By Patty Pelfrey
Arizona Free Press | azfreepress.org
What do casseroles have to do with that? Casseroles means pots and pans in French, and the pots and pans marches originated as part of the student debt protests which began in Montreal in December. Last week over 60 cities in Canada and the U.S. participated in the Casseroles marches. The Phoenix protest will be part of worldwide marches on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. As Chris Hedges explains in truthdig:
The streets of Montreal are clogged nightly with as many as 100,000 protesters banging pots and pans and demanding that the old systems of power be replaced. The mass student strike in Quebec, the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history, began over the announcement of tuition hikes and has metamorphosed into what must swiftly build in the United States—a broad popular uprising. The debt obligation of Canadian university students, even with Quebec’s proposed 82 percent tuition hike over several years, is dwarfed by the huge university fees and the $1 trillion of debt faced by U.S. college students. The Canadian students have gathered widespread support because they linked their tuition protests to Quebec’s call for higher fees for health care, the firing of public sector employees, the closure of factories, the corporate exploitation of natural resources, new restrictions on union organizing, and an announced increase in the retirement age. Crowds in Montreal, now counting 110 days of protests, chant “On ne lâche pas”—“We’re not backing down.”
The Quebec government, which like the United States’ security and surveillance state is deaf to the pleas for justice and fearful of widespread unrest, has reacted by trying to stamp out the rebellion. It has arrested hundreds of protesters. The government passed Law 78, which makes demonstrations inside or near a college or university campus illegal and outlaws spontaneous demonstrations in the province. It forces those who protest to seek permission from the police and imposes fines of up to $125,000 for organizations that defy the new regulations. This, as with the international Occupy movement, has become a test of wills between a disaffected citizenry and the corporate state. The fight in Quebec is our fight. Their enemy is our enemy. And their victory is our victory.
What the media doesn’t often report is the feeling of joy and community that surround these nightly protests. The Administrator of Translating the printemps érable (a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English) wrote an open letter to the mainstream English media which captures the euphoric atmosphere of the marches:
Thank you; you are a little late to the party, and you are still missing the mark a lot of the time, but in the past few days, you have published some not entirely terrible articles and op-eds about what’s happening in Quebec right now. Welcome to our movement.
Some of you have even started mentioning that when people are rounded up and arrested each night, they aren’t all criminals or rioters. Some of you have admitted that perhaps limiting our freedom of speech and assembly is going a little bit too far. Some of you are no longer publishing lies about the popular support that you seemed to think our government had. Not all of you, mind you, but some of you are waking up.
That said, here is what I have not seen you publish yet: stories about joy; about togetherness; about collaboration; about solidarity. You write about our anger, and yes, we are angry. We are angry at our government, at our police and at you. But none of you are succeeding in conveying what it feels like when you walk down the streets of Montreal right now, which is, for me at least, an overwhelming sense of joy and togetherness.
News coverage of Quebec almost always focuses on division: English vs. French; Quebec-born vs. immigrant; etc. This is the narrative that has shaped how people see us as a province, whether or not it is fair. But this is not what I feel right now when I walk down the street. At 8pm, I rush out of the house with a saucepan and a ladle, and as I walk to meet my fellow protesters, I hear people emerge from their balconies and the music starts. If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like; the above video is a start. It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all—young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours—we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this.
I have lived in my neighbourhood for five years now, and this is the most I have ever felt a part of the community; the lasting impact that these protests will have on how people relate to each other in the city is deep and incredible. I was born and raised in Montreal, and I have always loved this city, I have always told people that it is the best city in the world, but I have truly never loved it as much as I do right now.
The first night that I went to a casseroles (pots and pans) demonstration, at the centre of the action—little children ecstatically blowing whistles, a young couple handing out extra pots and pans to passers-by, a yoga teacher who paused his class to have everyone join—I saw a bemused couple, banging away, but seemingly confused about something. When we finished, they asked me, “how did you find us?” I replied that I had checked the map that had been posted online of rendez-vous spots, and theirs was the nearest to my house. “Last night we were all alone,” they told me. They had no idea it had been advertized online. This is what our revolution looks like: someone had clearly ridden around our neighbourhood, figured out where people were protesting, and marked them for the rest of us. This is a revolution of collaboration. Of solidarity.
The next night the crowd had doubled. Tonight we will be even more.
I come home from these protests euphoric. The first night I returned, I sat down on my couch and I burst into tears, as the act of resisting, loudly, with my neighbours, so joyfully, had released so much tension that I had been carrying around with me, fearing our government, fearing arrest, fearing for the future. I felt lighter. Every night, I exchange stories with friends online and find out what happened in their neighbourhoods. These are the kinds of things we say to each other: “if I loved my city any more right now, my heart would burst.” We use the word “love” a whole lot. We feel empowered. We feel connected. We feel like we are going to win.
Why don’t you write about this? This incredible feeling? Another example I can give you is this very blog. Myself and a few friends began it as a way of disseminating information in English about what was happening here in Quebec, and within hours, literally hours, volunteers were writing me offering to help. Every day, people submit translations to me anonymously; I have no idea who they are, they just want to do something. They come from everywhere. They translate what they think is important to get out there into the world. People email me corrections, too. They email me advice. They email me encouragement. This blog runs on solidarity and utter human kindness.
This is what Quebec looks like right now. Every night is teargas and riot cops, but it is also joy, laughter, kindness, togetherness, and beautiful music. Our hearts are bursting. We are so proud of each other; of the spirit of Quebec and its people; of our ability to resist, and our ability to collaborate.
Why aren’t you writing about this? Does joy not sell as well as violence? Does collaboration not sell as well as confrontation? You can have your cynicism; our revolution is sincere.
If you want to see what the marches look like, check out one of the several viral videos which capture the spirit of the citizens exercising the power of peaceable assembly to protest the debt that corporate rule has imposed upon the world. Then grab a pot and ladle and head over to Civic Space Park at 424 N. Central in Phoenix at 8 p.m. tomorrow night.
Facebook Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/360132147385760/