montreal’s “pots & pans protests”: love, hope & community

Yoga stops traffic in downtown Montreal, April 2012, in an action that may or may not have been connected to the ongoing students protests - but given that the instructor is wearing red, we can assume it was. (image via Facebook)

Last night I participated in my first casserole – the nightly “pots and pans protests” which are filling the streets of Montreal. My friend and I, armed with pots and wooden spoons, left her apartment just before 8pm and ventured into the streets.

I was full of apprehension and excitement. I had been out of town when the nightly demos started last week and had only heard accounts of the protests through my social media channels. The neighbourhood actions are a response to Bill 78, Quebec’s emergency measures to suppress the three-month long student demonstrations against tuition increases. Bill 78 restricts freedom of assembly or protest in public spaces without prior police approval.

While I’ve been an armchair supporter of the students, I haven’t felt close enough to the cause to take part in the protests. However, when new law was passed on May 18, I found myself feeling invigorated and connected. The “casserole movement” was started via a Facebook event invitation created by a Montrealer who was inspired by South American actions, and the idea, a safe and effective way for people to demonstrate opposition to a regressive law, spread through neighbourhoods around the city.

As we stepped into the quiet evening streets, I didn’t know what to expect. How do people know where to go? How do we find each other?

All we had to do was listen. And then follow the noise. We heard sounds coming from St. Viateur, the main drag in my neighbourhood, Mile End. People had gathered in front of Olympico, a popular Italian café, and they spilled off the sidewalks into the intersection.

Everybody was banging on pots and pans, smiles on their faces. The atmosphere was joyous and uplifting, despite a quiet police presence which framed the peaceful march. There were people of all ages, proving that what started as a student-led movement has extended beyond to anyone who values accessible education, social justice and basic democratic rights.

I wanted to be there for all the above reasons, but also for the pure celebratory joy of making noise in the streets and being part of a collective voice. I actually can’t even express how joyous and uplifting the casserole was. This video, filmed in my neighbourhood, does a better job of conveying the mood than anything I can write:

This is non-violent resistance in action.

When authorities tell us that we can’t come together in our own streets, what do we do? We reclaim our public spaces. We make noise with the most ordinary, common instruments found in every home. We join hands with our neighbours and stand up against oppressive, ineffective measures that threaten our civil liberties. And we do it with smiles on our faces.

After my neighbourhood march slowly thinned out, I hopped on my bike and found another march a few blocks south. This one was a little more boisterous than the first, and we walked dozens of blocks east, into a neighbourhood which I never go to. People waved from upper-storey windows, banged pots on their balconies or ran out of their homes to join the passing march. A garbage collector climbed on the hood of his truck and jumped up and down in solidarity – or perhaps just for the sheer joy of being able to make some noise mid-shift.

It doesn’t matter why. Just as it doesn’t matter why people are taking to the streets, whether they do or don’t support the students’ actions. Within all of us is a yearning for freedom and when this is threatened, we can’t help but react. If we’re able to do it as a collective whole, all the better.

On Rabble.ca, journalist Ethan Cox wrote:

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 neighbours they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbours 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.

Cox probably didn’t realize it at the time, but his writing reflects an inherently “yogic” quality. Love, hope, community – aren’t these the essential objectives of yoga? Aren’t they scattered through yoga class instructions, emblazoned on RT-shirts, co-opted in yoga studio marketing?

I catch glimmers of love and hope in my practice, and the extension of my yoga practice results in community and temporary feelings of interconnectedness. But what I felt on the streets last night was an amplification of the promise of yoga, an actual and authentic connection to something bigger and greater.

In a famous quote, Arundati Roy said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” In the middle of a casserole, I can hear her heart beating. It beats in rhythm with the collective breath. Her heartbeat is the sound of clanging pots and pans ringing through warm spring air.

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6 Comments

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  1. Beautifully written report on an inspiring phenomenon. Thanks for helping to keep the movement going and growing!

  2. I’ve been following the protest movement closely (i have so many student- and non student- friends who live in Montreal). I love this idea and I adore that protests around the country (and internationally!) are taking place in solidarity.

    I just wish Halifax would participate…. So much student debt (myself and with Andrew)- and i truly believe English Canada pays so much more because we haven’t learned the cultural value of peaceful protest and advocating for our needs.

  3. Very inspiring to read, thanks for sharing it.

    Bill 78 is reprehensible and it is disappointing that it was enacting, and more disappointing how the US press hasn’t covered it. (Of course, the US press hasn’t covered similar actions by the US….)

  4. Now people understand why as a youth, I loved being in a football crowd so much. Can you imagine being hundreds of miles away from home… singing, chanting and dancing in the streets and hugging complete strangers? This is what football watching was all about– a central place for the community to gather. Then the media found out about the hooliganism, and .01% of what actually happens in a crowd became known as the ‘normal’. Crowd dynamics and unity have a power that cannot really be described. When it is done carnavalesque atmosphere of fun an exuberance–there is such a thing as an ‘EMPATHY GLAND’ in all humans that suddenly starts releasing it’s juices. For a first hand example… the mines of Zimbabwe were unionized by football fans gathered at matches that were organized by mine captains in an effort to PREVENT unionization, hoping football would distract them. But they all got together! We can too.

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