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Student Strike | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "student strike"

Manifest Your Dreams, Montreal, Prelude to Night 73 (in C minor)


Or, a Complementary Composition for Rêve Général Illimité au Festival du Jazz de Montréal, 5 Juillet / July 5 starting at 18h / 6 p.m. in the open space outside Metro St.-Laurent

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

Montreal, QC–It should not be surprising that the longest student strike in North American history, the one kicked off on February 13, 2012 in Quebec, has captured the imagination. For sheer persistence alone, it’s a gripping drama. But strikes can be dreary things when they drag on — a standoff bringing matters to an unproductive standstill, and wearing down strikers, strike supporters, strikebreakers, police, and “bosses” alike, although to differing degrees and consequences. What’s striking about this particular strike is that imagination itself has been a key ingredient from the start — and a generative one at that. That sensibility is alive and well, and so there’s rarely a dull moment, or positively put, imagination that willingly and critically rethinks itself has to date made for a dynamic movement.

A creative intervention within the open space outside Metro St.-Laurent, including outdoor musical and theatrical performances, visual art installations, and a screen-printing station, all inspired by the Québec student strike.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines the word imagination, first and foremost, as “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality,” along with “the exercise of that [power].” Related phrases that spring to mind are creativityinspiration, andinnovation. Rather than a shutting down (in this case, of school), the Quebec student strike has been marked by creation, “the act of making, inventing, or producing,” to quote Merriam-Webster’s again. And such acts, in turn, have the potential to strike at the very heart(lessness) of capitalism.

People typically think of strikes as purely economic in character, related to some specific injustice. Within that frame, some people also think of strikes as decrying capitalism’s inherent logic of an exploitative power-over our lives, with the goal being to eke out a slightly better deal from it — at best, a “new deal,” if such a thing is still structurally possible under neoliberalism, which is highly doubtful. And it must be remembered that the U.S. New Deal, notwithstanding its amelioration of certain types of human suffering at the time, was a band-aid measure on the part of the U.S. government to stop the spread of revolutionary movements/ideas and heal the wounds of the Great Depression with liberal reforms that, as Howard Zinn remarked in the 1960s, actually preserved the worst elements of capitalism.

Maybe, sometimes, people recall strikes that advocated or led to workers’ self-management. Increasingly, though, most people aren’t workers. Or they are compelled to do work that shouldn’t exist, like smiley-face greeters at the front doors of Walmart or the Gap, say, or slaving away at labor under neo-sweatshop and neo-indentured servitude conditions. Or work takes up too much of people’s lives, with the alternative being not an eight-hour-day but rather unemployment, underemployment, and precarious “temp” or day labor. Besides, self-management within capitalism is, largely, still self-managed misery with a kinder and gentler face. This isn’t to minimize the transformative power of self-governing one’s workplace with other workers, as the film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein on Argentina’s worker-reoccupied factories, The Take, illustrates so well. Yet in that same film, as the worker-husband protagonist speaks about his experience, his unwaged-worker-wife mentions how she looks forward to the day when they can afford McDonald’s “Happy Meals” for their kids again.

So alongside critiques of capitalism’s deadening effects, whether we reform or self-manage them, there’s also the “hidden” fact of most strikes revealed in The Take too: that wage-work strikers usually rely on unwaged still-working workers to keep caring for them. Not to mention that wage-labor “care workers” such as nurses are often prohibited by law from striking, or are caregiving “outlaws” who can’t strike, such as nannies without papers or sex workers. This has led to critical explorations such as that detailed in the essay “A Very Careful Strike” by the militant Madrid-based research collective Precarias a la Deriva, which proposes a notion of “caring strikes.” The overarching idea is that such a strike would be embodied in “everyday and multiple practice[s]” of de-commodified care writ large, since care, as one of the latest and most lucrative frontiers of commodification for capitalism, sadly needs to be reappropriated along with so much else. A caring strike would include, among other things, “transforming public space, converting spaces of consumption into places of encounter” — a notion germane to the Rêve Général Illimité. The Precarias a la Deriva collective asks,

“Why not begin to imagine and construct an organization of the social that prioritizes persons, that attends to our sustainability — from access to health care to the right to affect — which orients toward our enrichment as human beings — from the access to knowledge, education, and information to the freedom to move around the world — that listens to our desires?. . . [W]e want to think relations beyond those of the commodity mediations, following the logic of the gift, where one gives without knowing what, how, and when one will receive something in exchange.” (English translation from the Commoner, no. 11 [Spring 2006])

It’s hard to envision, much less see tangible evidence of, forms of caring strikes, and ones in particular whose own inherent logic brings out the heterogeneous “revolutionary potential of care” (as our Madrid friends put it) while also simultaneously defying capitalism’s hegemonic logic, whether consciously or not. Even when people are striking in more caring and careful ways, they are still often doing so against types of work and/or workplaces that are increasingly anachronistic, and hence in ways that are anachronistic or based on archaic notions like, in this context, the student as (factory) worker.

It’s hard to unravel how aware various Quebec student strikers were of their own “anticapitalism” or the novelty of what they were about to do when they set out to organize what’s become known as the maple spring. From the beginning, though, there seemed to be an explicit awareness on the part of these young organizers of their own self-determining ability to do something that capitalism would have us believe we can’t: acts of making, inventing, and producing the world, or rather, our world. The seemingly totalizing social system that capitalism manufactures, by stealing nearly everything from us — from our labor and leisure, to love and imagination, to time and space, and so much more — through its seemingly unceasing acts of commodification, convinces us (or better yet, simply socializes us from day one) that this world is “natural,” and relatedly, that another world is unimaginable and certainly out of our hands to create. If we buy into capitalism’s story, we’ve already settled for crumbs from or maybe, if we’re lucky, a meager slice of the pie.

Whether wittingly or no, the still-striking-students seemed from the get-go to write their own script, strategically and astutely, as in “we want to bake the pie ourselves and then share it with everyone.” That beginning was about making, inventing, and producing, for example, their own time, as in not striking until they thought they were ready — meaning, they set a date in the future for the strike to start, and then worked hard for many months to build self-organized strength — rather than letting capitalism (and the province) make time for them. The simple premise of qualitatively “doing(-it-ourselves)” and “on our own time” in direct contestation with further commodification, it could be argued, is what allowed the strike to successfully, at least for now, gain power-from-below, forcing a top-down governance structure and its enforcement agents into a defensive crisis. That self-made time has also included, it should be noted, a long view, in stark contrast to contemporary capitalism’s dizzyingly ever-accelerated, “just-in-time,” attention-deficit-producing tempo (over a year ago, a study put the average life span of a tweet at under two hours; such speedups nearly guarantee that no one has time to think, question, organize, or even remember).

That script has also been a figurative and sometimes-literal multimedia work of art and labor of love, with its component parts ranging, figuratively and maybe literally too, from jazz improvisation-composition to street art to dérive to high theatrics and grand oratory (for my earlier musings on the notion of the maple spring dérive, seehttp://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/queer-feminista-anticapitalista-montreal-nights-53-60/). The student strike, also from the start, strategically and astutely, was about making, inventing, and producing new spaces, again both figuratively and literally. Perhaps beyond it’s wildest dreams, or again unwittingly, the strike has helped facilitate all sorts of new spaces, such as the de-schooling of classrooms into actual places of learning (used by strikers for such self-schooling as organizing, artistic creations, and assemblies, say). Or the reclaiming of the city and its streets, neighborhoods, balconies, parks, and festivals for a host of new encounters, new practices, and new social relations — boldly, disobediently without permission of riot police or special laws.

At a time when state and capitalism, along with other institutionalized forms of oppression like racism and heteronormativity, have either thoroughly privatized all space (as in making it a clear commodity, with enforcement mechanisms to back that up) or throughly made a mockery of the notion of public space (as in making sure that anything public is hierarchically governed and regulated, and various behaviors — like sleeping — are policed), there’s little of the the one space that’s ours: the commons. The commons is a place, space, or even idea (as in imagination!) that is there for us to mutually use, share, and enjoy, thereby implying, if it is to have any qualitative meaning and sustainable longevity, that it has to be mutually self-organized and self-governed, via formal and/or informal mechanisms of our making, inventing, and producing.

The space that perhaps the student strikers never envisioned — and may still only have inklings of — is that of critical thought and popular education. In helping themselves along with more and more of the “nonstudent” society to unlearn, relearn, and learn afresh through the various new physical and psychic spaces being experimented with now, the space of education has moved from the deadening architecture of the UQAM complex (a visible testament to how the “promises” of the Quiet Revolution were, like the New Deal, partially a way to contain revolution), implying that education happens in a specific building at a specific age for specific types of people in specific often-mind-numbing ways, to the enlivening architecture of the new city that’s being played with in multiple ways, including various engagements with this festival summer.

Thus, to return to the beginning of this piece, it isn’t so much that the strike grabbed people’s imagination, as that imagination ignited a student strike, which in turn is firing up notions of a social strike, which hopefully in turn will open up new possibilities, including around legacies of unfreedom. The student-and-social strikes are self-generative via the doing of imagination — as opposed to passive consumption of or even spectacular participation in “imagination,” usually of the corporate-sponsored variety.

Hence what really should be no surprise, but probably comes as one, is that, first, the striking students in Quebec were and increasingly are asking for a social good that structurally isn’t possible within capitalism — education for all, now and in the future, and what’s more for free. Education isn’t and likely never was a factory per se, though its form and content at present should be drastically rethought, and “students” are or should be part of what we’d want an albeit-free society and everyone in it to be: educated and engaged. (As a related aside, two University of Michigan students, Brian Whitener and Daniel Nemser, contend that there are presently four crucial ways that universities are connected to capitalism and profit-making more generally: construction, endowments, research and development, and student debt; for me, that means that students are almost like mannequins in a shop window within this structural shift in academia.)

This, secondarily, has opened up space to imagine all sorts of social goods, with people not doing things because of narrow, economistic self-interest but rather out of an expansive social solidarity. If you participated in any of the casseroles, especially in their “early” days, that was lavishly glimpsed on streets and balconies, as well as from kids in pajamas clanging on pots outside their front doors to night waitstaff joining in with forks on glasses outside their restaurants. A wide swath of the populace, in Montreal and places far distance, created an imaginative people’s music that was at once a wake-up call to those still not listening, a self-orchestrated celebration of popular power, and deafening solidarity for the student strike and all the shared austerity looming like storm clouds in the close distance.

