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Popular Power: "Fuck the Elections," Montreal, Night 101 (re: Night 100)


Everything about night demo 100 in Montreal felt enormous.

There were the numbers of people—so many that when we were on long hilly streets, all you could see were people all the way back and people all the way forward for blocks and blocks; so many that when we reached a late-night, outdoor fashion show festival and thus a busy area, and hence the riot cops appeared to disperse us, it seemed as if every which way you looked, up and down different intersections, we still tightly crowded the streets; so many that it was impossible to guess how many, which means thousands and thousands, or ten thousand or more. This in contrast to recent night demos, where on the last one, we were lucky if we reached the "magic" number of over 49 to put us squarely in the illegality of special law 78. It felt, as one of my friends said, "Like the old days," by which he meant the night demos of week 1, 2, or 3, way back when it was still assuredly Maple Spring, not the red-hot August 1 of last night.

There were, speaking of red, giant amounts of that too—more than usual, both in terms of mass quantity and dimensional size. It may not be clear from the red flag "100" pictured above, but it was gigantic -- many times taller than the person carrying it—and backed up by several equally gigantic plain red-square flags.

There was a huge contingent of drummers, all dressed in red, and it in turn was backed up by red-bedecked popular neighborhood assembly banners and an enormous three-dimensional fabric red square (on loan, I'm nearly certain, from the École de la Montagne Rouge [School of the Red Mountain] art collective -- and the whole brilliant-red group was part of the ever-larger and also extremely red rolling wave of popular neighborhood assemblies and casseroles that started way north of downtown about two hours early and fused with each other as they met at multiple appointed intersections to then continue on together, ever larger and ever louder.

Most momentous, though, was the accidental line in the sand of this 5.5-month Quebec student strike: night 100 of the illegal manifestations and Premier Jean Charest setting the election date—September 4— starting on August 1 too. For my non-Canadian friends, within certain parameters, elections are called by the party in power, and that can be used as a political chip in their favor if played well. Once called, candidates have five weeks to go all-out with promotion, and at the stroke of midnight as July 30 turned to August 1, I saw Québec solidaire (QS), a social-democratic and sovereigntist political party that includes candidate Amir Khadir, who got arrested this past June in a casserole while protesting special law 78, already busy putting up posters, including ones highlighting that QS stands for "free education."

But the elections are already not playing well, at least not to the "audience" that poured unexpectedly by the thousands into the streets on this first illegal night march of August, turning the now-familiar "fuck law 78" chant into a revised "fuck the elections." As the majority student association CLASSE so well articulated in its manifesto, printed in the French-language paper Le Devoir the same day when rumors flew recently of Charest's intent to call the elections, there is a grand divide right now between two worldviews—one represented by this night 100 versus day 1 of electoral campaigning:

"The way we see it, direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighborhoods. Our concept of democracy places the people in permanent charge of politics, and by "the people," we mean those of us at the base of the pyramid—the foundation of political legitimacy. . . . Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free. . . . Democracy, as viewed by the other side, is tagged as "representative"—and we wonder just what it represents. While elections come and go, decisions remain unchanged, serving the same interests: those of leaders who prefer the murmurs of lobbyists to the clanging of pots and pans. Each time the people raises its voice in discontent, on comes the answer: emergency laws, with riot sticks, pepper spray, tear gas. When the elite feels threatened, no principle is sacred, not even those principles they preach: for them, democracy works only when we, the people keep our mouths shut." (http://linchpin.ca/English/Share-Our-Future-%E2%80%93-CLASSE-Manifesto)

The first of August also signaled the calendar leap into the impending rolling wave of striking schools that are supposed to open soon —13 of them, for instance, between August 13 and 17 -- based on whether the impending rolling wave of student assemblies decide autonomously, school by striking school, whether they want to continue to keep their college closed. These highly participatory and/or outright directly democratic assemblies are an infrastructural legacy of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as I've mentioned before, and a long-lived practice within many of the now-striking schools. Students may have taken a break the past few weeks—and a well-deserved one, so as to rest up—but they are ready to jump back into their assemblies, where they already know how to make strike, blockade, direct action, solidarity, mutual aid, and other decisions about aims, strategies, and tactics. And starting next week, students will begin voting in their general assemblies as to whether they should continue the strike (see the schedule here, http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/2012/08/calendrier-de-la-rentree-des-grevistes/, along with a call for a convergence in Montreal to support the students from August 13 to 17, http://bloquonslarentree.com/node/12).

But night demo 100 signaled another huge shift, potentially pivotal as well in relation to the elections: there are now numerous popular assemblies, begun over the past couple months. They weren't there at the start of this student strike, nor at the start of the illegal night marches. Now, in many corners of the city, they meet weekly or every other week to talk about issues related to and springing out of the student strike, and many include students, parents, and teachers alongside other neighbor-allies. They also discuss steps toward a social strike (even if in small symbolic steps for now) and tangible aid for the upsurge soon in the student strike. Furthermore, the assemblies all use various forms of direct democracy. They share and borrow that from each other. For instance, the Mile-End popular assembly that I attend asked facilitators from another neighborhood assembly to come and facilitate our first couple assemblies (which they did), and we sent emissaries, supporters, and helpers to a new assembly started in the neighborhood just next door to Mile-End last week, in Outremont. We also did outreach for their first assembly during our weekly "orchestrole" (casserole plus marching band) on the Wednesday before their assembly, detouring into their neighborhood a bit to hand out flyers— 'cause lots of people come out to listen to loud music rambling down the night streets!

The assemblies could be bigger, and certainly more reflective of various population groups in Montreal—a problem not unique to the neighborhood assemblies, nor the student ones, nor those of Occupy (and on and on). As with other assembly experiments, those within them are aware of such shortcomings. And in this case, the assemblies seem to be particularly sensitive to two key things: first, they want their own autonomous identities, to grapple with the needs and issues of their parts of the city; and second, we're all also under this pressure-cooker schedule of having to ramp up quickly in order to offer real aid to the striking schools, real soon. In Mile-End, for instance, we've been having 3-plus-hour assemblies once a week, along with 3-plus-hour weekly mobilization/social strike working group meetings (and other working groups, but that's the one I've been going to), and our weekly evening orchestrole, a form of illegal demo, solidarity, celebration, and outreach. Oh, and they are also contending with the fact that in all likelihood, they too (like so much other dissent and organizing) are illegal in various ways under special law 78, and hence the sentiment of disobedience spelled out on the Villeray popular assembly banner:

Last Wednesday night, a week before August 1, back in Mile-End, at the end of our orchestrolling as some of us stood around in an intersection chatting, with 3 cop cars vainly trying to get us to go home, we discussed trying to get our assembly and neighbors to walk downtown as orchestrole/casserole and meet up with other neighborhood assemblies at various convergence points along the way. Several assemblies had done this several weeks ago for a night demo, and it was lovely. We figured: let's make a Facebook events page, do outreach via email to our various contacts with other assemblies, and hopefully the "casseroles march downtown" will happen again—since that's pretty much all it took last time. Over the next few days and into early this past week, before August 1, suddenly it seemed that multiple assemblies had had the same idea, had also made Facebook event pages and even posters, and had also started doing outreach (there is no centralized popular assembly list, even a bottom-up version!). And absurdly enough, many of us had picked many different and conflicting convergence points, with no way to pull those puzzle pieces together. Organizational enthusiasm seemed to be creating mayhem, which sort of seemed a good problem to me in this case, since it at least emphasized the enthusiasm part. At our mobilization working group on July 30, we decided what the hell, it is too confusing. Let's just meet up at our orchestrole spot at 7:00 p.m. on August 1, since people are used to that in our neighborhood, and then do our best to find other neighborhoods. Of course, we hadn't actually mentioned this meeting point to anyone at that point, so we went home and started trying to spread the word around Mile-End.

At 7:00 p.m. on August 1, there were 3 regulars and me, with our banner, 1 pot & spoon, and a horn. Then 4 more people showed up, than 3 more, along with dogs and kids, and so on, until at around 7:15 p.m. we had maybe 3 dozen, and off we marched—growing as we headed toward Laurier and St. Denis, where we knew some Plateau folks were convening, and then growing and growing again as neighborhood stumbled on neighborhood in this surging wave of casseroles. We, along with our fellow popular assemblies, thus became another big reason that night 100 was so enormous, numbers and energy wise. Indeed, having gone to both the full "casseroles march downtown" walk and entirety of the illegal evening demo last night, it was clear that by the time all the many neighborhood assemblies and neighbors reached the already-large crowd waiting at the now-regular Gamelin Park meeting spot, arriving at 9:00 p.m., we by far outnumbered those patiently expecting us.

