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Quebec | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "quebec"

Casseroles & Anticapitalism, Montreal, Night 61


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Cindy Milstein –

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Photos: June 10, Metro Profiling at the Grand Prix


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

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

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

– Zachary Bell –

More photography by Zach at ReCovered

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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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“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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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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