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100 Red Nights / 100 Victories, Montreal, Night 100


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.

This is a gift. A collaborative one, between myself (words) and Thien V Qn (photos). A gift of one love letter per night, for each of the one hundred nights that so many tens of thousands shared the streets of Montreal together. Our gift to the Quebec student strike and all that it’s inspired, on this 100th night on the first day of what promises to be a red-hot August. To accept our gift, unwrap here: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/

-Cindy Milstein-

Posted in #manifencours, StoriesComments (1)

Listen, You Can Hear the Sound of Direct Democracy, or Orchestroles, Montreal, Night 72


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 – Among the many things to remark on here in Montreal in relation to the remarkable student strike and the maple movement it has engendered is that people don’t seem to beat tactics to death. When new tactics have strategic uses that are underpinned by solid aims, and crucially, when they exhibit a bit of novelty or flair, they stay in play. On the other hand, when tactics appear to have outlasted their usefulness and especially their vibrancy, they are abandoned, reworked, or take another enlivening form.

It’s still unclear exactly how this happens. Ideas are put out there — on Facebook, posters, or the streets, and especially at student and neighborhood assemblies — and clearly, strategic and tactical decisions are made as well as implemented. Directly democratic along with highly participatory forms of decision making have long been institutionalized at many of the schools on strike, and several members of the student coalitional association CLASSE have mentioned that this self-governance was pivotal to planning, organizing, and mobilizing this strike. Or more strongly, that the strike couldn’t have happened without those bodies.

But there’s also this curious way in which a sort of “general will” or popular consensus — outside any formal process, and more like a gravitational pull — makes it apparent that a particular tactic has people’s enthusiasm and participation, or not. And not in a cynical or mean-spirited way; people on the ground seem to somehow, inexplicably, concur that something feels right to do.

The key point is: there’s a palpable and (compared to contemporary movements in the United States) profound lack of tactical, not to mention strategic, staleness.

So it is with the casseroles.

Nearly as quickly as they burst on to the scene in Montreal some six weeks ago, swelling in numbers and locations and volume, the casseroles diminished to the occasional few folks at an intersection for about fifteen minutes. They were magical while they lasted, and made their point, plus helped to kick off popular assemblies in various neighborhoods here, and offered an easy solidarity tool for folks in other cities and countries, such as the “Canada casseroles night” every Wednesday. And probably a sizable number of Montreal households now have a thoroughly dented pan as proud symbol of this struggle.

Then, the Saturday before last, various Montreal popular assemblies decided they would pull those battered pots into battle again, and head downtown to add strength to the nightly illegal demos. They each started casseroles on particular corners in their own neighborhoods, at staggered times, and then walked from neighborhood to neighborhood toward downtown, picking up people until a hefty contingent of casserolers with banners for each popular assembly converged at the usual meeting spot next to UQAM for the (second) illegal evening march, and everyone strolled out again together. There was also a flash mob on the way that swooped into a bookstore chain that had supposedly fired an employee for wearing a red square; inside, for several exuberant minutes, people banged on pots and waved red-covered books.

Meanwhile, a small group of diehards in the Mile-End neighborhood had apparently been bringing their cookware out on Wednesdays to two “hot spot” intersections at 8 p.m. At last Thursday’s Mile-End popular assembly, in the six-person breakout group on culture and arts, two enthusiastic guys — part of an enthusiastic collective space in the neighborhood — said they wanted to add an orchestra and bring it out into the streets at this Wednesday’s tiny casseroles, or our own neighborhood version of Montreal’s Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble, “born May 27th 2006 during the ‘Status For All’ march/demo in Montreal” (http://chaoticinsurrectionensemble.org/). Maybe it was another one of those “lost in translation” moments for me, but I could have sworn they said they didn’t want to promote it; just spread the idea via word of mouth, which is what happened. The breakout group ran the idea by the reconvened assembly, or what was left at it some three hours into our popular gathering in a public park. Everyone affirmed that it sounded good, and away we all went into the night last week.