Beyond sheer numbers, there was something extra poignant about seeing popular autonomous assembly banner after banner streaming through the streets together, each with their unique character, but all articulating a contrasting vision of politics to the one that Charest and all his suddenly numerous riot cops (and politicians of any stripe) uphold. I think it's never been more apparent that this isn't "merely" the longest-running and perhaps now-largest student strike in North American history; it's plainly a social movement with a deep and widespread social basis. And now, as July turns to August, the students know for sure that they have popular support(ers) far and wide outside their college doors—all, also, trying to practice direct democracy as the organizational grounding for this movement and all, also, attempting to experiment with another type of politics beyond statecraft (slow, embryonic, and painful as that is at times— "painful," unlike Occupy at too many moments, not because people are awful toward each other but rather because sometimes, at least in Mile-End, people are too nice, and our meetings go on way too long so everyone can really be heard and respected, which is another nice problem to have, I suppose.

Of all the neighborhood banners, I think I was most touched by the Outremont one -- both because unlike many other assemblies, it only convened this past weekend, as I mentioned above, and also because of its black cat and message of "popular power," which seemed to so well capture the spirit of this evening where everyone knew so much is now at stake in the coming days of August: not provincial election so much as enormous social contestation.

This grand battle was captured for all to see—writ large on night 100, like everything else—in the form of an enormous projection on a building wall, just as we thousands and thousands rounded a corner at a big intersection. Ahead in front of me, I could see people turning backward to face the part of the demo I was in, but instead of looking at us, I could see people looking upward, fingers pointing upward, eyes lighting up, illuminated by the illumination of Nous Sommes Tous Art. Click on this link to see it for yourself (http://youtu.be/CIgnVSkXWWs), but it involved a series of repeating words, including our street slogan "fuck the elections," but also decrying phenomena like racism, capitalism, and neoliberalism, and contrasting representative democracy to self-management. Its grand finale was the logo/slogan that's now appearing as wheatpasted poster and elsewhere around Montreal: "August 13. The Strike Continues." Rather than agitprop or empty street art, though, this wall of words reflects the on-the-ground reality of what everyone is preparing for—to hold the strike—using the very processes that offer a working alternative to electoralism (whether people take 30 seconds to try to vote Charest out or not in the privacy of a voting booth, since clearly ousting Charest is widely popular within this Maple Spring, if only symbolically).

So perhaps beyond the numbers, beyond the boundless joy and creativity and sea of red, beyond the newfound power of the neighborhood assemblies, and even outstripping the clear challenge of direct versus representative democracy—more enormous than all of this on illegal evening 100 was the tension hanging in the air, accentuated by the return of the helicopter hovering low overhead, even as Anarchopanda was right below, giving out hugs and sporting his own big red square pinned to his black-and-white fur. Back were the riot cops in large and aggressive numbers, along with sound grenades, reports rubber bullets and pepper spray, attempts at dispersal and kettling, and definitely some arrests. I ran into someone today with bruises on the side of their face, and they told me how police had chased them down, grabbed them, told them to lie on the ground so they could be arrested, but when they did, a cop then punched them in the head several times before carting them off to a night in jail.

Yet all that wasn't so unusual in the course of this long student strike. And in fact, much of the tension that riot cops usually create seemed neutralized, precisely because people have now lived through it and gotten used to it. As many people commented, nearly everyone on the street displayed a remarkable lack of fear around the police, replaced by a militancy in the sense of not backing down. That meant different things for different people, including the police, who often ignored things like a bank window being broken (apparently a coop bank, so everyone in the vicinity laughed "Why not a real bank?" as some random guy calmly used the ATM next to the smashed window, causing the second amused & proud comment from the illegal night marchers: "Only in Montreal!"), and when the police encountered a dumpster barricade at one point, the ones on horses trotted through to follow the enormous demo from behind, but the cop cars behind the horses simply turned around and went a different way, leaving the dumpsters to hang out on their own on a now-quieted formerly busy street -- with both disobedients and police gone.

The anxiety that the riot cops produced was not on this night 100 per se. Rather, it was what their larger presence signaled in terms of what's to come. Everyone seems to be bracing themselves for the worst. But because neither cops nor let up on night 100, and because more candidate signs went up even as we marched, night 100 only seemed to add to the intensity of "What will happen?" in the next couple weeks.

For me, more than anything, night 100 illustrated the stark contrast between two types of "popular power"—liberatory versus mean-spirited. This is the power between citizens and neighbors, where people self-organize out of goodness and generosity toward all, or hatred, fear, and stinginess. And both are there. On the streets. It was illustrated in one potentially murderous act at the start of night 100, underscoring just how nerve-wracking a moment this is—when electoralism and riot police converge with student strike and neighborhood assemblies converge with aspirations for free education, social strike, and so much more, and all that converges with strong popular sentiments on all side, with all of it coming to a head in this already-hot August.

If last night's marker of consecutive evenings of illegal marches ever since the passage of special law 78, a governmental tactic to try to quash the Quebec student strike, was a magnificent display of the strength and power of this social movement, it also revealed the social tensions brewing underneath, fueled by the machinations of the province/state because of the social crisis it clearly faces.

Early on in the evening, at 7:00 p.m., a bunch of us from the Mile-End popular assembly and other neighbors met up at our usual Wednesday night casserole/orchestrole spot, as I described above. We then boisterously walked over with our banner, pots & pans, horns, red squares, and whistles to greet the "Quartier Rouge" Plateau neighborhood folks around 7:30 p.m. and some several hundred of us were all joyfully reclaiming a busy intersection, waiting for our Villeray, Rosemont, and other neighborhood assembly comrades to meet up with us for the march downtown. It's hard to explain the beauty of casseroles meeting each other from various directions, but add to that the pride of neighborhood assemblies, and when one neighbor starts marching toward another a block or two away, it feels like triumphant freedom fighters returning from hard-won battles into each other's arms, which in a way, is what's happening, as people struggle toward a wholly different version of the world, perhaps far ahead of us, that's neither austere nor hierarchical.

Suddenly, within a group of hundreds in our intersection, all dancing and prancing around, I saw the front of a car coming toward me, with adults, kids, and dogs (most of them my comrades from the Mile-End popular assembly) "bouncing" off the hood, nearly being crushed under tires and hit by other parts of the automobile. It seemed so surreal that someone would simply intentionally drive into hundreds of people that I could barely register it at first. It had that slow-motion sense alongside horror. I and others leaped to help, and many folks threw pots and pans at the hit-and-run driver as they sped away; people ran after the car to try to get the license plate. There were lots of shaken folks who'd been brushed or hit by the car, including a kid who got hit in the knee, and one person seriously hurt (pictured below). Someone called an ambulance, and folks formed a circle around the wounded person, trying as best they could to medic. About five minutes later (despite police obviously lurking on the edges of our casserole), paramedics arrived. When I look at this picture, in hindsight, I realize that half the faces of those doing the caretaking are my neighbors in Mile-End and my comrades in the assembly.

The "silver lining" was how good everyone was to each other, and how it was clear no one wanted to let this stop night 100 from growing larger and larger, and us marching downtown. But many folks commented on how such willful brutality by other "neighbors" highlights that even if this really is a popular and widespread social movement, which it is, there are those who vehemently disagree and are willing to do almost anything (in this case, absurdly, purposefully try to injure or even kill) those struggling toward a better world for everyone, probably even including this hit-and-run drive, if I know some of my popular assembly mates.

At tonight's Mile-End Popular Assembly (night 101), those of us who were there talked about this terrible incident, and I got this general update (hopefully accurate, since it was whisper translated to me in French): one of our assembly folks went to the hospital with the person who sustained the worst injuries to keep them company and help out. Apparently they had only arrived at our casserole convergence about 5 minutes before this hit-and-run and almost decided to stay home that night; at a previous night demo, they'd been kettled and arrested along with a whole bunch of other folks. Last night, they were hit in two places, but nothing was broken, and it seems like they'll recover; they are just in a lot of pain now. People at the scene got the license plate number of the car, and they decided to give it to the police, who as of this evening somehow still hadn't been able to locate the hit-and-run driver. Kids, dogs, and other casserolers are all OK, other than being upset by the experience. We processed that for a bit, and then returned to our assembly agenda, including working toward an August 10 "Mile-End: Dans la rue pour la grève sociale / In the street for social strike" event (http://www.facebook.com/events/408559369180806/), where starting at noon SHARP on St. Viateur and Waverly, we need lots of people, including you, to help us create an outdoor red-square street full of free education, food, music, art, and a couple hours of social striking, to also bolster ourselves and others for the coming August 13 to 17 week of resistance and solidarity. And likely, an enormous amount of a whole bunch of things, including popular power and social tension.

The enormity of night 100, when all was said and done, is that everyone recognized its enormity. That's why the streets were filled, with people, politicians, media, and riot cops. That's why so many indie photographers took so many gorgeous pictures, a few of which are here, and why CUTV livestream reporters seemed to be around every turn, chatting with as many people as they could cajole to talk on air. That's why so many people walked miles from their neighborhoods and then kept going, kilometers more, with heavy banners and/or heavy instruments in tow. That in itself was the portrait of popular power: the populace showed up in droves, on foot and bikes and wheelchairs, or leaning out windows and balconies to wave -- as always -- as we marched by.