And third, the forms facilitating this student strike were and are generative of other ways of making, inventing, and producing (as in experimenting with “not making capitalism”) everything from education to decision-making methods, cultural creations to city streets, to name a few — or to name another, as someone noted on a Facebook event announcement this week, a “manifestive.” A manifestive is itself an imaginative remaking of the French word manifestation (“demonstration,” and it could be added, in the double sense within English, a display of both “protesting” and “proving” something) and the ubiquitous summertime landscape of festivals here in Montreal.

There are many examples of this creative strike within maple spring-summer. And because there are so many, many examples, all emerging out of a shared and powerful demand — in essence, a society that’s abundant, not austere — the student strike has given renewed and prolific life to the phrase “a diversity of tactics,” itself invented during the height of the anticapitalist days of the alter-globalization movement. “Tactics,” however,” doesn’t do the manifold practices under this rubric justice. The student strike revolves around “a diversity of strategies,” which increasingly point toward a diversified world beyond the monocropping culture of state and capital, not to mention racism, heteronormativity, and patriarchy (alas: etc.) and legacies of colonialism (alas: etc.). This raises the unanswerable chicken-and-egg question of whether imagination generated this movement-from-below or this movement-from-below is generative of imagination. Happily, the response doesn’t matter. Thanks to the student strikers, imagination-from-below has all the power! At least for the time being.

Looking backward, that’s meant everything from the little red square growing up from its 2005 infancy to become a big and colorful superstar, but not letting this go to its head; anyone can add their personality to the red square, and they have and do (for an ever-increasing archival sampler of all the nonhierarchical making, inventing, and producing of red squares, see http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/), and many people carry around bunches of felt squares with safety pin attached as a caring-strike gift. That’s meant, too, creative ways of clothing and unclothing oneself, from anarchopanda to naked marchers. It’s meant as well a plethora of ways to fill one’s striking hours and configure self-educate, from imaginative methods of soft and hard blockades (including a try once at a huge group simply laughing for twenty minutes), to CLASSE congresses and neighborhood assemblies, to artist, translation, video, and livestream collectives, to repurposing classrooms as much more purposeful spaces, to disobedient yet joyous illegal reclaiming of the streets through everything from grand manifestations to nightly demos, from casseroles to F1 disruptions. And this list could go on . . . and indeed is going on.

Which brings us to this week and consecutive night 73 (July 5) of the illegal evenings of what could be seen as creative interventions into the culture and geography of self-organized resistance, and better still, caring and careful self-generated reconstruction: Rêve Général Illimité au Festival du Jazz de Montréal (for more info, see the Web site of the Montreal-based HOWL! Arts Collective, composed of cultural workers, artists, and activists working for social justice via artisticexpression:http://howlarts.net/post/26376871104/reve-general-illimite-au-festival-du-jazz-de-montreal).

From the inspiring large student strike to more modest flights of fancy like this Thursday, July 5′s creative intervention, or manifestive, at the Jazz Festival, toward general unlimited dreams. Wow! Or meow, as the striking graphic for the Rêve Général Illimité exclaims! (For the story and designer behind this graphic, see LOKI design’s Web site, http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/07/reve-general-illimite/.)

I’ll let the HOWL! Arts Collective’s description of this manifestive — to which HOWL! invites everyone to participate in (specifically, the call says to “dress in RED, and bring your placard signs, instruments and casseroles” at 6 p.m. to the open space at Saint-Laurent metro) — speak for itself for a moment:

“As the Liberal government’s political repression continues against the largest protest movement in Québec’s history, notably with the passing of Law 78 to silence dissent in the streets, massive cultural festivals are being planned without consideration of the ongoing political crisis.”

HOWL! continues,

“The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is seen by people around the world as a symbol of the free spirit and cultural character of Montréal. As community artists based in this city, we feel the corporate sponsorship now driving the festival ultimately undermines the political, social, economic, and physical space that allows independent culture to thrive in Montreal. Is the spirit of jazz truly represented by Toronto Dominion, a bank responsible for pushing neoliberal economic polices in Canada, and profiting off the backs of poor and working people?”

Understanding how to relate to the spirit of festivals that dominate Montreal in the summer — a time when, due to the intensity of winter, it seems like this city lives outside and for unabashed enjoyable — was a delicate, seemingly tricky question as the festival season neared. The anticipation hung heavy in the air, where nightly a helicopter also hung low to surveil the illegal demos, as to what would happen with the first of the “festivals”: the Grand Prix. The student coalition CLASSE and the anarchist organization CLAC collaborated on various strategies to disrupt the F1 and its conspicuous display of wealth, sexism, and (as many people are fond of saying here), douchebags.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the disruption was grand, engaged in by so many people that the the police couldn’t tell “casseroler” from “anarchist” from “student striker” from “tourist” from “ordinary Montrealer” from “Saturday night partygoer” to even just a plain ol’ “douchebag,” and were thus at a loss to control it — the “it” being a shared “fuck the police” sensibility that encompassed a host of grievances and antagonisms, but also underscored yet again just how deep this movement is within this city. And best of all, the disruption also underscored the brutality of the police, absurdity of special law 78, strength of the student-social strike, and the reason behind targeting the Grand Prix. How could elites toss around so much money even as they are part of the crew, for all intents and purposes, trying to raise tuition and cut other social goods? How could they get so drunk on their own power “without consideration of the ongoing political crisis,” as HOWL! observes above in relation to the Jazz Festival, but probably more accurately, in complete consideration of the ongoing political crisis, as in a big “fuck the student strike” on the part of the rich.

Once again, imagination had won the day — particularly the imaginative strategy of dressing “normally” and walking into the closed-off downtown party streets for the Grand Prix with hidden disruption tools: pots and pans, ladles and spoons. Who would have ever thought that cookware could create such chaos!

To the credit of those many people involved in this maple spring-summer, a “diversity of tactics/strategies” is being applied to the festivals, since not all festivals are created equal.

Problematic as the sovereignty question is, along with its various tendencies (statist, racist, successionist, and/or independentist, for example) and various legacies (for instance, exclusion, oppression, brutality, and colonialism), the FrancoFolies with its definite Quebec-pride flavor, offered both an enormous and enormously sympathetic audience along with highly sympathetic musicians. Perhaps it was too sympathetic, as evidenced by the increasing appearance of Quebec flags and imagery among student-social strikers, and whether a further diversity of tactics/strategies around this free fest and the student strike should have occurred is an open, serious question. Those who engaged with this festival choose the path of least resistance (save for the Pink Bloc, which tried to queer it up!). So after an early episode with the police trying to block the nightly illegal demo from entering the festival, the festival organizers apparently made it clear that it was fine for any student strikers and their allies to come in and bring their message along too. The illegal demo thus easily made swings through the music-listening audience on various evenings, culminating in the band Loco Locass bringing student-strike spokespeople and the École de la Montagne Rouge up on stage with it, complete with “Quebec is Dead! Long Live Quebec” screen prints.

And this brings us around to the Jazz Festival, perhaps the flagship festival of the summer, especially for those many people and performers who flock into Montreal for its mix of free and ticketed performances but especially its open celebration of music and culture. Many people involved with or sympathetic to the student-social strike were already booked to play in the festival. As HOWL! noted, Toronto Dominion had already signed on as corporate sponsor. Likely everything about this gigantic festival is planned long, long in advance — maybe as long ago as the now-striking students began organizing toward their strike, although probably with a whole lot less vibrant of an imagination. So now knowing what the Jazz Festival knows of the political terrain, how could (or should have) it have honestly addressed the student strike, even if only to nod to its existence? How could (or should) it have incorporated themes, artistic and cultural, that grappled explicitly with this social crisis, even if that meant ticking off its corporate sponsors ever so slightly or more? How could it go on as normal, as if this summer were like any other, without some or a whole lot of mention of this historic and longest-running student strike in North America? Or is that even the Jazz Festival’s job, contrasting it to the FrancoFolies, which decided it was its job, but perhaps for some of the wrong reasons?

Maybe this is where street art diverges from festival art. It can, and should, intervene. So maybe the best of ways that the Jazz Festival could (and should) be engaged with in relation to the student strike is not by wanting it to make space but rather precisely by collectives and communities of resistance and reconstruction (from HOWL! to École de la Montagne Rouge to anyone and everyone who decides to join in this Thursday) taking their own space inside it. After all, in the open space of Metro St.-Laurent that is intended to become the people’s space during the Rêve Général Illimité manifestive, we will find not disruption (such as of the Grand Prix) or uncritical sympathy (such as with the FrancoFolies) but instead another type of path at another type of festival.

With the Rêve Général Illimité, we might discover the art of making culture collectively, the art of provocation as social critique and social vision, and the art of doing-it-ourselves. We might unleash the art of the new forms of strikes and strike solidarity, opening up literal and figurative spaces for de-commodified making, inventing, and producing. Then too, we might feel and share the art of the caring strike. And we might, and hopefully indeed will, engage in the art of manifesting our dreams — if only in a short, improvisational manifestive moment, to be strung together with the many moments, nights, and months of this still-imaginative student-social strike.

Maybe none of this will happen, and the general infinitely unlimited dream will feel like a nightmare afterward. That’s also the risk of experimentation. If there’s one thing — well, there are many — but if there’s one thing that the still-striking students have shown those of us not in college, it’s that careful, caring, yet courageous diversity of tactics/strategies, with a hefty dose of social goodand a hell of a lot of imagination in the mix, can fly far beyond what anyone could have ever imagined. What’s your daydream for the Rêve Général Illimité? As HOWL! invites for this Thursday, July 5, at 6 p.m. for this creative intervention: play it, dance it, perform it, draw it, pantomime it, paint it, sing it, sketch it, dramatize it, recite it, print it, improv it, or casserole it!

