Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Good Ingredients in a Casseroles

As is true with occupy, time has its own logic with the maple spring–a logic outside that of capitalist time.

So much that’s extraordinary happens in such a short time, it creates a dissonance in how we’re used to understanding the temporal experience of daily life, or a way in which it’s hard to process all that seems different from week to week, day to day, and often hour by hour because it’s simply moving too fast. Faster, that is, than the sped-up logic of contemporary capitalism, which seems to be increasingly producing “attention-deficient disorder” in nearly everyone as another way to ensure we’re too distracted to defy its social order.

Yet oddly, the rapid speed of transformation in moments of uprising–with their spontaneity, surprise, and solidarity–seems to also to slow time down. Each day can feel like a week because of all that’s compacted within it. Interactions can appear luxurious and leisurely, and filled with a depth that usually takes years to forge. We notice things–many things–details large and small, things about ourselves and our neighborhoods and comrades and new friends, things about what is suddenly, inexplicably possible. Our attention, highly charged and accelerated–like the racing heartbeat of new love–isn’t deficient at all, but extremely focused.

The weeks, days, hours, and sometimes even seconds, like the seconds when the police appear from nowhere to kettle hundreds, operate on a different clock from capitalism, faster and slower, jumbled and nonlinear, pulling the past into the present which is already the future.

It isn’t that we’ve stopped capitalist time, even if we’re basically hitting the button on our alarm clocks at the same instant and then throwing the clock soundly against the wall across from our beds. It’s that we’re putting that time on notice, not clocking into the work of capitalism; it’s that we’re contesting and contrasting the time of capitalism, waking people up–ourselves first and foremost–with our own communal timepieces. Here in Montreal this past week, the uprising alarm goes off at 8 pm, with pots and pans (paint cans, cheese graters, garbage can lids, you name it) asking people to wake up to what’s going on, but also wake up to what’s inside them. What kind of time they can take and make.

For all the many other reasons that time has a different logic during an uprising, there is the enormous one: we’re making history, writing ourselves into time. But equally enormous in my mind is this: we’re making the minutes our own, writing our own narratives, learning what we’d do with time when it is, truly, our own. Uprisings only begin to give us a taste, and here’s where rebellious time perhaps gets most interesting: in the slow savoring of each second, as if it’s in ultra-slow motion.

Here I have to pause–within what should be the capitalist work time of my day–to thank some lovely folks in Montreal for inviting me to lunch. In savoring a banquet of homemade delicacies beautifully laid out on a long wooden table, enough food for a week, and each dish taster than next, ending with a heaping bowl of tiny red squares of watermelon lightly tossed in yogurt, during a lunch that stretched four hours, much of what I’m blogging about here was part of what we touched on–and hence, my gratitude. We talked about this time of casseroles over our luxurious and leisurely time of breaking bread and enjoying conversation together. None of us “had time” for this lunch; but because of what’s going on, we “made time.”

And just like thousands upon thousands of other people, night after night for what’s now night 36, we’ve also “made time” to stand with the student strike and, now, to defy law 78 openly (I think it’s night 36; fortunately, I’ve lost track of the quantitativeness of number of nights in favor of the qualitativeness of being on streets each evening, even for only my 8 or so evening visiting here).

The wake-up call of casseroles is part of that time of ours. For instance, a bit over a week ago, when marching through Montreal’s wealthy Westmount neighborhood with some 10,000 others to attempt to reach Premier Charest’s house–marching for hours to get there, finally to scale the hills past castle-like buildings with flags waving in some new version of a rebel commune that was part storming the Bastille and part May ’68, as I already posted on a Facebook status right afterward–a young woman came storming out of her fancy house to scream at me and my friend: “Why don’t you go make noise in your own neighborhood? Why are you waking us up? You woke up my 7-year-old niece!” While that particular women probably still doesn’t like the now-much-louder noise of the casseroles, I now see household after household bringing their little 7-year-olds and 3-year-olds and babies out to join in the noise making, and as the hours pass, as we walk through sleepy residential streets, people spill out on to their balconies and the street, bringing their little kids with them, in their little pajamas and bathrobes, holding onto their teddy bears or tiny tin drums or saucepan, sometimes rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Bedtime isn’t by the clock, it’s after the casserole, for these kids and their families.

I’m sure the noise of the casseroles annoys some, disrupts their capitalism time, but night after night, street after street, one seems the joy of this taking and making of a new time. Besides simply displacing bedtime for some, cars have to slow down, and you’ll see people get out of their stuck-in-casseroles-traffic car (many, many, many cars, buses, trucks, taxis, stuck, night after night–an inconvenience, one could say, or a lovely intervention in disturbing capitalist time by slowing business as usual, often with obvious monetary impact) to wave, cheer, and sometimes even pull out their own pot and ladle, to join in the noise.