At 8:10 p.m. this evening, at the appointed Waverly and St.-Viateur intersection, it was me and maybe three or four other folks with pots and pans. I started banging on my saucepan, filled with homemade red felt squares and safety pins in each (to give out when — or if — we really got going), and the rest of the cookware crew joined me, along with a couple dogs that started barking. At about 8:15 p.m., one of the two enthusiastic guys marched over to us with his drum, quadrupling (or more) our noise level. At 8:20 p.m., now with maybe six casseroles on pots and ladles, he asked me if I thought we should give up on the plan. He wondered if it had been promoted, though I reminded him that he and his friend been opposed to that last week. He then wondered if maybe we should just call it quits for this week, and promote it for the next one.

Fortunately, soon, our popular assembly banner arrived from one direction, and a definite scrappy DIY orchestra appeared in the other direction — horns, drums, tambourines, and perhaps the showpiece, a quiet bicycle with a big red-square banner. More on that in a minute.

Suddenly there were also more pots and pans, and more dogs, and some kids, and lots of red squares on bodies and instruments, and we set about “tuning up” our street-corner insurrection ensemble, and then . . . away we went, out into the unsanctioned streets as popular assembly marching band in solidarity with the student strike and social strike (because that’s been the clear sentiment at the first two assemblies). Or rather, out with our newly blended tactic: “Orchestroles”! Part instruments, musicians, and discernible songs; part cookware, neighbors, and clanging chaos.

Suffice it to say, the neighborhood came alive as we passed by in the streets, with people popping their heads out windows, doors, and balconies, and some zipping back inside to grab a pot and wooden spoon, and then join us. The musicians increasingly hit their stride, starting to really jam, and the sound of music — a mix of joyful and somber, mournful and celebratory — echoed off the buildings, wafting through the gentle night breeze, outward well beyond our numbers (maybe forty tops, but never the “true” illegal number spelled out in special law 78, which for about a minute, we chanted against with the usual “fuck you” slogan in French).

A casseroler had brought flyers about our next assembly, and she and I handed them out to curious onlookers, who leaned out open-air cafes to get a peek or stopped on their bicycles to savor the music. Mostly, I held out my saucepan full of freshly made red squares to people who seemed more than curious. They’d peek inside, a big grin would spread across their face, and more often than not, they’d exclaim their surprise at this gift. I could never hear what they said, due to the orchestroles’ overwhelming din, but expressions can speak louder than words sometimes. They’d eagerly grab one, pinning to their shirt or bag, again looking astonished at this gift that allowed them, too, to participate. I didn’t invent this tactic; it’s one I borrowed after seeing a few folks do it on previous casseroles. Several members of our orchestroles realized I had these red squares, and since they weren’t wearing one, they ran up to me to get a “loaner,” and soon I could see my saucepan was nearly empty. Then one of our popular assembly crew — a striking student — sidled up to me, asking if I needed more, and then pulled out a ziplock bag full of them. This student told me that they made them in batches to give out at their student association meetings. So voila! Refilled saucepan, ready to be emptied again!

We took the streets, our popular assembly banner at the head, musicians toward the front, cookware all around, and bicycle with banner at the rear, all of us illegal and self-directed, winding our way through quieter residential streets and busier commercial ones in Mile-End, nearly always against traffic, for about an hour. And just when we were nearly back at our starting point, which clearly (via that inexplicable general will) was going to be our ending point, suddenly one, then two, and then five cop cars with lights flashing decided they had to intervene — with the usual excuse of, as they told one of our orchestroles, “preventing an accident.” Their method to ensure our “safety” was to use the front of their cars to “nudge” several us off the street. When someone would “insist” on remaining in the street, they’d turn their cruiser toward them, brushing car against person’s body. Without any “fuck you cops” or confrontation, our orchestroles just stayed its course, in our streets, back to our beginning intersection, where we raised our pots and pans as the musicians raised the volume in a gorgeously insurrectionary finale, with smiles all around.

“Next week?” “Yes, next week!” “Hey, can’t we do an encore now?!”

We engaged in short and sweet schmoozing in the street instead, while the five cop cars sat ineffectually nearby. “Hey, we must have been successful tonight,” someone observed happily. “Look, they sent five police cars for less than fifty people!” At one point the police used a microphone to announce that we needed to get out of the streets and stop socializing, but like the bigger nightly demos, no one listened. The police aren’t who people listen to these days. We talk and listen to each other.

Which brings me back to the quiet bicycle with the big red-square banner, with one word (well, two, if you count the French and English versions): LISTEN.

