at Victoriaville demo, where police shot out one demonstrator’s eye, was that rally and direct action folks didn’t respect each other’s tactics.

Today, what can only be described as respectful “diversity of tactics” in practice on the streets lead to a diversity of participants, greater solidarity, and both a better rally and better direct action, opening up the space for everyone to feel safer doing what they wanted to do. And, I might add, allowing “anticapitalism” as a sentiment to connect the two, as happened in Quebec City over a decade ago, when anarchists in Canada experimented with this notion in the first place (see my “Something Did Start in Quebec City: North America’s Revolutionary Anticapitalist Movement” essay, written at the time, athttp://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/something-did-start-in-quebec-city-north-americas-revolutionary-anticapitalist-movement/). It worked like this: unions, student associations, and community groups held a rally outside the Economic Forum, decrying capitalism from various angles, and holding up their various banners. There were lots of police all around, and lots of folks listening, including those baby black bloc folks. Here are some photos:

When the rally ended, the groups carefully rolled and folded up their banners. They moved out of the way. Then they turned on some music. It seemed, to me, that the rally was dispersing and that was the end of the noontime demo. A few minutes later, anarchist flags in the air and cries to move forward, and we took the streets, marching briskly into the busy downtown streets. The music, said the CLASSE person, who the cue that the rally folks were ready for the direct action folks to start the march. Sweet solidarity. And everyone left (or stayed) happy.

Anyway, back to this past weekend. Besides a more explicit focus on capitalism, the weekend also kicked off–as nearly everything seems to do here–a new tactic. As near riots and perhaps some outright rioting occurred for those 4 nights, I suddenly noticed that the bixi bikes–banks of rental bikes scattered liberally around Montreal, at least its core–had experienced a bit of culture jamming. As I wrote in an earlier piece, scores of the bikes with an advertisement for RioTintoAlcan, a huge mining company, suddenly read: “RioT.”

Now, 3 days after the Grand Prix, and 3 days into the International Economic Forum, a bunch of these bikes at their self-service stands exhibit various student strike/social strike makeovers. I walked by some 25 or 30 of these self-service stations tonight, first on my couple-mile walk to illegal demo night 51, and then on my couple-mile walk home again. So below are some photos of the same of the newly decorated bikes, sans their egregarious advertisements for “resource” extraction or banks. In between photographing bikes, and walking to and from night 51, there were a bunch more miles and 1,000-plus person march that featured many more little blocs of anarchists with flags–see below–many more anticapitalist/antistatist chants, and what turned into an impromptu CLAC/CLASSE crew at the tail end, including me and some other out-of-town anarchists, with all of us at the end because we were so busy yapping about politics we forgot to keep up the nearly always-brisk pace of these monster marches.

OK, I can’t resist again. Another anticapitalist digression.

At night 51′s illegal demo, I asked a Francophone (pictured below) who barely spoke English if I could take a picture of his arms, all covered w/English-language anticapitalist chants. Then a beautiful French chant arose from unusually large anarchist bloc I was in tonight–before I stumbled on the temporary CLAC/CLASSE affinity group this evening. I could only make out the last two terms: “democracy direct, autogestion.” So I asked him what the four other phrases in the chant were, and he told me, first in perfect French and then in broken English. I can’t repeat, much less write, the French words–not even broken French for me, alas–but here’s what he told me the English version is (which doesn’t sound nearly as beautiful in English, mind you):

“No gods, no masters, no states, no bosses; direct democracy, self-management.”

[Late-breaking update, with thanks to Tim Powell, who kindly posted the French chant on my Facebook page: “Ni dieu, ni maitre, ni état, ni patron; démocratie directe, auto-gestion!”]

This arm, and its companion, also covered with red (always red here!) English-language anticapitalist chants, reminds me of another story–another digression. At the start of today’s breakaway march after the rally, I ran into a longtime anarchist comrade I haven’t seen yet in my time here; they are with CLAC and other projects, and we were trading stories from the Grand Prix party disruptions and how the police, so tired and so outnumbered, were especially stupid and dangerous. My comrade pulled up their long sleeve, gesturing down to their arm with their head, and I saw a huge bruise. How? I asked. They had “mouthed off” at a cop when the cop was rude to a passerby, then smack, a baton came down hard on my friend’s arm.

Anyway, back to the bikes–bikes as the new city walls, as palettes for wheatpasting.

Here’s what the front of these bixi bikes usually looks like, with advertisement intact:

And here’s what the whole bike looks like, in its stall. If you look closely, you’ll already see the front advertisement in an altered form:

Or better yet, here’s a closer view of this bike, with its ad gone and a black square instead. The black square, by and large, is meant to signal opposition to special law 78 outlawing dissent of pretty much any kind and also an affirmation of “democracy” as in representative or parliamentary democracy. People often wear a black square with their red square pinned to their shirt (or wherever!). More and more, though, I’m seeing clearly anarchist versions of this red-black combo. At the same time, it’s intriguing that “red” has lost its authoritarian communism connotation, and black, alas, can be misleading if you think you’re suddenly seeing anarchism everywhere.

Not to be outdone by a tame black square, another bike sported a violent red square, as claimed by Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Christine St-Pierre, who just a day or two ago affirmed “the right to wear the red square, ‘but us, we know what the red square means, it means intimidation, violence” (seehttp://www.quebecprotest.com/post/25027080608/violence-and-red-squares-artists-outraged-by-minister). This red square even bears the scars of, one presumes, various street battles!

In contrast, here’s an itty-bitty red square, still a peaceful youth, but probably already aspiring to grow up to be as intimidating as the bigger red squares. At least it’s taking on “the largest cooperative financial group in Canada”!

