A Reportback from a Demo in the Village
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Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
On Tuesday, June 25, 2019, anarchists in Hamilton issued the call for a day of action on Friday, June 28, in support of those who had recently attempted to isolate and frustrate anti-queer and anti-trans protesters using a large sheet of black fabric (dubbed “the Black Hole” in the reportback), a number of whom had white supremacist affiliations, during Hamilton Pride 2019 on June 15, and in support of those who have been caught up in the subsequent repression wave.
Thus, on Friday evening, I attended a demo in Montréal’s Gay Village that a number of anarchists, including friends of Cedar (the first person arrested, on Saturday, June 22) and other anarchists affected by the repression in Hamilton, swiftly organized in the short amount of time between Tuesday and Friday. I wasn’t meaningfully involved in the organizing myself, although I had an opportunity to be. My intention with this text is to offer some critical comments about different aspects of the demo to other anarchists in Montréal – which is a project I feel a little fucked-up about, actually.
I’ve heard that several people who were involved in the organizing had a slightly different vision of how the demo would turn out, and they were disappointed with the final outcome, in one way or another. This doesn’t mean that they regret doing it, though, and to the extent that some of what I have written below is unfair, incorrect, or something that these folks know already (i.e. they didn’t need it to be pointed out to them), what I am writing might come off as shitty.
People are stressed out and worried. Cedar has been in the Barton jail for seven nights tonight, on hunger strike. As I write, two other people are in jail too, also arrested Friday. The two other anarchists arrested earlier in the week have upcoming court dates. This is just what has been written about on the internet, by comrades and journalists, but obviously there are other things happening too, and threats of further arrests in the future. The situation obviously demands that we act, but we also need to act intelligently, in order to help prevent the legal-punitive system of Canada from taking away our friends. These comments aren’t aimed at making anyone feel like an idiot for anything that happened on Friday or in the very short window of time beforehand when it was organized, but instead, to contribute usefully to our shared project of helping our friends in Hamilton.
As anarchists in Montréal, we are distant from the events in Hamilton. Some of us aren’t so distant emotionally, but all of us are half a day’s drive away. There are only certain things it make sense for us to do. Non-exhaustively, these include doing things that boost the morale of friends in Hamilton (including aesthetic interventions in public space, posted to Instagram or shared on Signal or whatever), raising money for legal defense and other forms of support for people who are losing assets, jobs, and homes (in some cases, for the second or third or fourth time in the last year), and finally, actually putting pressure on institutions with power in the city of Hamilton, which is a tricky thing to do from a distance, and which requires sustained and well-conceived action towards a useful goal.
But first, for the benefit of comrades in other places (especially Hamilton) and for those who weren’t there, a quick summary of Friday evening.
The demo began at the east end of the Gay Village, outside of Papineau station. Several dozen people were in attendance. There was a sound system in a cart, a large number of flyers in French and English to distribute, and most people were wearing pink masks, as did many of the Pride defenders in Gage Park on June 15. There was a small speech, and then we starting marching west long rue Sainte-Catherine, transformed into a pedestrian promenade for the summer. Tall sticks with coloured smoke bombs were lit shortly after we got moving, and we probably looked pretty cool, because that’s what coloured smoke does. Near the intersection of rue Plessis, we found an unused electrical plug, which was great, because the battery for our sound system wasn’t acting reliably.
When we got to the corner of rues Sainte-Catherine and Amherst (the latter of these streets will be renamed rue Atataken by the end of the summer), we remained for – this is a guess – ten to fifteen minutes, mostly listening to a speech that was delivered first in French, then in English. Afterwards, we marched back east. There were two cops standing outside a cruiser at one of the north-south intersections that intersects the pedestrian promenade, but we walked past them. They followed us to the nice spot we had found near the intersection with rue Plessis, where we plugged the sound system in again and proceed to have a nice little dance party. Unfortunately, Michel Meunier (aka Micky Mike, among other aliases), a white supremacist activist associated with Storm Alliance among other groups, happened to be sitting down on the adjacent terrasse of a Vietnamese restaurant, and he started filming us with his smartphone. Some people didn’t feel great about this, and led to some people taking their banners over to the terrasse in order to block his camera.
