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Quebec | Occupied Stories - Part 3

Tag Archive | "quebec"

Montreal’s Magical Manifestations


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–Whether during anticapitalist mass mobilizations, Republican and Democratic National Convention protests, reclaim the streets, occupy (everything or somewhere specific), or a host of other riot, riotous, or rebellious large-scale street situations (housing takeovers, antifascist actions, antiwar demos, and many more), there’s always a certain intensity, a certain adrenaline rush–a marathon of heightened emotions that race through everything from anger, fear, and euphoria to sorrow, exhaustion, and delirious happiness. Thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of people find themselves serendipitously together in these convergence spaces, collectively experiencing profound anxiety but also equally profound anticipation. There’s often a sense that we have everything to lose and everything to gain; that such spaces are completely fragile and temporary, yet also ours to shape, sustain, and nurture, offering a freshness that feels as if we’re the first to ever engage in such a grand experiment in self-organized consociation.

It becomes addictive. And usually, following such mobilizations or occupations, there’s a slew of criticism for those who remain addicts–who want more: more of those feelings, more of the highs (& even the lows), more of this community and belonging and pleasure, even if there’s also pain or trauma, even if the disappointment at what we can’t or couldn’t achieve in these extraordinary flare-ups of promise becomes more heartbreaking with each lose. The critics lash out with, say: “you shouldn’t summit hop! you should stay at home and do local organizing” (a familiar refrain during the heyday of the alter-globalization movement–as if this were the only choice, and the only rationale [that is, healthy, productive, nonaddictive] choice). Binary choices, though, rarely reflect the beautiful complexity of phenomena, and such beautiful complexity is usually precisely the overflowing stuff in our tool box against binaries like capitalism, the state, racism, heteronormative, and other debilitating divides.

But Montreal’s manifestations (demonstrations; marches; and now casseroles, or the banging of cookware and other usually ordinary metal household objects) are forging an extra magical addiction, thereby “troubling” the either/or binary so that it hardly makes sense as a critique or even personal dilemma. Whether one heads out nightly to the streets, walking for hours, far from one’s neighborhood; travels to Montreal from another city in the province to join in, especially on the gigantic demonstration days like May 22; or stays at home to lean off one’s own balcony to bang a pot when several thousand people clanging on pans as they pass by on the street below–the where, how, when, and who of resistance gets all mixed up, into the simmering start of a marvelous, miraculous stew of social strike that is equally social reconstruction.

No doubt this is the same magic felt in other moments, sadly few and far between, when people aren’t simply converging in mass numbers but also are constituting a counterpower: winning each other’s hearts and minds through their own doing and making of an alter-lifeworld that’s so much more compelling and convincing, that works to meet our own needs/desires so much better, that it has real power-together, and so masses of us begin to abandon that other world, the one composed of power-over. There’s a mass exodus, away from the current society of control and discipline that estranges us from each other, toward one where we no longer feel like we’re exiled from our own lives and each other, not to mention the ecosystem around us.

But for those experiencing it for the first time, here and now, in Montreal and across the coming-alive province of Quebec, the compulsion–the addiction–to come out night after night after night is also about wanting the world to feel this way again and again and again. The emotion running high is joy, festive joy, joy at the countering of power with self-made counterpower, a joy made manifest in the music of metal kitchenware.

And so a curious related phenomena has emerged from this: the desire to capture the casseroles on film, so as to relive them, share them, circulate them. This isn’t new per se. With the rise of indymedias and YouTube, among others, such mass mobilizations have and continue to generate their own cinematic memory. Oftentimes, however, such images are of the spectacular or “sexy,” with “riot porn” being perhaps the biggest DIY box-office hit, followed by at a close second police doing things both brutal and stupid. So much of what has been videotaped and shared in recent North American moments of large-scale resistance has been just that: fighting back, against powers that largely keep us on the defensive or only scratching the surface of moving toward the offensive, toward renewal.

What’s curious about the filmic gifting going on is that it’s an attempt–difficult as it is–to share the counterpower magic of Montreal’s streets and balconies right now via the simple yet powerful act of these casseroles–and the related courageous and/or carnivalesque illegal retaking of the streets. As someone wrote in an article in one of the worst (i.e., government-friendly) French-language newspaper in Montreal the other day, to paraphrase: when people threw rocks, the government wasn’t really worried; now that they are banging pots and pans, the government is scared. Or to put it more accurately: Montreal has become ungovernable for them.

It’s near impossible to use film or videotape to really offer an sense of the magic, but people try again and again and again–yet another addiction, or healthy addictions that are what keep people fighting for some better, still-unimaginable world. So far, there have been two broad categories of making short “movies” about the pots and pans:

1. The high aesthetic B&W depiction that went viral, which among other critiques that could and should be leveraged (such as focusing on white people as actors in this moment), wholly take the life out of the casseroles, making them seem at once a thing of the past, quiescent, and something already commodified as an ad campaign to sell jeans. (I would post a link here, for those who haven’t seen it, but I’m feeling cranky about adding to the viralness of its depoliticizing impact, even as the maple spring-summer becomes increasingly inspirational.)

