The heavy, chilly midafternoon rain has subsided, but it’s a gloomy gray outside, and there’s a 70-80% chance of more rain this evening. I have slept something like 3-4 hours per night for a week, and am behind on my paid work too, not to mention email and anything remotely resembling “real life.” All I want to do is NOT walk downtown for the 8:30 p.m. rendezvous point for the nocturnal manif in Montreal, likely wet by the time I get to Berri-UQAM, before we’ve even started walking illegally.
Then I pop a new, gifted CD into my computer, to listen while I try to focus on paid work, and words of other uprisings and rebellions, and defeats too begin to fill my head. I toggle between work and twitter on what’s happening in Montreal, between work and hoping CUTV is online early, between work and searching for stories and images of maple spring.
That leads to another maple-spring distraction: scrolling through the many photos I’ve snapped on my smartphone, while forever walking on the red streets of Montreal, and I stumble across the picture above. It’s one of many images I haven’t yet posted, of public art painted within large rectangles on the pavement of the closed-off Mont-Royal street during last weekend’s sidewalk sale that stretched for blocks. I assume, in years past, this kind of art, which also stretched for blocks, with the yellow divider line for traffic running through each big piece, was supposed to encourage shopping, not disobedience. But nearly every piece this year included images of red squares, sharp & blurry, large & small, playful & serious. And red. Lots and lots of red.
At first, in the 2:30 a.m. dim light from streetlamps, I thought this was an abstract piece. It was so much darker, furious even, than any other piece. Then the continents slowly took shape for me–continents in strong, angry black; continents we know, without the artist having to show it, divided into states, capitalism, racism, heteronormativity, and so many other enclosures of freedom. So many borders demeaning dignity and breaking bones.
Then the red. Angry, proud, on the move, bursting from the dark and even “darker nations,” as Vijay Prashad titled one of his books. Screaming, to me: Revolt in Quebec! Below, in a corner of this massive piece of art, are some words in French: Ouvre la fenétre / il ya un monde. I click on a photo of those words, and only now try to decipher them, likely badly, using an automatic translator program–ironically, since a fantastic human translator is loaning me her apartment now while she’s at a retreat. I may not be getting the French right, and at some point soon, I want to write a piece called “Lost (& Found) in Translation” to explore how I am experiencing this moment as someone who doesn’t speak French and isn’t a Canadian–and how that both masks things and reveals things. So while it should matter that I get the French right, for tonight, as the rain pours down heavily again and whips the trees wildly outside the third-floor window where I’m sitting (trying, trying, failing to work), my translation speaks what I want this piece of street art to say:
“Open the window; there’s a world.”
There’s a world outside. A world that in a few minutes, I’ll walk out into, dry skies or not, because it’s night 50 in Montreal of marches that have illegally snaked, raced, rioted, marched, casseroled, chanted, trudged, danced, skipped, skateboarded, biked, walked, wheelchaired, strollered, and otherwise taken over, flagrantly, as every night the police say no. No, it’s illegal. No, you need to disperse. No. The illegalistas answer with their feet, unstoppable. For 50 nights.
There’s another kind of world outside. That world that we want to change. That world broken apart into separate things called nations, provinces, property. Millions of miles of enclosures, when all we see as we march through the streets of Montreal are millions of openings–that we’re taking and making. Maybe that’s why there are so many red squares, each one like a fire-engine-red spark. That red that’s breaking out of the black blocs of continents in this art piece is a red that can and must travel, to find others who “see red” when they see injustice, misery, exploitation, pain. Those others who answered all the police and military, dictators and presidents, who said “NO. A million times NO,” with one big global “ENOUGH,” small at first, like the initial pots and pans on that first night when they banged in Montreal, but suddenly bursting in a cacophony of casseroles, in the way that our “ENOUGH” connects from Chiapas to Cairo to Quebec, and so much in between.
It’s 7:45 p.m., and it looks like the rain is only a drizzle. I’m wondering if I should take a black umbrella along, for rain and because police recently targeted them as another symbol of illegality, as something seen as suspect and subversive. That kind of targeting happened “long ago” in the United States, when following 9/11, the US government and its police created their own menacing categories: toothpaste, backpacks, Swiss Army knives, bottled water, shoes.
This is why people go out here. Against tuition increases and US-style “higher education,” yes. Against austerity, yes. Against repressing dissent with new laws and too many police, too tired from 50 nights on the street and so more dangerous than usual, yes. But, I think, people most go out simply to reclaim the common sense of life–where toothpaste cleans our teeth, water sustains our bodies, shoes protect our feet, and little red squares make us happy.
Rain or not, night 50, all out.
Postscript, after the illegal march: this graffiti en route on night 50 kind of sums it up:
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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/