As most of this blog post notes, night 100 was a marker forward, to what's ahead and what's now at stake, thanks to a student strike that has unleashed a host of crises, anxieties, possibilities, and difficulties. But the students who had the foresight to start organizing this strike some two years ago, whether they knew it fully or not, were also unleashing a bunch of small yet perhaps, cumulatively, pretty great victories. Maybe not the victory of stopping the tuition increase or ousting Charest, nor transforming electoral politics as usual into a self-governing society. Nor ending capitalism. Some or all of that might be lost, or just might take a longer horizon to achieve. But there are other ways of understanding our victories, perhaps by accounting for those things we hadn't intended that happen along the way of what really is a social (and a sociable) movement, stretching in this case from night 1 to night 100.

So even though I posted it yesterday as a separate blog offering, I'm going to end with it again here: "100 Red Nights," a gift of 100 little victories (words by me) set to 100 little images of the 100 red nights, offered as a collaborative labor of love by myself and Thien V Qn (who took the photos), just one of the talented crew of new friends I seem to be running with on the red streets these nights: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/.

After looking at our "100 Red Nights" piece during day 100, another of our talented friends, Amy Darwish, remarked to me last night as she and I started out on our long night of strolling at 7:00 p.m., basically this: "It figures that you and Thien would create such a gift. You're the two romantics of this movement." Romantic yes, because it's hard as hell not to be when you dive into the spectacular beauty and innovation of this student strike. At one and the same time, though, I hope you'll see that some of the victories contained in our "100 Nuits Rouges" are actually dilemmas, implicit critique, or as-yet only partial promise, which to me are indeed victories, because we're making them visible and hence available for dialogue and deliberation, as something for the increasingly long agendas of the many self-governing bodies within this movement.

(Photo credits: red flags, red marching band, giant red square, Villeray and Rosemont banners, and red-brick building by Thien V Qn, http://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/; big crowd scene by Martin Martel, http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151960346950062.871472.666270061&type=1; QS sign, Outremont banner and outdoor project, and dumpsters by Cindy Milstein; aftermath of hit-and-run driver by Jesse Rosenfeld, https://twitter.com/kissmykishkas/status/230813774976794624/photo/1; and final romantic night 100 shot by another of my talented new friends, Kevin Lo, http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/08/100th-night-demo/).

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If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.




100 Red Nights / 100 Red Victories, Montreal, Night 100




This is a gift. A collaborative one, between myself (words) and Thien V Qn (photos). A gift of 1 love letter per night, for each of the 100 nights that so many tens of thousands shared the streets of Montreal together. Our gift to the Quebec student strike and all that it's inspired, on this 100th night on the first day of what promises to be a red-hot August. To accept our gift, unwrap here: http://100-nuits-rouges.tumblr.com/



Revving up for August, Montreal, Night 94


This is part of an ongoing series titled "Dispatches from Maple Spring," at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com
read more


Pieces from Orchestrole 4, Montreal, Night 93


Part of a series titled "Dispatches from Maple Spring," at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com
read more


A Small Red-Square Story, Montreal, Night 87


I've been doing dual-purpose with my pot to bang on during the weekly (now in week three) Mile-End Orchestrole by using it to hand out free red squares too as we orchestroll our way through the streets, sans permission. The Orchestrole itself, an outgrowth of the Popular Autonomous Assembly of Mile-End, does multipurpose: bringing friends and neighbors together, outreaching about the assembly that meets weekly on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. in a neighborhood park, serving as a magical wake-up call in residential and business areas about the student strike and related austerity concerns, showing solidarity with the students, and asserting with our voices, sounds, and feet that special law 78 won't silence people nor keep them from demonstrating . . . and making music. (For my earlier story, written about our first Orchestrole, see http://cbmilstein.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/listen-you-can-hear-the-sound-of-direct-democracy-or-orchestroles-montreal-night-72/.)

As I hold out my saucepan filled with red squares to passersby or folks who come out of their front doors to see the clanging, singing, dancing, and beautiful-sounding (and growing, with well over a hundred folks this time) band, people first hesitantly peer in and then their faces light up. If they are in support, of course. That's usually a lot of people—except when we swing through the more upscale part of Mile-End. So many people are so appreciative and excited about getting this surprise gift as they are wandering down the streets when our ragtag solidarity march goes by. Others, strangely enough (or strange to me), ask me how much the squares cost, and then are overjoyed when I say, "Nothing! They're a gift." Last night, I must have given away some two hundred red-felt squares, and I can see—to my great joy—that people generally pinned them on their shirt or bag ASAP. And a multiple folks asked for me extras, for friends or to give out. One guy told me, "Great, a new one! I've given away about ten and figured I'd never be able to keep one of my own." I told him to take about ten, which he did. I arrived home last night with maybe twenty squares left in the bottom on my pot, and sleepily put it aside, knowing that tomorrow I wanted to get more felt to make more squares.

So this morning, when I emptied out the few remaining red squares in this saucepan before heading off to the fabric shope, I was surprised to find $6 in coins underneath—either from confused or kind people, and magically, just enough to buy another yard (at $6!) of felt today to cut out more red squares during tonight's popular assembly in Mile-End.

I'd been to this same fabric store before. The cashier is a talkative—really talkative—woman. But she didn't seem to be there. Instead, a completely silent guy took the bolt of red felt from me, and without any words, cut the two yards I'd requested—since I figured, the more squares, the merry, and so why not double my good luck of last night's donation with my own $6. He set my felt on the table and then, just as wordlessly, disappeared.

The talkative woman rushed back in, apologizing profusely that I had to wait maybe thirty seconds for her to ring up the sale. Then she launched into a much-longer tale of how she went out to take a cigarette break, after working hard all day, and had asked the guy who helped me (who apparently isn't allowed, in the workplace hierarchy, to use the cash register) to keep an eye on the counter. Apparently, too, she's not allowed to take such cigarette breaks, because she told me that her boss had run after the guy when he went to out to fetch her and admonished her severely. She told her boss that she'd only been taking out the trash, because she's supposed to do that. "But he smelled the smoke on my breath!"

She then looked at my red felt on the cutting table and the red square pinned to my shirt. "To make red squares? For the student strike?" "Qui," I responded. "Good! Good luck! Good!" she exclaimed over and over, as she raised a thumb's up high into the air. So I, in turn, figured it was OK to wish her "good luck" with maybe telling her boss that she deserved breaks. She kept her thumb in the air and smiled a knowing smile, without words, as I walked out, my red felt in hand ready to be turned into other small red squares.

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Photo by Thien, who made and gifted me many of the red squares I handed out last night. He also told me recently (something that others have said too) that what's great about the red squares, among many other things, is that they open up a space to smile at people on the street who are also wearing them and sometimes talk to them about politics too. For many other magnificent photos of his documenting the red of maple spring-summer, seehttp://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/180712-2/

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As always, if you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”




Exile & Austerity, Montreal, Night 86


A [Paul] Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

                              — Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940)

One must have a home in order not to need it.

                              — Jean Améry, "How Much Home Does a Person Need?" (1966)

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I've been thinking a lot lately of home, history, and exile, and the intertwining legacies between them. Of the wreckage.

I'm in voluntary exile this summer. In so many small ways, though, my exile can be traced to my own brokenness, a "personal" narrative that is also constructed by the contemporary social conditions, which in turn are shaped by the "catastrophe" of history. Thus I experience a twist on another Améry essay, "The Necessity and Impossibility of Being a Jew": the necessity and impossibility of being at home in this world.

His essay speaks volumes to me, a godless Jew, in the wreckage of the Holocaust (which Améry survived and didn't survive) and the state of Israel. As an assimilated Jew prior to the Shoah, Améry had no relationship to Judaism and didn't identify with being Jewish; with the onset of National Socialism, he couldn't avoid being Jewish, or rather, it picked him out, tortured him, and put him in a concentration camp; after the Holocaust, he conjectures, it's both necessary to embrace our histories and impossible to do so. "With Jews as Jews I share practically nothing: no language and no cultural tradition . . . for me, being a Jew means feeling the tragedy of yesterday as an inner oppression. On my left forearm I bear the Auschwitz number; it reads more briefly than . . . the Talmud and yet provides more thorough information." Hence his further query, in another essay in his collection At the Mind's Limits, "How much home does a person need?" after he and millions of othered Others—Jews, Roma, queers, those considered mentally or physically impaired, and more—were forcibly exiled, and if not annihilated physically, then annihilated culturally, emotionally, materially. Their communities and worlds, often even a memory of them, were forever gone.

This necessity-impossibility paradox seems to mark the human condition at this juncture in the twenty-first century. Most of us have been exiled from all that we've produced, reproduced, created, dreamed of, cared for, and loved—our sense of being at home in our own world—reduced to pressing our noses against the glass houses of the few who've stolen nearly everything from us and yet cruelly flaunt their abundance (a situation that's captured, even if poorly, in the 1% language of Occupy). We, the vast "pile of debris," can only look forward to austerity, which daily gets more austere.

