Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared at Outside the Circle.
Montreal, QC–Revolutionary times are so hard for getting any “real-world” work done, but Montreal is making that extra difficult, because increasingly the real-world social power is in the hands of the people–quite literally, hands now holding & banging on pots, pans, & anything that will make noise. It’s not that pot banging started this uprising. Months of dogged, determined blockades, pickets, organizing, propaganda, and other actions by students created such a social force that the government made a huge miscalculation, passing law 78 to try to compell students back into school and quell dissent. As the friend I’m staying with commented this morning, the government believed its own lies (basically, made-up polls) that there wasn’t popular support for the student strike. But instead of applauding the government’s heavy hand both with law 78 and heavy-baton-handed policing tactics, the populace stood shoulder to shoulder with the students on day 100 of the strike, May 22, and some half-a-million people filled the streets while bringing much of business as usual to a standstill (that generalized strike we’ve been dreaming of in the United States), transforming this into a social strike, which has been further transformed by a small idea by one person: voice your solidarity with your pots & pans, or casseroles demonstrations each night at 8, as complement to the 8:30 pm nocturnal demonstrations.
And here’s why I’m having an especially hard time focusing, whether to do my paid work or concentrate on an essay about this exceptional moment that’s far outstripped the government’s emergency law: the city is both “ungovernable,” to repeat Mostafa Henaway’s tweet last night, and also spontaneously self-governing with its feet, bodies, voices, and casseroles. It was difficult to fully take in what was happening last night, as some 50,000 or more, given the multiple demos, big and small, merging and converging, as well as the thousands and perhaps tens of thousands perched all over the city on their balconies, front steps, rooftops, and so on, banging pots or flicking on/off their porch lights or waving red flags. Well, not difficult. Simply beautiful. Overwhelming in the best of ways. I wish I could have taken a photo of nearly each and every one of the tens of thousands, since nearly each and every one was “self-determining” how they wanted to add to the noise. I noticed many posts this morning of proud photos of dented metal objects, made into impromptu street instruments. Last night was this manifestation of imagination–bringing alive the “all power to the imagination” phrase in a new way for me. People appreciated each other’s imaginative ways of making noise–a “simple” pot & ladle wasn’t enough for most! At the same time, that very imagination, that it’s possible to change the world, is bringing people into the streets, and in the streets, people really have the power in a way I’ve never experienced. This happens elsewhere, in my revolutionary imagination, but not in North America. In Greece, say, anarchists have forged a police no-go neighborhood.
I knew last night that the police were lurking in the distance and that they also probably were both too tired and too confused/overpowered to really be able to do anything. This morning, my generous-of-spirit anarchist host told me about a French-language interview in the Le Journal de Montreal newspaper where a cop not only noted how much he and other cops adore attacking demonstrators, he also commented on how it’s too late for police to control the situation. That really sunk in this morning. Last night, tens of thousands of us doggedly, determinedly escalated the strike far beyond students–there were so many babies, toddlers, young kids, teens, young people, and all the way up to people of many decades, or every type, in everything from strollers to wheelchairs, naked and dressed as a panda, a gigantic unstoppable “red sea” of red squares. We used our feet to bring neighborhood after neighborhood to standstills for hours, stopping traffic and commerce, closing bridges and confounding the police. Charest has “disappeared” into silence; Montreal’s mayor asked people to limit their casseroles to balconies; the police want a law passed that says people can’t say mean things to them. No matter the powers-that-be response, the people are only listening to themselves, to their pots & pans, to student strike spokespeople and anarchopanda, to the truly leaderless but shared responsibility of us all spontaneously moving through the city at night in all directions, and perhaps soon to neighborhood assemblies alongside the already-existence student assemblies.
The people are in power now, but a dispersed, joyous, neighborly power, an imaginatively beautiful display of horizontal solidarity. It’s a display that affirms people can reclaim their lives, their cities, in a way I never dreamed possible–through yes, reclaiming their streets and taking their productive labor away from commodified study, say, and into “educating ourselves for freedom” (thank you, yet again, Malatesta). I wish I could translate how “diversity of tactics” is working not as something on paper or that allows for someone people to do allegedly more militant things at the potential expense of others. No, there’s a lived practice of having each other’s backs here, and making it feel “safer” and “safer” for everyone to disobey in ways festive and fierce, but self-controlled, together, if that makes sense. And that more individuated creativity and social solidarity function, voluntarily, together on the streets and in organizing here, the more additional people seem to join in–like it’s opened their door to what’s possible, because what’s possible, astonishingly, is that people can create a social power that far beyond a slogan, is at the moment unstoppable. There are too many people disobeying, collectively. And increasingly, it feels like people could “demand the impossible” and, due to their social power, perhaps “realize the impossible,” or some of it, too.