LISTEN. That’s what direct democracy sounds like. A whole lot of listening, to each other, and what we need, desire, and feel good about doing. Maybe that goes a long way to explaining why neither tactics, strategies, or aspirations go stale. People here in Montreal, in building toward and moving forward with this student-social strike, have made use of and/or are creating deliberate spaces for listening, from assemblies to the wake-up calls of casseroles and now orchestroles.

Which brings me to an anecdote about a different kind of interaction this evening.

At one point in handing out my homemade red felt squares, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, waved me over to her front door. When I held out my saucepan, she said in perfect English, with not a moment’s hesitation about whether I would understand or not (coincidence or not, this is something that’s always been my experience at demos, when someone wants to complain about the strike, which is heavily Francophone inflected and organized), “Don’t you think you’ve protested enough? You’ve already lost, no one agrees with you, and the government isn’t going to give you what you want.” Her initial smile turned to hostility, and her voice got an angry edge. “But look around you. Can’t you see that there’s lots of support, right here on your block?” I responded, because hoards of people all around us had come outside to wave and cheer the orchestroles on, and even start participating too.

She dived, agitatedly, into the tired and misguided line that the students were spoiled, they had it better than students elsewhere, and so on. I dived, calmly, into the idea that everyone should have cheap or free education, and maybe health care and housing too. “Like you do,” I said, because I was looking right into her lovely home, its front door wide open.

She started pointing a finger at me, about to yell, and I quietly pointed my finger at her T-shirt, which sported a big heart made out of hundreds of little versions of the wordlove. Even more calmly, I said, “Isn’t that what love is about? Love in the most expansive sense, as a love of humanity? That we believe that each of us — you, me, and everyone around us — is deserving of what they need and want?” She stopped, looked at me, less sure of herself. I could hear her listening, maybe not to me, but to something inside her head, like she was now forced to have an internal dialogue because she’d listened to that word love — a word that she herself was wearing, perhaps without even thinking hard about its meaning before.

LISTEN. Nightly and daily here, for the time being at least, you can hear the faint but growing sound of things changing.

-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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Anticapitalist Kickoff to Grand Prix, Montreal, Night 45


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–There’s nothing like walking for some 4 to 5 hours, yet again, through Montreal with hundreds and hundreds of riot cops in tow–rows and rows of police cars with lights on, squads and squads of heavily suited-up cops in formation and running every which way, lines of police guarding any and every street leading to Grand Prix festivities; white vans with “intervention” written on the side, empty city buses waiting to be filled with people like us, a cop helicopter looming above. But there’s also nothing like walking for those many hours and kilometers, for the first time during my maple spring-summer stay, with hundreds of “veteran” anarchists–from CLAC, a relatively longtime anarchist organization, and people who’ve been to many a mass mobilization and other mayhem, such as Quebec City during the alter-globalization days–along with lots of new anarchists–many clean-cut students, such as the ones pictured below, walking from the Metro to the 5 p.m. planned disruption of a fancy Grand Prix dinner by anticapitalists/anarchists. There’s nothing like being on the streets of a city where people, anarchist and otherwise, don’t seem to be afraid of the police anymore.

The police always try to find ways to make people feel afraid, of course. This morning at 6 a.m., at the start of this weekend’s Grand Prix grand battle, for instance, they targeted specific anticapitalist/anarchist organizers’ homes and made some arrests. And after only a few minutes of anarchists and other radicals meeting up at the appointed spot at 5 p.m. to attempt to block elites from eating together–with one anarchist contingent arriving in a bloc fronted by two banners (pictured just below)–riot police swooped in from all sides so fast we didn’t know what hit us, and suddenly, I and several hundred others were kettled, pushed together by heavily suited cops with batons racing toward us menacingly. Then just as suddenly, four riot cops ran into our packed kettle, snatched a person, and pulled them out for arrest.

All this did, however, was kick people into organizing gear. Some folks handed out bilingual flyers made by CLAC with a CLAC legal support number for this weekend. Someone else gave me and many others something to use if the police used tear gas. People shared water, and wrote friends’ numbers along with the legal number on their bodies, loaning out pens. I was supposed to meet up with a friend for this demo, but he got delayed, and some new Francophone acquaintances (swiftly turning into friends) took this Anglophone into their temporary affinity group.