I'm one of the relatively lucky ones in this present-day exilic existence, since it's more parts existential than, say, geographic or material, although at times—like this past week, when I experienced a minor health issue—it viscerally hits me how much most of us are increasingly being forced outside the human community in terms of basic needs like health care. For too many, the necessity-impossibility paradox has already heaped "wreckage upon wreckage" on them for decades or even centuries.

Like the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, five hours north of Montreal, who are presently trying to fend off Resolute Forest Products, which began active clear-cut logging of the Algonquins' traditional territories last week, and the riot squad, sent in by the government to enforce the logging (there's a solidarity casseroles at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 18 at 111 rue Duke, Montreal, http://www.facebook.com/events/413763868670087/). Like a family from Ville St-Laurent that due to racial profiling and the criminalization of immigrants, faces the deportation of the father this August, after thirty years in Canada, to a country he hasn't seen since he was nine, separating him from his partner, mother, and kids for years and perhaps forever (Solidarity across Borders is holding a "Beat the Borders" reggae music fund-raiser at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 19 at 2009 Decarie, #108, Montreal, http://www.facebook.com/events/267149120057721/).

So many peoples, so many names, over so many catastrophes. Like in the now-tourist-attraction Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, where between 1954 and 1959, two painters took it on themselves to inscribe the names of 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian Jews murdered in the Holocaust on the walls of the main nave and adjoining areas. They included each person's birth and death dates, but in most cases, a deportation date to a concentration camp was the last known moment of each individual's life, and all that the artists (or perhaps these angels of history, battling in vain to "awaken the dead" with their act of remembrance) could record.

It's hard indeed to feel at home in this world, because this world offers little comfort and shelter to most of humanity. I come from a country that, for instance, spends three to five times more per year on incarcerating someone than educating them. Where it's normal not to have health insurance (forget health care), and just a routine part of life in a big city to see lots of people sleeping on the streets. Where's it's someone's own fault if they go hungry, can't pay their bills, or lose a job, or get depressed because of this. All this is reason enough for exile, and reason, even more, to stay and resist with others. A necessity and impossibility, bound up in the recent paradox of the name "Occupy," signaling an awakening for some and a further erasure and pain for others.

So last week in Montreal, when I ran across another piece of street art by Harpy, "EXIL," I got to thinking a lot about home, history, and exile. Because like exile, Harpy's work unsettles, as all good street art should at this unsettling moment (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Harpy/249684105126331/). Maybe this bison, a stopped-in-its-track still image from the stop-action series of photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) as well as a shorthand symbol for the exile and extermination of indigenous peoples of the Americas, like Benjamin's angel of history, isn't running away from something—a passive victim. Perhaps this bison in Harpy's "EXIL" also has its face turned toward the past, toward the wreckage piling higher and higher, even as the winds of "progress" propel it with "such violence." Or maybe it's racing full-steam ahead (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/24/Muybridge_Buffalo_galloping.gif), propelling itself toward its own half-compulsory, half-self-imposed exile, from which to then linger, look backward in its own good time, and contemplate what it would mean to "make whole what has been smashed."

That's likely not what Harpy intended, and maybe Harpy didn't even intend for our bison friend to evoke images of the "tragedy of yesterday" that was the American West but rather exiles and genocides of many peoples, from many places, over many times. I can ask Harpy in person the next time I run into their alter ego on the streets of Montreal, of course, but good street art is, I think, less about what the artist wants you to think; that would make it street decoration or paid advertisement. It's about making you think. Putting you outside yourself, and perhaps into the exile of engaging with the impossibility and yet necessity of social transformation.

I'd heard rumor that Harpy had some new pieces related to the student strike, ready to grace various alleyways and crumbling urban walls. So when I heard another rumor that Harpy and their late-night fairy-helpers were out wheatpasting one night last week, I wasn't expecting to see "EXIL" the next day. And I wasn't expecting it to stick in my head, like a song heard in the background, on radio waves wafting out of an open apartment window on the heavy summer air. I couldn't stop humming it in my head, turning its rhythms—of that bison, galloping, fleeing, racing, running, maybe scared or maybe proud, or both—over in my mind to try to hear what it was saying to me.

A few days later, I found another "EXIL" wheatpasted under a bridge, but this time it was in the same vicinity as another new Harpy piece, a triptych on austerity: "Time," "Debt," and "Work."

It was suddenly as if this bison was hurtling itself toward a new battle, even if it becomes it's last stand, against a capitalistic world seemingly hurtling itself toward its own self-annihilation, by destroying its own home—its ecology, along with everything and everyone that inhabits it. "Austerity" is one more ugly means to exile vast swathes of humanity—us—by taking away all we need, and all we also desire, to be comfortably at home. Out of the impossibility of this moment, and certainly from necessity, people around the globe are (re)turning to experiments in what it might mean for us to take ourselves out of exile: from struggling toward the right of return to simply returning, from defending land to simply taking back the land, from fighting occupations to simply occupying those places that should be ours in common(s).

This is and probably will be no easy homecoming. The government does and will send in riot police, in greater numbers than the bison at their peak, to trample us. But maybe there's also no pristine home to come back to, either. We may be finding that we need to invent wholly new ways to house ourselves by first looking squarely at that "pile of debris," in which there's no comfy narrative of good guy versus bad guy, but only us fallible humans, most of whom are now suffering from the necessity and impossibility of being human in the face of austerity. The story of the bison's habitation and exile, life and death, stretches across many peoples and social structures, even if settler colonialism and commerce were the largest and final nails in its coffin. (Ah, I forgot, capitalism is breathing new life into the bison as niche-market commodity!)

I started this blog post thinking I was going to write about "The Form & Content of Social Goodness," which is probably just the flip side of the same coin I've been tossing around this evening, and what I'll turn to next. Because I've also been thinking a lot lately of the good society, the present, and making a home for ourselves in this world. Of reconstruction.

So I was struck today by the simple "social goodness" perpetrated by an anonymous crew of wheatpasters who seem to have done a second round of poetry posts to cover the corporate ads on the city rental "bixi" bikes. They proclaim that "BixiPoésie is the work of a group of . . . . students, workers, artists, activists . . . who dream of a world where art and culture flow freely in our streets. Where our minds are no longer stuck in the logic of might and economic reason. Where public space belongs to the citizens, rather than corporations" (http://bixipoesie.ca/). It is just one (albeit minor but telling) example of how the student and social strikers along with their allies are dreaming up strategies not to replicate the wreckage, which is kind of what Occupy feels like to me at the moment, or not to get "irresistibly propel[led] by "the storm" of the likely provincial elections "into the future to which [their] back is turned, while the pile of debris before [them] grows skyward." Instead, there is an effort here to "awaken the dead, and make whole" by focusing on a relation between means and ends, which is another way of asserting a relation between form and content, versus what seems to have become a lopsided fixation on form as content in Occupy, eviscerated of an ethics—or social goodness. (Here's one example from Occupy, where both the "choices" offered by this author are just different versions of contentlessness as well as a lack of imagination, especially if one actually hopes to grapple with the wreckage of history and fly intentionally toward a better future; http://truth-out.org/news/item/10358-occupy-national-gathering-electrical-storms-and-insurrectionary-corpses.)

This isn't meant to romanticize Maple Summer. It's just to say that exile, chosen or not, unsettles one's perspective, and maybe there's something that can be gleaned from that—to bring back home, if one has a home, or as the basis for even thinking about making home, or having the strength to attempt to do so.

The one thing I'm sure of tonight is, as imperfect angels on earth trying to make our own history in this inhospitable world, we're going to need strong wings indeed.

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If you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photos of Klee's Angelus Novus and the resisting Algonquins of Barriere Lake borrowed from wiki and indie media sites; photos of Harpy's and BixiPoésie's work were taken by me, July 2012, Montreal)




Lost (& Found) in Translation: Social Solidarity, Montreal, Night 82


la grève est étudiante, la lutte est populaire / the strike is the students', the struggle is everyone’s

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I took the above photo shortly after I got to Montreal, some two months ago, never intending to stay so long, and having little idea what the black letters on this banner meant. I knew that red—usually square, yet sometimes stretched in other shapes when needed—stood for the student strike, particularly being in solidarity with it.

But I'm an anarchist. So even though the only word I clearly recognized in the above slogan was popular, the tangible struggle that I saw on the streets over my initial five days here convinced me that the one term I understood rung true and I should stick around. Something remarkable was—and is—going on in Quebec. Anarchists do a lot of things wrong. One thing we've done right since the beginning of "anarchism" as a named political praxis, though, is gladly cross nation-state borders to lend solidarity based on a shared humanity along with shared desire for freedom writ large and egalitarian. In my case, I'm not sure how much solidarity I'm supplying. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm largely the recipient of the solidarity that going on here, both as receiver and witness.

Take today.