* * *

Coincidentally, another creative intervention just popped up on Facebook as I reached this ending, which it seems is only beginning, if this student-social strike keeps up the way it’s been going: LIVRE CARRÉ ROUGE pour la 75e manif, or badly translated, SQUARE RED BOOK for the 75th demonstration.

And to forge ahead with my bad (online-assisted) translation: To mark the 75th night of demonstrations — this Saturday, July 7 — a book will be filled with 75 texts, 75 words of encouragement to the protesters, 75 thoughts to continue until victory! All participants and sympathizers are invited to write a thought, caricature, sketch, tag, or note. The book will be read starting at 7:30 p.m. at Place Émilie-Gamelin, followed by the nightly illegal demo.

For a more coherent French-language version, seehttps://www.facebook.com/events/441118925922776/.

* * *

My thanks to Thien for the three gorgeous photos of the Rêve Général Illimité sticker in action (for more photographs, head over tohttp://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/), and kudos to LOKi design, again, for the Rêve Général Illimité image. And especial appreciation to the person (who shall remain anonymous here, since I’m not sure if they’d want to be named in relation to the intervention or my blog) who when I asked how I might contribute to Rêve Général Illimité, asked me in turn to write something. I hope this goes some way toward what they were looking for, since their dedication to remaining a student of life and ideas, from organizing to the arts and/as politics to reading theory and history during the downtime of their wage-labor time, has gone a long way toward inspiring me of late.

Down with schools; up with education! Or as I wrote a few nights ago, “No school but learning” (http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/no-school-but-learning-montreal-night-68/).

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The (Street) Art of Stirring Things Up, Montreal, Night 66


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

Montreal, QC–Yesterday, I shared some Montreal street art on my Facebook page. A Montreal anarchist friend had just introduced me to the work of this particular Montreal street artist, Harpy, who produced the piece pictured above (and who self-describes as: “Harpies have wings, they can fly and shit… Also, they turned against the Gods”).

The image provoked a lot of “likes” & shares, but also a lot of heated feelings on my Facebook page and others. Many of the comments concerned what the wheatpasted image was getting at — or not — in relation to capitalism/anticapitalism. They also touched a lot on yoga.

At the first meeting of a “popular assembly” last week here in my temporary Montreal neighborhood this summer, someone mentioned that street art — in the form of posters, but I’d apply it more broadly to cultural creation — should be two-way, sparking a dialogue. I’ve been thinking about that ever since, in an expansive sense: from dialogues that we have in our own heads when we see images, to dialogues between people looking at the same image at the same time, to street art that’s dialoguing with a current moment or social issue. And so much more. After posting that one Harpy piece yesterday — and some sixty-seven Facebook shares and counting later — “dialogue,” however, seems necessary but not sufficient. The debate that ensued over “Fuck Yoga. Smash the State” seems a far better role for art that finds its way on to the walls, parking meters, streetlamps, sidewalks, bus stops, and other “public” places that are no longer ours in any meaning sense.

Indeed, this evening — after the second assembly in this same neighborhood, where part of the discussion touched on the legality of even meeting with other people to talk politics — I was thinking about how rare it is that street art does what Harpy’s piece did: provoke, as in “to arouse,” “to incite,” “to call forth,” “to stir up purposefully.” And even when it does stir things up, it’s usually without an intention of doing so “purposefully” — as in provocation toward liberation, or at least to incite critical thinking — and more for shock value or out of some sort of ironic boredom, perhaps like a poster I saw (and yes, probably foolishly after one beer with friends, tore down) tonight that read: “ACAB — American Cops Are Better.” (If that was your poster, I’m happy to hear why it should have provoked me in a way that gets at “All Cops Are Bastards” in a far more clever manner than simply repeating ACAB, as in the spray-painted versions of those four letters that I’ve also seen numerous times today on Montreal walls.)

At this historical moment — and on this illegal evening number 66 in Montreal, in light of a popular assembly that underscored both a law that attempts to criminalize so much of human interaction and action related to making a better world, and simultaneously a student strike determinedly forging ahead nonetheless — perhaps the two best aspirations for cultural creation are: to purposefully provoke, and to just as purposefully prefigure. Or, as I argued a few years back in a piece called “Reappropriate the Imagination,” social critique and social vision, although I’d now argue with myself that “critique” and “vision” aren’t strong enough words given the transformations for the worse in the realm of cultural production. Words, after all, are cultural creation too, and shift how we think about and act in the world. Montreal’s “Place des Arts” has of late been renamed “Quartier des spectacles,” which maybe explains some of what happened during the recent Grand Prix spectacle, both among partygoers and party disrupters.

At any rate, on the provocation side, there’s way too much complacency with the “world as it is,” to the point where “even” us antiauthoritarians find it difficult to distance ourselves from our own life choices (which I hope are relatively enjoyable, despite capitalism, etc.) long enough to critique the social order that forever will try to recuperate everything. On the other side, prefiguration, there’s way too little imagination concerning the “world as it could be,” to the point where “even” us antiauthoritarians who busily run around doing things ourselves have a hell of a time not simply reacting to everything and everyone as what we call politics.

A bit of the context, for what it’s worth, on the Harpy image is that I found out today that it was intended for the lobbies of condos in a neighborhood that’s been structurally gentrified (i.e., like all/most gentrification, due to capitalism, development laws, and state/city policies, all of which are also deeply shaped by institutional forms of oppression like racism). Rather than read Harpy’s street art as decrying yoga per se — or any of the other veneers of what (en)forced shifts of peoples/cultures in neighborhood entail, such as “suddenly” being able to get excellent espresso in spacious new cafes — it seems pretty clear that this street art is contesting a hierarchical logic, not practices outside that logic. We not only need to work toward nonstatist forms of making decisions but also reclaim and/or reimagine altogether yoga, coffee, and cafes outside state and capitalism. Even if I love a quality espresso, which I do.

That’s only part of the context, though. Like all street art, there’s mystery and serendipity, and both did their parts in developing the five words within this etching from perhaps a century ago. Purposefulness and playfulness. Yeah, we likely need a healthy mix of both to provoke a new society. Along with the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Anyway, late this evening or rather the early hours of tomorrow, I’ve been trying to find a photo of another piece of Montreal street art to provoke — to provoke equally well — and I realize that I have little on my camera-full of images after some five weeks of taking pictures while wandering the streets. So here’s this one, taken in the Plateau, with thanks to Amy for the suggestion of an image to share. It’s a rather inadequate stirring up, and not nearly as likely to incite a hot & heavy dialogue, much less debate. The stenciled words translate to: “With you in the shadows.”

I sometimes wonder how these blog posts emerge, because they often feel like they are “called forth” while I’m writing them, rather than me setting out with some sort of predetermined direction. It’s actually similar to how I experience the illegal evening demos, as I wrote in an earlier post: as dérive. Come to think of it, that one little word probably best captures how I got here, to Montreal and maple spring, and how the whole of my time is shaped here.

Dérives, via random and contingent encounters, let us see things in new ways. And so my noncommodified manner of strolling through these blogs has, tonight, lead me to this: the longest student strike in North America, neither random nor contingent, has been a purposefully well-orchestrated shaking up of society, precisely because it’s provoked time and again. And it’s been able to do so because of how it’s prefiguring a new politics and a new culture. Maybe this student strike itself is the new form of street art. The only street art possible now. We have so little room left “in the age of electronic reproduction” and commoditized places of spectacle, when street art is somehow not supposed to disturb our days and walls, but be pretty and ironic, and when streets — whether private or public — are never supposed to be ours anymore, to say nothing of our minds and education.

* * *

For more on Harpy, see their own Facebook page, where you can dialogue with and debate them directly — well, indirectly via the mediation of social media (similar to the way that tonight, at our open-air assembly in a park, I think most of us saw the paradox in setting up something like five to six electronic ways to communicate for what is the start of face-to-face conversations about face-to-face politics and engagement). Or maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of Harpy’s wings, darting around a corner after a new wheatpaste on various open-air urban canvases.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Harpy/249684105126331/

– Cindy Milstein –

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Lost in Translation: Maple Spring, Montreal, Night 63


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 – If it’s not self-evident from my writing over these past few weeks — for those who have been following it — I’m not Canadian, and I don’t call Montreal my home, much as I’m increasingly falling in love with this city-island and wouldn’t mind spending a lot more time here on a regular basis. Nor do I speak, read, write, or understand (save for a rudimentary understanding) the French language. For that matter, because my home base is in the United States, like most “Americans,” I have only the most rudimentary understanding of Canada and its history, economics, politics, culture, and so on, not to mention that of the various provinces. That means I’m on this accelerated learning curve here on multiple fronts — accelerated thanks to the longest student strike in North American history. Each day, thanks to the wisdom and sharing of the accelerated amounts of people I’m getting closer to and also newly meeting, I discover new extraordinary pieces of an ever-enlarging puzzle.

Increasingly, that means I’m able to see the trees for the forest. Because when one first arrives here from the United States, especially with the hindsight of occupy participation, the forest is mesmerizing, like peak-foliage weekend in Vermont’s Green Mountains, which are suddenly blazing with near-hallucinatory reds. But a hike through that autumn splendor reveals infinite variety on a branch-by-branch basis, until one is dizzy with the confusion of which leaf should be saved and pressed, enjoyed for the moment, has a blight, isn’t quite as stunning on closer look, or exhibits promise for further coloration — meaning more hikes.

With each step on the illegal hikes I’ve been taking here through maple spring, literally and figuratively, a new vista unfolds ahead, and often a thunderstorm or two. If I thought anything seemed “simply beautiful” on arrival — like the deceptively simple phrase “maple spring” — walking deeper into understanding with each day and night pretty much means finding out I’m always wrong. Nearly everything is far more complex and, often, far more nuanced. And in many cases, contrary to my experience of wandering ever deeper into occupy, that complexity and subtlety (or frequently, double or triple meanings, particular in relation to the French language) only makes maple spring all that more remarkable.

Thus, if it’s also not self-evident from my writings, I’m on a journey of discovery here — as an “American” anarchist in a Francophone-driven (actual) social movement in Quebec Province (details that all matter). I’m hoping that my words, from that vantage point — like autumn leaves raked into a higher and higher pile — are offering a better view of what’s going on, as I get better and richer understandings of it. All of it, from its history and context, to its organizational keys and dilemmas, to (perhaps most important of all for those of us who want to see wholesale liberatory social transformation) what’s “translatable” or what will get “lost in translation” if tried elsewhere — or lost in translation from me, as I try to translate its meaning to you via these blog posts.