2. The hundreds and probably thousands of fragments made from cell phones, cheap cameras, or whatever people can get their hands on to film themselves, to film their friends, to film the cute kid holding a small frying pan, to film the casseroles snaking its way past their house, to capture the pots and pans in a small town or suburb. Blurry, shaky, sometimes dark (it is nighttime, after all), sometimes too short or too long–most are awful.Yet nearly all share this seemingly desperate-passionate awareness that we need to hold these moments in our mind’s eye, not let them go, not give up.

Neither high art nor low art, professional or homemade, has yet, to my mind, been able to contain this uprising, nor make it history (yet), nor sadly, translate why it’s been so crucial to the maple spring (and thus, not something that can be simply replicated by banging a pot in the United States, for instance, in feeble hopes of the cookware itself catalyzing the magic of ungovernability).

Today, a dear new friend I made in Montreal–my constant street affinity grouplet and constant obsessive-compulsion comrade in seeking out news when we weren’t in the streets–shared a third filmic category. It too falls short of making you feel what it feels like to be there. At the same time, it comes closer than anything else to illustrating the magic, via fantasy as well as taking real-life characters from the streets and making them extra fantastical. What is gets at, rather than offering a mirror to the joyous reality, is the reality of joy–an additive, rebel joy and mutual acknowledgment of what people are doing collectively in this part of the world that too often gets ignored by much of the world, especially those of us in the United States (witness how global and U.S. media basically only “discovered” this uprising within the past week!). And I will share this one–so finish reading this blog post (or not!), and then watch it (again and again), or rather follow it along, like you too are on a nightly march through the streets of Montreal. You’ll need to scroll to the right, past joyous participant after joyous participant, after you click on this link:

http://manif.aencre.org/

Joy.

If we have any hopes–and hope at these moments is both key and also, sadly, likely temporary–of sustaining such magical manifestations of counterpower, toward some society that doesn’t replicate domination and oppression, but tries its best to experiment with other ways of living and being, joy and its rightfully addictive quality have to remain front and center. Have to remain lived, felt, common and common sense collective experiences, something that no YouTube moment can grasp.

Joy isn’t going to be enough. And the underside of the pots and pans of joy is the nagging, perplexing, so hard and heartbreaking question: How do we really transform society? How do we move from street counterpower and making our cities ungovernable, to figuring how ways to shape a society of plenty, self-governed by us all, still with joy? If anarchists or anyone else thinks they know the answer, this year and then some of uprisings hopscotching around the globe is showing us that the answers are even more confusing and distant then ever.

Hence the need, as people fan out in haphazard, ragtag casseroles going every which way throughout Montreal’s street and balconies, to become addicted to the joy of trying, again and again, to begin to see and hear and share in person what it feels like to experience the noise of uprising, sans ear plugs, at least metaphorically, because uprisings also have their fair share of pain too.

– Cindy Milstein –

Author’s Note: If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at my Outside the Circlecbmilstein.wordpress.com/

Posted in #manifencours, StoriesComments (1)

Casserole Bloc Party


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, NY–Like most L train commuters I generally put on my headphones and wait for the wave to rush out at Union Square, but tonight was very different. I was on my way to Washington Square Park for my 2nd casseroles march with OWS. Sans headphones or book in an attempt to travel light, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a couple sitting across from me. A young woman was telling her boyfriend about the student uprising in Canada that had been going on for over 100 days—how hundreds of thousands filled the street each night demanding free education. “I had no idea about any of this until you sent me the Facebook invite this afternoon,” he said. “Do you think people will actually show up?”

I smiled, we were in Union Square and I had my chance. I tapped them on the shoulder and told them my name, about the site and that I thought it was awesome that they decided to come out and stand in solidarity with people they may never meet. I also invited them to continue coming out, letting them know this march happens every night at 8pm and won’t stop until they do, how could anyone possibly be against the higher education of its country’s youth? Wishing them well, I began down Broadway to Washington Square.

Surprisingly only a handful of NYPD blue shirts flanked the north entrance upon my arrival. Being a bit late I thought I may have missed the march but to my relief about 250 of my comrades were standing on the north side of the fountain making signs, soapboxing and chatting amongst themselves. After a few minutes of wandering I found my friend Joe and could feel the march preparing to leave. I readied myself with my saucepan lid and noticed the couple from the subway out of the corner of my eye. I smiled and we began to march.

As we marched, the sounds of our pots and pans filled the air and our chanting echoed off the buildings… the blue shirts were beyond overwhelmed and didn’t know how to react. The streets were ours from the moment we stepped out of that park.

Marching down Broadway, residents came out onto their balconies to see what the commotion was about. A large majority clapped along with us, some even bringing out pots and pans and joining! Something about this march was different; tonight we weren’t just taking the streets. We were taking our message to the city, to the world. All of it—every side street and major road, from small towns to big cities. From Montreal to NYC, education must be free.

A small group of us began running to upcoming intersections and blocking traffic for the oncoming march, a tactic I had seen used quite effectively in Chicago at the recent #noNATO demonstrations and heard had been used in South American protests to the same end. It worked just as well for us. A few of us, some on bikes, some on foot, would run up to the intersection before the light turned and stand in the crosswalk. The support from most motorists was shockingly positive, some honking in support or even hanging their arm out of the window to give a high-five or pound. Many drivers and their passengers asked what we were doing, why we were marching. After explaining to them why we were there they each replied exactly the same: “I had no idea any of this was happening, good for you!” to which each of us would reply in our own way “That’s why we are here.” Sometimes you can’t help but love New York.