And here’s a bunch more photos of various “this bike is a poster” revisions. Sorry, it’s too damned late in the early hours of this morning for me to attempt (stress on the word “attempt”) to translate French to English, so get out your dictionary or online translator, if needed.

And finally, harking back to when some anonymous direct actionistas covered all 5,500 bixi bike advertisements in one night (some say in just under 2 hours!) with stickers of some dozen different poetic quotes (and they covered 2 ads per bike, for a total of 11,000 stickers!), I saw at least 2 bikes tonight with another literary reference: George Orwell. You might want to read this related story first, although the headline kind of says it all–”My Trip to Jail for Reading 1984″–and then you’ll see why this was an especially apropos bike ad alteration: http://www.quebecprotest.com/post/25026837169/my-trip-to-jail-for-reading-1984-on-the-metro.

OK, so many stories, so little sleep. It’s 3:00 a.m., and this anticapitalist needs some noncommodified rest. Well, after one more photo–of posters that appeared on numerous street posts today, as “a-anti-anticapitalista” just seems to be spreading and spreading.

-Cindy Milstein- 

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“Open the Window; There’s a World,” Montreal, Night 50


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 heavy, chilly midafternoon rain has subsided, but it’s a gloomy gray outside, and there’s a 70-80% chance of more rain this evening. I have slept something like 3-4 hours per night for a week, and am behind on my paid work too, not to mention email and anything remotely resembling “real life.” All I want to do is NOT walk downtown for the 8:30 p.m. rendezvous point for the nocturnal manif in Montreal, likely wet by the time I get there to Berri-UQAM, before we’ve even started walking illegally.

Then I pop a new, gifted CD into my computer, to listen while I try to focus on paid work, and words of other uprisings and rebellions, and defeats too begin to fill my head. I toggle between work and twitter on what’s happening in Montreal, between work and hoping CUTV is online early, between work and searching for stories and images of maple spring.

That leads to another maple-spring distraction: scrolling through the many photos I’ve snapped on my smartphone, while forever walking on the red streets of Montreal, and I stumble across this picture. It’s one of many images I haven’t yet posted, of public art painted within large rectangles on the pavement of the closed-off Mont-Royal street during last weekend’s sidewalk sale that stretched for blocks. I assume, in years past, this art, which also stretched for blocks, with the yellow divider line for traffic running through each big piece, was supposed to encourage shopping, not disobedience. But nearly every piece this year included red squares, sharp & blurry, large & small, playful & serious. And red. Lots and lots of red.

At first, in the 2:30 a.m. dim light from streetlamps, I thought this was an abstract piece. It was so much darker, furious even, than any other piece. Then the continents slowly took shape for me–continents in strong, angry black; continents we know, without the artist having to show it, divided into states, capitalism, racism, heteronormativity, and so many other enclosures of freedom. So many borders demeaning dignity and breaking bones.

Then the red. Angry, proud, on the move, bursting from the dark and even “darker nations,” as Vijay Prashad titled one of his books. Screaming, to me: Revolt in Quebec! Below, in a corner of this massive piece of art, are some words in French. I click a photo, and only now try to decipher it, likely badly, using an automatic translator program–ironically, since a fantastic human translator is loaning me her apartment now while she’s at a retreat. I may not be getting the French right, and at some point soon, I want to write a piece called “Lost (& Found) in Translation” to explore how I am experiencing this moment as someone who doesn’t speak French and isn’t a Canadian–and how that both masks things and reveals things. So while it should matter that I get the French right, for tonight, as the rain pours down heavily again and whips the trees wildly outside the third-floor window where I sit (trying, trying, failing to work), my translation speaks what I want this piece of street art to say:

“Open the window; there’s a world.”

There’s a world outside. A world that in a few minutes, I’ll walk out into, dry skies or not, because it’s night 50 in Montreal of marches that have illegally snaked, raced, rioted, marched, casseroled, chanted, trudged, danced, skipped, skateboarded, biked, walked, wheelchaired, strollered, and otherwise taken over, flagrantly, as every night the police say no. No, it’s illegal. No, you need to disperse. No. The illegalistas answer with their feet, unstoppable. For 50 nights.

There’s another kind of world outside. That world that we want to change. That world broken apart into separate things called nations, provinces, property. Millions of miles of enclosures, when all we see as we march through the streets of Montreal are millions of openings–that we’re taking and making. Maybe that’s why so many red squares, each one like a fire-engine-red spark. That red that’s breaking out of the black blocs of continents in this art piece is a red that can and must travel, to find others who “see red” when they see injustice, misery, exploitation, pain. Those others who answered all the police and military, dictators and presidents, who said “NO. A million times NO,” with one big global “ENOUGH,” small at first, like the initial pots and pans on that first night when they banged in Montreal, but suddenly bursting in a cacophony of casseroles, in the way that our “ENOUGH” connects from Chiapas to Cairo to Quebec, and so much in between.

It’s 7:45, and it looks like the rain is only a drizzle. I’m wondering if I should take a black umbrella along, for rain and because police recently targeted them as another symbol of illegality, as something seen as suspect and subversive. That kind of targeted happened “long ago” in the United States, when following 9/11, the US government and its police created their own menacing categories: toothpaste, backpacks, Swiss Army knives, bottled water, shoes.

This is why people go out here. Against tuition increases and US-style “higher education,” yes. Against austerity, yes. Against repressing dissent with new laws and too many police, too tired from 50 nights on the street and so more dangerous than usual, yes. But, I think, simply to reclaim the common sense of life–where toothpaste cleans our teeth, shoes protect our foot, and little red squares make us happy.

Rain or not, night 50, all out.

