Last night people from across Canada- and many other places in the world- came out into the streets and banged pots and pans in solidarity with the people of Quebec. What originally began as a student protest has now morphed into something much bigger after the Quebec government passed Bill 78, effectively outlawing the ability to assemble and protest in public.
Some have compared Bill 78 to a hidden version of the The War Measures Act, which was last utilized in the 1970s to combat the rebel/terrorist organization the FLQ, which was fighting for Quebec sovereignty. That time there was killings and bombings and murders. This time, not so much. I will say, as a quick but important aside, that one of the characteristics of the neoliberal state is increasing authoritarianism. This is something to be on the lookout for. And also to reject. Which is one of the reasons I was out in the street last night banging on my pot with vigor.
My friend Matt showed up at my place last night at 7:30pm, and we assembled our gear. Matt had on a Canada sweatshirt and I had on a red CBC jacket I use for work (which my dad won somewhere). We packed our pots and spoons and headed into the heart of downtown. I was really curious if there would be much of a turnout. But along the way we saw others heading in with their pots and pans too, so we started to get a good feeling. When we got to the art gallery it was heartening to see the throng of people, I would say around four hundred or more. [below image Vancouver, May 30, 2012]
The form of protest being used in Quebec- and recreated across Canada and elsewhere last night- has been dubbed casseroles, and it has a long history in both Europe and Quebec. It's also been used as a form of peaceful civil disobedience in many other places in the last fifty years, including Chile, Argentina, Spain and Iceland (in 2008).
It was good to experience last night why this is such an effective form of protest. First off, it's bloody good fun. Maybe it goes back to the fact that most of us banged on pots and pans as kids, or maybe it even goes further back to the power of ancient tribal rhythms (and it was fascinating to hear different rhythms spontaneously break out last night), but whatever the reason it's rather enjoyable making a ruckus like that with so many other people. Which ties to another part of its power- it makes one heck of a racket! Here's a short clip from the Vancouver rally last night for a sample:
There's also something very universal about it. First of all, almost everyone's got a pot, and it was actually rather humorous to see people with their kitchen gear out in the streets. I could just imagine the countless soups and stews that had been cooked in these vessels. There's also something about this form that brings out people of all ages; there's a certain inclusivity about it, and there's something extra powerful about walking alongside people of all ages. I feel good about any protest where some old lady is banging on her pot beside me.
[image on the right- Toronto, May 30, 2012]
Another thing about this form of protest- it's pretty funny. Seriously, the spectacle of hundreds or even thousands of people making a God awful clatter like your three year old did on the kitchen floor, it can't help but make you chuckle. As the group of us marched down city streets last night, with the police on motorbikes doing a good job of being one step ahead and blocking traffic, so many of the faces of onlookers were smiling. People in bars and restaurants stared with a fork in mid air and a smile on their face. Even the people in cars who had been temporarily blocked were having a good guffaw.
Above and beyond all this- or maybe because of it- I experienced a really moving form of human connection out there. I felt something similar on the first day of the Occupy movement too, when I marched through the streets with a great hodge podge of humans. What I'm about to say might sound strange, but I've mentioned it to a few people now and somehow they seemed to understand the essence of what I'm trying to express, so I'll try it again here. On these two days, the opening day of Occupy and then again last night for cassseroles, I felt that for the first in my life humanity was moving around me. That we were up and running. That some merry-go round of existence, call it the rat race, the daily routine or the Matrix, whatever, but this felt profoundly different, as though a bubble had burst and we'd collectively surfaced for air or awakened from a dream. Something felt palpably alive, molecular, chemical. And it felt connected. I experienced a feeling of wholeness in those moments, like you could've taken away everything I owned and I'd be perfectly happy. There was something in that feeling of unity and fellowship with all Others that felt as true, good and beautiful as anything I've experienced.
[above image Vancouver, May 30, 2012. below image, my pot and spoon when I got home :)]
The feeling has stayed with me all day, and as I've thought back to the night, or watched the videos being posted from across Canada and the rest of the world, I keep breaking out in these deep sobs. It isn't sadness, I don't know what it is really. It feels more like a great thaw. How long have I, have we, been starved of this? How deep has our separation from one another gone in this modern period, how long have we been in collective exile from one another, from the Earth, from ourselves? And what have we been doing to hide this pain?
I didn't want to just walk and clang beside folks last night, I wanted to look them in the eyes too. At last years integral community seminar, Stephan and Miriam had us start the afternoon group sessions in a giant circle, and we had to spend a few minutes just slowly looking around the circle at people straight in the eyes. Gawd what an irritating practice. I'm usually game to open up and push into new development and edges, but this practice was like an excoriating pad on that part of me that just wanted to hide. Not connect. Not look anyone in the eye with full open vulnerable soul. But I did it. And it got easier. Slowly. And I'm glad I did, because as we walked down the street I kept turning and looking at someone in the eyes and smiling, and they'd smile back, and their eyes were always twinkling, and it wasn't awkward, and we didn't look away, and we shared something unspoken. Yesterday, I felt like I'd seen the future, smelt it, heard it rustling and whispering in the trees.
I'll finish with this video that the filmmaker Ian MacKenzie shot last night and has already cut together. It beautifully captures a lot of what I've been trying to describe above. Godspeed to the people of Quebec and the whole-Earth-community as it slowly awakens.
Postscript- Schopenhauer's Foundation of Morals via Joseph Campbell
There's one other thing that's been coming up for as I reflect on this deep connection I felt out there, and on my emotional response all day today. I keep on hearing Schopenhauer's view of the source of the moral impulse, a view often repeated by Joseph Campbell. It's always resonated with me, and I think it's worth thinking about in terms of what happens in these moments of human solidarity and fellowship. Maybe in those moments we're being rendered increasingly diaphanous to the whole of which we've always been at one, but have forgotten. If that's so, God bless this growing recollection. Here's Joseph Campbell:
The great German philosopher Schopenhauer, in a magnificent essay on "The Foundation of Morality," treats of this transcendental spiritual experience. How is it, he asks, that an individual can so forget himself and his own safety that he will put himself and his life in jeopardy to save another from death or pain — as though that other's life were his own, that other's danger his own? Such a one is then acting, Schopenhauer answers, out of an instinctive recognition of the truth that he and that other in fact are one. He has been moved not from the lesser, secondary knowledge of himself as separate from others, but from an immediate experience of the greater, truer truth, that we are all one in the ground of our being. Schopenhauer's name for this motivation is "compassion," Mitleid, and he identifies it as the one and only inspiration of inherently moral action. It is founded, in his view, in a metaphysically valid insight. For a moment one is selfless, boundless, without ego.
And I have lately had occasion to think frequently of this word of Schopenhauer as I have watched on television newscasts of those heroic helicopter rescues, under fire in Vietnam, of young men wounded in enemy territory: their fellows, forgetful of their own safety, putting their young lives in peril as though the lives to be rescued were their own. There, I would say — if we are looking truly for an example in our day — is an authentic rendition of the labor of Love.