As I ran up to block traffic for my comrades I noticed the march had seemingly doubled since I last checked, we were pulling people off of their couches and into the streets. SUCCESS! Until I noticed the amount of police officers had more than doubled, too. We were now being followed by a few cars/vans, and more on foot. They were trying to catch up to the front and cut us off, force us onto the sidewalk. The march began to twist and turn down streets in an attempt to dodge the corrals. One cop in particular started getting rough, pushing us around and ripping bandanas off. We hadn’t even made it to Union Square yet and the tension in the air was thick. Shit was gonna go down.

We broke into a run on 5th avenue in an attempt to evade the vans and I found myself separated from the group. I continued up 5th Ave and down 14th where I met them at the corner of University. We made it, or so I thought. We continued around the park and again I ran into Joe. Apparently we were taking the city and would be heading to Madison Square Park from here. Our group, as strong as ever, surged uptown against traffic.

The police had no choice but to pursue us on foot and frankly couldn’t keep up. We bobbed and weaved between cars. Some on bikes intentionally blocked pathways between cars behind the group in an attempt to slow our captors. We were finally working as a group, using the tactics and training we spent all winter developing and all spring perfecting. It was beautiful to watch it all come together.

As we headed further and further uptown the ever-gracious company of the boys in blue increased. Our presence was less than desired in midtown and as we approached Madison Square Park, we realized it had been closed. This did nothing to discourage us but gave the police the opportunity to corral us onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately for them, they forgot about the entire west side of the march and again we broke into a run toward the heart of the city. Destination: Times Square.

As we marched up against traffic, the lights of Times Square were almost surreal. We had done it. Pots and pans in hand the entire time. We made it to TIMES SQUARE! We danced with tourists and shared our new-found instruments! Bystanders joined in our chants and it was like you could sense a better world on the horizon. Demonstrators and tourists in the streets, dancing and chanting “When Education is under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!” Counter Terrorism on the other hand did not find our display quite as entertaining and we were shortly pushed from our celebration and once again onto the sidewalks.

Blue and White shirts alike began to surround the rear of the march, pushing those in the back to walk faster. Rather than simply closing the sidewalk, as is standard NYPD procedure these days, a new speed limit had been implemented and we just were not walking fast enough. I narrowly avoided the police charge but the young girl behind me was not so lucky. I watched as friends grabbed at her in an attempt to unarrest, but were overpowered by the three huge beats ripping her to the ground. Jabbing their knees into her back for speaking her mind. For crossing the street with the right of way. This was their way of separating us. Allowing half the march to cross while the other was held up in the madness.  We reconnected across from our original goal of the Red Stairs and decided our night would not end until we took our fight to the Canadian Consulate, so on we marched.

We continued to weave through streets and were headed up 5th Avenue when I heard a chant erupt, not at all unfamiliar but one that had not be used all night. We had found an undercover in our ranks! I had recently experienced this same situation in Chicago and both times they acted exactly the same. Frozen, they walked toward the wall of cops, head hung low as we chanted “See a cop, say a cop!” only this time his brothers in blue denied him. As he broke into a sprint down the street to avoid our cameras a few livestreamers took chase to get a shot of his face. I don’t think he will be coming back very soon.

We ducked down more side streets until we were finally walking up 6th Avenue once more, and with Radio City Music Hall in sight we took the fountain in front of the Canadian Consulate. It was a beautiful night, still relatively early, and people were milling around as we Mic Check’d. We announced our successful march from Washington Square Park all the way uptown to the Consulate to onlookers, and told them why we decided to end there, inviting them all to join us again the following night and EVERY NIGHT at 8pm in Washington Square Park.  We were jubilant as we relaxed around the fountain, some said goodnight, others chatting. But of course with OWS things never end that simply. A white shirt announced that the building, whose fountain seating area had previously been occupied by falafel-eating tourists, had advised them the same space was off limits to us and asked that we disperse or face arrest. Slowly we said our goodbyes, it had been a long night and we needed a moment to catch our breath. Less than a moment was all it took. They darted in and arrested two more for continuing to sit as we said our goodbyes, throwing an NLG observer into the marble fountain in order to form a wall and trap us so we had no choice but to walk north or south. Other pedestrians passed freely as the NYPD dragged their latest victims to the paddy wagon. I had had enough for one night and after saying final goodbyes began my walk to the subway. You would think after 8 months one would become desensitized to senseless violence but I just can’t seem to reach that point. I guess it must be because I’m human.

– Nicole Rose –

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Good Ingredients in a Casseroles


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–As is true with occupy, time has its own logic with the Maple Spring–a logic outside that of capitalist time.

So much that’s extraordinary happens in such a short time, it creates a dissonance in how we’re used to understanding the temporal experience of daily life, or a way in which it’s hard to process all that seems different from week to week, day to day, and often hour by hour because it’s simply moving too fast. Faster, that is, than the sped-up logic of contemporary capitalism, which seems to be increasingly producing “attention-deficient disorder” in nearly everyone as another way to ensure we’re too distracted to defy its social order.

