In almost every report on the social movement now sweeping Quebec, including my own, words like conflict, crisis and stand-off figure prominently. Anger is omnipresent. The anger of protesters, the anger of government, the anger of those supposedly inconvenienced. Pundits scream about mob rule, anarchy in the streets and the dissolution of society as we know it.
Don't get me wrong, there is anger present of course. But that is not what you see if you take to the streets, or watch on CUTV's live stream. Pundits can't stop bemoaning the inconvenience to "ordinary" Montrealers posed by these protests. But I wonder, are there any "ordinary" Montrealers left to inconvenience?
As I write these words there are demonstrations going on in every neighborhood of Montreal. "Casseroles", where people leave their houses to bang pots in the street every night at 8PM, have led to marches everywhere. The police cannot keep up. Far flung suburbs like Vaudreuil and Île Perrot, the anglophone West Island and NDG, South Shore suburbs, Québec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Rimouski, Trois Rivières and the list goes on. Some of these places have never seen a demonstration, certainly not since the days of the quiet revolution. Now their streets swell with hundreds, thousands.
The prevailing question in the media is, how do we end this? Supporters and opponents alike seek a "solution" to put an end to the "crisis". And we need one, those on the streets need to be heard. Actions need to be taken to address the demands of the masses. But what exactly is so bad about what is happening? Why do we need it to end so urgently?
As this movement goes on, and grows by leaps and bounds, it is increasingly clear that it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope. People who would be alone in their houses watching TV take to the streets and march with neighbors they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbors each night. Instead of watching TV, we met in the street, we exchanged details of our day and we made plans for our future. Just as the "casseroles" cause us to do now.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of this movement will be to build stronger, more connected communities. Every day that it goes on, more of us meet in the street, build relationships and talk about what kind of a society we want.
This is what Charest is afraid of. This is what keeps the powerful awake at night. If we talk, if we exchange ideas and debate the future of our society, we will want to change it. And nothing terrifies the powerful more than a change to the system which gives them their power.
The most honest reason which can be given for why people are in the street is the simplest. We do not see ourselves reflected in our government. But we see ourselves, our concerns, our hope, our love and our aspirations, reflected in every smiling face we see on the street. For the first time in a long time we are having a real conversation about what kind of society we want. We're having it with each other, every night when we meet in the streets. And slowly, but surely, we are realizing that we have the power to make our dreams a reality.
Over at Translating the Printemps Erable, a superb volunteer collective dedicated to translating French articles about the movement into English, the administrator recently posted an Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media. It is perhaps the best description of this incredible phenomenon I have yet seen. In it they bemoaned the coverage which focuses on anger, when what we see in the streets is love. They describe the nightly "casseroles" like this:
"If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like … 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."
The video below was attached. It is a simple, black and white video of one night in the life of nos casseroles, but it has gone viral, encapsulating as it does the joy and togetherness of our movement.
We walk past each other every day, but we do not smile. We do not stop to talk, we do not connect. In these protests, in the breast of this movement, we are remembering what it is to work together to make our world a better place. We used to know, in some far distant past, but we have forgotten.
Many in this movement are mad at the media. But in many ways it is not the fault of the journalists, or the pundits who cling to the status quo like a drowning man grasps a life raft.
If you try to understand this movement through the lens of politics as usual, you are doomed to failure. This is a spontaneous, joyful uprising. It is not Astroturfed, it does not depend on the media or the political parties, or even the unions or student groups for oxygen. It is a fire which has slumbered in our bellies for so long, silent and nearly forgotten.
What the critics and the pundits do not understand is that they are no longer in control. People will no longer nod and agree with their paper, their TV. They can diminish it, can under-report our numbers and exaggerate our violence, but it doesn't matter. Their words and their barbs cannot defeat the solidarity and love which flows through our streets each night.
People don't need the media to tell them what is happening outside their door. They can hear it. They can feel it. The genie cannot go back in the bottle. We are awake, truly awake for the first time in a long time. We will not go back to sleep.
I started to notice after the passage of Bill 78, and the mass demonstration of May 22, a change. Not only in the streets, but online. As the "casseroles" spread, so did their footprint on the social networks through which we express ourselves. Friends who had always hated protests, right wingers, misanthropes, apolitical types and everyone in between began to post pictures of themselves with pots and pans outside their house.
My Facebook feed, which is normally full of cute pictures and a hodge podge of random posts, unified. It coalesced in a way I had never seen before. I now notice, and am surprised, if I see a single post unrelated to this movement.
Twitter, which had largely been ignored by Francophone Quebeckers, is now swollen with tweets about the protests. The way we come together in the streets has spread to our online presence. We share and comment and talk. We come together as citizens of a community, galvanized by a common cause.
This movement may yet fail. It may be co-opted, or lose track of its goals. It may fizzle or be beaten, as so many other movements have been. But there can be no denying that something extraordinary is happening in Quebec.
If we, as a society, as a people, are to make a stand against the governments which cut taxes on the rich and corporations and then plead poverty as they dismantle our society, our communities, it will be here.
If a line in the sand will be drawn, it is here, in the streets of Quebec. The battle for a better world starts in this city. This glorious, madcap city whose joie de vivre flows through the veins of each and every one of us like a river.
Join us, speak your solidarity from the rooftops, call out our name. Because here in these streets, has started a revolution. A fire which burns for a better world.
Call me an idealist, call me a dreamer, call me anything you like. But this is a moment in time we will tell our children about. Together, we can start something here that spreads like wildfire across this continent. What happens next is up to us.
To paraphrase Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a wood, and we – we took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.