First there's the + 1 - 1 = 0 sort of solidarity. Where you think you're holding out some universal, nonstatist handshake of solidarity, and then realize that even if the same canceling-out dynamic happens in one's own backyard, when it occurs outside one's "own" country (that is, if one has citizenship), it underscores how you're a "guest" in a struggle that you'll never fully comprehend.

Plus One: I now nearly always carry a batch of red felt squares with safety pins in each to give out—a quite simple act to show my solidarity and let others, in turn, then display theirs. When I overheard two cashiers in a store speaking, in French, about their carré rouge, and saw one pat her upper-right chest sans red square and frown, and saw that neither wore squares. I understood enough to know she had lost hers, for what in French sounded like four times. "Parlez-vous anglais?" I asked. "Qui, I speak English," she responded. I held out two fresh cherry-red squares. "Would you both like one?" "Qui! Merci!" Their eyes lit up, at me and then each other. "Merci beaucoup! You can't get these anymore. They are all sold out." (Her English was better than my near-nonexistent French, but it still wasn't great, and I think she meant sold out of red felt. When the student strike and its "squarely in the red" square symbol became popular, rumor has it that red and even off-red felt disappeared from the shelves of every Montreal store. So people started knitting squares out of red yarn.) The pair both eagerly pinned their new red badges of solidarity to their shirts.

Minus One: Like the two clerks, I too wanted a red square, way back after my first illegal night demo some two months ago. That evening, after hours and kilometers on the streets with thousands, I was walking back the hour or so to where I was staying, at 1 or 2 a.m., and at one point noticed a flash of red on the pavement. There it was! My little red felt square! I've worn it, daily, ever since. So today, as usual, I had it pinned to my shirt. Just moments after I left the now-happy cashiers each sporting their own carré rouge, a guy on the street yelled out at me, in English: "Hey, red square! Yeah, you! You're a fucking douche bag!"

I've experienced a few disapproving gazes and downward-pointing thumbs for wearing a red square here, but the only times people have directly confronted me, verbally, briefly or for extended conversations, has always been in English. And that's never been preceded by a "bon jour" or other nicety, then allowing someone—via my accent in response—to ascertain whether to speak French or English to me. French is the official and most-often-spoken language here, and by and large, the language of the student strike. This person didn't know, of course, that I'm from the United States and barely know French; those two facts only heighten, for me, the legacy of the history of domination in which the English language plays a part. Even without that knowledge, or particularly without it, this person is signaling the still-felt tensions of the legacy of the French-English divide here, which for them (and the other folks who've chosen to instantly yell at me in English) is now displaced on to a little red felt square. A big part of the legacy leading to this student strike can be found in the 1960s' and 1970s' so-called Quiet Revolution, which illuminated many of the social inequities related to language (with, you guessed it my English-speaking readers, the Francophones often receiving the short end of the stick), which in turn gave birth to many of the French-language colleges that are at the heart of Maple Spring and also underscored a host of other social injustices related to other languages (First Nations peoples, for instance, or the "body language" of gender). As a related aside, I want to again recommend the book The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties' Montreal by Sean Mills.

Zero: Maybe the pleased cashiers versus the displeasured man on the streets don't cancel each other out. Various polls while I've been here have hedged the truth or outright lied in order to claim there's little support for the student strike, or have more "scientifically" leaned toward numbers emphasizing popular support. The felt experience of being among, say, five thousand, forty thousand, or two hundred thousand at a demonstration, not to mention seeing red squares on shirts and houses, tends to make one think there's broad support. And the picket lines and other bold tactics of tens to hundreds of thousands of students and their allies to hold the strike for five months—often against scare tactics by school administrators and brutal tactics by the riot cops—add further proof that this struggle is indeed popular. But now, on this hot July day in anticipation of what may be a really hot August when the schools are supposed to start, every little + 1 - 1 = 0 can't be ignored. As someone at the anticapitalist assembly I was at this afternoon said, whether the strike can stand strong in August against intensified policing, the chilling effect of special law 78 (whether or not it gets enforced and/or tossed out in court later), the distraction of provincial elections, and other pressures is, perhaps, "all a matter of our capacity." That is, lived social solidarity, and whether it's tangibly there or not when it really counts.

Which brings me around, secondly, to the -1 + 1 = 0 sort of solidarity.

Minus One: Me. I can now read the words in the photo that started this piece, and because I've been a participant-observer within a specific moment/movement, I can increasingly read key words and phrases, and maybe sometimes understand them when I hear them. Like grève étudiante: "student strike." Or better yet, grève sociale: "social strike," which I can also even somewhat pronounce. And I now generally get the play on (g)rève, with rève meaning "dream," as in the above-photographed street art. At the time I snapped this shot about a month ago, I didn't know that. I also didn't know the designer behind this poster. Now I know both, so can share both (hence, credit and appreciation to LOKi design's #ggi downloadable poster portfolio, ready for others walls, http://lokidesign.net/2356/2012/05/ggi-poster-portfolio/#more-3007).

Today, I could basically read the large-type summary sheets taped to the wall at the start of the anticapitalist assembly, offering ideas of, for example, various antiauthoritarian strategies related to struggling against hegemonic forces of social control like the state and capitalism while supporting the grassroots student strike as well as notions of a social strike. But when it came time for the meeting to begin and the facilitator checked in about who needed whisper translation from French to English, I was the only person out of some forty to fifty people. (And when the facilitator asked if anyone needed whisper translation into French when, or rather if, English was spoken during the assembly, no one did.)

Plus One: An anarchist I've known as an acquaintance from various anticapitalist convergences in Canada instantly volunteered to be my English whisperer (fortunately, he talks as fast as I do, but in two languages!). When I thanked him, with embarrassment, for having to translate the whole three- to four-hour assembly, he simply waved a hand in the air, tossed back his head, and muttered the French equivalent of "Pshaw, it's nothing!" But of course, it is something: a huge act of solidarity, especially given that he's an active participant in this social struggle and wants to talk at the assembly. Equally of course, he meant it: no big deal. We're both anarchists, after all, and this is what we (try to) do for each other.

For a third of this assembly, we then broke down into discussion groups around topics and/or projects. I and my personal whisper translator both decided to go to the student-social strike conversation, which attracted some twenty to twenty-five folks. He looked around the circle, and exclaimed, "OK, is there anyone here who doesn't speak and understand English?" Silence. "OK, let's just fucking do this in English, since Cindy can't speak or understand French." He meant "fucking" in the kindest of ways (indeed, several times during his whisper translation from French to English in the main assembly, he apparently added that same word to sentences, and many people around the room who could hear laughed, finally explaining the source of their mirth to me, to which he laughingly responded to everyone, "I'm adding enthusiasm!"). Again I felt the sting of embarrassment, and again the implied "Pshaw!"

Zero: Maybe the fact that I could hear, listen, understand, and even speak a couple times versus the fact that one person spent two-thirds of the assembly whisper translating to me (and a hefty chunk of the assembly spent another third switching languages for me) don't cancel each other out. A longtime anarchist friend who has lived here in Montreal for a long time, an Anglophone too, said that no matter how good their French gets, there's still a way in which one can't articulate oneself as well in political meetings, and thus it feels like it creates power dynamics around language, and who gets really heard and listened to politically. Being whisper translated to is, in some way, like experiencing a mediated or "representational" form of politics, where you're getting the sense of what the person translating for you—kindly, out of solidarity—thinks is necessary or important for you to know, or worth adding enthusiasm to. On the other hand, it feels acutely, for me, like I'm a burden for needing this help, especially since I'm here only short term, so don't need to be included substantively in the same way as, for one, the Anglophone anarchist mentioned above. I also, equally, acutely felt how it does indeed make you feel the outsider, or the less than fully "enfranchised" participant in a directly democratic assembly (where, as an aside, rather than "twinkles" for affirmation, the facilitator jokingly asked for a show of "caribou," as in the animal antlers). In terms of me—the minus one—it is merely a "Pshaw" moment. In terms of social solidarity, much less solidarity among Francophone and Anglophone students, it's been a factor that, at a minimum, makes it hard to translate this struggle to certain people, like my "Hey, red square" guy mentioned earlier, or across certain places, such as English-language schools, and that could be a bigger deal in terms of tangible solidarity come August.

Third, and finally, take yesterday, night 81, Mile-End's Popular Assembly night.

Now solidarity equates to 1 + 1 = 2, or maybe a whole lot more.

One Plus One: We're now in week four of the Popular Assembly of the Mile-End Quarter, which meets every Thursday at 6:30 to usually 9:00 or even 9:30 p.m. at a "park" wedged between two near-highway urban streets—hence, the assembly promo always adds quotation marks to the location of "Clark Park." The park is always bustling with dinner picnics and kids running from the "water park" fountains to the playground equipment. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles whiz by. It's hard to hear under the best of circumstances, and like the anticapitalist assembly, the popular one necessitates whisper translation. Fortunately, it's been not only me but three, four, or six others we need it. We huddle in a corner of the assembly circle, hardly able to hear the already-circumscribed version of the conversation (again, the "translators" are always whoever kindly volunteers and are always doing their best!). Most of us English-as-first-language folks don't speak up, except those who can speak French but have a harder time understanding it, so need the whisper translation.

