Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elsewhere in solidarity to those causes. This post originally appeared at Outside the Circle.
Montreal, QC–I’ve been doing dual-purpose with my pot to bang on during the weekly (now in week three) Mile-End Orchestrole by using it to hand out free red squares too as we orchestroll our way through the streets, sans permission. The Orchestrole itself, an outgrowth of the Popular Autonomous Assembly of Mile-End, is multipurpose: bringing friends and neighbors together, outreaching about the assembly that meets weekly on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in a neighborhood park, serving as a magical wake-up call in residential and business areas about the student strike and related austerity concerns, showing solidarity with the students, and asserting with our voices, sounds, and feet that special law 78 won’t silence people nor keep them from demonstrating . . . and making music. (For my earlier story, written about our first Orchestrole, see here.)
As I hold out my saucepan filled with red squares to passersby or folks who come out of their front doors to see the clanging, singing, dancing, and beautiful-sounding (and growing, with well over a hundred folks this time) band, people first hesitantly peer in and then their faces light up. If they are in support, of course. That’s usually a lot of people — except when we swing through the more upscale part of Mile-End. So many people are so appreciative and excited about getting this surprise gift as they are wandering down the streets when our ragtag solidarity march goes by. Others, strangely enough (or strange to me), ask me how much the squares cost, and then are overjoyed when I say, “Nothing! They’re a gift.” Last night, I must have given away some two hundred red-felt squares, and I can see — to my great joy — that people generally pinned them on their shirt or bag ASAP. And multiple folks asked for me extras, for friends or to give out. One guy told me, “Great, a new one! I’ve given away about ten and figured I’d never be able to keep one of my own.” I told him to take about ten, which he did. I arrived home last night with maybe twenty squares left in the bottom on my pot, and sleepily put it aside, knowing that tomorrow I wanted to get more felt to make more squares.
So this morning, when I emptied out the few remaining red squares in this saucepan before heading off to the fabric shop, I was surprised to find $6 in coins underneath–either from confused or kind people, and magically, just enough to buy another yard (at $6!) of felt today to cut out more red squares during tonight’s popular assembly in Mile-End.
I’d been to this same fabric store before. The cashier is a talkative — really talkative — woman. But she didn’t seem to be there. Instead, a completely silent guy took the bolt of red felt from me, and without any words, cut the two yards I’d requested — since I figured, the more squares, the merrier, and so why not double my good luck of last night’s donation with my own $6. He set my felt on the table and then, just as wordlessly, disappeared.
The talkative woman rushed back in, apologizing profusely that I had to wait maybe thirty seconds for her to ring up the sale. Then she launched into a much-longer tale of how she went out to take a cigarette break, after working hard all day, and had asked the guy who helped me (who apparently isn’t allowed, in the workplace hierarchy, to use the cash register) to keep an eye on the counter. Apparently, too, she’s not allowed to take such cigarette breaks, because she told me that her boss had run after the guy when he went to out to fetch her and admonished her severely. She told her boss that she’d only been taking out the trash, because she’s supposed to do that. “But he smelled the smoke on my breath!”
She then looked at my red felt on the cutting table and the red square pinned to my shirt. “To make red squares? For the student strike?” “Qui,” I responded. “Good! Good luck! Good!” she exclaimed over and over, as she raised a thumb’s up high into the air. So I, in turn, figured it was OK to wish her “good luck” with maybe telling her boss that she deserved breaks. She kept her thumb in the air and smiled a knowing smile, without words, as I walked out, my red felt in hand ready to be turned into other small red squares.
* * *
Photos by Thien, who made and gifted me many of the red squares I handed out last night. He also told me recently (something that others have said too) that what’s great about the red squares, among many other things, is that they open up a space to smile at people on the street who are also wearing them and sometimes talk to them about politics too. For many other magnificent photos of his documenting the red of maple spring-summer, see here.
– Cindy Milstein –