After some time, we continued further east. The cops had blocked off on traffic on rue Papineau in anticipation of our arrival. We turned back up to the plaza behind the métro station. I believe there were a few more cheers at the end, but I left at this time.
Hero worship is bad. It’s bad even if the target of that worship is a genuinely good person, which is obviously how a lot of us think about Cedar.
Most people don’t know Cedar, and never will. Unfortunately, for them, Cedar is nothing but a mirage constructed from news articles, talk radio, YouTubers, snippets of politicians’ speeches, and official truths first announced to the public at Hamilton Police Service press conferences, then repeated, rarely with any investigation whatsoever, by journalists and Redditors. Of course, this is more true in Hamilton than it is in Montréal, where many people don’t even know where Hamilton is. Hamilton might as well be Saint Louis, Iqaluit, or Wellington, New Zealand.
There are good reasons to mention Cedar specifically, as I am doing in this article. First of all, Cedar’s name has already been released everywhere, and Cedar also faces at least one specific problem that is worth publicizing and challenging. I am not referring to the question of whether or not Cedar was present or absent in Gage Park on June 15 – because, thanks to the police department’s ability to dictate truth, it is a question. Instead, I am referring to the fact that, in 2018, Cedar was presented as the ringleader behind the March 3 action on Locke Street, as well as the operator of the Tower, Hamilton’s anarchist social centre. This idea needs to be challenged, and not just for Cedar’s personal sake. It’s a slander about anarchists, presenting us as just another cult with a single charismatic leader.
Our solidarity demo in Montréal mentioned Cedar by name a lot. At the conclusion of speeches near the rue Amherst intersection, there were cries of Free Cedar! and Liberté pour Cedar! This makes sense, because a lot of us in Montréal know Cedar personally. But, I think we also needed to mention the other two people in jail, or any of the other people who were actually present in Gage Park on June 15, who erected and defended the Black Hole in order to shield the attendees of Pride Hamilton from the haters’ annoying-as-fuck vitriol, and who took a few blows as a result of their efforts. Their names aren’t widely publicized – and that’s definitely a good thing! – but this is about them, too.
I haven’t been in touch since before last Saturday, but I assume it’s still true that Cedar doesn’t want to be turned into a public figure. Obviously, to some degree, this sort of thing is out of their control, but in our public discourse and our own thinking, we would do well to avoid what the comrades in Latin America call presismo, or “prisonerism”. The struggle as a whole, and not any one person, should be front and center in our expressions of solidarity, and we should do what we can to remind people of something that most people already know, namely that no one needs a ringleader to do the right thing or get into trouble, and that no single operator is responsible for a collective project as large and as long-lived as the Tower.
ABOUT MONTRÉAL’S GAY VILLAGE
Hamilton had its own demo on Friday evening. From what I can tell, the basic idea seems to have been very similar to our solidarity demo in Montréal, but the execution was more effective. The crowd gathered at Gore Park (a large plaza at the centre of downtown Hamilton, and not to be confused with Gage Park, a much larger green area several kilometres to the east) sometime in the evening, probably as we were gathering near Papineau station. In Montréal terms, Gore Park and the surrounding area is a bit likeeither Square Victoria or Place du Canada in terms of its centrality to the city, the wideness of the adjacent streets, the height of the buildings, and the general vibe on a Friday night. After a march around the downtown area, they returned to the intersection of King Street and James Street, adjacent to Gore Park, and had what looks to have been a spirited dance party in the middle street, with coloured smoke and music, that according to The Spectator, lasted for 15 minutes. It’s likely that hundreds of Hamiltonians witnessed or encountered the demo at some point, which had about 100 people participating, according to The Hamilton Spectator’s report.
Our demo in Montréal also had coloured smoke, a sound system, and a stated intention to have a dance party in the streets, but we did it in the Village, an environment with no real equivalent in Hamilton, at least as far as I know. At this time of year, the main east-west street in the Village is thronged with pedestrians, made narrower than is usual is by the abundance of terrasses that bars and cafés have been built, and also littered with giant flower pots, artists’ tents, and other things paid for by the local business association. Although we were only about 30 people, our presence on the street often impeded east-west traffic, especially for people on mobility scooters.