Yet oddly, the rapid speed of transformation in moments of uprising–with their spontaneity, surprise, and solidarity–seems to also to slow time down. Each day can feel like a week because of all that’s compacted within it. Interactions can appear luxurious and leisurely, and filled with a depth that usually takes years to forge. We notice things–many things–details large and small, things about ourselves and our neighborhoods and comrades and new friends, things about what is suddenly, inexplicably possible. Our attention, highly charged and accelerated–like the racing heartbeat of new love–isn’t deficient at all, but extremely focused.

The weeks, days, hours, and sometimes even seconds, like the seconds when the police appear from nowhere to kettle hundreds, operate on a different clock from capitalism, faster and slower, jumbled and nonlinear, pulling the past into the present which is already the future.

It isn’t that we’ve stopped capitalist time, even if we’re basically hitting the button on our alarm clocks at the same instant and then throwing the clock soundly against the wall across from our beds. It’s that we’re putting that time on notice, not clocking into the work of capitalism; it’s that we’re contesting and contrasting the time of capitalism, waking people up–ourselves first and foremost–with our own communal timepieces. Here in Montreal this past week, the uprising alarm goes off at 8 pm, with pots and pans (paint cans, cheese graters, garbage can lids, you name it) asking people to wake up to what’s going on, but also wake up to what’s inside them. What kind of time they can take and make.

For all the many other reasons that time has a different logic during an uprising, there is the enormous one: we’re making history, writing ourselves into time. But equally enormous in my mind is this: we’re making the minutes our own, writing our own narratives, learning what we’d do with time when it is, truly, our own. Uprisings only begin to give us a taste, and here’s where rebellious time perhaps gets most interesting: in the slow savoring of each second, as if it’s in ultra-slow motion.

Here I have to pause–within what should be the capitalist work time of my day–to thank some lovely folks in Montreal for inviting me to lunch. In savoring a banquet of homemade delicacies beautifully laid out on a long wooden table, enough food for a week, and each dish tastier than next, ending with a heaping bowl of tiny red squares of watermelon lightly tossed in yogurt, during a lunch that stretched four hours, much of what I’m blogging about here was part of what we touched on–and hence, my gratitude. We talked about this time of casseroles over our luxurious and leisurely time of breaking bread and enjoying conversation together. None of us “had time” for this lunch; but because of what’s going on, we “made time.”

And just like thousands upon thousands of other people, night after night for what’s now night 36, we’ve also “made time” to stand with the student strike and, now, to defy law 78 openly (I think it’s night 36; fortunately, I’ve lost track of the quantitativeness of number of nights in favor of the qualitativeness of being on streets each evening, even for only my 8 or so evening visiting here).

The wake-up call of casseroles is part of that time of ours. For instance, a bit over a week ago, when marching through Montreal’s wealthy Westmount neighborhood with some 10,000 others to attempt to reach Premier Charest’s house–marching for hours to get there, finally to scale the hills past castle-like buildings with flags waving in some new version of a rebel commune that was part storming the Bastille and part May ’68, as I already posted on a Facebook status right afterward–a young woman came storming out of her fancy house to scream at me and my friend: “Why don’t you go make noise in your own neighborhood? Why are you waking us up? You woke up my 7-year-old niece!” While that particular women probably still doesn’t like the now-much-louder noise of the casseroles, I now see household after household bringing their little 7-year-olds and 3-year-olds and babies out to join in the noise making, and as the hours pass, as we walk through sleepy residential streets, people spill out on to their balconies and the street, bringing their little kids with them, in their little pajamas and bathrobes, holding onto their teddy bears or tiny tin drums or saucepan, sometimes rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Bedtime isn’t by the clock, it’s after the casserole, for these kids and their families.

I’m sure the noise of the casseroles annoys some, disrupts their capitalism time, but night after night, street after street, one sees the joy of this taking and making of a new time. Besides simply displacing bedtime for some, cars have to slow down, and you’ll see people get out of their stuck-in-casseroles-traffic car (many, many, many cars, buses, trucks, taxis, stuck, night after night–an inconvenience, one could say, or a lovely intervention in disturbing capitalist time by slowing business as usual, often with obvious monetary impact) to wave, cheer, and sometimes even pull out their own pot and ladle to join in the noise.

In this din, a different temporal space of engagement is created. Neighbors meet neighbors, whether because at 8 pm they come to the same corner, or because they appear on their balconies to see the casseroles march by at 10 pm, and turn, smile at each other, and one can imagine or dream (as I am), that this is the start of more interactions, political conversations, perhaps assemblies or shared projects like organizing to improve their nearby park.

There is the time of finding each other, the simple beauty of a time of sociality outside commodification or contrivance. Again and again, on the streets, you experience the far more genuine smiles of acknowledment: that we’re here, together, making this time of illegality, yes, but also a new way of seeing, participating in, and reclaiming the city. It’s only a start; the city still functions, seemingly normally, by day. But the next night, those smiles seem to acknowledge more–like, “yes, I remember seeing you yesterday!” “Oh, you live down the street from me?” “Ah, the police don’t know what to do! We’re the ones determining where we want to go!”