-Cindy Milstein-

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Intimacy Versus Capitalism: Montreal, Day 49


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 – Capitalism, due to its own internal logic, is “compelled” to do increasingly horrible things to humans and other living creatures, ultimately turning us into dead matter. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that in moments of popular uprisings, everything comes quickly to life. Maybe the power of the Arab Spring last year and the Maple Spring this year is that bursting forth of life that comes in spring regardless of revolt, from frozen ground to the sudden intoxicating procession of crocus-daffodil-iris-lilac. But mix rebellion into the cherry blossoms and all hell can break loose. We, ourselves, can break loose.

And once we’re awakened, like people seem to be in Montreal, that accelerated return to life, from the deadening world of capitalism, spills into summer. How could it not? Especially in a place like Montreal, where winter is especially brutal (kind of like the police of late here) and so summer becomes especially precious–especially public–in a city architecturally scaled for public street, park, and balcony life. I’ve visited Montreal a lot in past summertimes, and it’s always had a particularly enchanting quality. But that quality now seems elevated to what I can only, perhaps still inadequately, call a feeling of “intimacy” in its most expansive sense. People are remembering what they are capable of, from solidarity to courage, from mutual aid to direct action, from collective illegality in the face of repression to sharing this moment–the many exquisite moments–with each other in so many intimate ways.

The other day, before the Grand Prix disruption on Friday, one of the CUTV guys kept telling me that this many months of maple spring blossoming into maple summer was about love, from the student strike to the social awakening. I’d run into him–a complete stranger–a couple weeks ago when he randomly asked me on the street if he could interview me on livestream (CUTV stops lots of folks to do interviews on the long nightly marches), and when he said he was from CUTV, I threw my arms around him without thinking, hugged him tight, and exclaimed, “I love CUTV!!” (For those of you who know me, I can be a pretty exuberant–overwhelming?–person.) I didn’t do an interview that night, mostly because after I’d hugged him, I felt embarrassed, especially when he kept urging me to say how much I loved CUTV on camera. When we ended up chatting the other day, it was the first time I’d seen him since that hug, and I reminded him of that moment on the street. He blinked for a second and then lit up; of course he remembered me! Then he leaped into a repetitive refrain, equally exuberant to our first encounter, tha basically went, “but this movement is about love! It’s always been about love!”

His comments, in turn, reminded me of OWS in its first weeks, when love seemed the strongest of symbols and motivations, and there were thousands of people similar to my CUTV friend, who retains that freshness that OWS and other occupies have lost, because we’re still in the spring that’s about to become the summer of the maple uprising. Because there’s an intimacy here that comes from seeing a tiny red square on someone’s hat or skirt, and knowing you can wink or smile at them, or share a knowing glance. Because there’s an intimacy, too, that comes from standing next to someone you didn’t know a few minutes ago and feeling tear gas constrict your throat, and pulling each other away from riot police–then running into them again at some random place like a cafe, as if you’re old friends.

There’s also this intimacy forged by hours and miles of walking illegally together, in what’s becoming a grand civic experiment in collective summer evening strolls (and perhaps a grand experiment in collective exercise). Or an intimacy in relatively tiny moments, like when we convened tonight by the hundreds, yet scattered in small knots, around the good-sized park, fringed as it always is by clumps of riot cops and bike cops, next to Berri-UQAM Metro for the 8:30 p.m. march.

Suddenly the police pulled out their loudspeakers from their “technology section” van to say (for some reason, now in French and English, perhaps for the benefit of summer tourists) that we needed to walk in the right direction or we’d be declared illegal. In a flash, people surged toward the police and their van, becoming a mass that seemed to swell to a thousand or more, and everyone stepped off the curb without hesitant, and with tons of noise, and briskly tried to go in the wrong direction together. In tonight’s case, the wrong direction was toward the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference meeting.

Today, I’ve had intimacy versus capitalism on the mind.

This past weekend and now this night 49, it’s so clear what–far more than who–the police are protecting: capital. On the weekend, they encircled $200,000 cars being shown off during the outdoor Grand Prix party area around St.-Catherine Street; tonight, they formed lines around key buildings in the financial district as we passed by them, such as the trade center, the stock exchange, the largest mainstream media producer, and bank offices.

But there’s also this odd way that capitalism, in its “mom-and-pop” form, is flagging the symbol–the threatening little red square–that increasingly links student tuition, austerity measures, and capitalism together, or the very undoing (if this revolt were to succeed) of the very basis of their business. One store in the neighborhood where I’m staying is offering 50 percent off on summer clothing if you wear a red square; when I asked why, one clerk pointed to another one–a young woman wearing a red square. “She wanted to do it,” he said, “in solidarity.”

More and more, I’m seeing store windows displaying red squares, often pinned to a mannequin’s clothing or for sale as red-square earrings. Some local shops forbid employees from wearing the square; others seem to encourage it, including as an incentive to tip those employees–wearing a red square, of course.

My cynical perspective on this, and likely there’s some truth to it, is that capital co-opts everything, and adores turning rebellion into trendy commodity. The state and politicians do similar things. For instance, a Montreal anarchist friend who I walked with in the nightly march for about an hour this eve told me that today, a Facebook page announced that some self-appointed organizers–mostly from political parties–for this Wednesday’s “Casseroles across Canada” in Montreal had shared the “illegal” route with the police. Apparently Montreal anarchists commented, a lot, on this plan via Facebook in return, but in a persuasive way, explaining that the whole point of the evening marches was that they were intended as an illegal direct defiance of special law 78. The electorally minded folks recanted, saying there would be a new route and they wouldn’t tell the police about it. Key to this example, for now, is that only 25 people had “joined” this Wednesday night Facebook invite–hence the politicians haven’t managed to crush the flowers of this spring (yet). My friend told me this as we marched past the Economic Forum meetings, with now thousands of other friends, acquaintances, and new comrades–all illegal.

