How to Build a Revolution

One Week Later, Occupy Montreal Holds Fast

Photo Peter Haeghaert

Braving the bitter cold, rain and hail that many thought would dissuade the Montreal version of the massive, worldwide protest Occupy Wall Street, over 200 tents have stayed pitched in Victoria Square over the last week—and the occupiers aren’t going anywhere.

A structure has sprung up, and a sophisticated internal organization has emerged within the park that is taking care of security, food, health care, water and electricity—as well as sowing the seeds for revolution.

“The value of this space is twofold,” explained Concordia philosophy student Laura Alexandra Boyd-Clowes, who has become an unofficial media-liaison for the movement over the occupation due to the number of interviews she’s done.

“One is that it is its own microcosm for the world we’d like to see replaced—a de-centralized but organized beautiful mass of people—and the second thing is, because of a lot of education needs to happen, […] we’ve been working together to make sure our duties as democratic citizens are being fulfilled as we are learning to understand the roots of what is going on in our society.”

Standing beside a massive amount of donations that included blankets, warm clothing, information pamphlets and books, Boyd-Clowes said the outpouring shows that Montreal wants this occupation to succeed.

Calling the local occupation ‘magical,’ Boyd-Clowes explained that the people who have been living in Victoria Square are attempting to personify that famous Mahatma Gandhi quote and be the change they wish to see in the world, while educating people about the issues that brought them to camp out in the park at the same time.

The momentum, in Montreal at least, is catching on—the movement has grown so large that there’s talk of taking over a second park.

“We need to vote on that in a general assembly for sure,” she explained, talking about the consensus-based meetings that take place daily. “But it’s important that we’re taking up a lot of space. For the first time, it’s not about virtual political engagement. Taking physical space is hard to ignore.”

There are a limited number of parks close to the banking and business district, however, a fact that acts as “a whole critique on how our cities are designed in the first place,” maintained Boyd-Clowes. “[City planning] doesn’t lend itself to assembly or democratic engagement, or connection between people.”

Occupy Montreal, on the other hand, does.

The leaps and bounds the Occupy Montreal contingent has made over the last week is nothing short of impressive. With two generators running, an Internet connection, and hot food and drinks being served 24/7, it’s a volunteer-run operation that shows no signs of slowing.

Even with the approaching cold, the consensus of the group is that they are here to stay as long as it is necessary to maintain the occupation. A committee has already been making arrangements with the fire department about the possibility of having small fires throughout the winter, and other strategies for keeping warm are being discussed.

Besides the practical things required to keep Occupy Montreal alive, the people who camp and participate in collective agreements have also undergone a political and philosophical evolution of sorts. While standing primarily in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, Occupy Montreal has also seemingly welcomed a number of local causes under their banner.

“On one hand, we want to be as inclusive as possible. We have to accept a diversity of voices. It’s actually our biggest strength that we don’t have a top-down hierarchical ideology that imposes itself on people,” explained Boyd-Clowes.

While she doesn’t personally agree with all of the “extreme stuff” floating around the camp—mostly concerning conspiracy theories and “hardcore nationalism”—she does see the value of the radicalism that has inspired the revolution.

“What I’ve decided on, personally, is that every single person in Canada and the United States have had a flame of dissent burning in their hearts for a very long time,” she explained. “And now, all of a sudden, we have this opportunity, and the space to express our dissent.

“There are really ‘mainstream’ people that have come down and supported us because we have ignited that flame,” she continued. “[The Occupy movements] blew on a spark and […] what’s currently manifesting [itself] worldwide is the bigger fires of dissent that have been left smoldering for the last century. A lot of people have had enough.”

Taking a page from Michael Hardt—a professor of philosophy and politics who has written extensively about social uprising—Boyd-Clowes saw the Occupy Movement as the answer to the revolutionary question in North America.

“How do you have a revolution [here]? This is the answer. It’s symbolic. […] We live in a society of control, and it’s a very subtle control. It’s conscious and given to us every day. The facts are that we are symbolically controlled; our very tastes and values are controlled.”

The power of the Occupy movement worldwide, she said, is that it’s a re-awakening that provides a space for people to re-imagine modes of production and value.

“We’re waging a symbolic revolution,” she explained. “The medium is the message—this camp is the message.”

To the critics of Canadian-based Occupy movements, who say we don’t have the same banking crises, problems and inequalities like the states, Boyd-Clowes doesn’t mince words: “We have to wipe our own assholes.”

“Look, if America falls, the rest of the world is going to follow,” she said. “In a globalized economy, it doesn’t matter where you are, this critique can still apply.”

In the foreseeable future, Montreal’s Occupy camp is going to continue its course, keeping the dialogue alive. This camp can’t be the end of it, its spokesperson asserts. “The next step is a mass-awakening in consumer and corporate consciousness.”

With corporate suits coming down from their skyscrapers
during lunch breaks to bring coffee to the Occupiers, and even with the notoriously rough Montreal police force willing to turn a blind eye
to the camp’s lack of a permit, it seems as though the movement—for the moment, at least—is immovable.

Stay tuned next week for more coverage following the Occupy movement.