Occasional Work

Casserole Contra Baton

Back on the streets of Montreal after a few weeks away, the most immediate and recognizable change in the student movement is the manif casseroles taking place each night in neighborhoods all over the city. Echoing the cacerolazo – used in Chile in 1971 during Salvador Allende’s rule in Chile, and then against Pinochet little more than a decade later – thousands of people armed with pots and pans emerge from their homes at 8 PM each evening to bang and clang and make as much noise as possible. These gatherings are illegal under Law 78, the provincial government’s emergency measure to quell the student uprising by limiting the protesters’ right to assemble. But they often morph into hours-long demonstrations and ad hoc neighborhood assemblies where citizens voice their concerns and listen in return.

Throughout the student strike, now more than one hundred days strong, an ongoing battle for control over sonic space has persisted. It is because the provincial government refused to listen to what the student leaders had to say about the tuition hikes that those same leaders called on students to make themselves heard on the streets. Once the amplitude of the protests reached a decibel deemed dangerous by the government, legions of riot cops were sent in to force those assembled to be silent. The frequent police brutality, and the provincial politicians’ continued disregard for it, only inspired greater numbers to gather in defiance. Thwarted by the escalating demonstrations, the Québec legislature then adopted Law 78, the antidemocratic law that represses the freedom of assembly, the freedom of expression, and the right to protest.

During the nightly student marches, riot cops beat their shields with their batons, in unison, before violently charging the assembled protesters. This is a well known intimidation tactic police use to magnify their presence. Montreal’s casserole protest is so effective because it seizes that aural space from the police in an act of civic reclamation. The state-sponsored weaponry of baton and shield are defused by otherwise innocuous domestic cookware. In the hands of the city’s residents – students, children, parents, and seniors alike – these simple utensils seem indomitable.

 

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Photo by Magdalena Olszanowski.
Originally published online by n+1, May 2012.