Maybe that’s why the CUTV guy still has this joyfully innocent outlook about love and this uprising, because it’s still in the romantic spring/summer phase of its head-over-heels new love of its own collective and civic power. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep, and why nearly each and every interaction of more than an hour or so that I have with people on the rosy-red streets elicits feelings of intimacy and love in the CUTV sense–where I’d hug a CUTV person at first sight simply because I so appreciate all they are giving and gifting through livestreaming each evening, unstopped by neither rain nor heat nor pepper spray. And if I spend more than a hour with you, watch out! But it isn’t just me; I see this intimacy, profoundly so, on the faces of the 17- to 21-year-old college students, or rather the striking college students, who are probably addicted to the love of what they’ve created and each other, for creating it. Probably they can’t sleep either, which is why maybe the end of tonight’s march seemed to consist mostly of me and 17-year-olds.

Maybe those employees wearing red squares and their “mom-and-pop” bosses are still in this “in love” moment where they aren’t posting or promoting red squares in order to boost their sales but because they believe in the magic too. Maybe they also have come alive, and don’t see the relation (yet) between capitalism calculation and this sappy-maple awakening. I’d like to think that we could stay in this suspended time of simple comaraderie. But as long as capitalism is still around, it will manufacture its own red squares to all-too-soon sell our revolutions back to us–taxidermied May 1968s, as corpses in our mouths.

My friend Alex–someone I already feel close to precisely because we met on the streets right after law 78 passed and barricades were being built by new & old rebels, then torn apart by police, then rebuilt, then torn again, until someone opened up a fire hydrant and St.-Denis became a revolutionary water park, a mix of anger and empowerment–recently pulled out her well-worn and marked-up copy of Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations. She opened it to his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” where in section xv he speaks of “the awareness that they [those in the French Revolution] are about to make the continuum of history explode.” And so “in the July revolution an incident occurred. . . . On the first evening of the fighting it turned out that the clocks in towers were being fired on simultaneously and independently from several places in Paris.” An eyewitness, Benjamin goes on to note, wrote that they “fired at the dials in order to stop the day.”

Pablo Neruda’s beautiful words “They can cut all the flowers, but cannot stop the spring,” which have been lovingly overlaid on movements this 2012 spring season, seems to me to have another meaning, as I walk hours and miles through the maple spring. Maybe we want to stop the spring ourselves, so as to savor it and hold it dear, so as to hug it tight like new and old rebel friends on the street. Maybe we want to fire on the clocks that wake us for work, that time us for a paycheck, that tick away the minutes until summer becomes fall and then a cold, brutal winter again–that measure our deaths under capitalism, and have no time at all for intimacy.

So on this night 49, filled with the warm radiant heat of a summer night, made hotter still by so many people continuing to turn out illegally to march, and the warmth of the bonds we feel when we do so, I’m overcome by the actually existing fact that people can and do act along the lines of an “economy” of gifting and mutual aid and solidarity, backed by the intimacy and love created in our spring uprisings, despite all that capitalism does to beat the life out of us.

Tonight, when I walked the half hour from temporarily gifted home to illegally reclaimed streets, I kept hearing the now-familiar sound of casseroles every couple blocks. Each time, from the sound of it, I thought I’d see 50 or 100 or more people, banging on. But each time, there was only 4 or 5 people, and often only 2 or 3. They stood at the intersection of their quiet residential streets, lined with spring-summer flowers (oddly, coincidentally, often red ones), and put their heart into their pot banging, which sounded so loud from a distance because it echoed off the houses. I’d left my pot and spoon at home, so each time I passed one of these casseroles, I clapped along with their beat. And for a minute–each time, a long and luxuriously minute that we stole for ourselves–it was as if their noise was the sound of clocks being fired on, so that we had time to offer knowing glances of solidarity, nods of intimate acknowledgment that we’re all in this together, that each person matters, that every pot holds a person who’s awakened themselves from the hibernation of winter to plant their own spring.

I fear that my lack of sleep and the dreamy quality of this red city cloud my judgment in these blogs. That maybe it really doesn’t feel this way right now. But tonight, I ran into five anarchist(ic) acquaintances from the United States in the evening’s illegal stroll. Yesterday evening they crossed the border that lets capital in so freely and keeps so many people unfree on both sides, and instantly landed themselves alongside the night 48 and riot cops, who was extra unfriendly last night after a Grand Prix weekend out of their control. As we started out on night 49, stretching across multiple lanes for several blocks, one of them–someone I’ve barely only met once–walked up to me and we chatted as if old comrades. She had this look in her eye, like falling in love at first sight. My tempered side, the side that doesn’t want to lose each and every ounce of intimacy I’m experiencing, and wants to start protecting my heart now, says: that will diminish, of course. Yet through her eyes, I could see the freshness that still hasn’t been lost in this groundswell of popular power, as she said something like, “I didn’t think it would really be like this, but you really can feel maple spring in the air.”

-Cindy Milstein-

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“Hold the Line, Friend of Mine,” Montreal, Night (& Day) 48


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–Ryan Harvey, the second half (with me) of my solid affinity group this weekend, says of his raw video footage from June 9: “Watch as Montreal police attempt and fail to control massive crowds on the 47th consecutive night-march emerging from the student strike/anti-austerity movement”–in a weekend of trying (and often succeeding) to disrupt and highlight the show of conspicuous wealth that marks the Grand Prix here.

Odd that just over 24 hours ago, I was standing next to Ryan while he filmed this demonstration, or what might better be called a spontaneous convergence of convergences over many hours, illegal like every other one since emergency law 78 passed. It looks just as surreal in this clip as it did in person. Time and again, the police seemed to have no idea or capacity to gain the upper hand on a populace that seems to have lost its faith in and is in fear of the police’s authority.

