The Occupy Wall Street action has come to Victoria Square and the towers of the Montreal stock exchange. The peaceful hum coming off the Montreal occupation is in dramatic contrast to the forgotten bombing of Montreal’s stock exchange. On February 13, 1969, the Front de Libération du Quebec (FLQ) set off a massive bomb that injured 27 people and blew out the northeast wall overlooking the same square.
Now the peaceful occupiers are using tactics that totally eschew violence. They owe their developing strategy more to Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, than Che Guevara, the FLQ and other heroes of the sometimes violent 60s movements.
But the occupiers must be guarding carefully against infiltration. It’s clear that at least some of the violence during the G-20 in Toronto was the work of fifth columnists, undercover police infiltrators who bashed windows and set afire police cruisers as the riot squad made no attempt to stop them. Their aim was to discredit the demonstrators, but because they attacked so many middle-class white people, they in the long run discredited themselves.
Dick Gregory, an activist whose radical work goes back to the 60s, told the CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti this week that because so many of the Occupiers across the continent are those same middle-class white people, "they have the potential of bringing the whole system down. But they must make their protest unique."
From the look and feel of the Montreal protest, so far they are succeeding. I brought my two little girls to witness history. There were at least 1,000 people in a blustery rainy Victoria Square, of all ages and of a multitude of disparate views. It started with a call to action by the culture jammers at Adbusters magazine in Vancouver, and a call from Les Indignés in Europe. On Saturday there were demonstrations in 951 cities in 52 countries according to 15october.net.
The atmosphere in Montreal’s square was like a folk festival. The kids were invited to paint images on a big banner. My girls painted a rainbow. There was excellent food being given away for donations. It appeared well organized and clean in the camp of green and blue tarps and tents. There were ceramic wind chimes hanging from the branches of the maples overhead. At last count there were over 100 dome tents, and about 300 people staying in them, vowing to stay on until winter. The citizens of the tent city have banned music and noise after 11 p.m., and are cleaning up, and even composting. Every day there is a general assembly. It’s a kind of vox populi where decisions are made and everyone takes a turn at the mike for a short time to explain why they are there.
Times are very tough. Canada’s unemployment rate is officially between 7 and 8 percent, but is probably twice that, since many people have given up looking for work. The bankers deny it, but it sure feels like the Great Depression 2.0.
"We are the 99 percent" is a great unifying slogan. But so far there is no unifying list of demands from the thousands of people who have had enough of the status quo.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone is the guy with the unforgettable characterization of Goldman Sachs: "The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." He has come up with a pithy suggested action list for the U.S.: 1) Break up the monopolies; 2) pay for your own bailouts; 3) no public money for private lobbying; 4) change the way bankers get paid.
The toxic mortgages and their consequences have continued to ripple into Canada. One sign explained "Tu vas perdre tes REER matante" ("You are going to lose your RRSP auntie"). The funniest sign was one inspired by the British TV show Father Ted – in exaggeratedly polite language it said "Down with this sort of thing." "This sort of thing" would be greed and a radical reorganization of the economy so that the top 1 percent controls over 40 percent of the world’s wealth.
We didn’t have to bail out our banks because they are still regulated. But many Canadians need work. The list of demands for Canada is still not clear, but the people at the general assemblies at Victoria Square, now rechristened "La Place du people," will come up with something.
If I were an investment banker or a hedge fund manager I would be feeling a bit queasy. The best is yet to come.