Beyond organizing, the fear tactics only served to increase people’s resolve. As cops shoved into our imprisoned mass with batons and some pepper spray to grab other folks (we heard they wanted people in masks, or as one friend tweeted to us later, “people in black with umbrellas”), anarchists linked arms, stood their ground, and tried to repell the police–and actually managed to “unarrest” some folks within the confines of our kettle. People screamed at the police; police made fun of them; people looked them in the eye, up close, when they charged in. After some 10 to 15 arrests, the police pulled up a white van with “technology” written on the side, pulled out a microphone, and suddenly–after maybe an hour–declared our kettle an illegal assembly and that we should disperse. As one of my comrades yelled back, “It doesn’t look like your own police can follow orders,” since not a one of them moved to let us out. This only increased the sense of nonfear and courage among us. And then, oddly, the riot cops parted, and we raced out–quickly reforming into another, even bigger anarchist bloc–thanks to other folks waiting for us outside the kettle–taking over streets and heading toward Crescent Street, where other Grand Prix visitors were partying.

One of my new friends needed to get his bike, so we left the march for a bit, and on our way to find it again, we saw police cars whizzing by, and a random woman near us suddenly screamed at the police with all her might and gave them the finger, many times over. My new friend looked at me, and basically remarked, “See, people aren’t afraid anymore.” This happens a lot, increasingly, he told me. He himself hadn’t ever really gone to demos or done any organizing before this, but when the government decided not to negotiate with CLASSE, probably the most radical and articulate of the student organizations, and isolate it a couple months ago, he suddenly realized that he couldn’t stand on the sidelines. In our kettle, he was among the first to link arms and push back against the riot cops when they pushed in with batons & spray to grab person after person.

We found one of our comrades from the earlier kettle, and she told us that the police had again attacked the anarchists, much more heavyhandedly this time, and arrested some more people. But for a third time–or at least third to my knowledge, because there seem to be different illegal marches each night in several or many places at once–anarchists regrouped, this time for the 7:30 p.m. “naked” student march (as in, I presume, the government isn’t being transparent with us, so we’ll be transparent to them). The numbers of fearless folks increased dramatically, into the several or many thousands, in a park, where to start this Grand Prix disruption march, some students draped a huge statue with a red cloth, and then several male-bodied students climbed up to the statue’s pedestal and stripped off their clothes to the cheering crowd below–with one of them sporting a red square stuck just above their penis. (Here’s a nice panoramic view of that scene, courtesy of a twitter post.)

With enormous red flags on tall poles leading the way, our semi-clad, barely clad, and completely naked mass struck out to push our way into a section of the city where Grand Prix visitors were lavishly wining and dining on public streets set aside for that purpose. And fully and overly clad riot police were soon everywhere, diligently shadowing and hounding us, but the march only grew louder and prouder and more naked, until we reached a point where it seemed we’d been kettled again. My anarchist crew and a bunch of others darted into what appeared to be nearby escape areas (one of my new friends laughingly said, “You don’t want to be arrested again, do you?” and gestured for me to follow into a big parking lot filled with fancy cars). In a flash, big riot cops with batons raised were racing toward us, as we darted between cars, and I along with my friends got shoved away from the cars with those batons. Lots of chaos; still no fear; and yet another regrouping and massive march.

More fearless and illegal taking of street after street, and more riot cops chasing and blocking us, as we headed for the opening night of a big outdoor French-language music festival near the Place du Arts. Yet again, kettling seemed likely. Yet again, people dispersed and regrouped, and suddenly we ended up in front of the free festival’s free entrance, with a line of riot cops keeping thousands in and us out. Hundreds of people on the inside, right behind the police, waved red pieces of cloth, joined us in chants, waved their solidarity, raised their fists, and some folks inside the free music festival dropped a big “FUCK CAPITALISM” over the side of the Place du Arts, also waving to us. We stood by the police line, facing them, ignoring them, looking at our comrades–people, so many varied types of people, who seem to be supporting this day-after-day-after-day struggle with both less fear and heightened hopes.

We heard there was another demonstration on the other of the festival–the group that had met up at the usual 8:30 p.m. nightly rendezvous point. My impromptu affinity group (all publishers, writers, and editors, and all or most of them anarchists) had mostly gone home by this time, and the last to stick with me, another new friend, said she was tired and was going to call it a night. I headed off in a different direction, and instantly saw 50-75 or more police guarding their own police station, and then in another block, a city bus sat idling with the destination “special” illuminated on its front and its lit interior filled with police; it soon raced off, followed by dozens and dozens of cop cars with their sirens blaring, and I heard the helicopter moving off with them too–off quickly, toward what was likely the other demo a mile or so away.