Every Wednesday—well, the last two—we've also held a new casserole plus orchestra, or "orchestroles," bringing instruments of all shapes and sizes along with pots and spoons mixed with good cheer and free lit/red squares together for an illegal marching band in the streets. It's a powerful and noisy show of solidarity for the strike, and actually creates an incredibly rich and wonderful sound; the musicians are good, and the rest of us manage to make our cookware a palatable accompaniment. (One passerby this past Wednesday asked if we were from a music department, bringing songs to the neighborhoods, and another wanted to hire the horn section.) But it's also just a whole lot of silly fun. And so it's been an icebreaker of sorts for us. Switching and tangling up languages, or pantomiming what we mean, or simply laughing together, the past two weeks have opened up communication in a way our assemblies might never have accomplished.

So this Thursday—yesterday—after our breakout working groups, it turned out that those who stayed for our re-assembly into a big group again were majority English-language listeners/speakers, and only two people were exclusively French-language listeners/speakers. So it made sense to now whisper translate from English into French for them—a first at our popular assembly. One of the two Francophone listeners/speakers looked like she was struggling to hear/understand through the whole of this whisper translation. We wrapped up the assembly, in the gathering darkness, with feedback on how the assembly went. The Francophone woman, in French, explained that it was awful having to miss so much of the conversation, it was awful feeling left out, and yet it was wonderful to truly not only understand but also viscerally feel how awful it is to be in my (and others') shoes when we're getting French to English translation. Her face lit up as she explained how glad she was for that experience and, more specifically, our assembly now, because as she put it (translated to me, of course), "Together, we've finally broken through the wall of silence between us all!"

Equals Two, or More: This was true of the fourth Mile-End Popular Assembly, but also today's anticapitalist one, and last week's interneighborhood meeting, and a social strike consulta last weekend, plus the few other neighborhood and student assemblies I've gone to so far: there's always talk about the ongoing student strike, on the one side, and notions of a social strike, on the other, and how the two are inseparable as a question, discussion, and problematic. Each time someone tries to separate them, it's clear that's impossible—that they need to breathe together, and breathe life into each other. Which is not to say that they are equivalent. There is this sense of reinforcement or complementarity, in terms of how they can and could lend solidarity to each other. Or perhaps reciprocity is the best word choice here.

The May 22 grand demonstration called monthly by CLASSE to display support for the student strike, for instance, brought upward of a half-million people to take the streets of Montreal, illegally according to special law 78, and for all intents and purposes, such an enormous march starting in the middle of a weekday was a social strike. People left jobs and other compulsory duties to participate; stores and offices didn't open; traffic got snarled; public transit couldn't run. Another night, on an illegal nocturnal demonstration, some forty thousand or so inadvertently shut down a main bridge into Montreal simply because it took about an hour to march up a lengthy north-south street that leads into that urban artery, again offering an albeit short social strike (as in "economic disruption" writ large; the definition of "social strike" is often a topic of conversation lately, but that will have to wait until another blog post).

But without the striking students physically blockading their schools' entryways, so that strikebreaking students and other college-related people can't get inside, can't go to class, can't teach and go about the (literal) business of academia, a social strike would mean nothing. The student strike has already been victorious in many ways. It is the heart and soul of this Maple Spring, but not as a cry for present-day students' self-interest. It is a demand for solidarity across generations, where these present-day students understand that they are doing this for generations to come, so cheap or (as the demand now seems to be moving) free education is something that everyone desires, as a social good, in a good society. This has, in turn, emboldened others in what could be seen as newly emerging related struggles, to offer equally compassionate forms of solidarity. The Canadian government just passed a bill that cuts off health care access to refugee claimants (see http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Opposition+mounts+refugee+health+coverage+changes/6863444/story.html), and health care workers, along with others who see this as a first step toward privatizing all health care and just plain inhumane, are starting to pledge to offer health care anyway, even if they have to do it for free. [Note, thanks to comments someone sent me after I posted this blog, people without papers/legal status as permanent residents or refugees have long been unable to access health care in Canada.]

All to say, that there are conversations going on at every assembly and consulta about what solidarity for the student strike is, what it will look like, and how it will be implemented as August inches closer and closer, and how that might or might not relate to a social strike, as solidarity and as something unto itself. All to say, there's a whole lot of grand conversations about solidarity, and a whole lot of micro-examples of it, in the lead up to a grand experiment in solidarity on what's possible next with this student-social strike.

Those conversations never fail to mention that each striking school and/or school department or association has its own autonomous decision-making structure, and that any real solidarity has to involve taking the strategic and tactical lead from each of these autonomous bodies. They explore moral and material forms of solidarity, such as neighborhood assemblies holding festive "block" parties as teach-in, socializing, and mobilizing spaces just before thirteen of the key striking schools are supposed to go back or raising funds for legal support in advance, or students informing assemblies of their needs or coming to do teach-ins, such is as happening now with CLASSE touring to share how students have organized this strike and their direct democracy (take 4.59 minutes at the end of this post to watch CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau Dubois speak, mostly in English and with subtitles when in French, on the how and why of this strike at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=br0QdKC9a4I). The discussions also grapple with what can and cannot be said, because special law 78 (and the fallout from the G20) seems to criminalize so much that's just common sense and humane, like voluntarily gathering with groups of people to speak one's mind, and strategize toward social solidarity and social goodness.

What, then, does solidarity look like when those who want so much to be in solidarity with each other—students and neighborhoods, and assemblies of all types—can't speak as openly as they'd like, in French or English (or as one reader pointed out after I posted this piece, in many other languages that aren't part of the binary or unitary ones that predominant in most places), so have to read and whisper behind the lines, because of an emergency law meant to rip all this solidarity to shreds? Or just because of our own linguistic capabilities? Maybe our struggles to make language work, to hear and listen and speak and act in new ways, as a connective bridge between us, rather than a dividing wall of silence, are part of the answer. Or at least help to illuminate part of the (unintended) difficulties of reciprocity and solidarity in any language.

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As always, if you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photos: Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken in Montreal, summer 2012, by Cindy Milstein)




Making Our Own Revolutionary Dates, Montreal, Nights 75 & 78 (& More)


It is probably to be expected, if one can "expect" anything in relation to novel social movements, that after some two and a half months of gathering at the same spot, at the same time nightly to take the streets without permission, thanks to and precisely in contestation of Quebec's special law 78 criminalizing a variety of dissent, these nocturnal strolls would slow down. While the actual pace hasn't mellowed much, the number of participants has certainly diminished. But even if there are just barely over the "magic" illegal number of forty-nine people on hand, and when there are even fewer, these marches go on, like clockwork. That fact alone makes them rather remarkable. There's this notion that even if a lot of students are resting up after nearly five months of strike for the flash point of striking schools "starting" or likely not in August, and even if many other folks need breaks from night-after-night marches, the illegal demos are seen as a must—until victory. Still, of late it can be a dispiriting and often-annoying experience, given how few show up, and often who those few are.

So I'd (almost) forgotten how revolutionarily romantic it is to walk for five hours nonstop through a summertime Montreal evening with hundreds or thousands of fellow disobedients. Because as I realized last weekend, there's nothing like a special occasion—consecutive illegal night 75—to encourage the rebellious spirit & a big, festive, feisty evening demo, complete with enormous red flags (and lots of little ones too).

Some of the highlights of this particular night were careening through the last evening of the crowded, corporate-sponsored outdoor Jazz Festival, with us as clearly the larger spectacle that caused people to actually listen, whether with lots of thumbs up or more than the usual number of thumbs down; watching the cops "protect" people coming off a bridge from seeing fireworks, so we wouldn't walk on the bridge; and coincidentally (?) meandering past UQAM's college complex just as a circus-dance troupe dressed in red performed on four levels of a main building, including spinning red umbrellas from the rooftop and creating giant red squares out of red lights in windows on two floors.

But why these big, hours-long outlaw outings feel so particularly romantic is, as night 75 reminded me, the connection(s) we end up feeling toward each other and our temporary autonomous community. It's like a great big special evening out, a great big wink between us all—reclaiming not just the streets but also that old spark, or a notion of what's special among and about us, "the people," as CLASSE's manifesto brilliantly reminds us (printed in Le Devoir on July 12, as strategic brilliance and countermove in the chess game of the government hinting strongly at setting elections for August in an effort to distract from and destroy the student strike and social crisis):

"For we, students, are also renters and employees; we are international students, pushed aside by discriminating public services. We come from many backgrounds, and, until the colour of our skin goes as unnoticed as our eye colour, we will keep on facing everyday racism, contempt and ignorance.  We are women, and if we are feminists it is because we face daily sexism and roadblocks set for us by the patriarchal system; we constantly fight deep-rooted prejudice. We are gay, straight, bisexual, and proud to be. We have never been a separate level of society. Our strike is not directed against the people.