Whenever I ask a Canadian about this, they pretty much all say, “If a law like 78 passed in the United States criminalizing dissent, people wouldn’t stand for it either.” The argument is that we in the United States, too, would be able to make our cities ungovernable and generate a serious political crisis for government. And I keep thinking, “Really?” Here, maple spring seems to have unleashed a profound awakening that Canadians don’t want to become like the United States. Whether watching scenes like this in person or experiencing casseroles and massive marches, the depth of belief that a society should obviously offer social goods–a social goodness too–from education to arts and more, seems diametrically opposed to popular views in the United States, where education, food, health care, and the like seem to be perceived as somehow things that will always be in scarce or limited supply, and correspondingly, things that people should individually earn or somehow individually deserve. Yeah, surreal here.

And overwhelming. So on night 48, I sort of took the evening off. A new acquaintance who went to tonight’s night march said it was “small” (meaning about a thousand), did a lot of snaking through downtown, and met with a ton of police in none-too-good a mood. I instead went to get a glimpse of Occupy Montreal at the end of a day of assembly and workshops–all seemingly small (as in dozens or less), and made to seem far smaller by the fact that it was being held in the large Parc LaFontaine. It was hard to find Occupy, in fact, amid all the many, many other people in the park in red–not only squares, but shirts, pants, hats, bikes, frisbees, and more.

On Ryan’s last night here on this weekend visit, he played to an even smaller Occupy crowd in this park as the warm sunshine of today mellowed into the gentle warmth of a summer evening; half his audience was me, three of his friends, and a new friend I’ve made on the streets of Montreal, plus two stray kids who wandered over and a dog that ran over with a ball in its mouth. But a couple of the folks there, including my new friend, were at that open-to-a-world-of-new-ideas point in their lives, as they were newly working to help make that new world through Occupy (here and, for my new friend, in the United States). So Ryan played to them–songs of rebellion, resistance, disobedience, and hope. He also, inadvertently, played to me with his final song–about how the police kept coming at people, time and again, and the people don’t back down. Here I was, sitting in a thoroughly lovely park, with charming graffiti on a nearby park cafe proclaiming “La Resistance,” and only about 24 hours earlier, he and I had been part of the police coming at people and people not backing down. For really real, in a way that Ryan’s video simply can’t capture. Yet in a way that the chorus to Ryan’s last song this evening eerily grasped for me:

“Hold the line, even if your voice shakes
Friend of mine, even if your voice shakes
Push forward, it’s up to you
See it through”

For really real, people did that by the thousands last evening, although with unshakable voices. Surreal indeed.

We left the park as darkness fell, and joined CKUT radio show host and now CUTV crew person too Aaron Maiden to hear Penny Rimbaud (formerly of Crass) perform poetry/words with some Montreal dancers/musicians at La Sala Rossa. Between Ryan’s songs in a lush-green park and Penny’s spoken word in a bohemian red-and-black performance space; Aaron telling us that La Sala Rossa had long ago been home to Arbeiter Ring (Workers’ Circle) and that as part of that, Emma Goldman had spoken in the same room; and knowing that as we watched what felt like something out of early punk days with an edge, people were convening at the usual march spot at Berri-UQAM Metro stop for night 48, I was again overcome by a surreal feeling. This time, it was a feeling of how amazing and almost unbelievable it is to live in this particular time, but a time that is also connected to so many other rupturous moments by threads and discontinuities, mistakes and heartbreaks, and sometimes a gaining of ground, a holding of the line. Sometimes even some wins, and a bit more freedom.

Earlier in the day, on my “day off,” I’d rented one of Montreal’s Bixi bikes so that I could join the “tour de l’ile en rouge” (tour of the island in red), which began from the same Parc LaFontaine where Occupy Montreal was having its assembly in another corner.

Our critical-red mass was made up of some thousand or more cyclists, most dressed in red, and pretty much everyone sporting the red square on their shirts or hats, or as a cardboard square within their bike wheel or square-red flag attached to their bicycle. Many also brought spoons, so many spoons, and a healthy chunk of pots too, making us more of a red casseroles tour of the island. One of the folks I biked next to the whole time–another new acquaintance, a Concordia student who told me about how hard it had been to try to maintain even a small strike there, especially when they attempted to do a hard picket line against exam day–mentioned how she always now travels with her spoon. You never know when it will come in handy–say, when a bunch of folks were already inside the Grand Prix outdoor party area on/near Crescent Street on Friday night. Spoons have become the new public enemy, along with red squares, red scarves, and black umbrellas, among other subversive objects! Police have been targeting, stopping, hassling, hitting, and/or arresting people for these household and clothing menaces.

Who knows, soon cops may be rounding up the little kids who are joining in too? Like the 8- or 9-year-old girl on this bike ride today who kept starting up chants all by herself, calling out the first part, with all the adults around her then calling out the second part–such as in “Charest” “Whoo-Who!” You have to hear this chant to appreciate it, resonating with what I’m told is a hockey cheer/jeer, and never failing to elicit glee among the participants. The glee on this young cyclist’s face, though, put all the others to shame: her little act of self-organization was working! And like kids who’ve grown up in Zapatista autonomous communities in Chiapas or MST communities in Brazil, to name two, maybe this child–and so many children I’ve seen on the Montreal spring, outwitting police cars during their neighborhood casseroles in order to take the streets, or already on the streets in situations like last night’s eruptive disruption, or organizing walkouts from their high schools, or even meandering into Ryan’s music tonight–will grow up in such a radically different society that she’ll think self-organization along with practices of mutual aid and dignity, for starters, are the “natural” norms.