In this din, a different temporal space of engagement is created. Neighbors meet neighbors, whether because at 8 pm they come to the same corner, or because they appear on their balconies to see the casseroles march by at 10 pm, and turn, smile at each other, and one can imagine/dream (as I am), that this is the start of more interactions, political conversations, perhaps assemblies or shared projects like organizing to improve their nearby park.

There is the time of finding each other, the simple beauty of a time of sociality outside commodification or contrivance. Again and again, on the streets, you experience the far-more-genuine smiles of acknowledment: that we’re here, together, making this time of illegality, yes, but also a new way of seeing, participating in, and reclaiming the city. It’s only a start; the city still functions, seemingly normally, by day. But the next night, those smiles seem to acknowledge more–like, “yes, I remember seeing you yesterday!” “Oh, you live down the street from me?” “Ah, the police don’t know what to do! We’re the ones determining where we want to go!”

Then there is the time of resistance, where people are “promising” themselves and each other to be there, night after night, in the streets until they win. What the “win” will be is increasingly unclear. It seems clear that the people have the upper hand, that it’s the government “negotiating” and the students and society that has the power to ask for things, perhaps a whole lot more than they imagined. That might not happen. And as I wrote yesterday and likely the day before, each minute of our time, they (police & government & the wealthy & elites) are using their time to determine countermoves. For now, our unpredictable maneuverings and differing temporality from theirs is giving this social movement a time of its own, and the the power-that-be one hell of a time trying to keep up.

So in the time, two of the best ingredients in the casseroles appear (here’s where I’m especially thankful to my lunchmates for noting this together):

First, the casseroles may start at 8 pm, but there’s no telling when they will stop, where they will go, how many bands large and small there will be, when you’ll be on your own with 4 friends and 3 pots between you, or suddenly hear the walk-up call of the metal din growing louder in the nearby distance. It must look amazing from a bird’s-eye view, a time-defying swirl of people and noise going every which way, looping around, running into each other, breaking apart into smaller groups, diverging and converging. A sea. That red sea of red squares and silvery metal objects. And smiles. So many miles (er, kilometers) of smiles. People take so much time for that.

Second, and my lunchmates and I all agreed that this was the most beautiful moment of the casseroles nights, is that time when one casseroles crew turns a corner and sees another crew–perhaps 1,000 in one group, and maybe 3,000 in around. For some unexplainable reason, one group will speed up, rushing toward the other, with bigger smiles than ever. And the other group will slow down, oh so slow, until stopping, then a euphoric cheer nearly as loud as the pans will rise up as everyone raises their pots higher still, beating on them loudly. Suddenly, for what’s probably only a couple minutes, it’s as if the two groups meet in molasses-like slow motion. People look in each other’s eyes, really look at each other, turning this moment over in their minds that are trying to comprehend this new time, the time they are taking and making to take and then maybe make some new world that no one has quite put words to yet here.

These nights on the street here feel so out of the ordinary, out of the routine of capitalist time, that these moments of convergence when one casseroles meets another seem like something everyone–without quite knowing it–wants to hold in a stop-action, freeze-frame embrace, like our lunch today, to savor for many more hours than they have time for. So they will remember this feeling, later, when it’s gone. When this moment of uprising has past, or perhaps fallen short, or failed altogether.

The best I can understand–being a “foreign” correspondent from the place south of here still called the United States–is that by and large, people think they want to not become like the United States, where education is a high-priced commodity that’s more about universities as economic engines (R&D, construction, endowments, etc.) than learning or wisdom; where health care isn’t care at all, but insurance, and more often than not, not even insurance; and the list could go on. There’s “austerity” here, of course, but it is far less austere (impoverished and inhumane) than what’s going on in the United States. But in this demand for somehow trying to hold back time, so that neoliberalism somehow doesn’t touch this place called Canada and unravel the time of a certain type of “safety net” or certain sensibility that there should be “social goods” like free or cheap education for all, a new time is emerging, hinting at a wholly different logic of how we count what’s valuable, or as one of my lunch friends said, how we move from a world of things that are judged by price to one where the whole of our time is filled with the priceless.

(Photo, taken on my cell phone last night: Tail end of Mont-Royal casseroles: tree-bike w/red leaves & red blinking lights, & anarchopanda wannabe kid w/tiny pot)

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 my Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com/

One comment on “Good Ingredients in a Casseroles

  1. Pingback: Good Ingredients in a Casseroles | Occupy Oakland World News

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This entry was posted on May 29, 2012 by in Dispatches from Quebec Spring.
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