Montréal Contre-information
Montréal Contre-information
Montréal Contre-information

Let’s Attack Northvolt, Always, Everywhere

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Feb 282024
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

Anarchists again attacked the capitalist machine of destruction at the Northvolt site. Steel spikes were placed on the various paths used by the machinery. In addition, new nails were put into trees, this time without identifying them, to maximize the potential for destruction on the ecocidal machinery. The people who did the action are not afraid of getting caught. Even if they did, they would ask to be judged by their peers. By the spiny softshell turtles, little bitterns and copper redhorses. By all the species that die because the destruction of the planet is profitable as hell.

Indeed, to maintain capitalist economic growth, it takes bigger and bigger pitiful suburban bungalows and bigger and bigger cars. Meanwhile, we close our eyes and let ourselves be lulled by the nursery rhymes of capitalists who claim that electric cars reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under the hypocritical pretext of environmental protection, the State and its friends of industry are attempting a desperate rescue of the automobile industry. For it to survive after 2035, the time when the feds will ban the sale of gas cars, they are replacing gas cars with electric cars. Governments then manage to reduce the price of electric cars, through direct and indirect subsidies, so that they remain accessible to the middle class. In short, the battery sector is the plundering of green funds by governments to finance economic growth, to allow the automobile industry to survive the climate changes it has caused. The development of the battery sector is so that we continue to live in noisy, unpleasant, dangerous cities, where city centers have been transformed into highways and parking lots. Anarchists want no part of this world, and that’s why they wanted to grind an extra shovelful of sand into its gears.

And we must remember that it is only in the city that the electric car can claim to be green. All around, there are mines, always on indigenous lands, all over the world. It’s the toxic Rouyn-Noranda refinery. It’s the extensions of ports along the St. Lawrence River. From Africa to South America, it’s executions of trade unionists and defenders of nature carried out in the name of Canadian mining companies. By defending nature here, we do not risk death. Using our privileges to defend the most vulnerable means taking action here. This is a problem caused by white people, and it’s about time we took responsibility.

It was a sad time to take action. At the Northvolt site, barely a few trees remain, including those that were identified as having been the target of spiking last time. This shows that direct action works. Indeed, these nails have probably done more for the protection of biodiversity than COP15, and the whole string of other COPs. We clearly see in action the ridiculous compensation mechanisms for biodiversity: on the one hand, mass deforestation, while in 4-5-6 years, or when they have time, they’ll plant a monoculture of black spruce on 20 hectares, an army of small trees in rows that will be cut down – enough to make toilet paper barely strong enough to wipe yourself with — don’t ask why your fingers go right through it. On the one hand, backfilling wetlands, while in 4-5-6 years, or when they have time, they’ll dig a hole in a patch of sand and put two or three fish and algae there, and give themselves a pat on the back. They’ll create a pond somewhere else for the animals that have already been lost. Dead animals in a puddle are a soup at best and can never compensate for a living ecosystem. And that is if there is actually compensation, because it is the first thing that will be cut if profitability is threatened.

The fight against Northvolt has only just begun. There are still 2 years left before the plant enters service. The profit margins will not be extravagant. Security, public relations and crisis management costs are already starting to pile up. Already, the company’s image is seriously damaged, and it’s a safe bet that investors will become disillusioned. There are still 2 years left to fight, and the enemy is vulnerable. We can still enter the property like a sieve: they cannot protect over a square kilometer with some rusty fences and a stationary security guard playing 2048 and sleeping in his car. Subcontractors risk reconsidering their relationships given the dangers involved. We must not let them go. The Northvolt site had been ransacked for the CIL factory, but nature took back its rights. Let’s continue the fight until life returns.

Call to Action Against the “Comité de Sages”

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Feb 122024
 

From We Will Not Stay Quiet!

The CAQ has shamefully given in to transphobic organizers and decided to appoint a “committee of wisemen,” who will decide the future of trans and non-binary communities. We demand the immediate dissolution of this committee, because: 

This committee is made up exclusively of cis (non-trans) people, who don’t even have academic or outreach experience with trans people. The majority are also known to be affiliated with transphobic groups. All this is based on the presumption that trans and non-binary people are incapable of being “wise,” reasonable, and impartial. We demand the recognition of the lived experiences and academic knowledge of 2SLGBTQ+ communities; we demand our self-determination! 

The existence of this committee is intended to legitimize the demands of the right and transphobic far-right. Pandering to their demands, the government has chosen to put all progress for trans communities on pause. It is doing so in defiance of its own institution, ignoring the existence of the Bureau to Combat Homophobia and Transphobia and its action plan. This is not the first time the CAQ has attacked trans communities: we remember Bill 2. We will continue to defend ourselves against this transphobic government!

This committee aims to question the legitimacy of trans people and make us objects of debate in the public discourse. This kind of media framing has always resulted in increased violence and hate crimes against trans and gender non-conforming people. The “trans problem” does not exist: our existence is not up for debate. We will continue to fight for the safety and dignity of trans and non-binary people!

The creation of this committee is part of the international backlash against 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Conservative agitators are mobilizing their base by portraying trans people as a danger to children. Neither gay people, nor drag queens, nor trans people are a danger to youth. Rather, it is authoritarian and intolerant adults who endanger the well-being of children. We will continue to fight for a world in which all children feel free to express themselves and thrive without fear or judgment!

This committee is influenced by a reactionary movement that calls itself feminist, claiming that trans women present a danger to cis women. On the contrary, the liberation of trans women contributes to the liberation of all women. Fighting for bodily autonomy means fighting for access to hormones alongside fighting for access to abortion. We will continue to fight for a world free of patriarchy!