I spent the near-three-hours of this gorgeous red bike ride–meant as a counterpoint to the noisy, fuel-unefficient, expensive Grand Prix happening on a nearby island–in friendly political debate with yet another new acquaintance (uprisings are good for the creation of social bonds and communities that usually feel far more genuine and mutualistic than most, and often last far longer too). He and I were basically arguing about political strategy and the related notion of a diversity of tactics–or, in his view, not. And yet here we were, on this stunning red bicycle ride on a stunning maple summer day, winding our way through Montreal neighborhood after Montreal neighborhood, and all around us were people going out of their way to raise their fists or wave hands in solidarity, display their own red flags or squares, bang their own pots, or even grab their bike and join us. While yesterday night, winding our way through the streets of Montreal, all around us were people going out of their way to raise their fists or wave hands in solidarity, display their own red flags or squares, bang their own pots, or simply walk off the sidewalk and join us. One calm leisure, and the other chaotic disruption. Both, though, evidence of the depth of social support for and involvement in this profound moment of people not only holding the line on austerity cuts but opening up space for their own collective empowerment and social solidarity. And both evidencing that there is increasingly, as I’ve noted before, not an “us” on daytime bike rides or nighttime disobedience with people watching from the sidelines but a growing “we” weaving through the whole fabric of this society in upheaval.

Like Occupy in the States, and no doubt Occupy Montreal and other Occupy sites across Canada, social and self transformation is a messy business, or rather a beautiful and messy experiment. There will never be a perfect “we,” neatly bounded like the perfect little red squares increasingly visible all across the Montreal landscape and Montrealers’ bodies. There will be the debates about strategy, tactics, and aspirations, and struggles over how to turn street power into popular, self-governing power. There already are, and many of the conversations with many of the new acquaintainces and friends–and old ones too–that I’m having on the streets involve both the surreal quality of this maple spring (in a breathtakingly dreamy sort of way!) and the constant lived experiences of the dilemmas it raises. Should we ride bikes, bang pots, play music, or riot, among other things, or all of the above? Which brings in more people? Keeps them there? Which scare people off? Or which, as Ryan’s video shows, only embolden them further?

Even my rental bike became part of the surreal quality of this historical moment in Montreal, in yet another display of how imagery, symbols, and art are equal yet complementary partners in this uprising. All of the bixi bikes have advertising on them. (At one point a while ago, some anonymous culture-jammers printed up some 11,000 stickers with a few dozen or more different versions of short poems on them, and in a couple hours, covered over all the bixi ads with them [on 5,500 bikes.] They then put out a Web site that looked legit, claiming that bixi had decided to abandon the ads for the social good of beautiful words instead. When the prank was discovered, the Montreal bixi bureaucracy decried the vandalism and started ripping off all the poems. There was a near-riot, metaphorically, among the populace, which wanted those poems on those bixis, damn it! But I digress…as usual in this evening’s meandering blog.) My random choice of a bixi had this (red!) ad for RioTintoAlcan, which describes as “a world leader in finding, mining, and processing the earth’s mineral resources,” on its side and front:

And coincidentally, as if harkening to the night before on the Grand Prix party streets of Montreal, as if this bike had maybe even taken itself over there for a peek, this reworked (red!) version on its front:

I’m not sure where this blog post tonight is going, or like my lengthy rebel red bike ride, where it actually went, so I’ll end now with big hugs to a dear “friend of mine,” Ryan, who has the remarkable ability to be as gregarious as me, get as enthused about and engaged in revolutionary possibility as me, and inspire me, and who was a super companion on the streets and in the parks of Montreal. Plus he aided and abetted my obsession with taking pictures of red squares, including this one on his guitar case today:

– Cindy Milstein –

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The Universal Language: “Fuck the Police” (Montreal, Night 47)


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 feel like I probably saw and was in the middle of only a fraction of all the tides of popular protests against the Grand Prix tonight. But to likely understate it, the police (SPVM to SQ) totally lost control and the people totally held the streets. And as one person said to us on the streets as riot cops swarmed by us for the umpteenth time–after about the umpteenth time that nearly everyone (and by nearly everyone, I mean an eclectic mix of thousands and thousands of people, many dressed in fancy Saturday night party clothes, far from “the usual suspects” and not a black bloc in sight) pushed the police back, or for all intents and purposes kettled the cops, and after the many umpteenth times that nearly everyone booed at and many threw plastic bottles (or a beach ball) at the police–there’s a universal language on the streets this evening, and it’s “fuck the police.”

Of course, there was plenty of good reason to speak this global language on Montreal’s streets this evening: tear gas, batons, the incessant beating on shields, pushing, harassment, pepper spray, injuries, arrests. But none of those tactics worked. Nor did the tactic of attempting to divide the thousands of people “marching” or simply filling the streets. Each time the police managed to split enormous amounts of people into two, three, or four groups, or seemed to have dispersed people altogether, seconds or minutes later, there was a new massive group, or several, or another hot spot, with no rhyme or reason, and definitely no coordination. The sheer beauty of a mysterious spontaneity birthed of some sort of popular will and determination. Whether tourist or local, student or person in their seventies, a kid a stroller or an adult in a wheelchair, white or black, out for a drink or out for a protest, and on and on, people just kept coming at the cops again and again and again, with little fear and lots of animosity. This constant onslaught, from nearly all people and definitely in all directions, was relentless, bold, and tough, but never felt out of our control–even though the “our” was thoroughly unclear, or maybe a better word would be “expansive.” The “our” was the populace. And no one was in charge. Somehow, though, there was a common understanding of what our tactics were: holding ground, screaming at the police, throwing objects at the cops that couldn’t really hurt them, but under no circumstances would we give the streets or intersections over to them, or especially, under no conditions would we let our disruption be disrupted by the cops. These tactics of ours didn’t include breaking store windows, or what seemed a far more likely target, smashing the windows or otherwise damaging the many extremely fancy and extremely expensive cars that we encircled time and again. Instead, we basically compelled the police to clearly “protect” the luxury cars from a nonthreat–other than the threat that we were walking the wrong way against traffic and making the car’s drivers/passengers come to a halt for hours. This only underscored the absurdity of this display of wealth in the midst of a governmental crisis over not meeting people’s basic needs.