Then there is the time of resistance, where people are “promising” themselves and each other to be there, night after night, in the streets until they win. What the “win” will be is increasingly unclear. It seems clear that the people have the upper hand, that it’s the government “negotiating” and the students and society that has the power to ask for things, perhaps a whole lot more than they imagined. That might not happen. And as I wrote yesterday and likely the day before, each minute of our time, they (police & government & the wealthy & elites) are using their time to determine countermoves. For now, our unpredictable maneuverings and differing temporality from theirs is giving this social movement a time of its own, and the the powers-that-be one hell of a time trying to keep up.

So in the time, two of the best ingredients in the casseroles appear (here’s where I’m especially thankful to my lunchmates for noting this together):

First, the casseroles may start at 8 pm, but there’s no telling when they will stop, where they will go, how many bands large and small there will be, when you’ll be on your own with 4 friends and 3 pots between you, or suddenly hear the walk-up call of the metal din growing louder in the nearby distance. It must look amazing from a bird’s-eye view, a time-defying swirl of people and noise going every which way, looping around, running into each other, breaking apart into smaller groups, diverging and converging. A sea. That red sea of red squares and silvery metal objects. And smiles. So many miles (er, kilometers) of smiles. People take so much time for that.

Second, and my lunchmates and I all agreed that this was the most beautiful moment of the casseroles nights, is that time when one casseroles crew turns a corner and sees another crew–perhaps 1,000 in one group, and maybe 3,000 in around. For some unexplainable reason, one group will speed up, rushing toward the other, with bigger smiles than ever. And the other group will slow down, oh so slow, until stopping, then a euphoric cheer nearly as loud as the pans will rise up as everyone raises their pots higher still, beating on them loudly. Suddenly, for what’s probably only a couple minutes, it’s as if the two groups meet in molasses-like slow motion. People look in each other’s eyes, really look at each other, turning this moment over in their minds that are trying to comprehend this new time, the time they are taking and making to take and then maybe make some new world that no one has quite put words to yet here.

These nights on the street here feel so out of the ordinary, out of the routine of capitalist time, that these moments of convergence when one casseroles meets another seem like something everyone–without quite knowing it–wants to hold in a stop-action, freeze-frame embrace, like our lunch today, to savor for many more hours than they have time for. So they will remember this feeling, later, when it’s gone. When this moment of uprising has passed, or perhaps fallen short, or failed altogether.

The best I can understand–being a “foreign” correspondent from the place south of here still called the United States–is that by and large, people think they want to not become like the United States, where education is a high-priced commodity that’s more about universities as economic engines (R&D, construction, endowments, etc.) than learning or wisdom; where health care isn’t care at all, but insurance, and more often than not, not even insurance; and the list could go on. There’s “austerity” here, of course, but it is far less austere (impoverished and inhumane) than what’s going on in the United States. But in this demand for somehow trying to hold back time, so that neoliberalism somehow doesn’t touch this place called Canada and unravel the time of a certain type of “safety net” or certain sensibility that there should be “social goods” like free or cheap education for all, a new time is emerging, hinting at a wholly different logic of how we count what’s valuable, or as one of my lunch friends said, how we move from a world of things that are judged by price to one where the whole of our time is filled with the priceless.

(Photo, taken on my cell phone last night: Tail end of Mont-Royal casseroles: tree-bike w/red leaves & red blinking lights, & anarchopanda wannabe kid w/tiny pot)

Author’s Note: If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at my Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/

–  Cindy Milstein –

Posted in #manifencours, StoriesComments (0)

Night Falls, Power Rises in Montreal


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–A week ago last Sunday night, I was sitting around a table at a friend’s house with two other friends in the Plateau East neighborhood of Montreal, having a quiet & delicious dinner after the Anarchist Bookfair weekend, when at 8 pm we heard the singular noise of someone banging on a pot in the nearby distance, then two, and maybe three or four. My friend got up to peek around the corner, to see which of  his neighbors was making the noise, telling us that there was a Facebook call to bang pots & pans in solidarity with the student strike (as it turns out, it was a professor’s idea, and he did indeed post a FB page for it).

Last night, May 27, that same friend and I met up with other friends at the “usual” corner on Mont-Royal near St-Denis on the Plateau West side of this Montreal neighborhood. At first a handful came, right at 8 pm, like us, and then dozens, growing quickly to hundreds. It was my second night at this intersection, near to the home of another friend, and already I recognized most of the faces, and people nodded at each other, and more of them talked to each other (and my two friends and others are busily organizing toward their first neighborhood popular assembly this coming Saturday).

As we moved from crossing with the light, to crossing at the traffic light, to finally taking the intersection, a group of young children–barely teens–among the many young children on the streets with us, decided to lead a breakaway march, skirting past the police car that had now arrived to “help” us manage the traffic. We adults quickly ran after them, laughing, as our children at the front lead us for some 15 minutes away from that cop car again and again, turning a corner at the last minute to allude the police, and when we got to a big road, the kids took over the other side too, at one point nearly encircling a second police car to ensure we could all get ahead of the police! And soon we turned a corner and that, voile, was another band of casserolers, and soon we ran across another, and then our big casserole met another huge casserole at a main intersection, and everyone raised their pots & pans in unison to joyfully greet each other. The police couldn’t keep up with us, neither children or adults, or bikes or dogs, wheelchairs or skateboards.