Impeding traffic goes with the territory of street demos, and I often have complicated feelings about it. There’s a larger conversation to be had about that.Of course, if our demo had been bigger and cooler, as it was in Hamilton, I would also feel differently. In that city, too, lots of people know what a Free Cedar rally is about; whether or not they support the cause, they recognize it. In Montréal, they absolutely don’t.
Montréal is a bilingual city, but there actually a lot of people who don’t speak English or who don’t speak it well, who won’t catch the message of English-language chants, and who won’t appreciate English-language banners – especially among the older francophones who were, in my estimation, the majority of people in the Village on Friday. People were calling for translations of slogans from terrasses, and I caught wind of a muttered “en français câlisse” more than once. In more ways than one, and certainly even in translation, our demo read hella anglo – especially once we ran out of flyers, and people had to chat with us to find out was happening. One fellow asked me if we were a group based at Concordia University.
Inasmuch as anyone living in Montréal, and not already deeply invested in the same things we are, is going to care about people they don’t know arrested in an antifa-style action somewhere on the far side of Toronto, it makes sense to think that they might be hanging out in the gay part of town. But if we want to do more solidarity actions in the future, we shouldn’t take for granted that we should do it again in the Village, at least not without answers to certain strategic questions.
First of all, how can we communicate effectively to people in the Gay Village, or anywhere else? This isn’t just about the language issue I already mentioned, because that’s a shitty thing to focus in on in particular (shaming or guilting other people about their language proficiencies is ableist, classist, and doesn’t do anything to improve anyone’s French whatsoever). It’s also about whether we chant A – Anti – Anti-capitaliste! or slogans against police, whether or not we our flyer has the word « Ontario » in « guillemets », whether or not we respect the rules of the road (shout out to when we just marched into avenue Papineau on a red light, near the beginning of the demo), and whether or not our mostly 20-and 30-something ectomorphic selves wear pink masks and cute outfits and eyeshadow and slowly sway in the street to young person music. Personally, I love publicly swaying to young person music and I thought a bunch of you looked hot, but for a lot of other folks, I suspect we collectively came off as conceited, cultish, and weird.
I believe a more multigenerational demo with a better capacity to communicate in French would go a long way to addressing this problem if there’s ever a next time. That’s easier said than done, of course!
The second question is whether or not the Gay Village is the best place for us to go in the first place, at least for a demo like this. Many of us, and that includesmy gay ass, have no special connection to that particular part of the city. We don’t live there, work there, or hang out there. The Village is an environment built around the desires and aggregate consumer behaviour of higher-income members of the LGBT community, be they tourists, condo dwellers, or café drinkers. There are a lot of other neighbourhoods in Montréal, none of which is fully “straight”, that most of us know better for one reason or another.
One of our goals was to tell people about our friend, with the hope that they will care and maybe even throw some money Hamilton’s way. Another goal was to work through our own emotions. In both respects, the Village wasn’t necessarily any better than a demo in another part of downtown or any of the neighbourhoods where we actually live.
ABOUT PINK MASKS
I don’t want to write for a long time about the importance of anonymity to any sustained anarchist project of intervention in social conflicts. Suffice it to say, though, that the state does its best to defend a monopoly on the use of violence – a term which, apparently, can be semantically abused to the point that deployment of the Black Hole at the outskirts of Hamilton Pride 2019 can be defined as such. For this reason, if we want to make a habit of challenging the state, in word or in deed, we would do well to disassociate that activity from information that can be used to identify us.
Our solidarity demo on Friday didn’t necessarily need masks – and in fact, there’s a good argument to be made that the masks made us even less approachable than we would have been otherwise. But I think there was an opportunity for us to do what anarchists in Montréal have done in the past, which is to explain why we wear them and how it makes sense in the context of, for instance, queer and trans self-defense against bigots.
Cedar, and perhaps one or both of the other prisoners, could be in jail for awhile. There could be future arrests, too, or other consequences that may not be publicized as much. This demands that we keep finding the time to talk about the situation, to make sure we know what our friends need and want from us, and to reflect on whether our own practices are succeeding as we want them to. Our solidarity needs to be serious and sustained, not just spectacular. It needs to improve our own capacities, too. And we all knew that already, but reminders can be nice!
Fuck the haters, freedom for all prisoners, and big ups from Montréal to all the fighters in Hamilton.
– one more anarchist, Sunday, June 30, 2019