The government behind this committee is the same one attacking our healthcare and education systems. It’s the same government that attacks tenants’ rights. It’s the same government that attacks the religious freedom of minorities and opposes all peace efforts in Palestine. Our aim is to make this struggle one of solidarity, and to create a common front against the authoritarian and reactionary policies of those in power!

We demand trans liberation. In doing so, we aim to build a world that welcomes diversity and defends the right to bodily autonomy. We also want to create a society that supports people in exploring and affirming their gender. We believe that freeing ourselves from the imposition of strict gender binary is beneficial for the whole population, cis and trans alike. We will continue to fight for a world that does not sow discomfort, unease, and hatred, but nurtures joy and euphoria. 

We call for a movement against the CAQ and its committee of so-called “wisemen.” We call for self-organization by all those who want to fight transphobia. We invite you to form affinity groups, mobilize your orgs, and create regional committees. Through a diversity of tactics, we will make this government roll back its plans and build a better future for all!

Faced with this “comité de sages,” NOUS NE SERONS PAS SAGES — WE WILL NOT STAY QUIET

Distant Tower, Local Shadow

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Jan 032024
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

I guess it’s an e-zine now…

Thanks a great deal to those who helped me put it out in the world. I hope it will prove useful, to at least someone, in the dark days ahead. (It’s literally a week before winter solstice as I write this so I’m not even being dramatic.)

You will see (at least) one erroneous claim in this article. It is marked with an asterisk, like this.* The line was initially written before the United Nations general assembly vote calling for an immediate ceasefire on December 13. It turns out I was wrong, Canada will do that.

Most of this was written before November 15. It took a long time for it to get finished and polished up. It is by no means meant to amount to a “final position” on anything. The principal audience I have in mind are the people in my life, mostly anarchists or at least familiar with one anarchist scene or another in the Montréal area, with whom I sometimes find myself sharing space when people get together to talk about what is to be done, how it is to be done, etc.

My second audience is everyone participating in the Palestinian solidarity (Palsol), pro-Palestinian, and/or #FreePalestine movement as it exists in this city and region. This text is obviously not very accessible to a lot of people in that larger movement, but I hope it isn’t impenetrable, either. I owe these readers an actual anarchist analysis. It may not be a very good analysis (I guarantee someone thinks it is not a very good analysis), but it is rooted, not in an impulse towards promiscuous and performative solidarity, but anarchist reflections on the history of social movements in this city and anarchist perspectives on how to achieve anarchy, which presumably includes a free Palestine.

Events have kept on happening. On December 26, Boxing Day, people protested at malls in Montréal and Laval. 2024 is right around the corner, and on the world stage, I expect we will see further geopolitical breakdown, perhaps to a point that is unimaginable to most of us in the present moment. I don’t think that it’s crystal ball stuff to say the war in Palestine, in what a lot of Christians might think of as the Holy Land, will proceed, and that that will continue to motivate demonstrations and more disruptive actions here. I hope anarchists will figure out a way to usefully stay engaged not only with this movement, but also with the larger society—making the case for anarchy, the end of Canada, Israel, and all other states, and also taking action that concretely moves us in that direction.


A little over two years ago, I wrote a short article called “Noise, Flags, and Fists: Reflections on a Weekend in Downtown Montréal”. I present here the first paragraph in its entirety:

Since May 6 of this year [2021], apparently first with respect to the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute, there has been an intercommunal conflict between neighbours in ethnically mixed urban parts of occupied Palestine, from Jerusalem to Jaffa and beyond. Consequently, there has been an uneven exchange of bombs and rockets between the Israeli state and Hamas, the latter being the state authority in the small territory of Gaza. Where things will go in Palestine, I cannot say. I don’t pretend to have more than a Wikipedia-level understanding of the situation. I do not speak the relevant languages and am not trying to follow the news too closely anyway.

I think most of the analysis in the original holds up, but what you are reading now is, I suppose, the necessary sequel for 2023—and for a second time, I do not want to be detained by the move-by-move, the daily events, in Palestine. I have a more definite idea, today, that is based on a pretty bleak understanding of geopolitical reality, and not the hopeful message (“from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”) that people are chanting in the streets. But what I think about the situation in Palestine is really without much value. No one over there gives a single fuck about what some anarchist in Montréal thinks about anything.

If I have anything to contribute to the current moment, to any worthwhile project of alleviating suffering or realizing a minimally humane future (never mind, I dunno, achieving anarchy), it will be based on analyzing what is happening here, in Montréal, and how people much like myself (but, of course, never exactly like myself) might engage with the solidarity movement that has made so much happen here (in Montréal as well as across North America and the world) over the last several weeks.

About myself: I am a white guy living in Canada. I mention this first because race is a pretty good candidate for being the defining character of political order in North America (that is, the dominant culture of the settler societies of the United States and Canada). With respect to local concerns, especially the linguistic situation and the political scene, I am an immigrant to Montréal and “Québec society” (albeit an immigrant already bestowed with Canadian citizenship, so not subject to the federal state’s anti-migration policies), I am an anglophone, and I am an anarchist. I do not speak Arabic and I don’t have very close relationships, on the whole, with people who can speak that language. All of this places me outside of Palsol as it exists in Montréal, which is a movement principally of people of colour, in which white people are a small minority, possibly outnumbered by participants whose family roots are principally in South Asia, Africa, Latin America, or communities indigenous to this continent. As regards people like me, urbanite descendants of European settlers who arrived before (arbitrarily) 1950, I am additionally a minority because—whereas lots of these folks are normal social democrats, in the Lenin(-Trotsky-Mao) fandom, or simply Christians who think they’re leftists and/or revolutionaries—I am not any of those things.

Civility and direct action

The activity of the local Palsol movement has been overwhelmingly civil since October 7. What I mean is that what has happened has been, for the most part, remarkably nonviolent. There has been no indication that local actions aimed at intimidating Jews are widely supported in the movement except by a probable minority of certain bad actors and/or idiots.