Hours later, after marching with thousands and thousands of people who never stopped banging on the asundry metal noisemakers as we snaked our way for miles through Montreal, past tiny stickers of red or with words on street signs and lampposts, or big swathes of radical graffiti slogans, it was hard to tell whether our legs or ears hurt more–or as my Plateau East friend said, Emma Goldman may have wanted a revolution to dance to, but this “walking” revolution is hard on the feet! Then we looked at each other and marveled how, just a mere week ago, there were four lone pots beating out a tune of solidarity & disobedience & freedom in his neighborhood, and now, so few days later, young children are teaching themselves rebellion, and as another friend said to me on the street, we anarchists are struggling to catch up to what the tens of thousands of people are doing here in Montreal. He too marveled: “And to think I was thinking of moving away from Montreal a year ago. This has been the best year of my life already!”

Of course, much as the police and politicians have, for the time being, lost control of this city; they struggle each night to figure out new ways to police and control their out-of-their-control uprising. Last night, that involved this unusually tall and lengthy, sparkling-white oversize van–nearly a truck–with few windows, and those windows blackened so we couldn’t see inside it. This truck-van appeared out of nowhere behind us, swerved toward a building wall, and equally oversize riot-type police jumped out, pushing someone against the wall, grabbing him, throwing him in the van, and whisking away. Some cops next to us on horses (we were, at that point, at the back of the thousands-of-people casseroles-march) said something about a new “Intervention” unit, and then “helpfully” told us to move in front of him, so he could “protect us” in case of “an explosion.”

Some 20 minutes or so later, as the demonstration was nearing a point that would signal the end for many of us–near a Metro, for some, and near our still-long-walk home for us–that van-truck appeared again. I tried to capture a photo of it, but my cell phone isn’t the best of cameras, especially as the van-truck started speeding toward us, flying past another new police vehicle labeled “technical.” We conjectured about whether they were gathering “intelligence” on us, listening in to cell phones, tracking people via their cell phone GPS, or putting out incorrect info.

For instance, the SPVM police maintain a “friendly” lie-filled Twitter, with the supposedly calming slogan “Always closer,” and they used it last night to deny nearly beating a man to death, also just over a week ago, when people took control of a stretch of St. Denis to build barricades and fend off the cops. Counter reports from witnesses and those involved in this uprising are that this man is still in a hospital, in a coma, potentially paralyzed and brain damaged. People used this Twitter access to the police to last night ask them again and again about this beating, and the police again and again assured people everything was OK. But there are video images of the man being beaten, first to the ground by one cop, and then again by another, after he’s on the ground. And an eyewitness mentioned she saw the second cop use his bike as a weapon in the beating. Indeed, last week, when we were on the street during the St. Denis uprising on that evening, a woman came up to us to say a man had died; that she herself had seen him lying on the ground, not moving, for 20 minutes. We were skeptical, thinking the street takeover would have turned into an outright riot, if someone had died. Now, a mere week later, it seems the police have potentially destroyed yet another life.

All to say, the joy of watching preteens defy the authority of the state, so adroitly and swiftly, with such confidence, under the approving eye of thousands of us adults, has to be balanced by the presence of that same authority, even if cowed for the moment, lurking in vans and shadows, strategizing somewhere in bureaucratic offices, trying to figure out how to win this cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-anarchopanda) game of communizing Montreal, whether they end up using brute force or carrot-and-stick for the students–or both.

It’s 7 pm, an hour before this evening’s casseroles slowly but surely but noisely begins again, at the “usual” corner of Mont-Royal, where tonight my friend will hand out flyers about the popular assembly to be held in a neighborhood park this weekend (for the parks here are still far less “privatized,” and much more anarchic and community oriented than many in the United States). Tomorrow another friend, the one who is glad he didn’t move away, is helping to initiate “Nos-Casseroles for justice for low-wage immigrant and placement-agency (day-laborer) workers” in another neighborhood, and a day or two ago, the Rosemont neighborhood held its first assembly–150 people, who broke into four working groups.

Last night, a friend mentioned how it was important that we go to these street manifestations, night after night, because they evidence the determination and anger, and hopefully the dreams too, of this movement that currently has power-together in its grasp. I realized, as I walked for another five hours last night, how cynical I’ve grown about marches in the United States. We scream in front of banks, chant as we walk, proudly hold banners and signs, make noise and reclaim the streets and sidewalks temporarily–but the contrast here is: there’s really social power behind those same acts now, and everyone knows it. The question, which everyone also seems to know, is what to do with that power–hence the move to kick off neighborhood assemblies and put out calls for people to come greet, meet, and disrupt the impending, lucrative Gran Prix in early June. Meanwhile, the power seems to just keep growing.