I kept heading home–about a 45-minute walk–and soon came upon another street festival. St.-Laurent was closed for blocks, and its bars and restaurants were extended with tents onto the street. People were drinking and eating, as if the scenes of radicals and police engaged in far more confrontational and tense situations than usual had not happened. Were not still happening. It’s hard not to start disbelieving, I thought, as I trudged wearily; so much boldness, and talk of that only increasing as the summer wears on and especially the school year starts (or doesn’t!); so much talk of not simply striking students but widespread unrest and anti-austerity sentiments. Widespread politicization and radicalization, and it’s spreading, inspiring others in provinces outside Quebec and places outside Canada. As the rain started to lightly drizzle, and I turned onto yet another street–St.-Denis–closed for yet another summer festival, still filled with tourists and bar-goers and others seemingly oblivious to social strike, in the distance, I heard the faint sound of pots and pans, the faint sounds of now-familiar French-language chants. (These chants are spread far and wide across Montreal nightly with the casseroles and marches that they are hard to get out of your head; earlier today, for example, I heard what looked like a 4-year-old absentmindedly singing one of the chants while she waited near me for the Metro–here probably home to dinner, and me heading with dozens of others marked by a red square on their backpack, hat, or shirt to the 5 p.m. anarchist convergence/disruption.) The clamor quickly grew, and there on this Montreal summer festival street appeared about 100 people in an 10:30 p.m. casseroles, making this uprising a festival of their own, as the rain started to come down harder. Because likely it will get harder, this weekend of attempted Grand Prix disruption and in the weeks and months ahead. Yet it doesn’t seem like much of anyone fears the difficulty.

As I reached my temporary home, I heard sirens and a helicopter, switched on CUTV’s livestream and glanced at twitter, and realized, yet again, on this night and probably a whole bunch more, anarchists and would-be anarchists and people acting anarchistically were taking over other streets, in flagrant and increasingly fearless defiance of special law 78, even as the cops were probably trying to stop them.

– Cindy Milstein –

 

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Montreal, Night 44: Some Short Notes on Another Long Evening


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 – Last night I joined about 9 people in a casseroles in Montreal; tonight [June 6], consecutive evening number 44, there were thousands, boisterous and carnivalesque, overtaking the streets to the cheers of people in houses and bars and cafes as we marched. I also stumbled across the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge crew at the start of the march. They were all wearing red coveralls with their collective name screened on the back, printing big posters on white paper in red ink to connect cuts to the arts to increases to education, as long lines of folks eagerly waited their turn for a fresh print, which many then pinned to their bodies for the march or took home as a revolutionary souvenir. A couple hours later, when the march passed the art students as they were packing up, I asked them if I could stop by their studio sometime in the coming week or so, and they said, “Come with us now!” reaching out a red-ink-stained hand to shake mine but quickly realizing a hello and smile was a better idea, as I trooped after them to their studio.

I want to write more on the culture & geography of resistance, and some of what I saw at Ecole de la Montagne Rouge’s giant 2-room studio, with their many screen-printed posters crawling up the high walls, and big cardboard posters leaning against walls, with sticks still attached so that two people can easily carry one sign in a demo. But for now, since it’s late yet again, seeing this space where striking students have been making art for months now–inspired by May 1968, Black Mountain, and Poland, as one of them told me, but also this movement and their excitement about it–only confirmed what I’ve felt on the streets when seeing art & revolution: that the two (movement & art) are hand in hand. Here, in this gorgeous studio, with the friendly group of artists happily showing me around, it was clear that their art is of and for the moments, the many moments, of maple spring. As one of them explained, they pull from the ongoing current events, quickly responding by quickly making a new design, trying to use French word plays and double meanings within images that, too, offer double or multiple meanings. We want to keep our art open, said one of the artists, so people can interpret it and make it their own.

One of the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge’s recent comrades, a sociology student this fall (“maybe,” he joked), went image by image with me, translating the varied meanings of words as well as art, and filling in some history, especially Quebec movement history, for me, such as the “Refus Global” (Total Refusal) manifesto by a group of 16 artists and intellectuals that is viewed as one of the influences for Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s and, as my guide explained, for the students now. As he talked to me about the Total Refusal’s manifesto, he pointed to his arm with a finger, ran the finger up his arm, and smiled, “Look, I have goosebumps just talking about it.”