The local chapter of the Palestinian Youth Movement (henceforth PYM) has been at the forefront of most of the big events here. They are an international political organization (North America-wide and with at least some chapters in Europe and elsewhere) with some kind of non-profit structure, and they have been around since at least 2021. PYM marshals in Montréal have done their best, as far as I have seen between October 13 to November 4 (when I last made it out to a big demonstration), to prevent youth from smashing, or even merely tagging, the windows of corporate buildings. Direct action at the big events has, thus far, mostly taken the form of blocking doors and sit-ins. In other words, these have not been drastically kinetic attacks against people or structures. It is quite clear to me, from where I stand with respect to the movement, that most participants are not particularly interested in direct action—or at least not in doing it themselves.

On November 4, PYM-associated marshals, who had previously acted to prevent people from getting close to Westmount Square (whose lower windows were smashed in 2021) were vastly outnumbered. The police did not have a cordon between the crowd and the building. If, the crowd or even a large number of people had really wanted to smash the glass at the Nouvelle Maison du Radio-Canada, they could have done so. But that’s not what happened. Despite a small amount of hectic energy at the front, a little graffiti and bright light, it was basically a family event, with most of the politically conscious adults probably liberal democrats of one kind or another. Keep in mind, too, that the babies, grandparents, aunties, and uncles had to be marshaled from Dorchester Square to where a “symbolically important” but nevertheless non-comprehensively disruptive direct action was taking place, pulled off by a predominantly Jewish cohort of activists.

There are elements within Palsol, of course, that are less inclined to civility, less beholden to it. I will not dwell on these elements, but it is worth noting that I offered a way for anarchists to understand this element in demographic and affective terms in 2021, which was based on my own observations then and in other riotous moments during the time that I’ve lived here. The present moment, it seems to me, offers fewer obvious opportunities (and let’s be clear: they were only scarcely available in 2021 as well!) for anything but the most charismatic, energetic, and socially intelligent of anarchists (insert your stereotype here) to make much headway in establishing a productive relationship with that element (blacker, browner, poorer, possibly less gay and okay with being that way, and very often teenage boys, which in 2023 means often means conspiracy theorists and male chauvinists)—and this is before considering whether or not, even for those best-positioned to do so, this is actually the best place for “anarchists” or “you personally” to invest energy anyway.

The war is not going anywhere

And how different this comes off versus the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. To my mind, this is because compared to 2022, we are actually one step further into a process that I think it might actually be worth calling World War III (or, if you like a more Zapatista-inspired formulation, World War V or even VI).

Just about two years ago (yes, is that recent!), it took less than a month for most of society to move on and for pro-Ukrainian and/or anti-Russian demonstrations to cease to be anything but the weekend pastime of a very small cohort, notably including some local anarchists.

Why?

In Montréal, sentiment in favour of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was relatively marginal, and there have only ever been a small number of people (such as local Montréal political celebrity Yves Engler) who are personally animated to “confront the narrative” on this topic offered by, say, the CBC, The Globe and Mail, the Canadian government, and many an individual journalist with a pro-establishment bias. The thing is, Canada (fake concept but whatever) is actually broadly speaking more pro-Ukrainian, at the level of both the population and the government, than the society to the south. For reasons that shall not detain us, this is principally because of the electorally important and propertied constituency of middle-class Ukrainian-Canadians.

With respect to the Palestinian national cause, however, it’s different. Many Canadians, and more so those who possess citizenship and detached homes—the people for whom this country is built—don’t really have a fulsome concept of Palestinians at all. In many areas, many institutions, many constituencies, popular sympathy lies with the (Zionist?) oppressor. Otherwise, the most common attitude attitude probably remains indifference, even if there is obviously more pro-Palestinian sentiment in North American society, and more so the big multiethnic cities such as Montréal, than there probably ever has been before.

An (almost brief) aside: Zionism

When other people use the word “Zionist” in their slogans, their speeches, and their blog posts, I don’t consider that a very good choice, most of the time. Sometimes it is apparent to me that a person, for instance, is really just seething at Jews, that they are using code words that they (correctly, at least some extent) believe will conceal the true meaning of what they are saying. Other times, what I infer is going on is less calculating, yet just as dangerous: they don’t themselves know the difference between a “Zionist” and a “Jew” (or, additionally, an “Israeli”). Finally, even when people actually do know what they are talking about and what they are talking about is both real and a grave problem, it still seems like the word “Zionist” has put the emphasis of the critique in the wrong place. It’s dissonant.

I have, myself, used the word “Zionist” in past writings, and certainly in conversations with friends, and I hope I have always been clear as to what I meant when I did—but I expect not! I blather on, as much as anyone, about stuff I have no business talking about. So, just in case anyone was wondering, I think there is, in practice if not in theory, an irresolvable conflict between a project of Palestinian national self-determination, in whatever form, and the project of what I could call Actually Existing Zionism, but which I would rather just call Israel.

This preference of mine, for the word “Israel”, is not altogether unproblematic, of course. Perhaps the reader does not know that the word “Israel” has a range of semantic meanings in Jewish discourse, and is often used as a placeholder word in prayer, for instance, to refer to Jewish people (usually as a people). It’s a semantic tripwire, in other words, in the same way that blustering about “China” and “Mexico” might be absent any specification as to whether I am referring to the government, the people, or something more mercurial like, say, the culture, the civilization. It seems all too easy to start off by expressing legitimate outrage at atrocities that the Israeli state is committing in Palestine, atrocities that are indeed perpetrated by Jews (and some Druze, some ex-Soviet citizens who pretended to be Jews and/or their Israel-born children, some self-styled Zionist’s spouse eager to join the tribe, etc.—why even mention ethnicity, tho?), and find yourself falling face-flat into antisemitism.