There’s much I’d like to explore in that regard — what can and can’t be shared — but that’s too big a topic for one night. So I’ll focus on a single red leaf: the maple.

Months ago, via Facebook, I read that longtime Montreal organizer and anarchist Jaggi Singh had come up a simple though sweet phrase to describe the already-powerful student strike: “maple spring.” Jaggi has been (and still is) involved in so many innovative moments within the recent past of antiauthoritarian struggles in Canada that I didn’t initially doubt that claim — made not by Jaggi, but rather sourced by me from a Facebook “Friend” I don’t even know. I actually still have zero idea who came up with that phrase, but I tend to suspect it’s one of those things that no one will, or should, be able to copyright or assert authorship over.

About five weeks ago, when I first stepped foot into maple spring — happily, I’ve been to Montreal many times before this — that term seemed so apt, in large part, through my starstruck eyes, because it seemed so clear and unambiguous.

That view really was in the simplistic spring, for me, of this maple spring. As May turned to June, and I stuck around to start experiencing and writing about what’s becoming a stickier and likely hotter maple summer, I’ve realized how much more is bundled up in those two words. In fact, I discovered yet another bit of depth only yesterday — from a real-life Montreal friend (who is, not surprisingly, also a Facebook friend) while we were hanging out on a leisurely Sunday morning at a leftie neighborhood cafe whose staff was alternately cooking us yummy breakfasts and setting up an indoor yard sale of their old stuff for cheap. Just one more reason that I’m falling in love with Montreal, if you’ll pardon the digression.

So here’s what I learned yesterday.

Even though I was a Vermonter for years and always will be, whether there in person or spirit, I never heard the phrase “maple spring,” but my friend said that it refers to a spring in which the sap is running well. That is, a good maple season, when things maple or movement are pouring out in abundance.

My friend also mentioned, however, that the initial use of the “maple leaf” symbol, literally or figuratively, in the phrase “maple spring” felt for some like a clear reference to Canada.

Two “lessons” here for those U.S. folks in particular who may not know much about things Canada.

First, maybe this goes without saying, but the maple leaf is the symbol on the Canada flag. The flag is, in fact, known as the “Maple Leaf,” in the same way that people in the United States say “Stars and Stripes” as a name for the U.S. flag. Furthermore, the color of that maple leaf on the Maple Leaf flag is red. Red as in the Canadian state’s maple leaf; red, now in the context of the student strike, as in red square, meaning “squarely in the red” (in debt).

Second, and again maybe this is common knowledge, but Quebec Province has a troubled relation to Canada. There is the related troubled relations between First Nations peoples and Canada along with its various provinces. But for the purposes of this “lost in translation” tale on the “maple spring” term (until I’m corrected or learn more!), the crucial point here is, a maple leaf signals the Canadian nation; this student strike evolved from and is evoking struggles over, questions about, and aspirations for sovereignty — that is, Quebec secession. That takes many flavors, and has a much more complex history than a simple “antistatism” covers. It can carry everything from racist and xenophobic overtones all the way to liberation struggle, with many shades of tensions and complexities, too, between “British” and “French,” or Anglophone and Francophone.

So as my friend was explaining, the image of a pretty little red maple leaf within the “maple spring” phraseology conjured up, for some, battles between national and provincial, not to mention the sovereignty question. Those aren’t merely word games; this all underlines the intricate fabric and conundrums of this growing social movement/strike/crisis.

My friend also noted that any major worry that “maple spring” would read as Canadian nationalism were quieted with the reminder that Quebec Province is far and away the premier (only?) maple producer across Canada. So the term for this uprising suddenly took a positive spin, stressing what’s exceptional about Quebec, not what’s statist about Canada. Nearly everyone I talk to, no matter what their stance on the sovereignty question, observes that Quebec is a distinctly different province from all the rest. Indeed, part of the mainstream media’s, politicians’, and other detractors’ trope against the student strike has been: Quebec “kids” are spoiled because they already have vastly cheaper tuition than any other province, so why complain. That’s a whole other blog piece, but the rejoinder, as 18- and 20-year-old students keep reminding me, is: “This isn’t about us. The hikes won’t even apply for a few years, and we’ll have graduated. It’s about free education as a promise of the Quiet Revolution of forty years ago. It’s about future generations.” And many add: “Everyone all across Canada and elsewhere should get free [or cheap] education too.” Yet equally, every student and every other actor in this grand social grievance mentions, also, that Quebec isn’t like the rest of Canada.

As yet another aside before I move into the last bit of depth, so far, on the deceptively simple “maple spring” phrase is this: Canada’s flag is made up of two colors: red and white. Many here are adding other squares of colors to the red squares, to signal particular political stances. For example, some add a blue square, referencing the blue of the Quebec provincial flag (i.e., sovereignty). Since special law 78 passed, many have added a blue square, signaling the end of a democracy society because the law basically criminalizes dissent, free speech, and free assembly. Anarchists turn their red and black into their own version of that combo: the end of statist politics. A white square often gets added to the red square to signal “pacificism.” No one has mentioned this to me, but after my real-life friend noted that tension of nationalism versus sovereignty, I started thinking about how the national red-white national flag’s color combination has been thwarted (or maybe not?) by the tiny red-white squares on people’s shirts here.

Finally, at least for this evening, night 63 of rebellious Montrealers defying the emergency law to take to the streets, or until I learn more, there’s something I think I mentioned in an early blog post, but regardless, bears repeating here. I thoroughly missed the lovely wordplay — or rather pronunciation play — in the French-language version of “maple spring” (probably the first version, since Francophone students are at the forefront of this movment): Printemps Érable.

The first word means “spring”; the second means “maple.” Clearly enough, I thought, when I ran it through an online French-English translator program soon after my arrival, after seeing the two words on lots of posters and T-shirts, and wondering what the hell it meant. Duh, I thought. How could I have not known that?

But the École de la Montagne Rouge (School of the Red Mountain) artist collective, when I first toured their studio probably almost a month ago, pronounced it for me — twice: one way of stressing the “É” means “maple”; the other means “Arab.”

As divisions, debates, and dilemmas rage over the sovereignty question in this maplest of springs into summer, and hopefully on into autumn, the way “maple spring” slips off the tongue sends solidarity outward. This maple spring is bound to the Arab spring, which in turn bound itself to the Capitol building occupation in Madison, which harkened soon to “occupy fall” and then back around the world again to Spain, Greece, and so many other places. It is a solidarity that doesn’t know borders; it acknowledges instead our sense of deliciously sweet interconnectedness, mutual inspiration, and the shared project — notwithstanding all the very real contextual differences that make each uprising translatable and yet not translatable — of not only desiring but self-organizing toward new forms and contents of freedom.

It’s like hanging around the sugar shack, after the sap has run and been collected in buckets, after it’s been boiled down into a thick maple syrup, when people gather together to hold maple festivals and share treats like “sugar on snow” or maple candy. They get this collective high — the fruits of their labor suddenly tasting extra poignant.

Even though I know it’s not, as day after day here makes evident, maybe “maple spring” is pretty damned simple after all.

-Cindy Milstein-

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“Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” Montreal, Nights 53 & 60


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.

Prologue, Night 60

Montreal, QC–I started this blog post about night 53 on night 53; tried to continue it on the afternoon of night 54, and then got thoroughly waylaid by all the marvelous things going on here in Montreal related to maple spring-summer. That meant little writing time, save for short vignettes from nights 54 and 55. Then, bam, reality check: capitalism! I had to turn to my paid freelance work, since I suddenly was precariously and foolishly close to missing a deadline.

I’m fortunate, relatively, within the unfortunate system of capitalism that so unconsensually structures the whole of our lives; I have a “flexible,” “self-employed” way of making “a living” that is by and large “pleasant,” and due to online “communications” technology, I can do “whenever I want to.” All those words ring hollow under capitalism, even if I do generally like my job, given the alternatives. Yet I’ve said this before, and it always bears repeating: even if I like my job, I still hate capitalism. The type of work I do for capitalism — copyediting — always feels qualitatively better when I do it for free as part of self-organized projects. It’s not “work” then, nor it is my “job.” And it’s rarely “my,” since these projects are always collective and collaborative. I don’t yet have a language for it, since we’re not in that world yet, but I know it’s a thoroughly different experience. I already know, though, that it feels like living one’s life, not merely inhabiting a life that’s manufactured for us. Or maybe it’s the different between the aspiration of “everything for everyone” and the reality of “almost nothing for almost anyone.” That sentiment is embodied in what people kept repeating to me during Occupy Philly and other occupy neighborhoods that I visited — “I’ve never felt so alive” — and is now being articulated in this maple spring-summer — “I want this to last.”

All to say, the writing that I want to do here — that I’m so compelled to do, consensually and joyfully, as what I hope is a gift and contribution to this moment — got interrupted by my relatively fortunate, relatively pleasant wage work. Hence my increased desire to want to live in a world where we can be wholly different selves in a wholly different society. Hence the beauty of what’s being enacted, in bits and pieces, in Montreal on a doggedly daily basis — and yesterday, June 22, in Quebec City, where thousands responded to CLASSE’s call to march in solidarity and without permission in the monthly “grand” demonstrations (manifestations) kicked off by the student strike on March 22, and, as dusk fell, many folks then defied the new city rule there against night demos, illegally continuing to reclaim the streets after the 11:00 p.m. curfew.

We are, increasingly, all illegal. We are all increasingly queer, in the sense of not fitting into the heterogeneous (even if sometimes pleasant for some of us) box or cubicle, cage or prison cell, of capitalism. On the crowded, untamable streets of Montreal yesterday for the grand demonstration of some 100,000 or maybe many more people, a friend told me about someone who is facing deportation — not as part of maple spring, but due to the suspicion of suspicion of suspicion of being maybe suspected of something by those who still fight the “war on terror” (oh, if only Kafka were still alive and writing!). It’s one of those stories that, if I could share the details, tear at the heartstrings. Yes, increasingly, in what we can only hope is the last gasps of nation-states that know that can’t contain us, “Western democracies” are turning to criminalizing the entirety of their populations, making everyone illegal in some way or another. But of course, increasingly, nation-states cruelly and evenly target specific people, or the queerest of queer, again speaking broadly: “misfits” within this racist, heteronormative, inhumane, hierarchical (to name a few) system that tries to destroy the whole of our lives.

