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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2009 > June-July 2009 > Impressionist Journalism

Impressionist Journalism

Tuesday 21 July 2009, by Michael Ryan Wiseman

I impersonated a journalist at two events of citizen-driven activism and the following is my impression of the proceedings as the mucous of apathy and cirrostrati of lassitude that quotidianly cataract my mind’s eye were obliterated by the hot breath of tumult that rides alongside the voice of the people. You get the idea: people caring about their communities— sadly all-too novel a concept. Two approaches, two different means with, for now at least, the same ends.

The first event is a good old fashion rally-march-squat. An autonomous, community-run social centre is the prize. Let’s go live to the scene. It’s misty. It ain’t warm. It ain’t cold either. The drum is the first sign. The police car is the second. They gather in hundreds, milling, perhaps trying to come to terms with the inherent contradiction of an oft-stereotyped philosophy. What direction do we march? Who decides?

A piece of advice as you lament the fact that your movement is being pigeon-holed and summarily dismissed as ‘just a bunch of anarchists’ while you speak eloquently— and persuasively— of being so much more, of being a non-profit, communal, and alternative form of neighbourhood development that can replace the expensive, homogenous, and myopic form that currently prevails: remove the A that has broken-through its encompassing circle from your flyers that outline your set of principles.

Flags. Bands. Medics. Medics? Prepared! Begin. Re-appropriate for the best, the greater good, the more the merrier. Strike up the band. Stilted. Tilted. Hauling. A U-Haul. They rented a U-Haul? I guess the system isn’t always so bad. It stops at an intersection. The band plays Bella Ciao. The police direct traffic.

A non-descript, vacant warehouse on Saint Patrick Street. Break the lock; no pick, use bolt cutters. A lot of things. None of them subtle. Is it working? Not yet. Always practice at home first. A dry run would’ve helped— it’s getting sticky. At last a breakthrough. Unload.

Saint Patrick, thou shalt not convert them. The snakes strike back. That was quick. But history doesn’t judge you on getting it, it judges you on if you hold it— offence is the easy part. Dance for the victory. Careful, you’re treading on eggshells so don’t count your chickens just yet. The next day, the police forcibly removed them from the premises.

This wasn’t a case of promised virtues falling prey to the passion of the moment, this day had been two years in the making. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. They say it has only just begun.

The second event is a good old fashion talk-talk-talk. Thousands gather for the 5th Annual Montreal Citizens’ Summit— a patchwork of community groups and concerned citizens cobble together declarations and policies over scores of presentations, seminars, and workshops. A stark contrast. Let’s talk.

A couple dozen of us in a sterile, no frills classroom— the discussion isn’t likewise uninspiring. At least it’s underground. Quite literally— there are no windows. Three Montreal-based activists discuss community-organizing techniques.

We are told that there are two principles: ‘resistance to’ and ‘building of’. It is never enough to be against something. You have to know what you are for. Metaphysical speculation and ontological philosophy aside, there are three keys to success.

The first is citizen action on the ground. From low to high visibility, from door-to-door awareness to street blockades. Get noticed. Get numbers. The second is timing— harness momentum, but be thoroughly prepared, meticulous. And the third¬— make contacts with the powerbase of the community and the establishment. Sometimes you need to make a ruckus and sometimes you need to submit a policy paper. They conclude that both are necessary, not least when, “We don’t have the police hitting us on the head— we have a bureaucracy drowning us.”

So, it’s pick your poison. Just be glad, I guess, that we have the choice and that so many are willing— unlike your idle correspondent— to choose.