This, in turn, provokes the impulse to just say, I guess I’m just gonna not worry about being antisemitic, they’re gonna call me antisemitic anyway. But that impulse is a mistake.

If you stop caring about whether or not you are antisemitic, you will probably be… antisemitic. The exact boundaries of what is antisemitic and what is not are going to remain a matter of subjective opinion for the foreseeable future—and it is important, I think, to oppose those who aim to close that discussion by fiat, for example those who wish to see governments and other powerful, socially coercive institutions adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition and make it official. But if we’re actually trying to stay relevant in our own society, to make our movements more powerful and achieve something like a revolution, then it is a strategic imperative that we don’t take a cavalier approach to antisemitism. Even if we assume (an ass of you and me, etc.) that a lot of the people who are “most affected” (fuck this banal cliché) by antisemitism have bad politics about Israel (!) and/or about literally anything else, the risks to our comrades who are also affected by antisemitism, of any kind, are more pressing. But additionally, antisemitism and like problems (Islamophobia, all the forms of racism and prejudice that don’t get their own word in the English language, etc.) are also strategic blunders. They have no tactical benefit for anything, neither for a project of national liberation (if you care about that) nor for anarchy.

For my part—outside of discussions where the people talking know what they’re talking about, which mostly means Jews (who, to be clear, also need to argue about Zionism with one another without schlubs like you or I sticking our noses in it too much)—I consider “Zionists” sort of problematic language. This is not a categorical condemnation of those who use that language. The way I see it, the vocabulary is simply itself confusing, arcane. Zion? Semites? Not everyone went to Bible study or linguistics school. The vocab’s density naturally gives rise to the kind of conspiratorial thinking that people will already gladly indulge in when it comes to their adversaries, be that their bitch ex-girlfriend or that cheating [yikes!] who lives down the street. A lot of people in a lot of countries, and including more than a handful of bozos in the Montréal region, perceive that their adversaries are some vague amalgam of Jews, Zionists, Israelis. So a lot of Jews if not all Jews; more or less all Zionists; any Israelis who aren’t anti-Israeli. And that mixes explosively with a particularly potent strain of thought in Christian civilization.

There are only a very few people involved in pro-Palestinian movements—or involved in any other movement where anarchists might walk with others—who actually lack the conceptual tools they need to come to a fulsome view of who, and what, the Real Enemy is (probably something like “capitalism”). But a lot of people do lack for other things.

For instance, patience. Who has the time to nearly 15,000 words on this stuff by some guy who can’t write?

Access to scholarship and good accounts of history are another thing.

Perhaps most importantly, a lot of people don’t have the same sensitivities to language that is characteristic of both liberals and bad faith critics.

Once, when I was locked up after a mass arrest at a big protest, I shared space in the jail with a random citizen, probably someone we’d’ve called “bourgeois” in 1875, who had been picked up too—wrong place, wrong time, and definitely wrong attitude. In the jail cell, he called the cops “faggots” a lot. When a fellow arrestee asked him to stop using that kind of language, because it was homophobic, he defended himself by saying that he would love to live in the gay part of town because it was actually very clean. Obviously this guy was some kind of homophobe, but I doubted very much that he was, like, an anti-LGBT Crusader who, by 2023, would believe that Donald the Trump is herald of the Storm. It was annoying because it was loud and repetitive, but I didn’t feel particularly queerbashed or in danger because of what he was yelling at the cops. I was much more afraid of the cops and I figured, well, if this guy stays in my life, I will eventually have the conversation with him. But I didn’t expect him to stay in my life for long.

Respect to this guy, frankly, for being angry and expressing it, even in his bougie problematic way. I too have indulged in arguing with and yelling at cops who’ve just arrested me (and it would be irresponsible to recommend it, because talking to cops in any form is how you get into trouble). But I wasn’t the only queer in jail that day, so kudos, too, to buddy who got him to shut up. Anyone in that cell with us was the person whose needs we needed to prioritize, not this random guy’s feelings that he should be able to yell at anyone exactly what he wants, as he wants.

I would caution anarchists, and especially those who aren’t Jewish (fuck a hard and fast rule, but still), from using the word “Zionist” very often, or at all, in their public discourse. In spite of the glimmering uniqueness of the concept, its history (shout out Theodore Herzl, you really went nutso with this one), and related topics (the Holy Land, the way that the history intersects with larger sagas of history like the Cold War, the War on Terrorism, whether or not there is a “clash of civilizations” going on), I think anarchists would do best to properly contextualize Zionism as nothing more than one nationalist creed among many, connected to a national state project that is one among many—and that should be enough to provide the basic elements to any analysis of the political situation over there.

[Okay, but what about Palestinians? Is there a risk here of asking Palestinians to lose one of the tools they have to describe their own oppression? The obvious counterargument to what you’re saying is, Why should Jews get to define the term “Zionism” any more than the people who suffer under it?—ed.]

I don’t expect anyone to do anything I say—and I respect that “Zionist” has a range of meanings, some less problematic than others, in non-anarchist discourse—but I do think there is a strategic deficit, in our local context, to writing “Zionist consulate” instead of “Israeli consulate” on a poster for a weekend demonstration, to give just one example. Of course, if there are Palestinian anarchists and/or their friends (and their “allies”) who have been active these past few months in the Montréal movement, who disagree with me about this, I do want to know what they have to say. As it stands for 2024, however, I’m just not sure the argument is finished with respect to how useful it is to make anti-Zionism (as opposed to opposition to ongoing on-air genocide) central to anarchist struggle in this city. △

This will be a hard pill to swallow, and I can already hear a very sober, very secular objection, namely that the Israeli state and/or the situation in Palestine is important to a degree that other regimes, other situations, are not. Numerous superlatives get conjoined to any discussion on this matter: the world’s largest open air prison, the closest ally of the United States, the most advanced military and surveillance technology, a laboratory for repression like no other, the hinge upon which the whole of world imperialism is seated. Yet I have to maintain that, here in Montréal, these generalities about the larger world situation do not change very much about how much anarchists (or you personally) should—or should not—engage with the conflict as it is actually playing out in our social context.