One of the red-outfitted artists, with ink spots decorating his coveralls, said that the student strike had always been about something larger than a tuition increase. The increase, he noted, wouldn’t even impact the current students, since it would take several years to go into effect. It was always about future students, he went on, but more than that, about anti-austerity and, indeed, the future. He gestured with his hands, drawing them from his sides upward, saying that this student strike has brought out what was underneath: the feelings, concerns, and desires of people generally. For him, that was also about Quebec removing itself from Canada, not being under Harper, but being, in his words, its own state instead of a province–and a French-speaking one.

He and my impromptu guide both indicated a phrase on one of their posters in particular: “le combat est avenir.” It was printed on cardboard, back when they used to print more of their posters in quantity on cardboard as signs for demonstrations (paper is now easier for them to carry and print on in larger quantities, my guide said). I hope I’m not doing an injustice to the translation that they described, but they said “avenir” offered the mixed meaning of “in the future” and “to have” or “with a future,” and if I understood correctly, “for a future”–all added to “le combat” or fight. One can then see the waves as moving toward a future or creating waves now to make a better future, or other interpretations. Again, that’s the intention, the artist said: that even if I am translating it incorrectly, I’m drawing out my own meaning, engaging with the art and its words through the lens of my (and thousands of others) participation in, to borrow a grammatical phrase in English, a “future perfect.”

As for the march itself, there were so many poignant scenes on tonight’s manif in Montreal, from hearing and then seeing small casseroles after casseroles at various intersections as I walked about 2 miles to the usual 8:30 p.m. march meet-up spot, including going down one whole block where people filled nearly all the balconies on both sides to bang their pots & pans (all of them cheering enthusiastically when I strolled by and banged on my lone pot in return below them), to finding thousands converging at 8:30 in costumes, with big banners & flags & signs, a variety of instruments, and so much cookware making so much noise it reverberated for blocks away as I approached, to whole open-air bars full of people who stood up to applaud and bang whatever they could when our march quickly & loudly went by.

I felt on a rollercoaster of emotions, propelled by the sense that this is what revolutionary social transformation really feels like. Night after night, and often day after day, people are engaging in widespread direct actions. It is not “just a march.” It is a walking toward the future, grabbing the future now. People are daily defying the laws of state–and have been now for months–to begin to make their own promises to each other, from students finding their voices and own education through blockades, pickets, making huge free meals during them, teach-ins and media (the art students showed me a weekly journal/booklet they’ve been designing for student writers and poets), to the populace now reshaping civic space and creating a people’s festival season (as I watch the Grand Prix start its build-up of a festival for the rich), to starting to meet more of one’s neighbors and also rethink neighborhoods via the beginning of assemblies. It’s hard to capture in words, but being on the street here each evening feels utterly distinct from the word used to describe it: “demonstration.” My reinterpretation or misinterpretation of the French word “manifestation” for that English-language term feels closer: something is continually being manifested on the streets.

So especially as the several-thousand-person march I was in almost ran the last long block of St.-Denis toward the Mont-Royal intersection (some 2 miles back right from where I’d originally come) where another thousand people “waited” for us with their march and a sit-in against arrests and repression–with the volume turning up so much I could barely hear myself think–I shed some tears at the beauty of it all. Equally, I felt the joy that accompanies the struggle of change, tonight in many forms, including several instances of anarchopanda echoes on hats, stuffed animals, and backpacks. And I felt awe at how doggedly determined this increasingly dispersed “refusal” and “reclaiming” is when, walking home after midnight from the Ecole de la Montagne Rouge folks–so awe-inspiring in themselves, already having produced this huge, living, useful, agitational, and remarkable body of work that continues to grow, alongside a movement that’s growing in similar ways–I ran across a small troop of extremely loud marchers-casseroles-chanters making their way along the bar area of St.-Denis, just as exuberant as when they likely headed toward the future some 4 to 5 hours ago, and some many weeks and months ago.

-Cindy Milstein- 

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Infinite Solidarity


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.

New York -For the past 101 days (and counting), students in Québec have been on strike and in the streets against a crumbling education system that seeks to burden them with more debt and restrict access to education for the 99%. In recent days, hundreds of thousands have been in the streets of Montreal. The state’s response: Bill 78 – a Draconian piece of legislation that essentially outlaws mass demonstrations and severely fines those who participate.