So maybe it’s appropriate that I’m now “troubling” linearity and leaping backward — ever with the aim of leaping forward — to night 53.

Queering It Up, Night 53

Two mornings ago [night 51], while working in a cafe, a guy sat down next to me to read Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. This simple act not only warmed my heart; it got me thinking. I and at this point hundreds of thousands of others haven’t so much been participating in illegal marches night after long-walk night in Montreal. Instead, we’ve been engaging in illegal and subversive dérives, in which we encounter the city in new and authentic ways — hence the subversive part — letting serendipity self-direct us, rather than the commodified or policed cityscape.

In a few hours, it will be consecutive night 54, with a call this evening for an anticapitalist bloc. Last night, a pink bloc got an early start, leaving at 7:30 p.m. (it later, serendipitously, crisscrossed paths with the 8:30 p.m. crew at about 9:30 p.m.). And the evening before that, night 52, some 300 people showed up early for a $10 red square tattoo just before they took to the streets. As the Facebook page for this collective inking read:

“They would like us to remove (our red squares). That is why we will put them on our chest in permanently. Imagine hundreds of people getting red squares tattooed on the chest at the same time, all in the same evening. A monumental ‘FUCK YOU’ to the authorities who would like to see (the squares) disappear.”

Night 1, so long ago now, began serendipitously too: to contest special law 78 until it was revoked. As a UQAM student explained to me two days ago, someone made a Facebook page at 5 p.m. on the same day that the emergency measure to criminalize dissent was passed, and by 8:30 p.m. that night, thousands and maybe tens of thousands showed up at Émilie Gamelin Park next to the Berri-UQAM Metro stop. Now, it’s common knowledge that every evening’s disobedient meandering begins there. This meeting point is also right next to UQAM [Université du Québec à Montréal], the public French-language university that came out of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, “a time when Quebecers became maîtres, or masters, of their own province, instituting changes that gave Quebec a more left-leaning bent than elsewhere in North America” (http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2012/05/11/from-quiet-revolution-to-not-so-quiet-riot/), and a hot spot/stronghold for the 2012 student strike. (As an aside, two UQAM students told me the same story separately a couple nights ago: when they first tried to do hard pickets — blockades — to enforce the strike in the early morning chill of winter, they suddenly realized that the above-and-below-ground UQAM sprawl was like “a pasta strainer [in reverse]: students and teachers can pour in from any direction.” That meant extra amounts of mobilizing to make sure they had every entryway covered starting around 5 or 6 a.m.–and could supply coffee to each other, plus rotate between those doorways with sun and those in the icy-winter shade.)

The point is: while these marches are and always must be illegal, because they are intended to defy the law that outlaws such manifestations, they are also turning everyone who joins them into, for all intents and purposes, what I’d lovingly call “criminals against capitalism” on a grand collective dérive. We nightly break with the way that “the spectacle” in the Debordian sense compels to walk through, see, and consume the city, whether as spectators (Debord’s day) or participants (present-day capitalism). Our encounters are always contingent, experimental, and random. We relate to the street as a giant board game of our own making and playing (since, as Debord observed in the 1960s — relatedly, around the same time that UQAM was birthed from radical social struggle — “boredom is counter-revolutionary”). I keep coming back to a friend’s Twitter post of many weeks ago: “the city is ungovernable.” Yes, but its usage also is daily — especially nightly — being redesigned or, in an embryonic sense, governed from below. More than that, we relate to each other and nearly everyone we pass–from concertgoer to cop–in contingent, experimental, and random ways, allowing curious or courageous as well as genuine interactions to unfold, along with new social relations (of cooperation and egalitarianism, say, not competition and exploitation).

Usually, here in Montreal, all I can see is red — recolored from its murderous, totalitarian associations, for me, with the Communist Party, orthodox Marxism, and various Communist states into something antiauthoritarian, or to put a prefigurative spin on it, liberatory. I incessantly stop on the unending walks here to snap photos of red squares, which I’m now archiving and sharing in a growing collection at http://seeingredmontreal.tumblr.com/archive, thanks to setup help from my friend Kevin Caplicki. (Several folks have kindly offered to add their own snapshots to this ever-increasing sampler, but besides being an archival account of red squares in Montreal, my “Seeing Red” tumblr is an archival account of my own dérive encounters.)

On night 53, though, all I could see was pink. It wasn’t so much that the maybe 100 or so folks who formed the pink bloc actually wore all that much pink; there was probably just as much red — from ruby lipstick to glittery gowns — and black — from painted-on moustaches to the (stereo)typical anarchist attire — within fabulous grouping. Sure, the main banners were fabulously pink, but there were relatively few of those either. And as we mingled in a corner of Émilie Gamelin Park, preparing to strike out into the streets on our lonesome an hour before the regular nightly demo, this bloc felt almost pitifully bedraggled despite all the flamboyant drag.

But I hadn’t counted on its courage, not to mention its cunning. From the moment it put high heel or heavy boot to the pavement, this pink bloc — which I soon found out was heavily weighted toward anarcho-feminist queers — (gender)fucked up the streets and befuddled the cops in a way that seemed as if it were a 1,000 or 10,000 people. And in its nearly 3 hours of wending its own merry way through the downtown, it seemed one of more footloose and headstrong of these illegal demonstrations that I’ve gone on. There may have been a plan — we were, for instance, supposed to leave at 7 p.m. and, I think, supposed to return to Émilie Gamelin Park in time for the now-regular 8:30 p.m. nightly manifestation, yet for no apparent reason we left late (7:30 p.m.) and for no apparent reason we brushed by the park (around 8:30 p.m.), ignoring the “normal” illegalista crew — but it felt more like whimsy carried us on its wings. That, and a whole lot of sassiness.

Perhaps the power of this small pink bloc was in its figurative meeting point: the intersection of queer-as-fuck and anarchist-as-fuck.

For example, there was nary a cop in sight when we first strode out of the park and into the Village, Montreal’s gayborhood, a closed-off street that’s maybe a mile long filled with open-air bars, clubs, and restaurants, and canopied (this summer) by tens of hundreds of thousands of strings of little pink “pearls” overhead. And gays. Lots and lots of partying gays. Our campy crew stood out, as did our queered anticapitalista chants, as spectacle and perhaps subversion of the spectacle we encountered.

Once we hit the end of this pink-lined playground, though, and turned on to a wide open and trafficked street, motorcycle cops quickly steered our way, lights flashing and sirens wailing. They weren’t even pretending to play officer friendly. As genderqueer folks brazenly just pushed past them, the cops grew increasingly aggressive with their motorcycles, running them into the legs of pink bloc participants, who then started this mix of taunting with bodies and chants — like “Police, you suck, but do you swallow?” — and simply outmaneuvering the police. This entailed turning on to streets with oncoming traffic and walking in between cars, so that the police motorcycles couldn’t fit, which at one point so angered the cops they not only really tried so hard to hit us with their motorcycles but turned on near-deafening sirens. More often, this outmaneuvering involved skirting (often in glittery skirts) around the police, in a move that seemed so obvious, it was a wonder it fooled the cops–a whole bunch of times. A few genderfuck folks in the front of our itty-bitty pink bloc would pretend to comply with the cops when they formed a line in the street in front of us, and would walk over to the sidewalk, step up, kinda smile, and then simply dart around the police line, and jump back in the street with glee, while the rest of us raced around past the confused police to catch up with our comrades (up on sidewalk fast too and then back down the street again). Amid all the mayhem whenever this happened, I heard one pink bloc person yell exuberantly: “Are we anarchists?!” And another one of our bunch replied, “Qui! Pink anarchists!”

One of the remarkable things here in Montreal, in general, in relation to this student strike is that people increasingly don’t seem afraid of the police and don’t comply with their orders. The police, in turn, seem to keep trying every trick and tactic in the book — and then some — and increasingly nothing seems to really work. People only grow bolder and less afraid. So on the one hand, what amounted to a handful of queers showing no fear and outfoxing a nearly equal number of cops shouldn’t be that surprising. But on the other hand, it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to face off with police when there are so few of you, when the ratio is probably 1:1, when there are kids marching with you and a lot of people in inappropriate shoes for running (both true in this bloc), and when homophobia is so obviously apparent on the cop’s faces. So the tenacity of this bloc was extra remarkable, yet not because it stood up to the police like many people are doing, but it did it in a way that time and again worked. We went where we wanted to go.

And now I circle back to the dérive.

Seeing pink this evening helped me also see how being in the streets night after night, always illegally, intentionally so — whether “Queer & Feminista! Anticapitalista!” as in this pink bloc, or during the nightly marches in general — has blurred the lines between protestation and reclamation. And maybe that line has been so queered, now after nearly 2 months of contingency, experimentation, and randomness, that we have freed ourselves up to remake the streets on these night strolls in ways we’re hardly aware of and don’t think twice about. Of course we’ll try to outwit the police, sans fear! Of course, they won’t tell us what to do and where to go! Naturally, we’ll zig and zag our way where we please, seeing things anew, falling (or refalling) in love with Montreal, because it’s a different type of Montreal, one that we’re making our way through together.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog post or two, but it’s as if the nightly demonstrations are grand civic experiments — in illegality and exercise — but on this queered-up night 53, it seems to me it’s also a grand experiment in dérives. No longer the province of a few artists and intellectuals, or something we do to mimic May ’68, but what dérives really should be: a collective exercise in uncommodifying our world, even if only in temporary ways that begin to show us how we could inhabit our streets, parks, schools, and neighborhoods. Or our festivals. But not just a collective one, and not just a collectively big one either. It’s when it also holds the power in its hands, even if temporarily, putting the powers-that-be on the defensive, where they are having to race around to try to catch up to us, and yet can’t figure out how to do that — like here, in Montreal, this fabulous maple summer, where a few rowdy and well-dressed queers can out-race the police over and over again.