Frankly, the way I see it, the less that (most) anarchists and their friends think about “Israel” and “Zionism”, the better. Thinking about these concepts, which are comprehensively foreign to the experience of most people in Montréal and only conceivable through analogy (to local and secular evils like colonialism or, even less productively, the religious and paranoid evils that we can read about in the writings of long dead clerics, spies, and yes, revolutionaries), risks people getting caught up in a momentum that is not their own. Because—however useful anarchist involvement might be for achieving the goals of however valid a movement—I do not think this is the role of anarchists. It is better for us to think about our region, and how we can undermine, from here, the prevailing order of states (per Perlman’s appropriation, the Waste Land) in which Israel is simply a small part of a hellish whole.

[This completely excludes Palestinian anarchists & also other Arab anarchists (and also honestly a lot of Jewish anarchists) who have real material & personal ties to That Place. I know we disagree about internationalism and stuff, but this is gonna sounds kinda silly to a lot of folks with more personal stakes in that region. Like who is your actual audience here?—ed.]

The majority (of anarchists) in our region, who don’t have such connections. △

Striking a blow against—Israel? or something bigger?

About a year ago, there were demonstrations in Montréal (and many other places around the world, of course) against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Stephen Harper was still prime minister when Ottawa cut relations with Tehran 11 years ago. There is no Iranian consulate in Montréal, just various Iranians (ahem, people of Iranian descent), a certain number of them propertied Canadian citizens. There are no (obvious) business connections between Iran and Montréal, either. The intercontinental capitalist economy is complicated and difficult for capitalist states to police (when they even bother trying), so I am sure there is some Iranian in Iran who makes a little money thanks to commerce in Montréal. That being said, the public business environment here is not friendly, and any company that involves itself with Iran certainly won’t be able to access the far more important market of the United States. The Islamic Republic and the U.S. have been fighting a mostly cold war since the ayatollahs overthrew the U.S.-backed monarchy in Iran, the Pahlavi dynastic regime, nearly 50 years ago. Israel, quite naturally, has been involved in all of this since about the beginning, but that is beside the point.

Canada, in 2023, is a diplomatic ally of the United States and Israel. As a settler colony (but maybe not because it is a settler colony?), Canadian governments tend to walk in an even tighter ideological lockstep with other settler colonies than they do with governments in those European and Asian littoral countries that might otherwise factor into some conception of “the First World”. Whereas Brunei, Malaysia, the U.A.E., Qatar, France, and Spain will all occasionally criticize Israeli (and U.S.) policy in a moment like this, Canada’s just not going to do that.* The fact of Trudeau’s have-it-both-ways sputtering, which got Netanyahu posting at him, does not change my mind.

Anyway, back to the anti-Iranian protests. The thing about them is that, well, there are no targets anywhere in Canada (not just Montréal, but Canada) where one can directly attack, or even noisily protest, the Iranian government. We do not know where the Iranian espionage agents, if there are any, are shacked up. We do not even know where the pro-Iranian shills live (and I don’t want to know, because I’d be tempted to do something stupid). At least when the pro-Ukrainians want to do something a little more they kinetic (and I think this is a natural human response), they have the Russian consulate on Mount Royal and the occasional publicly announced peace rally featuring Yves Engler.

The demonstrations for “woman, life, freedom” in Montréal were not without value—but I think that, with regard to the struggle in Iran, they likely made the people there feel what I felt when I learned that, in 2012, there was a “red square” demonstration happening in New York City, in Toronto, in Zurich. To be clear, I felt nothing. At most, it was cool, and apparently some people were hyped up by it. But, what did it do for us?

There is at least one place in Montréal where someone pro-Palestinian might expect to find employees of the Israeli government and righteously grapple them—the Israeli consulate. It’s a few stories up at Westmount Square but it’s conceivable. Additionally, there are many well-documented linkages between local Montréal firms and not only Israel writ large, but specifically the Israeli military and its industries of repression. Single-issue activism using direct action and targeting “Israel”, the state and the settler-colonial project, is ontologically possible without leaving the island of Montréal. People can do more than grieve together and lobby the diplomats and political executives who determine “foreign policy”. They can actually, and more or less directly, attack the (specifically Israeli) war machine, even in a small way.

However, it is worth asking—why? I personally believe it is worth it just to do it, simply as a gesture, but I also think we ought to reflect on how little anarchists in Montréal have similarly endeavoured to directly attack other foreign governments. It certainly has happened: the Russian consulate, the Greek consulate, maybe a local fundraiser and social gathering for a French political party that exercises state power. But it’s rare.

I am heartened by attacks (preferably not against people, but against the economy) that, I believe, really do slow down the genocide and make the support of Israel’s just war by the Canadian state and Canadian industry more costly than anticipated. But, I personally don’t need the theme, namely “free Palestine”, to love the attacks, which are worthwhile in themselves. Perhaps this is very above-it-all and Stirnerian, but it seems to me that the greater value of Free Palestine-themed militancy in Montréal, however modest it is, is that it is militancy, and not that it is for a free Palestine. The best hope for everyone lies in attacks on the capitalist system, attacks that somehow multiply and succeed and usher in a new world. I don’t have my hopes up, and I think there are several procedural questions better left to people smarter and less jaded than myself, but I am certain that anarchists ought to be in the thick of it with whatever movements are presently pushing for a jailbreak from any prison—and Gaza certainly is a big prison.