Enraged and inspired by the images from Montreal and the recent #noNato protests in Chicago, a small but militant group gathered in Washington Square Park. It was Occupy Wall Street’s second night in a row marching in solidarity with the Québec student movement. We spent a good amount of time talking about what we wanted to do. Should we march or have a rally? Should we be doing outreach about the student struggle as well as marching? And what do we do about the ever-increasing police presence in the park (one count put it at 50 cops for about as many occupiers).

So we did what occupy does best: break-out groups. In small groups around the park, some of us drafted a statement of solidarity in English & French while others came up with an action plan for the march. I joined the statement-writing group and we hammered out a poignant few paragraphs in a short time. Luckily, some French speakers were on hand to translate as well.

As we were discussing the statement, the action planning group wrapped up and told us the plan as clandestinely as possible. After we reconvened and read the statement, the plan was to go “civilian” and find each other again on the corner of Broadway & West 4th Street, then march to Union Square.

The solidarity statement was mic checked by everyone in English and French. It rang through the park:

To our sisters and brothers in Québec as you enter the 101st day of the strike. For the second night in a row, we have assembled here to stand in solidarity with your fight for the human right to an education for all. Despite underrepresentation of your strength, your numbers, and your message in the mainstream media, we are watching. We at Occupy Wall Street honor your bravery, creativity and commitment to an organization built on direct democracy. You are an inspiration to us. You are not alone. Our grievances are connected. Your struggle is our struggle. We will continue to show our solidarity for as long as continue to fight in the face of the repressive laws of an illegitimate political regime. Stay strong and don’t give up the resistance! Thank you for fighting for all of us, and for future generations. We love you! Solidarity!”
Video via @diceytroop on Twitter:


And then we dispersed, jokingly saying “bye!” and “see you tomorrow at 4 on Broadway” and giving out hugs and kisses. 15 minutes later we were together again, only this this marching north on Broadway. There were no cops. It was jovial. We weaved through oncoming traffic chanting “From Montreal to NYC, education should be free!” Some people didn’t take too kindly to us. There were shouts of “Get a job!” and someone even threw a water balloon at us from their apartment window. But there were honks of support as well. We stayed on the street the whole time and were small enough to move quickly and avoid police.

When we arrived at Union Square, we read the statement again and cheered “SO SO SO, Solidarite!” After a while a group of occupiers, high off the adrenaline of the streets, decided to head to Astor Place for an impromptu party. I decided to hang back in the park. There was talk of another march tomorrow. People liked the idea, some even said we should be marching every night. Amongst the twinkling of fingers and nodding heads I heard someone say the perfect phrase for what we were all feeling: “infinite solidarity.”

-Danny Valdes-

 

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What Really Happened at the Montréal May Day Protest


Editors note: This story was originally published at The Portland Occupier.

Montréal, Cananda – On May 1, 2012, thousands of students and other protesters took to the streets for the Anti-Capitalist rally in downtown Montréal. I attended the protest with a couple friends, and having read the “news” emanating from the “stenographers of power” (the mainstream media), it’s important to set the record straight about what happened here in Montréal.

The Montreal Gazette reported the events with the headline, “Police respond as May Day anti-capitalist protesters turn violent in Montreal.” This exact story and headline were carried across the English-speaking media fresh for the morning’s papers: with the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the Calgary Herald, the Regina Leader-Post, the Edmonton Journal, and the Ottawa Citizen.

The story, as they tell it, goes like this: it started peacefully just after 5 p.m. (this part is true!), and then it “was declared illegal by police at two minutes after 6 p.m. following violent clashes.” A police spokesperson (who apparently is the only person the media chose to interview for their article) said that, “injuries to a citizen, police officers and vandalism on cars and property were the reasons for declaring the march illegal.” The article then blamed “black-clad youth [who] were seen hurling rocks at store windows,” after which the police began to launch flash grenades, and the riot police moved in after 6 p.m. “using batons to disperse the crowd.” At 7:10 p.m., “a full hour after declaring the demonstration illegal, police announced that anyone who refused to leave would be arrested.”

The CBC went with the headline, “More than 100 arrests in Montreal May Day riot.” CTV reported that of the 100+ arrests that took place, “75 were for unlawful assembly, while the remaining 34 were for criminal acts.”