And in this grand, people-powerful dérive that has already outlasted anyone’s wildest fantasies and desires, walking through the streets on these evenings always feels sensuous. One never knows where one will end up or with whom, who one will run into for a good conversation, how many new people you’ll meet or chance encounters, lovely and startling, that you’ll experience, what corners of the city you’ll see for the first time or in a different way, from a different angle — like prancing on the yellow line in the middle of busy street that can’t be busy anymore because it’s ours. On this pink bloc night, there was an extra dreamy quality of serendipity and remaking the city. Maybe it was because, randomly, anarchist friends I hadn’t seen in years suddenly appeared in front of me, for a big hug, and then hours of conversation during which our feet took us places we hadn’t planned to go. Or maybe it was because I’d come downtown thinking I was going to do the pink bloc for an hour, then join the nightly march, but the only time I encountered the nightly march was when it was marching toward our pink bloc as we crisscrossed inside this enormous free French-language music festival, Francofolies, around Place des Arts — surrounded by literally thousands upon thousands of concertgoers cheering us all on, after we’d already “crashed” this music festival, stopping to form a circle for dancing while singing/chanting “Dance, Dance, Dance, the Social Peace Is Over!” while encircled, again, by thousands of supportive concertgoers.

Or maybe it was because of how these nightly dérives are indeed going the distance to reshape social relations.

About a week before this pink bloc evening, our nightly march walked in the direction of the opening night of Montreal’s Francofolies Festival. As we trooped toward one of it’s “free” entrances, a line of police cut us off. Suddenly, from behind the cops, thousands of people raised red flags or pulled out a pot & ladle or simply applauded. The police thought they were separating protesters from nonprotesters; but we encountered “us” on both sides, with the police line suddenly losing all meaning or control. Still, we were barred from entry.

On this pink-bloc night, no one stopped us at the entrance. After dancing, we took our pink-square politics right up to the front of one of the main stages, to then wave anticapitalist and anarchist flags at the heels of one of the bands, as they displayed a red square on the stage above us. One security guard mumbled something about how we were “only girls,” so wouldn’t cause trouble. Then another security guard told one of our posse that the festival organizers had informed the private security and police that all those in favor of the student strike were welcome at the festival, that the festival welcomed and supported the strike. In fact, a bit later on this evening, on the biggest of the main stages, some of the striking-student spokespeople along the School of the Red Mountain artists’ collective were invited up on stage with the Canadian hip-hop group Loco Locass for their last song (“Free Us from the Liberals”) in a grand show of solidarity for this “squarely-in-the-red” movement.

It’s a complicated solidarity, at this festival and elsewhere among the supportive populace of Montreal. It’s partly related to sympathy for the students’ demand of low-cost –and increasingly, maybe even free — education for all those who come after them (contrary to what “popular wisdom” or the mainstream media would have people believe, these student strikers are clear that they won’t be the ones impacted by the tuition hike, which would be phased in after they have graduated, but are demanding that society live up to its promise of this social good). It’s partly related to anti-austerity struggles, here and globally. And it’s partly related to the unique history of Quebec Province, including righting what’s seen as historical wrongs, and related to cultural, language, and sovereignty issues.

But at the end of this long night of walking and dancing at least — night 53, that is — it was definitely solidarity all the way, as in one of our favorite “squarely-in-the-pink” chants:

“Sol-sol-sol, so fucking gay!”

p.s. If you want a good intro to “queer” from an antiauthoritarian perspective — as in something so much more expansive than who you sleep with, because queering that up is often healthy and sex positive too, and so much about how you think about who you are and especially who you could be in so many ways if the socialization and institutions of heteronormativity (so bound up with capitalism and states, but distinct) weren’t constraining us all — then please download, cut, fold, staple, and read the “Gender” pamphlet by Jamie Heckert in our (’cause I’m part of this marvelous collective) Institute for Anarchist Studies new Lexicon series, hosted on the Web site of our good friends at AK Press: http://www.revolutionbythebook.akpress.org/ak-tactical-media/ias-lexicon-pamphlet-series/.

– Cindy Milstein –

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A Little Bit of Direct Democracy (for Now): Montreal, Day 55


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

Montreal, QC–The past two days, I finally got my first chance to check out self-governance in Montreal: a neighborhood assembly yesterday, and the CLASSE Congress today. Both in 100% French, and my French is next to nothing. But I can recognize some words, such as “démocratie directe” and “autonomie.” Better yet, I can read the body language of good cheer and respectful interactions, and follow the informal & formal processes–all of which put most of what I participated in and saw within US occupy to shame.

Not that it wasn’t (& still isn’t) profoundly beautiful to see people start to work through direct democracy on a large scale with occupy. What my limited experience with this maple spring version shows, though, is what it looks like when people have been doing it a long while and have honed structure/processes (the students) and/or have a defined geographic area that they care about and spend their daily lives in (the neighborhood). A fair amount of homogeneity in terms of purpose, values, where they are in their life, etc., doesn’t seem to hurt either. More on this topic in the coming weeks, since I ♥ prefigurative politics, and even sooner, more on these two particular examples.

For now, one last remark. It felt moving to recall that at least one general assembly of CLAC (an anarchist organization still around from heyday of anticapitalist movement of late 1990s/early 2000s), using basically the same process, met in the same room as today’s CLASSE Congress, with a new generation of radicals and anarchists. I suspect CLASSE “borrowed” some or all of CLAC’s process, but I need to ask around. Anyone know?

– Cindy Milstein – 

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“A-Anti-Anticapitalista,” Montreal, Night 51


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

Montreal, QC – This past weekend in Montreal’s unfolding maple-spring saga pitted the Grand Prix’s blatant display of wealth and sexism against the brave display of disruption and solidarity. Many of the always-illegal marches were a collaborative call from CLAC, an anarchist organization that’s at least 10 years old and probably more like 12 or so, and CLASSE, the most radical of the student associations, including many anarcho-syndicalists in particular from what I hear. The success of the unrelenting, principled, and courageous crashing of the Grand Prix party for 4 days and especially nights did much to underscore what a police state Montreal has become (I rarely use such rhetoric, but in this case, between coming on 120 days of student strike and 51 nights of illegal marches, the unrelenting, unprincipled, and dangerous cop presence is indeed a police state). It also seems to have solidified an (antiauthoritarian) “a-anti-anticapitalista” turn as maple spring heads into the summer. More on that later, probably in another post another night–although I can’t resist inserting just one photo from today’s (on day/night 51) rally in front of the International Economic Forum conference meetings that soon, after I shot this photo, turned into a large anarchist breakaway march that disrupted the busy lunchtime downtown by snaking the wrong way through traffic.

 

That breakaway march, by the way, seemed completely spontaneous, catching the police off-guard, and so it actually was able to be one step ahead of the police–that is, get entangled in the oncoming traffic, bringing it to a halt. Yet again, a good percentage of the drivers stalled in their cars and cabs were either supportive or at least not annoyed. The breakaway also seemed to be largely initiated and kicked off by what I’d call, with admiration, a cute merging of a “baby bloc” and “black bloc”: teens in black hoodies, and lots of ‘em.

I ran into one of the CLASSE anarchist organizers during this illegal daytime demo, and they told me that it wasn’t spontaneous at all. It was an orchestrated agreement of sorts between the critical-of-capitalism folks who did the noontime rally today outside the Economic Forum and more direct actionista anticapitalists. Apparently, the CLASSE person told me, part of the disaster at Victoriaville demo, where police shot out one demonstrator’s eye, was that rally and direct action folks didn’t respect each other’s tactics.

Today, what can only be described as respectful “diversity of tactics” in practice on the streets lead to a diversity of participants, greater solidarity, and both a better rally and better direct action, opening up the space for everyone to feel safer doing what they wanted to do. And, I might add, allowing “anticapitalism” as a sentiment to connect the two, as happened in Quebec City over a decade ago, when anarchists in Canada experimented with this notion in the first place (see my “Something Did Start in Quebec City: North America’s Revolutionary Anticapitalist Movement” essay, written at the time, athttp://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/something-did-start-in-quebec-city-north-americas-revolutionary-anticapitalist-movement/). It worked like this: unions, student associations, and community groups held a rally outside the Economic Forum, decrying capitalism from various angles, and holding up their various banners. There were lots of police all around, and lots of folks listening, including those baby black bloc folks. Here are some photos:

When the rally ended, the groups carefully rolled and folded up their banners. They moved out of the way. Then they turned on some music. It seemed, to me, that the rally was dispersing and that was the end of the noontime demo. A few minutes later, anarchist flags in the air and cries to move forward, and we took the streets, marching briskly into the busy downtown streets. The music, said the CLASSE person, who the cue that the rally folks were ready for the direct action folks to start the march. Sweet solidarity. And everyone left (or stayed) happy.

Anyway, back to this past weekend. Besides a more explicit focus on capitalism, the weekend also kicked off–as nearly everything seems to do here–a new tactic. As near riots and perhaps some outright rioting occurred for those 4 nights, I suddenly noticed that the bixi bikes–banks of rental bikes scattered liberally around Montreal, at least its core–had experienced a bit of culture jamming. As I wrote in an earlier piece, scores of the bikes with an advertisement for RioTintoAlcan, a huge mining company, suddenly read: “RioT.”

Now, 3 days after the Grand Prix, and 3 days into the International Economic Forum, a bunch of these bikes at their self-service stands exhibit various student strike/social strike makeovers. I walked by some 25 or 30 of these self-service stations tonight, first on my couple-mile walk to illegal demo night 51, and then on my couple-mile walk home again. So below are some photos of the same of the newly decorated bikes, sans their egregarious advertisements for “resource” extraction or banks. In between photographing bikes, and walking to and from night 51, there were a bunch more miles and 1,000-plus person march that featured many more little blocs of anarchists with flags–see below–many more anticapitalist/antistatist chants, and what turned into an impromptu CLAC/CLASSE crew at the tail end, including me and some other out-of-town anarchists, with all of us at the end because we were so busy yapping about politics we forgot to keep up the nearly always-brisk pace of these monster marches.