We ought to walk with these movements, and that could look like marching along with Palestinian but mostly non-Palestinian, pro-Palestinian folks—but also challenging them to sharpen their analysis. It could look like supporting initiatives that emerge from the hard core of that movement—or taking our own initiatives, around the movement if not in it.

This is a universal prescription. It’s what I believed with respect to both the Freedom Convoy movement and the student strike of 2012. It is also what I believe of demonstrations on international themes of the kind that, more and more, make up the tapestry of political conflict in urban Canada.

In 2022, I thought simply showing up to the occupation in Ottawa was at least an idea, and not necessarily just a reflex. But it was not a very good idea. I thought at the time that showing a little more protagonism in the emergent project of negating the U.S.-Canada border, perhaps by organizing our own occupation, could have been more fruitful, if not necessarily realistic given anarchists’ capacities at the time—but unfortunately Russo-Ukrainian War phase II started up and helped to undercut that possibility.

Regarding 2012, I have more to say, but the most important takeaway is that the strategic imperative of sustaining the strike movement, which was never a revolutionary movement, was a pretty good guideline to follow in the spring. Later on, though, in the summer, it became something of a straitjacket on our imaginations—and by fall, the state had decisively regained control of the situation.

At some point, the interests of the student movement, principally defined by its social-democratic and Québécois nationalist character, diverged sharply from what revolution-minded anarchists in this city were trying to do.

Antisemitism

Before there were many anarchists in Russia, there were socialists, and what they believed was pretty different from the Marxist socialists that would become associated with Russia later. There are whole decades when what was happening in that country was a little more Christian and, frankly, a little more alien. For instance, there was the “to the people” movement of the 1860s, the narodniks.

A mistake that some of the narodniks made, for the record, is believing that pogroms against Jews—a popular activity, traditional even, in rural Russia, just as it had been elsewhere in Europe for hundreds of years previous—were somehow worth supporting, that a productive revolutionary alliance was possible between politically educated, literate activists from largely noble backgrounds and with underground connections, on the one hand, and the random people who lived in whichever comprehensively rustic locale. This would have to be a topic for another time, but it is important to know that it failed (it did not achieve socialist revolution) and that it was also a bad idea. Alas, the memory of this stupidity haunts the present, helping to make coherent an anti-revolutionary impulse among Jews even today.

[Except for all those Jews that embraced revolution as their best hope to get free, y’know? Especially with regard to the Russian Empire, but also here in the New World in the early 20th century.—ed.]

For sure, but a lot of Jews—like a lot of people of all ethnicities, as far as I can tell (shout out Colombians)—are categorically opposed to revolution, and certain histories are often cited as to why revolution doesn’t work in general or why it doesn’t work for “people like us”. △

I liked “10 Anarchist Theses on Palestine Solidarity in the United States”. It said a lot of what I had wanted to say, better than I could (and sooner too). I think it’s worth your time more than most other communiqués are—especially for friends who are, like, lost a bit—because it is quite orientating towards aspects of the situation that anarchists should be concentrating upon. But, I do have at least one problem with it, and that’s thesis #9. Before prescribing the “first step” for the Palsol movement (namely, to “make its position clear on Black liberation”), it reads as follows:

The ability of the Al-Aqsa Flood operation to overwhelm and overextend (if only for a moment) the Israeli State shows that the imperialist powers are not all powerful. The breaking of the Gaza wall is reminiscent of the destruction of the 3rd Precinct in Minneapolis. The struggle in Palestine should be a constant inspiration for us here in the United States.

I think this is kind of batshit (and this is hardly the most batshit take out there, far from it, which is a credit to the writers, who are at least trying to be serious and well-considered).

First off, I like to think that, before October 7, I was not personally convinced that Israel and/or other states were literally all powerful and immutable. Maybe it changed something, for someone, to see the colonizer bleed, but—are not we, the readers of anarchist counterinfo sites and/or people who’ve been at this more than a year or two, a little more mature than that?

The next thing is that Al-Aqsa Flood, a military operation carried out by… definitely not anarchists, simply has inspired people—so why this talk of “should”?

For myself, I think the struggle in Palestine should be a constant inspiration, but that requires inspiring things to be happening in the course of that struggle. Personally, I was not inspired by October 7. On the day itself, it just made me sad because I knew that more people were going to die, and it made me worried for people I know (and if you must know, I know more than Jews than Palestinians).

Now, if you delight in settlers, by one definition or another, bleeding and dying, then of course October 7, 2023, provided that in spades—but what I’m saying is, if that’s not where you’re at, it sparked different emotions.

I’m not writing this to scold anyone. Given the context of Israeli policy towards Palestinians has meant, and the larger context of how Israel fits into the nightmare of (among other things) U.S. imperial hegemony, it is pretty understandable—if not laudable—when people who identify with Palestinians more than I do to thought “yeah, get their ass” when they first saw the Hamas attack (and really, a refracted view of the attack, focusing for instance on the images of bulldozers and people driving through holes cut through in the barrier). Most people in most countries, and even a whole lot of people in Montréal, don’t know any Jews as friends, they certainly don’t know any “Zionists”, and so, if they stumble into the Geopolitical Events Fandom and they end up rooting for team Palestine, what they say will probably suck. Certainly in a different way than people supporting team Israel, but it’s still not helpful and it’s not worth worrying much about, either.

