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.