I’m a big talker and it can be hard to get me off the couch. For Occupy Montreal, I wanted to stand and be counted. Coming out of Square Vic all alone with my first ever protest sign, I was relieved to find a friendly campsite, replete with folks from all walks of life talking to strangers who looked nothing like them. It was around 4p.m, and everyone seemed settled in, with tarps strung through the treetops creating a roof above the campsite.
I was glad to see they took the lead from other live-ins, turning out with kids, freak flags, dogs, drum circles and some rocking the suits they wear 9-5. People came with their hearts open to the potential of a new society. While I know it’s an apolitical rally (I think the actual banner under which they unite is Disheartened & Inspired, but 99% is catchier, and Wholly Pissed Off is too aggressive), I believe Jack Layton would’ve shown up to a party like this.
The village had organically established districts; the campsite housed the long term essentials like the Wat Hub [sic], while steps away, a drum circle with dancers kept people in the mood for joyful noise. There were a lot of wanderers and a little uncertainty as I headed North.
I watched the crew led by a guy on stilts knitting up the poles and the ballsy fellow who climbed the queen sans adequate safety gear to put up the Zeitgeist Moving Forward poster and mask her (that being the precarious part, taking a couple of tries in strong winds). While admiring this guy’s nimble insanity, I met a grey haired man, well dressed and smiling. I thanked him for turning out, and he said that he hoped his presence would lend credence to a movement he thought was long overdue.
“I’ve been waiting years for this,” he said and he thanked me for turning out, which I hadn’t really considered.
Across the street was the general assembly, where proposals were made and votes taken. One passerby complained the event was disorganized, and maybe at that moment it was. There was a lot of chatter and a definite sense that there were spectators and others knee deep in procedure. Eventually, the vote was taken to march, leaving a respectable contingent at base taking up space.
We headed up Beaver Hall Hill, making our way to Ste-Catherine Street West, into oncoming traffic. Even the motorists, ironically gridlocked by humanity, smiled, waved, and honked their support (cabbies were unanimously on board). The shopping bunch and store staff were curious, and quick with camera phones. At least one person got out of their car, leaving it in traffic.
The chanting was sporadic, but the crowd was vibrant, with drummers and guitarists playing as we went, ghetto blasters, a guy on a unicycle, and the sense that especially here, this is more wake-up call than argument. It seemed that we’re all on the same side; yes, the chant of “we are the 99% / you are the 99%” helped, but the smiling officer in his car who flashed a shy peace sign back at me, sealed it.
An older Indian man chatted with me en route, starting with my sign and ending in Indian mountain tops and talk of gods, while I interrupted periodically. We talked about the causes at hand, and he told me that there could be no truely peaceful revolution.
“When you had your baby, did you do so without blood? A revolution is a birth.” He said before the blood, there is pain, and then after it’s all worth it. I couldn’t disagree, not only with his analogy, but also because of all I know of successful revolutions.
We walked up on a couple of students in onsie pyjamas with trapped-door butts, kissing as they went. It reminded me of the photo of the couple in front of the flames of the the hockey riots, just wonderfully goofier.
“That,” pointed out my compadre, “that can win a revolution. Love is the only thing that can win.” So, love and blood; back to the birth analogy, and I get where this guy’s coming from.
Next thing I know, I’m stomping my feet and making ruckus on the steps of the BMO head office, amazed at the crowd, and unable to see it all, though that may be a combination of adrenaline and bad math. I know that standing there, stomping there, screaming there, I was not afraid; we wouldn’t be arrested, the mob would not turn ugly (thankfully), and I was yelling at a building in a country that supports my right to do so. I felt pretty patriotic right then; still angry, but darned proud.
At camp, renamed Place du Peuple, the kitchen opened with supplies from local groups including Food Not Bombs, Frigo Vert, the People’s Potato, and awesome individuals. The line was long, the offerings ample.
Someone Tweeted later how stuffed they were from the goodies. People were winding down, settling in; most of the children and puppies had gone off to be tucked in elsewhere. The music picked up, and the beers came out. Pabst Blue Ribbon seemed the beverage of choice, while the smell of nice pricey buds reaffirmed that even the hippies were a classy breed.
The drum circle drummed, people danced, a bullhorn led choruses of “all around the world / we’re gonna occupy/ we’re gonna occupy” (which is fiercely catchy). The tarp ceiling billowed in the winds, perfect for the festive vibe. By the monument, the tune was different, with folksy rock, a little ska and whole lotta klezmer. Away from the music, a hardcore group at the general assembly prepped procedures for future votes.
Every part has a player, and here people flowed like water to where they ought be. The over-nighters started putting on layers, and I took off with that special exhaustion that comes when every ounce of adrenaline’s been burned off. Some people left their signs behind as they headed back to their lives, and a simple square in the window of Square Victoria read “Hope” signed, Jack.
As the winds picked up and the rains began, I thought about the people in their tents, sticking it out, while I relaxed my shockingly sore muscles (holding a sign over your head becomes harder than it looks, fast), and I wished them warmth, and commended them in my heart.
When I awoke, the world hadn’t changed, the establishment hadn’t crumbled, and really, I hadn’t expected it to; not in one day. A global dialogue has started; one that won’t be hushed, or tossed to the fringes. If it was put on a ballot, I believe the majority of people would agree with the protesters on the issues raised and these occupiers are bringing those issues to the foreground and getting the ball rolling.
When it’s down to brass tacks and the call comes, I was thrilled to see that even now, we the people can build our own village, be our own voice over the PA, promising breakfast in bed to the masses, and however briefly, save ourselves.
This will either be a poignant moment at the birth of civil revolution, or the ball that our kids will ask us how we dropped. Why did you falter when the people were finally in the street? How did you lose your voice while you held the mic? We’ve had no movement, no unifying political vision, no sense of yearning that couldn’t be quelled by an iPhone sale.
If we want to create the future instead of forfeiting our turn, now seems the time. It’s already late, but we’re here now, and we brought cookies.
[NOTE: The peeps are still camped out in Place du Peuple. Another show of support is being called for this Sunday, 10am-10pm. Saturday’s General Assembly in NYC brought 15000-20000… so bring a friend… or a thousand.]
* photos by Chris Zacchia, you can see all of our photos on Facebook