Night Falls, Power Rises, in Montreal
A week ago last Sunday night, I was sitting around a table at a friend’s house with two other friends in the Plateau East neighborhood of Montreal, having a quiet & delicious dinner after the Anarchist Bookfair weekend, when at 8 pm, we heard the singular noise of someone banging on a pot in the nearby distance, then two, and maybe three or four. My friend got up to peak around the corner, to see which of his neighbors was making the noise, telling us that there was a Facebook call to bang pots & pans in solidarity with the student strike (as it turns out, it was a professor’s idea, and he did indeed post a FB page for it).
Last night, May 27, that same friend and I met up with other friends at the “usual” corner on Mont-Royal near St-Denis on the Plateau West side of this Montreal neighborhood. At first a handful came, right at 8 pm, like us, and then dozens, growing quickly to hundreds. It was my second night at this intersection, near to the home of another friend, and already I recognized most of the faces, and people nodded at each other, and more of them talked to each other (and my two friends and others are busily organizing toward their first neighborhood popular assembly this coming Saturday).
As we moved from crossing with the light, to crossing at the traffic light, to finally taking the intersection, a group of young children–barely teens–among the many young children on the streets with us, decided to lead a breakaway march, skirting past the police car that had now arrived to “help” us manage the traffic. We adults quickly ran after them, laughing, as our children at the front lead us for some 15 minutes away from that cop car again and again, turning a corner at the last minute to allude the police, and when we got to a big road, the kids took over the other side too, at one point nearly encircling a second police car to ensure we could all get ahead of the police! And soon we turned a corner and that, voile, was another band of casserolers, and soon we ran across another, and then our big casserole met another huge casserole at a main intersection, and everyone raised their pots & pans in unison to joyfully greet each other. The police couldn’t keep up with us, neither children or adults, or bikes or dogs, wheelchairs or skateboards.
Hours later, after marching with thousands and thousands of people who never stopped banging on the asundry metal noisemakers as we snaked our way for miles through Montreal, past tiny stickers of red or with words on street signs and lampposts, or big swathes of radical graffiti slogans, it was hard to tell whether our legs or ears hurt more–or as my Plateau East friend said, Emma Goldman may have wanted a revolution to dance to, but this “walking” revolution is hard on the feet! Then we looked at each other and marveled how, just a mere week ago, there were four lone pots beating out a tune of solidarity & disobedience & freedom in his neighborhood, and now, so few days later, young children are teaching themselves rebellion, and as another friend said to me on the street, we anarchists are struggling to catch up to what the tens of thousands of people are doing here in Montreal. He too marveled: “And to think I was thinking of moving away from Montreal a year ago. This has been the best year of my life already!”
Of course, much as the police and politicians have, for the time being, lost control of this city, they struggle each night to figure out new ways to police and control their out-of-their-control uprising. Last night, that involved this unusually tall and lengthy, sparkling-white oversize van–nearly a truck–with few windows, and those windows blackened so we couldn’t see it. This truck-van appeared out of nowhere behind us, swerved toward a building wall, and equally oversize riot-type police jumped out, pushing someone against the wall, grabbing him, throwing him in the van, and whisking away. Some cops next to us on horses (we were, at that point, at the back of the thousands-of-people casseroles-march) said something about a new “Intervention” unit, and then “helpfully” told us to move in front of him, so he could “protect us” in case of “an explosion.”
Some 20 minutes or so later, as the demonstration was nearing a point that would signal the end for many of us–near a Metro, for some, and near our still-long-walk home, for us–that van-truck appeared again. I tried to capture a photo of it, but my cell phone isn’t the best of cameras, especially as the van-truck started speeding toward us, flying past another new police vehicle labeled “technical.” We conjectured about whether they were gathering “intelligence” on us, listening in to cell phones, tracking people via their cell phone GPS, or putting out incorrect info.
For instance, the SPVM police maintain a “friendly” lie-filled Twitter, with the supposedly calming slogan “Always closer,” and they used it last night to deny nearly beating a man to death, also just over a week ago, when people took control of a stretch of St.-Denis to build barricades and fend off the cops. Counter reports from witnesses and those involved in this uprising are that this man is still in a hospital, in a coma, potentially paralyzed and brain damaged. People used this Twitter access to the police to last night ask them again and again about this beating, and the police again and again assured people everything was OK. But there are video images of the man being beaten, first to the ground by one cop, and then again, by another, after he’s on the ground. And an eyewitness mentioned she saw the second cop use his bike as a weapon in the beating. Indeed, last week, when we were on the street during the St.-Denis uprising on that evening, a woman came up to us to say a man had died; that she herself had seen him lying on the ground, not moving, for 20 minutes. We were skeptical, thinking the street takeover would have turned into an outright riot, if someone had died. Now, a mere week later, it seems the police have potentially destroyed yet another life.
All to say, the joy of watching preteens defy the authority of the state, so adroitly and swiftly, with such confidence, under the approving eye of thousands of us adults, has to balanced by the presence of that same authority, even if cowed for the moment, lurking in vans and shadows, strategizing somewhere in bureaucratic offices, trying to figure out how to win this cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-anarchopanda) game of communizing Montreal, whether they end up using brute force or carrot-and-stick for the students–or both.
It’s 7 pm, an hour before this evening’s casseroles slowly but surely but noisely begins again, at the “usual” corner of Mont-Royal, where tonight my friend will hand out flyers about the popular assembly to be held in a neighborly neighborhood park this weekend (for the parks here are still far less “privatized,” and much more anarchic and community oriented, than many in the United States). Tomorrow, another friend, the one who is glad he didn’t move away, is helping to initiate “Nos-Casseroles for justice for low-wage immigrant and placement-agency (day-laborer) workers” in another neighborhood, and a day or two ago, the Rosemont neighborhood held its first assembly–150 people, who broke into four working groups.
Last night, a friend mentioned how it was important that we go to these street manifestations, night after night, because they evidence the determination and anger, and hopefully the dreams too, of this movement that currently has power-together in its grasp. I realized, as I walked for another five hours last night, how cynical I’ve grown about marches in the United States. We scream in front of banks, chant as we walk, proudly hold banners and signs, make noise and reclaim the streets and sidewalks temporarily–but the contrast here is: there’s really social power behind those same acts now, and everyone knows it. The question, which everyone also seems to know, is what to do with that power–hence the move to kick off neighborhood assemblies and put out calls for people to come greet, meet, and disrupt the impending, lucrative Gran Prix in early June. Meanwhile, the power seems to just keep growing.
Each night here, I see the differences, even if subtle, from people walking by on the streets at 5 pm with pots and pans clearly in their backpacks; stores putting red squares on their merchandise on display in the windows; indeed, more and more red squares, large and small, hanging off more and more balconies; restaurant workers and others stuck in dreary low-paid jobs come out of those jobs to bang pots for a few minutes as the big casseroles marches pass by; and last night, we saw people in an expensive hotel in downtown Montreal holding big red squares in the windows high above us, raising their arms in silent cheer to our noisy answer from the street below.