On March 11, 2004, after coordinated bombings on the Madrid commuter train network that killed nearly 200 people, Aragorn! of the Bay Area wrote “what [he] wish[ed he] had said on September 12, 2001”, from which I quote:

I am not going to tell you about how my eyes are running with tears because of all the children who will not be coming home to parents tonight. My eyes are dry. They are not dry because of the greater crimes of [Western] governments. Sure, their crimes are legend, but if I were to cry today about this one crime, what possible chance could I have to ever stop crying. This is the world I live in. If I am not going to burn myself to ash, I have to deal with yet another headline about consequences as exactly what it is—people died in the course of a total war where one side has very few options at its disposal with which to attack domination. […]

I don’t want to endorse, exactly, what A! said in 2004; I think a lot of his view is based on a bad reading of history. But, emotionally, this is where I’ve been at with October 7, personally. I don’t have it in me to care about what happened in the same way that some people in my life (and certainly many, many more who aren’t in my life!) cared about it.

This attitude, I think, serves anarchists better than the attitude of “drinking from the mug labeled ‘Zionist tears’” edgy internet meme bullshit—performative callousness for a parasocial audience, when it’s not glee about dead, kidnapped, widowed, and orphaned Israelis (and a lot of people from Southeast Asia too), again for a parasocial audience. This holds true even if we acknowledge that there has been some fudging of the numbers by this war’s very large PR machine, in plenty of cases working pro bono or on the non-Israeli taxpayer’s dime. Israelis are not Netanyahu. They are not the ultranationalists who pay good money to have kids sing a fucked-up song. They are people like you and I, and people like the Palestinians. Though they have nicer living conditions than the Palestinians do, and of course, they are under enormous pressure at every level to conform with the prevailing ultranationalism (which makes the story of those who refuse to serve in the IDF, such as most recently 18-year-old Tal Mitnick, all the more inspiring).

Acknowledging Israeli society’s ultranationalist character doesn’t need to mean dehumanizing anyone or dreaming about murdering them. That mentality, and certainly any ideology that would sanctify such action, only has value for soldiers, who may be told by their commanders that they are going to kill people today (and they might as well have a good time doing it, after all it’s a just cause). I’m an anarchist, not a soldier—and I don’t wish a soldier’s fate upon anyone.

Interlude: Fredy Perlman

In “The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism” (1984), F.P. wrote the following:

The varied utopias of poets and dreamers and the numerous “mythologies of the proletariat” have also failed; they have not proven themselves in practice; they have been nothing but hot air, pipe dreams, pies in the sky; the actual proletariat has been as racist as the bosses and the police. […]

The idea that an understanding of the genocide, that a memory of the holocausts, can only lead people to want to dismantle the system, is erroneous. The continuing appeal of nationalism suggests that the opposite is truer, namely that an understanding of genocide has led people to mobilize genocidal armies, that the memory of holocausts has led people to perpetrate holocausts. The sensitive poets who remembered the loss, the researchers who documented it, have been like the pure scientists who discovered the structure of the atom. Applied scientists used the discovery to split the atom’s nucleus, to produce weapons which can split every atom’s nucleus; Nationalists used the poetry to split and fuse human populations, to mobilize genocidal armies, to perpetrate new holocausts.

No doubt F.P., a child survivor of the Holocaust, had Israel chief in mind as an example of colonization and nationalism with various left-wing bona fides, as well as the hammer-and-sickle wavers in the streets of his own adopted country, the Great Lakes region of Turtle Island.

People’s movements

There is no barrier to entry for the populist movements, be they left populist or right populist, that have taken streets in Montréal since at least 2011. Some people may never join the erudite ranks of anarchists and many university-age activist cohorts—characterized by their long texts and overextended vocabularies, among other things—but they can join “the movement”. It’s cool, and a credit to antifa, that a well-known Nazi was identified and expelled from the Palsol demo on November 4, but there are definitely other people present with views that are, well, kinda not up to snuff, and we just don’t know about it because they’re not well-known Nazi clowns. My point is that the presence of these unsavoury elements, which exist in every social movement and indeed everywhere in society, do not in themselves constitute a reason that anarchists should not walk with the movement, either to check it out, to make connections, to spread ideas, or to do something else that is strategically advantageous. And indeed, if we did fear anti-Jewish pogroms in the local context (and as far as I’m concerned, they are not yet conceivable), that would necessitate a very close engagement indeed, in order to outmaneuver those factions that woulds seek to steer the local Palsol movement in such a direction.

Remember these episodes from the last decade or so: the sad and chilly camp/circus of Occupy Montréal; the neighbourhood assemblies that arose in 2012, mostly fading away soon after; the Freedom Convoy just over in Ottawa, in its own way; the march at the Olympic Stadium on May 1, 2021, or any of the other anti-mask, anti-vaccine demonstrations that snaked through Montréal’s streets in those days. Everyone who was weird enough to come, did so. I personally don’t think that the same is likely in the future of local Palsol, given the prominence of NGOs and disciplined reformists of all types (Leninists, Islamists, New Agers), but if it were to generalize—if it were too big for the police to control—we also wouldn’t be able to police it ourselves.

Prejudice and contempt towards Jews, often mixed in with other conspiracy theories, are still widespread in North America. Certainly Montréal has plenty of this shit. It was present at Occupy Montréal in 2011 and, quite naturally given what the issue is, it is also present in the pro-Palestinian movement today. It absolutely does not define the movement, as North Atlantic rightists and Israeli government officials insist, but it is a problem—and what it is the strategic logic in refusing to acknowledge that there is, has been at the past, or may in the future, be antisemitism in the pro-Palestinian movement?

I don’t really believe the pro-Palestinian movement is “the people”—but if I did, well, that would not be to its credit. If I could allow myself to take seriously the idea of these masses as some coherent collectivity, I would think that the people had been failed, constantly, so it is not surprising that the people are often misinformed about history and the problems of the world… which might mean they are antisemitic. And, for that matter, Islamophobic, if we are talking about Québec and plenty of other places across this continent.

But I don’t think about “the people”. I think about individuals, with their own lives, who could think or believe anything, and could potentially even go against the direction of the larger society.