Each night here, I see the differences, even if subtle, from people walking by on the streets at 5 pm with pots and pans clearly in their backpacks; stores putting red squares on their merchandise on display in the windows; indeed, more and more red squares, large and small, hanging off more and more balconies; restaurant workers and others stuck in dreary low-paid jobs come out of those jobs to bang pots for a few minutes as the big casseroles marches pass by; and last night, we saw people in an expensive hotel in downtown Montreal holding big red squares in the windows high above us, raising their arms in silent cheer to our noisy answer from the street below.

– Cindy Milstein –

Author’s Note: If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at my Outside the Circlecbmilstein.wordpress.com/

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Je t’Adore Montreal


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–Revolutionary times are so hard for getting any “real-world” work done, but Montreal is making that extra difficult, because increasingly the real-world social power is in the hands of the people–quite literally, hands now holding & banging on pots, pans, & anything that will make noise. It’s not that pot banging started this uprising. Months of dogged, determined blockades, pickets, organizing, propaganda, and other actions by students created such a social force that the government made a huge miscalculation, passing law 78 to try to compell students back into school  and quell dissent. As the friend I’m staying with commented this morning, the government believed its own lies (basically, made-up polls) that there wasn’t popular support for the student strike. But instead of applauding the government’s heavy hand both with law 78 and heavy-baton-handed policing tactics, the populace stood shoulder to shoulder with the students on day 100 of the strike, May 22, and some half-a-million people filled the streets while bringing much of business as usual to a standstill (that generalized strike we’ve been dreaming of in the United States), transforming this into a social strike, which has been further transformed by a small idea by one person: voice your solidarity with your pots & pans, or casseroles demonstrations each night at 8, as complement to the 8:30 pm nocturnal demonstrations.

And here’s why I’m having an especially hard time focusing, whether to do my paid work or concentrate on an essay about this exceptional moment that’s far outstripped the government’s emergency law: the city is both “ungovernable,” to repeat Mostafa Henaway’s tweet last night, and also spontaneously self-governing with its feet, bodies, voices, and casseroles. It was difficult to fully take in what was happening last night, as some 50,000 or more, given the multiple demos, big and small, merging and converging, as well as the thousands and perhaps tens of thousands perched all over the city on their balconies, front steps, rooftops, and so on, banging pots or flicking on/off their porch lights or waving red flags. Well, not difficult. Simply beautiful. Overwhelming in the best of ways. I wish I could have taken a photo of nearly each and every one of the tens of thousands, since nearly each and every one was “self-determining” how they wanted to add to the noise. I noticed many posts this morning of proud photos of dented metal objects, made into impromptu street instruments. Last night was this manifestation of imagination–bringing alive the “all power to the imagination” phrase in a new way for me. People appreciated each other’s imaginative ways of making noise–a “simple” pot & ladle wasn’t enough for most! At the same time, that very imagination, that it’s possible to change the world, is bringing people into the streets, and in the streets, people really have the power in a way I’ve never experienced. This happens elsewhere, in my revolutionary imagination, but not in North America. In Greece, say, anarchists have forged a police no-go neighborhood.

I knew last night that the police were lurking in the distance and that they also probably were both too tired and too confused/overpowered to really be able to do anything. This morning, my generous-of-spirit anarchist host told me about a French-language interview in the Le Journal de Montreal newspaper where a cop not only noted how much he and other cops adore attacking demonstrators, he also commented on how it’s too late for police to control the situation. That really sunk in this morning. Last night, tens of thousands of us doggedly, determinedly escalated the strike far beyond students–there were so many babies, toddlers, young kids, teens, young people, and all the way up to people of many decades, or every type, in everything from strollers to wheelchairs, naked and dressed as a panda, a gigantic unstoppable “red sea” of red squares. We used our feet to bring neighborhood after neighborhood to standstills for hours, stopping traffic and commerce, closing bridges and confounding the police. Charest has “disappeared” into silence; Montreal’s mayor asked people to limit their casseroles to balconies; the police want a law passed that says people can’t say mean things to them. No matter the powers-that-be response, the people are only listening to themselves, to their pots & pans, to student strike spokespeople and anarchopanda, to the truly leaderless but shared responsibility of us all spontaneously moving through the city at night in all directions, and perhaps soon to neighborhood assemblies alongside the already-existence student assemblies.

The people are in power now, but a dispersed, joyous, neighborly power, an imaginatively beautiful display of horizontal solidarity. It’s a display that affirms people can reclaim their lives, their cities, in a way I never dreamed possible–through yes, reclaiming their streets and taking their productive labor away from commodified study, say, and into “educating ourselves for freedom” (thank you, yet again, Malatesta). I wish I could translate how “diversity of tactics” is working not as something on paper or that allows for someone people to do allegedly more militant things at the potential expense of others. No, there’s a lived practice of having each other’s backs here, and making it feel “safer” and “safer” for everyone to disobey in ways festive and fierce, but self-controlled, together, if that makes sense. And that more individuated creativity and social solidarity function, voluntarily, together on the streets and in organizing here, the more additional people seem to join in–like it’s opened their door to what’s possible, because what’s possible, astonishingly, is that people can create a social power that far beyond a slogan, is at the moment unstoppable. There are too many people disobeying, collectively. And increasingly, it feels like people could “demand the impossible” and, due to their social power, perhaps “realize the impossible,” or some of it, too.