  The first sign of trouble

So, arrested for “unlawful assembly”: what does that mean? It means that when the police unilaterally declare a protest to be “illegal,” everyone who is there is “unlawfully assembling,” and thus, mass and indiscriminate arrests can be made. In Part 1, Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is stated that “[e]veryone has the following fundamental freedoms”: conscience, religion, thought, belief, expression, media, communication, association, and “freedom of peaceful assembly.”

Having been at the protest from its beginning, I can say that it was a peaceful march. While there were individual acts of vandalism (the worst I saw was drawing on a bank’s window with a black marker), if police action were to be taken, it should be to arrest the specific vandal. Instead, they implemented collective punishment for exercising our “fundamental freedoms.”

The protest began in the Old Port of the city of Montréal, and made it’s way down rue Notre-Dame, up St-Laurent, and down to the financial district. The mood was good, people were in high spirits, with music, drums, the occasional fire cracker, young and old alike.

As we entered the financial district, the presence of the riot police became more apparent. When the protest made it to McGill College Ave. – crossing a wide intersection – as the march continued in its consistently peaceful path, the riot police quickly assembled alone the street below us. The crowd quickly became nervous as the protest was declared “illegal.” Before I could even take a photo of the police down the street in a long line, they began charging the crowd. Protesters dropped their signs and began up the street toward McGill University, while another section branched off along the intended direction, and others scattered.

   The charge

The march had been successfully split, and the small factions were then being isolated and surrounded. Suddenly, riot police were everywhere, marching up the street like storm troopers, police cars, vans, horses, motorcycles, and trucks were flying by. As one faction of the protest continued down another street, the riot police followed behind, while another massive onslaught of riot police went around to block off the protesters from the other side. When the police first charged, I had lost one of my friends simply by looking away for a moment. After having found each other up the street, we watched as the protest which descended down the street was surrounded by police from nearly every side. It was then that we saw flash grenades and tear gas being launched at the crowd of people. There was a notable smell that filled the air.

As we stood, shocked and disturbed by what had just happened, we made our way toward McGill to see where other protesters were headed when we saw a group of riot police “escort” three young protesters whom they had arrested behind a police barricade at the HSBC (protecting the banks, of course!).

Up the street, and across from McGill, one protester who had run to get on the bus was chased down by several riot police who then threw him face-first onto the pavement, and as a crowd quickly gathered around (of both protesters and pedestrian onlookers), the police formed a circle around the man and told everyone to “get back!” and then they began marching toward us, forcing the crowd of onlookers to scatter as well. The police then took the young man over to where the other protesters were being “collected” at the HSBC.

  Young man thrown to the ground

There was one young girl, with the notable red square patch on her jacket (the symbol of the Québec student movement) who had to be taken away on a stretcher into an ambulance. We don’t know what happened to her.

  Girl taken away on a stretcher

As more and more police gathered, we decided it was time to leave, walking down the street through which the police had chased the protesters, remnants of signs, red patches, and other debris spilled across the streets; the remains of a peaceful protest ended with police violence.

This has become all too common in Montréal and across Québec, as the student protest enters its twelfth week, having had over 160 protests, an average of 2-3 per day. As the demonstrations take place, the police have used obscure and unconstitutional city by-laws in both Montréal and Québec City which are so vague in their descriptions that any peaceful assembly or march can be declared illegal. Those who are indiscriminately arrested are fined $500, and if arrested again, are charged between $3,500 and $10,500.

It is clear that the State has decided – unilaterally – that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not confirm to their specific “by-laws,” and are clamping down on students and protesters in order to quiet and crush the student strike and the emerging social movement which is being referred to as the ‘Maple Spring’. The national media, for its part, has decided to demonize the students, the protesters, and the people; taking the word of a “police spokesperson” over everyone else. Having been at the protest, however, I must question whether these so-called “journalists” were at the same event, because we witnessed two entirely different scenarios.

We entered the march in good spirits, and the police ended it in violence and repression, leaving us standing still, scattered, and disturbed; but our spirits are not crushed, our resolve is only growing stronger, and for each act of violence the police and State impose upon the people, we begin to see them for what they truly are, and thus, what is truly at stake: our very freedom, itself!

-Andrew Gavin Marshall-

Editors note: read all our May Day coverage here.

 

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