I hope to write soon, in a more coherent and less typo-filled manner, about the relation (or not) of this maple spring-into-summer to and for occupy, and its relation (or not) to anarchism. Quickly, for now, a few random thoughts:
As an anarchist who usually cringes when I see people waving big red flags at demonstrations, it’s been a surprise to see how relatively quickly this student movement and its red square image have seemingly banished the horrible associations of authoritarianism and murderous regimes with that red flag. I’m typing way too fast in a cafe here in Montreal, looking out on a busy street, as people of all shapes, sizes, and ages stroll by with their red squares–often also imaginatively placed, decorated, handmade, etc. It functions as a sort of secret and not-so-secret sign of solidarity and shared disobedience with a thoroughly anarchistic movement, binding people in a thoroughly qualitative way (i.e., pushing past capitalist “value”), unlike the quantitative sense of the somewhat-similar 99% image (i.e., affirming the meaningless measurement of people as all somehow equivalent, and thus masking meaningful distinctions between, say, a young man of color or person without papers and, for instance, cop).
Like occupy, this movement wasn’t anarchist initiated or driven, even if there were and are anarchists involved. But it has created many thousands of anarchists (probably far more here than occupy has in the United States; for instance, at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair this past weekend, happily, booksellers French and English-speaking said they sold out of “intro to anarchism” books quickly!). It’s also anarchistic, whether people become anarchists or not. But far beyond occupy, it’s not “simply” the anarchistic forms of self-organization that are intriguing; it’s the widespread, mass defiance of authority that’s so anarchistic too. And best of all, in my mind, this movement–far, far beyond occupy–is seemingly making anarchism “warm and fuzzy,” literally in the figure of anarchopanda!
The diversity, and increasingly so, of who is joining into the maple spring-turned-hot-summer also far outstrips occupy, but so too does the inventiveness of the personal creativity of how people are implementing its symbols–whether the red square or the casseroles–as I’ve already mentioned. It might be in tiny ways, but people seem to be taking such pride in how they’ve made their particular red square: from a tiny glittery red fabric square, to a big red square sewn on the back of someone’s pants, to slogans penned on red-felt squares, to square-red earrings…. And again, that translates into this marvelous diversity of tactics where although there’s continuity between marches, day and night, each one I’ve been to so far feels distinct, and impromptu innovation seems to be widely applauded. It’s not just the marches; that same drive for imaginatively diverse tactics and strategies is, and has been, playing itself out in how the strike has been implemented and maintained, and now this growing social strike is unfolding. The only people, tactics, and strategies–and increasingly aspirations–that seem tired are the police (and likely the governmental officials, but it’s clear how tired the police are because you see them nightly on the streets.)
As a last random comment: CUTV. CUTV. CUTV. I’m in love with Montreal, with the maple spring, with how lovely it is to be alive at this moment and fortunate enough to participate in it, but I’m also in love with CUTV. Watch it. Or rather, watch them. Like anarchopanda, the rabbit crew and the naked lady (figures on the street that I haven’t written about yet), and Classe spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (a phenomenon in his own right, and based on some Facebook posts, becoming a meme), the sweet personalization that also defies cult of personality, or leaders with power-over, of this movement is striking. More than that, though, the charming personalities of the main CUTV “reporters” night after night livestreaming is part of the very story of this social movement. Their commentary, from enthusiasm, to “fuck you fuck you fuck you” screaming at the cops, during hours of livestreaming shows the very human face of the movement as well as how we might begin to create a people’s media that shapes the story in a smart way. For instance, they’ve lost two cameras to police batons and one cameraperson now has two broken ribs; they’ve reported while walking and also running, talking into the livestream with panting breath; they’ve kept livestreaming through rain and teargas, including pepper spray on their camera lens. The only critique, besides wishing they were on air longer, is that they talk their way out of arrest situations with “we’re media”–but even their fear, anger, anxiety, and media privilege are part of this human face. Je t’adore CUTV.
I need to turn to my livelihood, not Facebook or this blogging. I keep meaning to also turn to writing something more focused about this remarkable maple spring. But before I put my nose to the compulsory grindstone–which I wish would be washed out in the sea of red, for me and millions of others, by this implicitly and perhaps explicitly anticapitalist moment–I want to offer a caveat to my exuberant commentary: unbelievable as this student strike/social strike/red square/casseroles revolution is, it’s hard to understand what it could or should ask for, or more precisely, how it could or should translate the fact that this city is ungovernable into a city that’s livable, sans hierarchical government, police, and capitalism, in ways that also account for legacies of colonization, for one. At best, though, if this movement manages to oust a provincial government (in North America!), establish completely free education (still public, since that’s starting to disappear in the U.S., and perhaps increasingly “free, not as in free beer, but as in freedom”), and serve as a beacon (not one to be simply copied, because the context is quite specific) for what’s possible if people doggedly strike, occupy, struggle day after day after day after night after night after night, that is more than enough. It’s already been enough; if “occupy” pushed the envelope, the maple spring completely shreds it into thousands of bits of bright red paper squares to be tossed into air. People are not just winning here; they’ve already won. And for now, the city is theirs.
– Cindy Milstein –