OK, I can’t resist again. Another anticapitalist digression.

At night 51′s illegal demo, I asked a Francophone (pictured below) who barely spoke English if I could take a picture of his arms, all covered w/English-language anticapitalist chants. Then a beautiful French chant arose from unusually large anarchist bloc I was in tonight–before I stumbled on the temporary CLAC/CLASSE affinity group this evening. I could only make out the last two terms: “democracy direct, autogestion.” So I asked him what the four other phrases in the chant were, and he told me, first in perfect French and then in broken English. I can’t repeat, much less write, the French words–not even broken French for me, alas–but here’s what he told me the English version is (which doesn’t sound nearly as beautiful in English, mind you):

“No gods, no masters, no states, no bosses; direct democracy, self-management.”

[Late-breaking update, with thanks to Tim Powell, who kindly posted the French chant on my Facebook page: “Ni dieu, ni maitre, ni état, ni patron; démocratie directe, auto-gestion!”]

This arm, and its companion, also covered with red (always red here!) English-language anticapitalist chants, reminds me of another story–another digression. At the start of today’s breakaway march after the rally, I ran into a longtime anarchist comrade I haven’t seen yet in my time here; they are with CLAC and other projects, and we were trading stories from the Grand Prix party disruptions and how the police, so tired and so outnumbered, were especially stupid and dangerous. My comrade pulled up their long sleeve, gesturing down to their arm with their head, and I saw a huge bruise. How? I asked. They had “mouthed off” at a cop when the cop was rude to a passerby, then smack, a baton came down hard on my friend’s arm.

Anyway, back to the bikes–bikes as the new city walls, as palettes for wheatpasting.

Here’s what the front of these bixi bikes usually looks like, with advertisement intact:

And here’s what the whole bike looks like, in its stall. If you look closely, you’ll already see the front advertisement in an altered form:

Or better yet, here’s a closer view of this bike, with its ad gone and a black square instead. The black square, by and large, is meant to signal opposition to special law 78 outlawing dissent of pretty much any kind and also an affirmation of “democracy” as in representative or parliamentary democracy. People often wear a black square with their red square pinned to their shirt (or wherever!). More and more, though, I’m seeing clearly anarchist versions of this red-black combo. At the same time, it’s intriguing that “red” has lost its authoritarian communism connotation, and black, alas, can be misleading if you think you’re suddenly seeing anarchism everywhere.

Not to be outdone by a tame black square, another bike sported a violent red square, as claimed by Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Christine St-Pierre, who just a day or two ago affirmed “the right to wear the red square, ‘but us, we know what the red square means, it means intimidation, violence” (seehttp://www.quebecprotest.com/post/25027080608/violence-and-red-squares-artists-outraged-by-minister). This red square even bears the scars of, one presumes, various street battles!

In contrast, here’s an itty-bitty red square, still a peaceful youth, but probably already aspiring to grow up to be as intimidating as the bigger red squares. At least it’s taking on “the largest cooperative financial group in Canada”!

And here’s a bunch more photos of various “this bike is a poster” revisions. Sorry, it’s too damned late in the early hours of this morning for me to attempt (stress on the word “attempt”) to translate French to English, so get out your dictionary or online translator, if needed.

And finally, harking back to when some anonymous direct actionistas covered all 5,500 bixi bike advertisements in one night (some say in just under 2 hours!) with stickers of some dozen different poetic quotes (and they covered 2 ads per bike, for a total of 11,000 stickers!), I saw at least 2 bikes tonight with another literary reference: George Orwell. You might want to read this related story first, although the headline kind of says it all–”My Trip to Jail for Reading 1984″–and then you’ll see why this was an especially apropos bike ad alteration: http://www.quebecprotest.com/post/25026837169/my-trip-to-jail-for-reading-1984-on-the-metro.

OK, so many stories, so little sleep. It’s 3:00 a.m., and this anticapitalist needs some noncommodified rest. Well, after one more photo–of posters that appeared on numerous street posts today, as “a-anti-anticapitalista” just seems to be spreading and spreading.

-Cindy Milstein- 

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#J6: NY Student March in Support of Students of Quebec


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–The students of Quebec are currently facing threats on their education system that would increase tuition by 75% over the next five years. As a response, the students of Quebec have called for an infinite strike, refusing to accept this new policy. Hundreds of thousands of students have taken to the streets of Quebec for over 100 days now.

On May 18th, The National Assembly of Quebec passed an emergency law: Bill 78. The law attempts to restrict freedom of assembly, protest, or picketing on or near university grounds and anywhere in Quebec. The law also places restrictions upon education employees right to strike.

#NYC Infinite Strike will continue to march in solidarity with the strikers of Quebec, while also working towards building a strong student movement here in the United States.

OUTSTANDING STUDENT LOAN DEBT IN THE UNITED STATES HAS REACHED $1 TRILLION.

– Giles Clark –

This is a selection of photos from Giles Clark’s collection; the full collection may be found here.

This is also one of many accounts of events that took place on June 6th; read multiple points of view of the first five minutes of this march, and a longer account of the march’s progression. An account of an arrestee may be found here, and jail solidarity in Chicago may be found here.

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“Open the Window; There’s a World,” Montreal, Night 50


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

Montreal, QC – The heavy, chilly midafternoon rain has subsided, but it’s a gloomy gray outside, and there’s a 70-80% chance of more rain this evening. I have slept something like 3-4 hours per night for a week, and am behind on my paid work too, not to mention email and anything remotely resembling “real life.” All I want to do is NOT walk downtown for the 8:30 p.m. rendezvous point for the nocturnal manif in Montreal, likely wet by the time I get there to Berri-UQAM, before we’ve even started walking illegally.

Then I pop a new, gifted CD into my computer, to listen while I try to focus on paid work, and words of other uprisings and rebellions, and defeats too begin to fill my head. I toggle between work and twitter on what’s happening in Montreal, between work and hoping CUTV is online early, between work and searching for stories and images of maple spring.

That leads to another maple-spring distraction: scrolling through the many photos I’ve snapped on my smartphone, while forever walking on the red streets of Montreal, and I stumble across this picture. It’s one of many images I haven’t yet posted, of public art painted within large rectangles on the pavement of the closed-off Mont-Royal street during last weekend’s sidewalk sale that stretched for blocks. I assume, in years past, this art, which also stretched for blocks, with the yellow divider line for traffic running through each big piece, was supposed to encourage shopping, not disobedience. But nearly every piece this year included red squares, sharp & blurry, large & small, playful & serious. And red. Lots and lots of red.

At first, in the 2:30 a.m. dim light from streetlamps, I thought this was an abstract piece. It was so much darker, furious even, than any other piece. Then the continents slowly took shape for me–continents in strong, angry black; continents we know, without the artist having to show it, divided into states, capitalism, racism, heteronormativity, and so many other enclosures of freedom. So many borders demeaning dignity and breaking bones.

Then the red. Angry, proud, on the move, bursting from the dark and even “darker nations,” as Vijay Prashad titled one of his books. Screaming, to me: Revolt in Quebec! Below, in a corner of this massive piece of art, are some words in French. I click a photo, and only now try to decipher it, likely badly, using an automatic translator program–ironically, since a fantastic human translator is loaning me her apartment now while she’s at a retreat. I may not be getting the French right, and at some point soon, I want to write a piece called “Lost (& Found) in Translation” to explore how I am experiencing this moment as someone who doesn’t speak French and isn’t a Canadian–and how that both masks things and reveals things. So while it should matter that I get the French right, for tonight, as the rain pours down heavily again and whips the trees wildly outside the third-floor window where I sit (trying, trying, failing to work), my translation speaks what I want this piece of street art to say:

“Open the window; there’s a world.”

There’s a world outside. A world that in a few minutes, I’ll walk out into, dry skies or not, because it’s night 50 in Montreal of marches that have illegally snaked, raced, rioted, marched, casseroled, chanted, trudged, danced, skipped, skateboarded, biked, walked, wheelchaired, strollered, and otherwise taken over, flagrantly, as every night the police say no. No, it’s illegal. No, you need to disperse. No. The illegalistas answer with their feet, unstoppable. For 50 nights.

There’s another kind of world outside. That world that we want to change. That world broken apart into separate things called nations, provinces, property. Millions of miles of enclosures, when all we see as we march through the streets of Montreal are millions of openings–that we’re taking and making. Maybe that’s why so many red squares, each one like a fire-engine-red spark. That red that’s breaking out of the black blocs of continents in this art piece is a red that can and must travel, to find others who “see red” when they see injustice, misery, exploitation, pain. Those others who answered all the police and military, dictators and presidents, who said “NO. A million times NO,” with one big global “ENOUGH,” small at first, like the initial pots and pans on that first night when they banged in Montreal, but suddenly bursting in a cacophony of casseroles, in the way that our “ENOUGH” connects from Chiapas to Cairo to Quebec, and so much in between.

It’s 7:45, and it looks like the rain is only a drizzle. I’m wondering if I should take a black umbrella along, for rain and because police recently targeted them as another symbol of illegality, as something seen as suspect and subversive. That kind of targeted happened “long ago” in the United States, when following 9/11, the US government and its police created their own menacing categories: toothpaste, backpacks, Swiss Army knives, bottled water, shoes.

This is why people go out here. Against tuition increases and US-style “higher education,” yes. Against austerity, yes. Against repressing dissent with new laws and too many police, too tired from 50 nights on the street and so more dangerous than usual, yes. But, I think, simply to reclaim the common sense of life–where toothpaste cleans our teeth, shoes protect our foot, and little red squares make us happy.

Rain or not, night 50, all out.

-Cindy Milstein-

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Intimacy Versus Capitalism: Montreal, Day 49


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

Montreal, QC – Capitalism, due to its own internal logic, is “compelled” to do increasingly horrible things to humans and other living creatures, ultimately turning us into dead matter. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that in moments of popular uprisings, everything comes quickly to life. Maybe the power of the Arab Spring last year and the Maple Spring this year is that bursting forth of life that comes in spring regardless of revolt, from frozen ground to the sudden intoxicating procession of crocus-daffodil-iris-lilac. But mix rebellion into the cherry blossoms and all hell can break loose. We, ourselves, can break loose.

