June 9, Saturday, Anti-sexism march and nighttime mayhem

At 5pm, activists gathered at Phillips Square for the anti-sexism demonstration. The manifestation was controversial among Montreal protesters because it explicitly advocated the abolition of sex work — prompting the moderator of the anti-capitalist CLAC (labor union association) listserv to issue an apology for disseminating information for the event.

The march stopped at various places to deliver speeches against Formula One’s chauvinist culture, like one at the Delta Centreville hotel, which condemned the business as a well-known spot for prostitutes to go with clients.

While the demo was aimed at Grand Prix sexism, the chants broadened immediately to anti-capitalism (“5, 6, 7, 8, organize and smash the state”) and police hatred (middle finger flaring and fake-German “orders”). At around 6:15pm, the police dispersed the relatively small protest in the dense downtown, making it nearly impossible to know who was a protester and who was a civilian being protected by the police — a situation some found laughable.

The demonstrators dissolved into the stream of tourists, passing by ample examples verifying their charges that fancy cars often go along with sexism.

The nightly 8:30pm march starting at Berri-UQAM was unusually large, festive (including fireworks), and directed — heading towards the same Grand Prix tourist area of the previous night’s clashes.

Clashes started early, with tear gas used just before 9:30pm to halt the demonstrators. The activists responded with peace signs, sit-ins, and dancing.

Protesters circumvented the march, streaming towards the Grand Prix events along various avenues. At 9:40pm, an apparently frustrated taxi driver rammed into the march, knocking three activists including an old man (http://p.twimg.com/Au_gLzWCMAEWaDD.jpg, photo by phil bonneville). By 10pm, the demonstrators had reached their destination at Crescent and St. Catherine. A group of black bloc protesters charged the police line, kicking off the clashes.

The police recovered and pursued individuals while pushing back the crowd in all directions. Still, damage had been done with three cop cars smashed and vandalized with tags like ACAB (“All Cops Are Bastards”).

By 10:15pm, the police force stood aimlessly, surrounded by a huge booing crowd. The island of police looked a bit foolish, standing in a circle just protecting themselves (a scene that prompted some tourists to pose for photos in front of them).

From 10:20pm to after 11pm, the cops repeatedly cleared St. Catherine and Montaigne, in what seemed like a grade school game of king-of-the-hill. The nervous-looking police had to help their own vehicles escape from the hostile crowd.

The wealthy tourists added tension by trying to exit the packed streets in fancy cars, including a black stretch  limousine. Many Formula One fans peered over the row of blue uniforms at the jeering protesters.

The protesters regained ground east, gathering again at St. Catherine and Crescent.  At 11:15pm, the police unleashed a series of measures to push people back, with multiple doses of pepper spray (a cop punched my camera and pepper sprayed me here as well).

For the next hour, the police would try to clear the streets as a massive crowd taunted them with Nazi salutes and occasionally threw things, including at least one glass bottle. The protesters sent mixed signals though, playing with a beach ball, singing and dancing, and giving peace signs. The police reacted with smoke grenades, arrests, and paranoid targeting (a cop smashed an empty glass bottle onto the ground that an onlooker was holding).

It was a strange night.  At moments, one might have felt bad for the cops — often disorganized, sometimes outnumbered, constantly reminded of the resounding hatred for them. But mostly, their presence felt absurd and their strategy senseless. The police against protest feel like an army against terrorism. The army can take space, but combatants can disperse and reassemble. The army can arrest individuals, but that only strengthens a network. The army can occupy the whole territory, but that only broadens the resistance. Wiping the stinging snot from their noses, the citizens of Montreal went home, while the out-of-towners continued to party, getting excited for the next morning’s big event: The Grand Prix.

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