When we started out at 8:30 p.m. from the park next to the Berri-UQAM Metro, it felt that the couple thousand or so of us were modern-day peasants foolishly thinking we could breech the castle with our modern-day pitchforks: pots & pans, flags, drums, horns, and a lot of chanting and hand clapping. We passed by the big, free French-language music festival, and hundreds of concertgoers cheered us on, as did numerous passersby, who also often joined us. Our demonstration tried a couple times to “assault” the Grand Prix party area, but to no avail, and it seemed like things had come to a standstill and that everyone was dispersing.

My affinity group of two (myself and Ryan Harvey, on our night two together), kind of figured it was over and started to aimlessly meander toward the F1 party area, and then just as quickly as the march had disappeared, hundreds of police cars, vans, and cops swarmed by us, lights and sirens blaring. So we walked a block over from where the cops seemed to be heading, landing ourselves on the completely packed Ste.-Catherine street, a few blocks from the heart of F1 entertainment excess. Within two blocks more, our peasant crew of a couple thousand was backed up by many thousands more–the rabble, who likely didn’t plan on being rabble that night–and it was instantly clear that like last night, protesters and the populace (or rather, the populace in protest) had again managed to outwit the cops and disrupt the Grand Prix’s evening bash. Even more so than last night, however, the cops were completely outnumbered, seemed completely at a loss as to what to do, and often yelled orders that they couldn’t possibly fulfill. Each time they tried to push the crowds away, people stood their ground until the last minute, moved back a bit against walls or doorways, and then as the cops retreated, simply moved back into the streets again–with pretty much everyone on the street participating (and there were thousands and thousands of people out tonight in this busy area). Frequently, we ended up chasing the cops away, or basically pushing them back instead of them pushing us, by the thousands of us simply walking briskly toward them, shouting at them in at least two languages.

It’s hard to describe, or rather hard to translate, how this all felt, especially since it felt like nothing that I or Ryan have ever experienced. Ryan kept remarking how on incredible this past year-plus has been–from Tunisia and Egypt, to Indignados and Madison and Occupy. We both marveled at this wave of revolt that sweeps this way and that, washing away prediction after prediction that it was disappearing the same way that tonight the people seemed washed away by the police, only to more turbulently sweep back into the streets that they so obviously understood as theirs, in their own maple uprising. They turned the normal life of a busy Saturday night street into a normalized yet extraordinary battleground of contestation and popular control, the 47th evening on top of something like 115 or so days of a massive student strike. People were clearly in complete, confident, calm (relative to the situation) collective self-command, and yet it was utterly rebellious, utterly disobedient to authority and cognizant of its own social power, and utterly populist.

I don’t want to minimize the fact that some people were arrested (CUTV reported that tonight marked the 9th attack by the SPVM on their crew in these last 3 days!), others were hurt, and many may only have been expressing anger at cops. Yet there’s also obvious widespread discontent at things like the evisceration of the promise of free education (a palpable memory of a promise some 30-40 years ago, mind you!) and increasingly harsh austerity cuts. There’s an obvious widespread disillusionment with the government and its police, with the word “fascist” being the most frequently used word to describe what people feel it happening to Canadian and especially Quebec society in light of special law 78.

It’s like the student strike–some two years in the making/planning, and building on the history of other student strikes and the not-so-quiet Quiet Revolution of the 1960s to 1970s–was the first strike in a wake-up call that has now startled people into not falling asleep again. As one longtime anarchist on the streets tonight mentioned to us, basically: we anarchists (or more broadly, anticapitalists) have a lot to learn from this. There’s no way radicals could have brought about the social upheaval that is winning. That has already won many hearts and minds and actively engaged bodies in a way that’s way beyond any “mere” social movement. There’s a lot to learn about what it took to organize the student strike, what it took to build and sustain it, what it’s taking now to keep it going, and how the hell so much of the population here sympathesizes with and brazenly leaps into this struggle. And there’s the perplexing question of where it will all go. This particular anarchist friend said he thought June 22 was crucial; that it needed to be big. A second later he added, “But who knows? Maybe June 22 isn’t key.”

On Thursday night, a mere 3 days ago, with a couple hundred mostly anticapitalist folks (since that was the call for this demo) quickly kettled and thinking we were going to spend the night in jail, I thought the Grand Prix would go merrily on its way, untouched by this monumental and historic student strike. Now, in the early hours of Sunday morning, with the start of the Grand Prix’s noxious engines just a few hours away, I’m astonished that I’ve spent two nights smack in the center of the F1 party, as a society-at-large (rather than a handful of radicals or protesters) chooses that it’s worth the disruption in order to make the student strike and now widening social strike plain as day. Making it the story.

As usual, I walked the hour or so back to where I’m staying after the hours of near-riot tonight, passing late-night partiers and people walking their dogs, realizing it was nearly 2 a.m. as I turned on to Mont-Royal, which has been closed to traffic now for 2-3 days for a street fair, or mix of entertainment, food, and lots of sale items from the surrounding stores. There were still a fair amount of folks mingling around on the closed-off Mont-Royal, but most of them were all looking down at the road.

In the middle of the street, for some 6-8 blocks or more ahead of me, were gigantic street art pieces, composed of paint and chalk, each with the yellow line of the road vaguely appearing in the center. Some of the artists were still around, adding to their work, and I asked a young artist about his piece, after I noticed that the first 8 or 10 of these massive street drawings had red squares in them, not to mention casseroles or the number “78.”

