The city’s newest festival

Montreal’s newest festival has already begun. It runs every night, features music, athleticism and is very inclusive. It visits all neighbourhoods and in just its first year, this born-in-Montreal event already has worldwide media attention and spinoffs across Canada and in places like Paris and New York City.

You’d think such an event would make a mayor very happy. But for some reason, Mayor Gérald Tremblay is not. In fact he’s quite worried and upset, and he’s not the only one.

Some of the city’s other festivals have raised the alert level and even cancelled events because of the new kid on the block. Not very neighbourly, if you ask me.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the new festival I’m alluding to is the Maple Spring, student strike, anti-Bill 78 protest, Casseroles, call it what you will. Just don’t call it a threat to Montreal’s culture. It is part of Montreal’s culture – and lately a rather dominant part at that.

It’s not a threat to tourism either. We’re talking about a few hundred, few thousand, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of people, vibrantly though peacefully marching in the streets, rain or shine, banging on pots and pans, some of them dressed as giant pandas and such.

Sounds like an attraction to me. And this doesn’t even count those who come here just to witness and be part of an inspirational movement at it’s core. At the very least, these marches aren’t the type that will scare those not interested in activism away.

That is to say, they won’t scare tourists away on their own. Throw in draconian laws like Bill 78 that create tension on the streets where there wasn’t before as well as a corporate media bent on showcasing the few instances of violence causally linked to the protesters that occurred over the past five months (not a bad ratio given the number of people and timeframe) and you get a different picture.

Yes, it’s not the students or the casseroles that may drive tourists away from the city, it’s the actions of those in power, their media associates and their police enforcers. The same people warning of disruptions to festiville are those causing that potential disruption.

What about local business? Well, if you’ve ever marched for hours, you know that at some point you’re gonna need refreshment. I’m sure dépanneurs on the march route do a brisk business in thirst-quenching drinks and even cigarettes and other provisions.

Once the nighttime manifs end, there are tons more people in the streets than would otherwise have been there, and not just protesters but journalists (both mainstream and independent) and other hangers on. Many of them may seek another type of refreshment before heading home, the kind that local bars are very equipped to provide.

But wait, you say, weren’t there some problems at bars during the protests a few weeks ago? Wasn’t lower St-Denis a warzone? Sadly, yes. But don’t blame the red squares.

Surveillance camera video and lawsuits brought against the police by very disgruntled bar owners who had their terraces pepper sprayed and establishments raided show that it was, once again, the cops who provoked the problems. Cops having a difficult time differentiating between protester and ordinary patron, because, well, the protesters are ordinary people, the kind that have been keeping the bar economy and other economies including the festival economy going long before wearing a piece of red felt or banging on some pots and pans.

It’s about time festival organizers like Just For Laughs’ Gilbert Rozon realized that and instead of begging the movement to stay away, sought out ways for the two events to co-exist. Maybe instead of cancelling their opening event on Crescent, the Grand Prix organizers should realize that a tourist clientele that wasn’t scared off by constant violence in the streets of Bahrain won’t be scared off by Anarchopanda. Maybe it’s time that bar owners like Peter Sergakis, whose Station de Sports recently barred people holding pots and pans, realized that when your big attraction is a cheap 60-oz pitcher, you’re attracting the type of people who may have issues with austerity measures and economic inequality.

It’s time the stewards of the city’s established culture realized that the real threat is not a festive social movement but rather the likes of Tremblay and Jean Charest who will risk destroying the city’s economy and tourism industry just to maintain a status quo that benefits themselves and their wealthy friends. It’s time for the other festivals and the rest of Montreal’s culture to welcome the city’s newest festival with open arms.

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