I hope to write soon, in a more coherent and less typo-filled manner, about the relation (or not) of this maple spring-into-summer to and for occupy, and its relation (or not) to anarchism. Quickly, for now, a few random thoughts:

As an anarchist who usually cringes when I see people waving big red flags at demonstrations, it’s been a surprise to see how relatively quickly this student movement and its red square image have seemingly banished the horrible associations of authoritarianism and murderous regimes with that red flag. I’m typing way too fast in a cafe here in Montreal, looking out on a busy street, as people of all shapes, sizes, and ages stroll by with their red squares–often also imaginatively placed, decorated, handmade, etc. It functions as a sort of secret and not-so-secret sign of solidarity and shared disobedience with a thoroughly anarchistic movement, binding people in a thoroughly qualitative way (i.e., pushing past capitalist “value”), unlike the quantitative sense of the somewhat-similar 99% image (i.e., affirming the meaningless measurement of people as all somehow equivalent, and thus masking meaningful distinctions between, say, a young man of color or person without papers and, for instance, cop).

Like occupy, this movement wasn’t anarchist initiated or driven, even if there were and are anarchists involved. But it has created many thousands of anarchists (probably far more here than occupy has in the United States; for instance, at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair this past weekend, happily, booksellers French and English-speaking said they sold out of “intro to anarchism” books quickly!). It’s also anarchistic, whether people become anarchists or not. But far beyond occupy, it’s not “simply” the anarchistic forms of self-organization that are intriguing; it’s the widespread, mass defiance of authority that’s so anarchistic too. And best of all, in my mind, this movement–far, far beyond occupy–is seemingly making anarchism “warm and fuzzy,” literally in the figure of anarchopanda!

The diversity, and increasingly so, of who is joining into the maple spring-turned-hot-summer also far outstrips occupy, but so too does the inventiveness of the personal creativity of how people are implementing its symbols–whether the red square or the casseroles–as I’ve already mentioned. It might be in tiny ways, but people seem to be taking such pride in how they’ve made their particular red square: from a tiny glittery red fabric square, to a big red square sewn on the back of someone’s pants, to slogans penned on red-felt squares, to square-red earrings…. And again, that translates into this marvelous diversity of tactics where although there’s continuity between marches, day and night, each one I’ve been to so far feels distinct, and impromptu innovation seems to be widely applauded. It’s not just the marches; that same drive for imaginatively diverse tactics and strategies is, and has been, playing itself out in how the strike has been implemented and maintained, and now this growing social strike is unfolding. The only people, tactics, and strategies–and increasingly aspirations–that seem tired are the police (and likely the governmental officials, but it’s clear how tired the police are because you see them nightly on the streets.)

As a last random comment: CUTV. CUTV. CUTV. I’m in love with Montreal, with the maple spring, with how lovely it is to be alive at this moment and fortunate enough to participate in it, but I’m also in love with CUTV. Watch it. Or rather, watch them. Like anarchopanda, the rabbit crew and the naked lady (figures on the street that I haven’t written about yet), and Classe spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (a phenomenon in his own right, and based on some Facebook posts, becoming a meme), the sweet personalization that also defies cult of personality, or leaders with power-over, of this movement is striking. More than that, though, the charming personalities of the main CUTV “reporters” night after night livestreaming is part of the very story of this social movement. Their commentary, from enthusiasm, to “fuck you fuck you fuck you” screaming at the cops, during hours of livestreaming shows the very human face of the movement as well as how we might begin to create a people’s media that shapes the story in a smart way. For instance, they’ve lost two cameras to police batons and one cameraperson now has two broken ribs; they’ve reported while walking and also running, talking into the livestream with panting breath; they’ve kept livestreaming through rain and teargas, including pepper spray on their camera lens. The only critique, besides wishing they were on air longer, is that they talk their way out of arrest situations with “we’re media”–but even their fear, anger, anxiety, and media privilege are part of this human face. Je t’adore CUTV.

I need to turn to my livelihood, not Facebook or this blogging. I keep meaning to also turn to writing something more focused about this remarkable maple spring. But before I put my nose to the compulsory grindstone–which I wish would be washed out in the sea of red, for me and millions of others, by this implicitly and perhaps explicitly anticapitalist moment–I want to offer a caveat to my exuberant commentary: unbelievable as this student strike/social strike/red square/casseroles revolution is, it’s hard to understand what it could or should ask for, or more precisely, how it could or should translate the fact that this city is ungovernable into a city that’s livable, sans hierarchical government, police, and capitalism, in ways that also account for legacies of colonization, for one. At best, though, if this movement manages to oust a provincial government (in North America!), establish completely free education (still public, since that’s starting to disappear in the U.S., and perhaps increasingly “free, not as in free beer, but as in freedom”), and serve as a beacon (not one to be simply copied, because the context is quite specific) for what’s possible if people doggedly strike, occupy, struggle day after day after day after night after night after night, that is more than enough. It’s already been enough; if “occupy” pushed the envelope, the maple spring completely shreds it into thousands of bits of bright red paper squares to be tossed into air. People are not just winning here; they’ve already won. And for now, the city is theirs.

– Cindy Milstein –

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