“What is this? Were you supposed to include the red square in your work?” I asked him, noticing a red square pinned to his shirt.

“This happens every year, but we can create whatever we want to. A lot of people want to use the red square in their art. They say that us students are violent. Sometimes a window might get broken, but that’s not violence. It’s the police who are violent. They just get more violent. All we want is a better world. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

I saw him notice my red square too, and he added, “Thank you for wearing the square. It gives us students strength to see the square everywhere.”

And so 2 a.m. turned into 3 a.m. as I slowly walked down the line of giant paintings. I walked the line of thousands and thousands of red squares, alongside other people, without disruption. In the quiet of the late night/early morning, we whispered our appreciation and pointed at particularly delightful renditions of red squares. I kept thinking, this is a magical time to be alive, when anything is possible and everything is surprising: from a downtown with the streets held by people in rebellion to a neighborhood with the streets filled with the color of resistance.

– Cindy Milstein –

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Grand Disruption of Grand Prix, Montreal, Night 46


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

Montreal, QC–Ah, what an unexpectedly grand disruption of the Grand Prix, right in the middle of its own excessive and expensive street party, on night 46 of continual disobedient & always illegal streets demos! Or rather, grand disruptions, from crashing into the heart of the F1 festivities basically through a not-there-one-minute, but definitely-there-the-next “flash mob” casseroles; to later marching outward from the party that so many had disturbed and suddenly becoming not hundreds but thousands, who then seemed to disappear as quickly as they appeared when the cops shot rubber bullets and tear gas at us, only to reappear, reconverge, and retake the Grand Prix partiers’ streets. Hours of this self-controlled chaos meant that the massive amount of riot police were running every which way, often seemingly getting kettled between us, and it became nearly impossible multiple times to tell “protester” from the mobs of “other” people, because so many of those other people seemed to be joining in, or at least pretty clearly anti-cop, and often actively so. Surreal mix of huge amount of police in full gear, huge amounts of Grand Prix attendees in their own absurd full gear, and huge amounts of people with and without red squares contesting them both.

There’s so much I want to say about tonight, but it’s so late, and I can only muster a few thoughts.

For one, it was a joy to run for a bit with the CUTV crew, who are increasingly turning from livestreamers to live alter-newscasters, with good cheer and tenacity (even after, yet again, being attacked by police last night). If you haven’t watched, recommended, contributed to, said thanks to, or spoken with the CUTV folks, do all that and more soon.

Second, it was a delight to be in the streets, subversively and illegally, with so many who show such courage, calm, and grace under pressure, without fear and with the offensive, but tonight in particular, displayed an intuitive collective intelligence. It’s a mystery how people knew what to do when, where, and with whom; it was a pleasure to know that within all the spontaneity and unpredictably, people were making smart and strategic decisions. We were side by side with many expensive, fancy cars on display when we crashed the party, but no one trashed the cars; yet when we were side by side with many expensive, fascistic cops, people stood their ground, chanted “a-anti-anticapitalista,” and, say, threw eggs toward the police when tear gas came at us, but kept focused on the collective goal of making sure that “business as usual” (capitalism in the form of F1) can’t happen in the face of austerity measures and special laws making dissent a crime.

Third, it’s clearer than ever that maple spring has indeed become maple summer, and it’s deeper and wider than ever. Unlike any other protest or mass mobilization, or even occupy, that I’ve been to and participated in, this North American uprising isn’t an “us” versus “them,” or “protesters/occupiers” and “nonprotesters/occupiers.” Not everyone in Quebec is on the side of the student and social strike; that’s not what I’m arguing. But many, many, many people are–many people of all types–blurring the lines between protester and populace, because the maple summer has become popular. The police can’t police, because they can’t even tell who is or isn’t in a demonstration; who or who isn’t on a street “legally” or “illegally”; who or who isn’t in a big group walking around in evening to go to a festival or bar, or to bang pots & pans or engage in demonstration. Because it isn’t clear. I stood on various corners this evening along St.-Catherine, near Crescent and Bishop and other F1 party areas, and it was near impossible (save for some clear garish Grand Prix dress) to separate out the discontented from the drunk. It was a grand disruption of many more thousands than one could obviously “tag” by seeing a red square.

Maybe, increasingly, it could be said, “we are all wearing a red square.”

Unlike any other social movement or near-riot or other rupture I’ve personally experienced, there’s actual social power, because there’s a profound depth not simply of sympathy but also engaged support and even more engaged participation–often at a moment’s notice, like tonight, when the cops moved in en masse with batons and tear gas and rubber bullets, there were more people, not less.

It isn’t about the street fighting, although this evening, it felt totally right to upend this capitalist, patriarchal display of frivolity and uncaring–a sort of “let them eat cake” moment while the rich fill their bellies with liquor and power. Or try to. Because what this is about is, precisely, power–the hierarchical power that the elites and the police and the provincial government is losing, and tonight seemed to have lost, and the still-informal power-from-below that people have taken for themselves here in Montreal and environs. Street disruptions like this, where anyone or everyone could be (or is) on the side of popular power and social change, can only control the streets when there’s already been months and indeed years of organizing through student associations, general assemblies, anticapitalist convergences, and other groundwork; when people forget that they are scared and cowed, and instead believe that they are strong and have agency over their lives, since they can feel their own collective power in their bones and see it in the faces of so many around them, and know they aren’t alone anymore in wanting a far, far better society; and when little kids can hold pots & pans and become menaces, who just might grow up to be marvelously different people in a marvelously different world than we can imagine today.

– Cindy Milstein –

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