We are the people."

(For the English translation, see http://www.stopthehike.ca/2012/07/share-our-future-the-classe-manifesto/#more-1230; for a PDF of the likely much more brilliant French original, see http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/).

The law that catalyzed these illegal demos is not special at all; that's the countermove of our special, revolutionary dates—to reveal the contrast, publicly, on the romantic streets of Montreal. Such laws are, unfortunately, increasingly ordinary, or what governments around the world are doing more and more—criminalizing everything and everyone that gets in their way, which is pretty much everything and everyone. More and more, people around the globe are not putting up with it. CLASSE's manifesto briefly and beautifully lays out the great contest at hand: direct democracy, the commons, the people, the public good, and wholesale egalitarianism, on the people's side, and "representative" democracy, the commodity, the elites, private gain, and wholesale inequality, on their side.

As an acquaintance here in Montreal just noted, if you read nothing else from or on the student strike—and I'd add, if you read nothing else right now for a good long while—read this manifesto. And weep. It's that poignant. It's that revolutionarily romantic. But it's also just the common sense that we know and feel when these consecutive nights are jammed packed with hundreds and even thousands of us, expressing a love for humanity and social goodness that seems to radiate between us. Because here in Montreal at least, so vastly different from that place called the United States a mere hour or so south, people still hold to a notion of a common good -- which likely, sadly, makes a copycat of this movement near impossible.

Yes, I'd almost forgotten that feeling, which comes through so much clearer when you're on hour two, still with hundreds and maybe thousands of people on the streets, always illegally, and an anarchist you just met offers to teach you their favorite chant in French ("no gods, no masters, no borders, no bosses..."). Or we're all on hour three, and another person I don't know good-naturedly makes fun of my US English accent on the French chants, thinking I'm trying to make fun of "Americans" saying those chants at solidarity demos in the United States, but then we end up talking and it turns out we were both in Quebec City in 2001 for the Carnival against Capitalism during the Summit of the Americas. Or a new Montreal friend dashes up to me with handfuls of bright-red felt squares, their safety pins shining under the street lights. We both then dash around together, handing them out to cab drivers stuck in our illegal street marches, people sitting in outdoor cafes who cheer when our demo walks by, parents out for the Jazz Fest with their kids, or groups of teenagers hanging out, just 'cause it's Saturday night. Our red felt squares makes person after person smile, and my new friend and I laugh and smile at each other, as my hand is refilled for our two-person gift economy spree.

All the little interactions that mean nothing and yet everything, happening in multiple microscopic ways, night after night, student assembly after popular assembly, the picket lines last winter and those to come in August, here in illegal Montreal. Because as the CLASSE manifesto notes, "Direct democracy should be experienced, every moment of every day. Our own voices ought to be heard in assemblies in schools, at work, in our neighbourhoods. . . . Our democracy banishes cynicism, instead of fuelling it. As we have shown many times over, our democracy brings people together. Each time we take to the streets and set up picket lines, it is this kind of democracy that at last breathes free."

Earlier in the day (of night 75) at a directly democratic consulta, some striking students were worried about whether there was enough support to hold the line come mid-August when school is supposed to begin, which given special law 78 in particular, means students need a whole lot more tangible solidarity against the government/police trying to crush Maple Spring. That same night 75, it seemed to me that when there's the need to rally, to get lots and lots of people out and activated, there's a popular social movement ready to strike. The same was true three nights later, night 78 contra law 78, when again people came out to the streets in relatively large numbers, especially for a Tuesday evening, for yet another special night. And that same day, two Facebook event invites showed up in my messages: one for July 22, the monthly "grand demonstration" day, which has gathered hundreds of thousands on other twenty-seconds the past several months; and the other for August 1, illegal consecutive-night-demonstration 100.

In previous blog posts, I've talked about revolutionary time, when in rebellions past, radicals have shot out the clocks in the public towers so as to make their own time, or victorious revolutionaries started their own calendars, for the new times ahead. Or how time within social movements like Occupy and Maple Spring feels luxuriously ours, foreshadowing what it would feel like to have all time clocks, alarm clocks, or the constant smartphone clocks banished as our measures of us as "productive" members of society.

Night 75, night 78, July 22, and soon night 100 all point toward another time—the kind of time I experience on these evening strolls with hundreds and often thousands of others: revolutionary dates. Those times that Maple Spring movement has and does set aside, intentionally, as special nights to be together, voluntarily and with delight, even if the evening falls flat or is downright hard. Because sometimes that means facing off with riot cops and awful new laws and heartless governments and administrators, and not necessarily to people's advantage in terms of personal safety and longer-term ramifications. For instance, the upcoming dates of August 13 to 17 are also intentionally being set aside, since thirteen of the key striking schools are supposed to go back to class during those five days, and pretty much everyone agrees that it's going to be tense and intense—and difficult—and most or all of the striking schools will resist. At other times it means savoring the joy of our social power alongside the pleasure of simply, intentionally being together on a perfect summer evening— with the police playing pitiful chaperone.

I realized on night 75 and again on night 78 how many of these revolutionary dates there have been, and there are in the near future, and how people seem to only want to create more and more of them. At the Popular Assembly of the Mile-End Quarter, for instance, folks eagerly agreed this evening—at what someone pointed out was a slow first few dates, but that was OK, because it was important to get to know each other—that we will now always hold the assembly on Thursday nights and always hold the new casserole + orchestra, or "orchestrole," on Wednesday evenings, which at the second one last night, offered not only the romance of "a little night music" but also a red-hued sunset behind our red-square-tinged gathering.

There's something of a sensual pleasure in not only deciding for ourselves—a la direct democracy, like as the sun set this evening, but this time over the triangular neighborhood park during the Mile-End popular assembly, just as we were all marveling at the pleasure of this new form of gathering, discussing, and deciding. There is also pleasure in deciding for ourselves to make dates together where we both commit to each other and this movement, at least for the time being—which so far, has been a long time in this longest-running student strike in North American history; where you can always count on someone being there for you, with you, in innumerable special ways, even and sometimes especially because the dates can turn ugly (like on night 78, when the police kept insisting on crashing our date and then arrested about a half-dozen); and where people share intimacy with many, many people and a collectivity too over the course of one date.

Looming ahead, as I mentioned above, are some dates that this student strike is setting aside -- that concentrated period when a baker's dozen of striking schools are by law supposed to open—for their participatory student organizations and striking students to make their own tough choices. They will intentionally, autonomously figure out what they want to do— consensually. Do I stick by these people I've been going out with for many months now? Are we getting serious? If I decide to stay in this relationship, will my family—teachers, support staff, workers of all types, the popular assemblies, the wider populace -- support me in a social strike?

But CLASSE's manifesto offers the real love letter:

"For months now, all over Quebec, the streets have vibrated to the rhythm of hundreds of thousands of marching feet. What started out as a movement underground, still stiff with the winter consensus, gathered new strength in the spring and flowed freely, energizing students, parents, grandparents, children, and people with and without jobs. The initial student strike grew into a people’s struggle. . . . Now, at a time when new democratic spaces are springing up all around us, we must make use of these to create a new world."

* * *

(All photos for this piece was kindly borrowed from Thien at http://quelquesnotes.wordpress.com)

As always, if you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”




Listen, You Can Hear the Sound of Direct Democracy, or Orchestroles, Montreal, Night 72


Among the many things to remark on here in Montreal in relation to the remarkable student strike and the maple movement it has engendered is that people don't seem to beat tactics to death. When new tactics have strategic uses that are underpinned by solid aims, and crucially, when they exhibit a bit of novelty or flair, they stay in play. On the other hand, when tactics appear to have outlasted their usefulness and especially their vibrancy, they are abandoned, reworked, or take another enlivening form.

It's still unclear exactly how this happens. Ideas are put out there—on Facebook, posters, or the streets, and especially at student and neighborhood assemblies—and clearly, strategic and tactical decisions are made as well as implemented. Directly democratic along with highly participatory forms of decision making have long been institutionalized at many of the schools on strike, and several members of the student coalitional association CLASSE have mentioned that this self-governance was pivotal to planning, organizing, and mobilizing this strike. Or more strongly, that the strike couldn't have happened without those bodies.

But there's also this curious way in which a sort of "general will" or popular consensus— outside any formal process, and more like a gravitational pull—makes it apparent that a particular tactic has people's enthusiasm and participation, or not. And not in a cynical or mean-spirited way; people on the ground seem to somehow, inexplicably, concur that something feels right to do.

The key point is: there's a palpable and (compared to contemporary movements in the United States) profound lack of tactical, not to mention strategic, staleness.

So it is with the casseroles.

Nearly as quickly as they burst on to the scene in Montreal some six weeks ago, swelling in numbers and locations and volume, the casseroles diminished to the occasional few folks at an intersection for about fifteen minutes. They were magical while they lasted, and made their point, plus helped to kick off popular assemblies in various neighborhoods here, and offered an easy solidarity tool for folks in other cities and countries, such as the "Canada casseroles night" every Wednesday. And probably a sizable number of Montreal households now have a thoroughly dented pan as proud symbol of this struggle.