And once we’re awakened, like people seem to be in Montreal, that accelerated return to life, from the deadening world of capitalism, spills into summer. How could it not? Especially in a place like Montreal, where winter is especially brutal (kind of like the police of late here) and so summer becomes especially precious–especially public–in a city architecturally scaled for public street, park, and balcony life. I’ve visited Montreal a lot in past summertimes, and it’s always had a particularly enchanting quality. But that quality now seems elevated to what I can only, perhaps still inadequately, call a feeling of “intimacy” in its most expansive sense. People are remembering what they are capable of, from solidarity to courage, from mutual aid to direct action, from collective illegality in the face of repression to sharing this moment–the many exquisite moments–with each other in so many intimate ways.

The other day, before the Grand Prix disruption on Friday, one of the CUTV guys kept telling me that this many months of maple spring blossoming into maple summer was about love, from the student strike to the social awakening. I’d run into him–a complete stranger–a couple weeks ago when he randomly asked me on the street if he could interview me on livestream (CUTV stops lots of folks to do interviews on the long nightly marches), and when he said he was from CUTV, I threw my arms around him without thinking, hugged him tight, and exclaimed, “I love CUTV!!” (For those of you who know me, I can be a pretty exuberant–overwhelming?–person.) I didn’t do an interview that night, mostly because after I’d hugged him, I felt embarrassed, especially when he kept urging me to say how much I loved CUTV on camera. When we ended up chatting the other day, it was the first time I’d seen him since that hug, and I reminded him of that moment on the street. He blinked for a second and then lit up; of course he remembered me! Then he leaped into a repetitive refrain, equally exuberant to our first encounter, tha basically went, “but this movement is about love! It’s always been about love!”

His comments, in turn, reminded me of OWS in its first weeks, when love seemed the strongest of symbols and motivations, and there were thousands of people similar to my CUTV friend, who retains that freshness that OWS and other occupies have lost, because we’re still in the spring that’s about to become the summer of the maple uprising. Because there’s an intimacy here that comes from seeing a tiny red square on someone’s hat or skirt, and knowing you can wink or smile at them, or share a knowing glance. Because there’s an intimacy, too, that comes from standing next to someone you didn’t know a few minutes ago and feeling tear gas constrict your throat, and pulling each other away from riot police–then running into them again at some random place like a cafe, as if you’re old friends.

There’s also this intimacy forged by hours and miles of walking illegally together, in what’s becoming a grand civic experiment in collective summer evening strolls (and perhaps a grand experiment in collective exercise). Or an intimacy in relatively tiny moments, like when we convened tonight by the hundreds, yet scattered in small knots, around the good-sized park, fringed as it always is by clumps of riot cops and bike cops, next to Berri-UQAM Metro for the 8:30 p.m. march.

Suddenly the police pulled out their loudspeakers from their “technology section” van to say (for some reason, now in French and English, perhaps for the benefit of summer tourists) that we needed to walk in the right direction or we’d be declared illegal. In a flash, people surged toward the police and their van, becoming a mass that seemed to swell to a thousand or more, and everyone stepped off the curb without hesitant, and with tons of noise, and briskly tried to go in the wrong direction together. In tonight’s case, the wrong direction was toward the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference meeting.

Today, I’ve had intimacy versus capitalism on the mind.

This past weekend and now this night 49, it’s so clear what–far more than who–the police are protecting: capital. On the weekend, they encircled $200,000 cars being shown off during the outdoor Grand Prix party area around St.-Catherine Street; tonight, they formed lines around key buildings in the financial district as we passed by them, such as the trade center, the stock exchange, the largest mainstream media producer, and bank offices.

But there’s also this odd way that capitalism, in its “mom-and-pop” form, is flagging the symbol–the threatening little red square–that increasingly links student tuition, austerity measures, and capitalism together, or the very undoing (if this revolt were to succeed) of the very basis of their business. One store in the neighborhood where I’m staying is offering 50 percent off on summer clothing if you wear a red square; when I asked why, one clerk pointed to another one–a young woman wearing a red square. “She wanted to do it,” he said, “in solidarity.”

More and more, I’m seeing store windows displaying red squares, often pinned to a mannequin’s clothing or for sale as red-square earrings. Some local shops forbid employees from wearing the square; others seem to encourage it, including as an incentive to tip those employees–wearing a red square, of course.

My cynical perspective on this, and likely there’s some truth to it, is that capital co-opts everything, and adores turning rebellion into trendy commodity. The state and politicians do similar things. For instance, a Montreal anarchist friend who I walked with in the nightly march for about an hour this eve told me that today, a Facebook page announced that some self-appointed organizers–mostly from political parties–for this Wednesday’s “Casseroles across Canada” in Montreal had shared the “illegal” route with the police. Apparently Montreal anarchists commented, a lot, on this plan via Facebook in return, but in a persuasive way, explaining that the whole point of the evening marches was that they were intended as an illegal direct defiance of special law 78. The electorally minded folks recanted, saying there would be a new route and they wouldn’t tell the police about it. Key to this example, for now, is that only 25 people had “joined” this Wednesday night Facebook invite–hence the politicians haven’t managed to crush the flowers of this spring (yet). My friend told me this as we marched past the Economic Forum meetings, with now thousands of other friends, acquaintances, and new comrades–all illegal.

Maybe that’s why the CUTV guy still has this joyfully innocent outlook about love and this uprising, because it’s still in the romantic spring/summer phase of its head-over-heels new love of its own collective and civic power. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep, and why nearly each and every interaction of more than an hour or so that I have with people on the rosy-red streets elicits feelings of intimacy and love in the CUTV sense–where I’d hug a CUTV person at first sight simply because I so appreciate all they are giving and gifting through livestreaming each evening, unstopped by neither rain nor heat nor pepper spray. And if I spend more than a hour with you, watch out! But it isn’t just me; I see this intimacy, profoundly so, on the faces of the 17- to 21-year-old college students, or rather the striking college students, who are probably addicted to the love of what they’ve created and each other, for creating it. Probably they can’t sleep either, which is why maybe the end of tonight’s march seemed to consist mostly of me and 17-year-olds.

Maybe those employees wearing red squares and their “mom-and-pop” bosses are still in this “in love” moment where they aren’t posting or promoting red squares in order to boost their sales but because they believe in the magic too. Maybe they also have come alive, and don’t see the relation (yet) between capitalism calculation and this sappy-maple awakening. I’d like to think that we could stay in this suspended time of simple comaraderie. But as long as capitalism is still around, it will manufacture its own red squares to all-too-soon sell our revolutions back to us–taxidermied May 1968s, as corpses in our mouths.

My friend Alex–someone I already feel close to precisely because we met on the streets right after law 78 passed and barricades were being built by new & old rebels, then torn apart by police, then rebuilt, then torn again, until someone opened up a fire hydrant and St.-Denis became a revolutionary water park, a mix of anger and empowerment–recently pulled out her well-worn and marked-up copy of Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations. She opened it to his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” where in section xv he speaks of “the awareness that they [those in the French Revolution] are about to make the continuum of history explode.” And so “in the July revolution an incident occurred. . . . On the first evening of the fighting it turned out that the clocks in towers were being fired on simultaneously and independently from several places in Paris.” An eyewitness, Benjamin goes on to note, wrote that they “fired at the dials in order to stop the day.”

Pablo Neruda’s beautiful words “They can cut all the flowers, but cannot stop the spring,” which have been lovingly overlaid on movements this 2012 spring season, seems to me to have another meaning, as I walk hours and miles through the maple spring. Maybe we want to stop the spring ourselves, so as to savor it and hold it dear, so as to hug it tight like new and old rebel friends on the street. Maybe we want to fire on the clocks that wake us for work, that time us for a paycheck, that tick away the minutes until summer becomes fall and then a cold, brutal winter again–that measure our deaths under capitalism, and have no time at all for intimacy.

So on this night 49, filled with the warm radiant heat of a summer night, made hotter still by so many people continuing to turn out illegally to march, and the warmth of the bonds we feel when we do so, I’m overcome by the actually existing fact that people can and do act along the lines of an “economy” of gifting and mutual aid and solidarity, backed by the intimacy and love created in our spring uprisings, despite all that capitalism does to beat the life out of us.

Tonight, when I walked the half hour from temporarily gifted home to illegally reclaimed streets, I kept hearing the now-familiar sound of casseroles every couple blocks. Each time, from the sound of it, I thought I’d see 50 or 100 or more people, banging on. But each time, there was only 4 or 5 people, and often only 2 or 3. They stood at the intersection of their quiet residential streets, lined with spring-summer flowers (oddly, coincidentally, often red ones), and put their heart into their pot banging, which sounded so loud from a distance because it echoed off the houses. I’d left my pot and spoon at home, so each time I passed one of these casseroles, I clapped along with their beat. And for a minute–each time, a long and luxuriously minute that we stole for ourselves–it was as if their noise was the sound of clocks being fired on, so that we had time to offer knowing glances of solidarity, nods of intimate acknowledgment that we’re all in this together, that each person matters, that every pot holds a person who’s awakened themselves from the hibernation of winter to plant their own spring.

I fear that my lack of sleep and the dreamy quality of this red city cloud my judgment in these blogs. That maybe it really doesn’t feel this way right now. But tonight, I ran into five anarchist(ic) acquaintances from the United States in the evening’s illegal stroll. Yesterday evening they crossed the border that lets capital in so freely and keeps so many people unfree on both sides, and instantly landed themselves alongside the night 48 and riot cops, who was extra unfriendly last night after a Grand Prix weekend out of their control. As we started out on night 49, stretching across multiple lanes for several blocks, one of them–someone I’ve barely only met once–walked up to me and we chatted as if old comrades. She had this look in her eye, like falling in love at first sight. My tempered side, the side that doesn’t want to lose each and every ounce of intimacy I’m experiencing, and wants to start protecting my heart now, says: that will diminish, of course. Yet through her eyes, I could see the freshness that still hasn’t been lost in this groundswell of popular power, as she said something like, “I didn’t think it would really be like this, but you really can feel maple spring in the air.”

-Cindy Milstein-

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“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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