August 22 National Demonstration in Montreal
August 22 marked the five-month anniversary of the first national demonstration in March, which had held three hundred thousand and brought international attention to the movement. Members of CLASSE (Quebec’s largest student union) led the protest, which filled about 1.25 miles of Montreal’s downtown streets, lasted just over three hours, and held 100,000 marchers according to CLASSE’s estimates.
While the red square was still pinned to shirts in near ubiquity, the protesters varied widely on other apparel choices. Many donned “votez” pins, and held signs saying “Je Vote Pour___” with political parties like QS (Québec Solidaire) and PQ (Parti Quebecois) or phrases like “I vote with my heart,” scribbled in the blank with marker — in anticipation of the upcoming September 4th election.
Others donned all black and tore off any sign of a politician the march passed. If the sign was of the hated incumbent Liberal premier Jean Charest, it would likely be splattered with red paint and stomped on as well. The CLASSE march leaders would sometimes stop to let the black bloc conduct their political sacrilege. The marching congregation were likely to cheer during these ceremonies in support.
As for the passersby, a few Montrealers waved red flags from windows, and a bus driver honked and smiled. Others were capitalizing on the gathering, selling red t-shirts with Law 78 (the anti-assembly law condemned by the UN) circled and crossed out.
The march ended with several speakers who emphasized the continuing struggle, taking organizing into workplaces (amplified by a common protest refrain of the student-borne social movement,“Workers, students, same struggle!”). They also stressed an action on October 4 against neoliberalism. But without the movement’s charismatic spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Debois (who resigned last week), people’s attentions tended to wander to the many creative props used to protest. The crowd trickled out as the presentations ended.
It was a great march by most standards, but the settling realization that these monthly marches may be the (overt) remnants of Quebec’s longest running student-strike, at least for the coming fall semester, made the demonstration glumly mundane. Mundane, at least, for Montreal.