Then, the Saturday before last, various Montreal popular assemblies decided they would pull those battered pots into battle again, and head downtown to add strength to the nightly illegal demos. They each started casseroles on particular corners in their own neighborhoods, at staggered times, and then walked from neighborhood to neighborhood toward downtown, picking up people until a hefty contingent of casserolers with banners for each popular assembly converged at the usual meeting spot next to UQAM for the (second) illegal evening march, and everyone strolled out again together. There was also a flash mob on the way that swooped into a bookstore chain that had supposedly fired an employee for wearing a red square; inside, for several exuberant minutes, people banged on pots and waved red-covered books.

Meanwhile, a small group of diehards in the Mile-End neighborhood had apparently been bringing their cookware out on Wednesdays to two "hot spot" intersections at 8 p.m. At last Thursday's Mile-End popular assembly, in the six-person breakout group on culture and arts, two enthusiastic guys—part of an enthusiastic collective space in the neighborhood—said they wanted to add an orchestra and bring it out into the streets at this Wednesday's tiny casseroles, or our own neighborhood version of Montreal's Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble, "born May 27th 2006 during the ‘Status For All’ march/demo in Montreal" (http://chaoticinsurrectionensemble.org/). Maybe it was another one of those "lost in translation" moments for me, but I could have sworn they said they didn't want to promote it; just spread the idea via word of mouth, which is what happened. The breakout group ran the idea by the reconvened assembly, or what was left at it some three hours into our popular gathering in a public park. Everyone affirmed that it sounded good, and away we all went into the night last week.

At 8:10 p.m. this evening, at the appointed Waverly and St.-Viateur intersection, it was me and maybe three or four other folks with pots and pans. I started banging on my saucepan, filled with homemade red felt squares and safety pins in each (to give out when—or if—we really got going), and the rest of the cookware crew joined me, along with a couple dogs that started barking. At about 8:15 p.m., one of the two enthusiastic guys marched over to us with his drum, quadrupling (or more) our noise level. At 8:20 p.m., now with maybe six casseroles on pots and ladles, he asked me if I thought we should give up on the plan. He wondered if it had been promoted, though I reminded him that he and his friend been opposed to that last week. He then wondered if maybe we should just call it quits for this week, and promote it for the next one.

Fortunately, soon, our popular assembly banner arrived from one direction, and a definite scrappy DIY orchestra appeared in the other direction—horns, drums, tambourines, and perhaps the showpiece, a quiet bicycle with a big red-square banner. More on that in a minute.

Suddenly there were also more pots and pans, and more dogs, and some kids, and lots of red squares on bodies and instruments, and we set about "tuning up" our street-corner insurrection ensemble, and then . . . away we went, out into the unsanctioned streets as popular assembly marching band in solidarity with the student strike and social strike (because that's been the clear sentiment at the first two assemblies). Or rather, out with our newly blended tactic: Orchestroles! Part instruments, musicians, and discernible songs; part cookware, neighbors, and clanging chaos.

Suffice it to say, the neighborhood came alive as we passed by in the streets, with people popping their heads out windows, doors, and balconies, and some zipping back inside to grab a pot and wooden spoon, and then join us. The musicians increasingly hit their stride, starting to really jam, and the sound of music—a mix of joyful and somber, mournful and celebratory— echoed off the buildings, wafting through the gentle night breeze, outward well beyond our numbers (maybe forty tops, but never the "true" illegal number spelled out in special law 78, which for about a minute, we chanted against with the usual "fuck you" slogan in French).

A casseroler had brought flyers about our next assembly, and she and I handed them out to curious onlookers, who leaned out open-air cafes to get a peek or stopped on their bicycles to savor the music. Mostly, I held out my saucepan full of freshly made red squares to people who seemed more than curious. They'd peek inside, a big grin would spread across their face, and more often than not, they'd exclaim their surprise at this gift. I could never hear what they said, due to the orchestroles' overwhelming din, but expressions can speak louder than words sometimes. They'd eagerly grab one, pinning to their shirt or bag, again looking astonished at this gift that allowed them, too, to participate. I didn't invent this tactic; it's one I borrowed after seeing a few folks do it on previous casseroles. Several members of our orchestroles realized I had these red squares, and since they weren't wearing one, they ran up to me to get a "loaner," and soon I could see my saucepan was nearly empty. Then one of our popular assembly crew—a striking student—sidled up to me, asking if I needed more, and then pulled out a ziplock bag full of them. This student told me that they made them in batches to give out at their student association meetings. So voila! Refilled saucepan, ready to be emptied again!

We took the streets, our popular assembly banner at the head, musicians toward the front, cookware all around, and bicycle with banner at the rear, all of us illegal and self-directed, winding our way through quieter residential streets and busier commercial ones in Mile-End, nearly always against traffic, for about an hour. And just when we were nearly back at our starting point, which clearly (via that inexplicable general will) was going to be our ending point, suddenly one, then two, and then five cop cars with lights flashing decided they had to intervene—with the usual excuse of, as they told one of our orchestroles, "preventing an accident." Their method to ensure our "safety" was to use the front of their cars to "nudge" several us off the street. When someone would "insist" on remaining in the street, they'd turn their cruiser toward them, brushing car against person's body. Without any "fuck you cops" or confrontation, our orchestroles just stayed its course, in our streets, back to our beginning intersection, where we raised our pots and pans as the musicians raised the volume in a gorgeously insurrectionary finale, with smiles all around.

"Next week?" "Yes, next week!" "Hey, can't we do an encore now?!"

We engaged in short and sweet schmoozing in the street instead, while the five cop cars sat ineffectually nearby. "Hey, we must have been successful tonight," someone observed happily. "Look, they sent five police cars for less than fifty people!"At one point the police used a microphone to announce that we needed to get out of the streets and stop socializing, but like the bigger nightly demos, no one listened. The police aren't who people listen to these days. We talk and listen to each other.

Which brings me back to the quiet bicycle with the big red-square banner, with one word (well, two, if you count the French and English versions): LISTEN.

LISTEN. That's what direct democracy sounds like. A whole lot of listening, to each other, and what we need, desire, and feel good about doing. Maybe that goes a long way to explaining why neither tactics, strategies, or aspirations go stale. People here in Montreal, in building toward and moving forward with this student-social strike, have made use of and/or are creating deliberate spaces for listening, from assemblies to the wake-up calls of casseroles and now orchestroles.

Which brings me to an anecdote about a different kind of interaction this evening.

At one point in handing out my homemade red felt squares, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties, waved me over to her front door. When I held out my saucepan, she said in perfect English, with not a moment's hesitation about whether I would understand or not (coincidence or not, this is something that's always been my experience at demos, when someone wants to complain about the strike, which is heavily Francophone inflected and organized), "Don't you think you've protested enough? You've already lost, no one agrees with you, and the government isn't going to give you what you want." Her initial smile turned to hostility, and her voice got an angry edge. "But look around you. Can't you see that there's lots of support, right here on your block?" I responded, because hoards of people all around us had come outside to wave and cheer the orchestroles on, and even start participating too.

She dived, agitatedly, into the tired and misguided line that the students were spoiled, they had it better than students elsewhere, and so on. I dived, calmly, into the idea that everyone should have cheap or free education, and maybe health care and housing too. "Like you do," I said, because I was looking right into her lovely home, its front door wide open.

She started pointing a finger at me, about to yell, and I quietly pointed my finger at her T-shirt, which sported a big heart made out of hundreds of little versions of the word love. Even more calmly, I said, "Isn't that what love is about? Love in the most expansive sense, as a love of humanity? That we believe that each of us—you, me, and everyone around us—is deserving of what they need and want?" She stopped, looked at me, less sure of herself. I could hear her listening, maybe not to me, but to something inside her head, like she was now forced to have an internal dialogue because she'd listened to that word love—a word that she herself was wearing, perhaps without even thinking hard about its meaning before.

LISTEN. Nightly and daily here, for the time being at least, you can hear the faint but growing sound of things changing.

* * *

As always, if you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photos: Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken in Montreal, summer 2012, by Cindy Milstein)




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

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.

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.

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 creativity, inspiration, and innovation. 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, see http://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!

A Coda of Sorts

Proving that even before it begins, the Rêve Général Illimité is inspiring new heights of creativity -- and that collaboration among striking students engaged in labors of love offers its own inspiration too -- here's another visual nudge to encourage participation tomorrow in the dreamy intervention at the Jazz Festival, this time by the École de la Montagne rouge:

* * *

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, see https://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 to http://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/).

And as always, if you stumbled across this blog post as a reposting somewhere, please excuse the typos/grammatical errors (it’s a blog, after all), and note that you can find other blog-musings and more polished essays at Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/. Share, enjoy, and repost–as long as it’s free, as in “free beer” and “freedom.”



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