“The student strike to this point has been centered around demonstrations and actions of thousands of people gathering in the streets with nothing to do but stare at itself. Now, when the police have seriously wounded a comrade, we see tensions rise as the student movement has to deal with itself and its place in society. In this situation, no longer was the issue about “the issues” (…) The issue becomes the reality of engaging against power, outside of the classroom, when the sense of ownership and entitlement of one’s struggle is challenged. The student struggle has now exited the world of liability to administration and academic probation and has begun to engage society as a whole.”
As the student strike in Quebec develops, there have been weekly “manif-actions” (action demos) with the goal of economic disruption. Late yesterday morning, a manif action was called to begin at 11:30 am at Square Victoria. There were several thousand people in the streets, some of them self-identified students, student politicians and union members, many not of any particular status. The march went up to the Loto-Quebec building on Sherbrooke and rue City Councillors and set up hard blockades of all the entrances around the building, effectively shutting it down. The building contains the offices of the organization representing university principals and rectors, which supports tuition hikes, and had also been occupied in March 2011. After maintaining a presence for a while, some people got inside the building while others began building barricades on Sherbrooke street using fences as a line of riot police began to assemble nearby. The police pepper sprayed demonstrators and threw sound grenades (and possibly tear gas) in the mass of people as they dismantled the fencing and pushed people back. Shrapnel from one of the canisters flew into one person’s eye. He is now in a hospital and will likely lose his eye forever.
As the main demo got split up into three parts, people made an effort to stay together and hold the street. The three demos managed to continue and regrouped into one, and then headed east towards the Jaques Cartier bridge. The bridge was swarming with police by the time the demo approached, so we figured we’d let the police do the blocking for us and continued at a jog to the Ministry of Education building, as projectiles were thrown at a few bike cops. As several bureaucrats scurried out of the building, the demo blocked the entrance for 10 minutes, then swung around back west along the Notre Dame highway. An attempt was made to occupy the SAQ headquarters (the state liquor control and sales board of Quebec). People made it into the lobby of the building but because the doors to go further were locked, the demo continued westward. It stopped at the Hydro Quebec building, where people chanted “Pour une monde libertaire, sans Plan Nord ni frais scolaires” (for an anarchist world, without neither the Plan Nord* nor tuition fees). Soon after the demo dispersed by collectively hopping the metro together.
After the demo dispersed, it wasn’t until the evening that word had spread about the tragic outcome of earlier that day. A solidarity demonstration was spontaneously called for at Berri Square at 9 pm. A hundred and some people gathered here and left promptly, after yelling down self-appointed leaders who wanted the demonstration to be ‘media friendly’. It took rue St. Catherine first and moved its way through downtown towards the St. Urbain police headquarters, while some people threw up anti-police graffiti including “Flics=Assassins”. When it got to the headquarters, people attacked its windows with glass bottles, metal garbage cans, and fences, which the pacifists were quick to pounce on. As a line of riot police formed on the north side of the headquarters, the demonstration headed south towards René-Lévesque and then back up rue St. Laurent. As people gathered information to determine where to go, the decision was made to head towards the police station on the corner of Rue St. Élisabeth and René-Lévesque. The front of the demo hurried south down St. Élisabeth towards the station while the police formed a line blocking the back of the demo from advancing. At the front, one cop car was guarding the intersection at René-Lévesque and as about a dozen people rushed at it, the cruiser backed out and drove off, leaving the intersection momentarily free of police. People took this opportunity to graffiti the cruisers in the parking lot, as well as break the windows of several police cars. Projectiles and insults were hurled at the unprepared cops as they drove up and scurried to don their riot gear.
For a moment, bodies occupied the entire eight lanes of René-Lévesque as people hurried to make the decision of whether to turn back to downtown or disperse. Some people decided to return to the larger demo and managed to rejoin it at St. Catherine while others dispersed here.
At this point the demo began to head north on St Denis. Some people in the crowd severely beat up a person with a camera who was taking pictures of them, as others tried to diminish the scuffle. The police blocked off the main intersection of Ontario and rue St. Denis, and before anyone had time to come up with any quick plan of action, recycling bins were strewn into the street. Bottles fell first to the ground, then were thrown at the line of riot cops at the end of the street. At this point, the pacifist portion of the demo (?!) began booing at the people throwing bottles, explaining that this is a peaceful demonstration. The next three minutes diminished into the crowd engaging in shouting arguments, pushing each other and getting up in each other’s shit over the merits of violence and the explicit “peacefulness “ of the demo.
At this point, sensing an impending mass arrest, many people ditched out over a high fence, leaving the pacifists to fend for themselves. As people were dispersing a small group stayed there picking up the trash and put it back into the recycling bin, 10 yards from the line of riots cops at which the bottles had just been thrown.
Several minutes later in the same spot from which people had just dispersed, riot police began to clear the streets pushing everyone out and ending whatever was left of the demonstration.
(stop here if you’re sick of reading about pacifists).
A continuing problem of the student movement is the way that university activism seems to breed pacifists in the same way it breeds politicians and bosses. The student strike to this point has been centered around demonstrations and actions of thousands of people gathering in the streets with nothing to do but stare at itself. Now, when the police have seriously wounded a comrade, we see tensions rise as the student movement has to deal with itself and its place in society. In this situation, no longer was the issue about “the issues”, so well laid out and articulated with the appropriate politician to be blamed and the solution devised through funding alternatives (such as the Plan Nord, as one member of ASSE** suggested). The issue becomes the reality of engaging against power, outside of the classroom, when the sense of ownership and entitlement of one’s struggle is challenged. The student struggle has now exited the world of liability to administration and academic probation and has begun to engage society as a whole.
Last night, race and class dynamics emerged in the way different people engaged in their response. At one particular point it was hard to ignore how a primarily white group of pacifists were actively trying to hold back a crew of young people of colour who were confronting the police (with other people in the middle trying to get the pacifists to back off). This was obviously not the only dynamic in the demo – there were different crews of people there and throughout the evening a mixed crowd of people engaged in confronting the police – but as an anarchist participating in the demonstration, this was a particularly striking situation. At the point in which some began picking up bottles and throwing them at the police, the pacifists, by trying to prevent this, acted more effectively at breaking up the demo than the police did. Nothing in the world around us can honestly be called peaceful, and the height of irony is a pacifist throwing punches trying to convince another otherwise.
More info as it comes.
*Plan Nord: Quebec’s new plan to coordinate and promote large scale resource extraction (mining, hydro-electricity, and logging) of the Indigenous territories in northern Quebec.
**ASSE: “L’Association de Solidarite Syndicale Etudiant” which is one of the more ‘radical’ provincial federations of student unions. A member of ASSE once suggested to the media that free education can be funded through the Plan Nord.