Where do we lob the bricks?

I don’t have much to say here about direct action, other than that there is a difference between doing things, even spectacular and ostentatiously illegal things, in order to achieve a change in the Canadian government’s diplomatic stance and/or its military export policy, and doing things that disrupt the commercial activity and/or destroy the property of manufacturers and exporters that directly feed into the Israeli war machine.

The latter is direct action. The former is lobbying with bricks.

A close analysis of the rhetoric coming from North Atlantic governments is not worth writing, but over time, what major leaders have been saying has been gradually changing and it is trending more critical of Israel, more ostensibly supportive of Palestinians. This is clearly an example of the movement achieving some kind of results, slow and too feeble as they may seem to be. Lobbying with bricks worked in 2003, to some degree at least, in terms of discouraging several countries, Canada included, from joining in with the invasion force for Iraq. The Madrid train bombings, too, can be considered another form of the same strategy; days after A! wrote that “revolutionaries, of every stripe, have been remarkably, consistently, wrong about the consequences of their behavior,” the newly elected government in Spain announced that its military would withdraw from Iraq.

The method clearly works well enough within its own strategic paradigm. It does not work totally, but that is because, in real-world macrostrategic terms, no one actually knows what the effects of their actions are going to be. All anyone can do is calculate, predict, and (if we like) hedge. Yet, clearly, lobbying with bricks (spray paint, lockdowns, traffic disruptions, port blockades, school occupations, and threats to do more of the same and worse, seemingly enjoying the supportive of a larger movement that, gasp, might vote out a government) can move the needle towards one binary outcome or another.

“Lobbying with bricks” is a phrase I first heard with respect to the student movement in Québec—and this was in the period before 2012, when at least people believed that that the student strike of 2005 represented the very height that a 21st-century student movement in Québec was ever likely to reach.

The strategy, up to then, had worked: the student movement in Québec had effectively lobbied the government over the decades (certainly in comparison to students in anglophone provinces and the United States) and won the best deal for students in North America. It is worth noting, too, that ASSÉ was founded in 2003, that many student activists also organized and participated in demonstrations against the Iraq War. Canada’s military did not join up with the Bush-Blair crusade to topple Saddam and occupy Baghdad. That’s not nothing, if it really was the movement in the streets of Montréal and other cities that made that happen (rather than just Chrétien being a hippy). War, occupation, and counterinsurgency are all, to some degree, a numbers game, and Canadian forces were not on the ground in Iraq. Additionally, while resistance to the war in Canada was obviously pathetic overall (with unionized factory workers in southern Ontario gladly manufacturing tank parts for the U.S. military, for instance), in Montréal and the surrounding area, windows were smashed, slogans were spray painted, and I’m pretty sure some even Maoists lit something on fire and wrote a communiqué about it. Tame as it may seem in retrospect to us, sitting governments are sometimes scared of this sort of stuff, especially in a place like Québec (electorally important within Canada) where there is a long, somewhat complicated history of popular skepticism towards North Atlantic countries’ next big transoceanic military adventure.

The Palsol movement here, largely led by students as well as former student activists, is presently lobbying the Canadian government with bricks; there is no effort to lobby the Israeli government, and very little to bother even the ultimately consequential U.S. government, which may actually have a number of interests, both critical and minor, in our local context.

I expect students, ex-students, and long-term campus hang-arounds were, as a cohort, well-represented at the November 16 bridge blockade, the shutdown of the rails in Pointe-Saint-Charles on December 1, and indeed during the much larger PYM-organized demonstration that blocked the exit from Autoroute 10 on December 2. Actions like these piss a lot off commuters off, and for that reason, I think this specific kind of action is at least a little bit ill-advised in the present moment. That, however, is just my no-one-cares opinion—and besides, they are disruptive to the normal functioning of the capitalist economy, and that can cause crises (perhaps only small ones, but those can grow bigger) for important economic and political players. Kudos for that.

A lot of my friends talk about cycles—and recently people have been talking about the current cycle coming to an end, for example as an outcome of repression. It seems to me, however, that this little episode still has a lot of runway to it, whether anarchists would consciously try to be involved in the Palsol movement or not. The war is set to continue and it will continue to outrage people, so demonstrations and other expressions of rage and grief will continue. Additionally, since December 2, we can imagine that the PYM is moderately escalating its tactics after seeming, for a long time, like a force for conservatism and civility in the streets.

Diplomatic stance and military export policy—these are the targets of the Palsol movement in Montréal and Canada, just as spending on education, by the provincial government, was the target of the 2012 movement. The fact that many if not most of the people involved in direct action against the economy, or against particular sites determined to be concretely important to the war machine, have a different idea about what they are trying to do and why, does not change the fact that a liberal-democratic and “realist” consciousness prevails about what is possible and what is practically worthwhile. I don’t have much to say about this, except that anarchists (or those of us who are aiming for a social revolution) ought to engage with movements that actually exist in our society rather than waiting for a more comprehensively revolutionary consciousness to emerge.

It is clear enough, too, that the space of the movement is, in its own ways, affectively transformative in the same ways that any other protest wave in Montréal ever is. This will become doubly true now as the repression ramps up.

All of this amounts to a good reason for anarchists to be present in this movement. However, I do not believe tailing the movement amounts to much of a strategy. If I insist that “we” (whoever we are!) should participate, I mean that in the same way that we also should be talking to our neighbours about the value of a rent strike, providing accommodations for people who don’t have status, and spending our weekends smashing cameras. These are good ideas, but whether or not they are realistic, for you or me or anyone else, is kind of a different question altogether.

In other words, I have no prescriptions for useful activities. Anarchists are all different people, occupying different positions in the economy, more or less conversant or at home in certain crowds. It seems obvious to me, however, that local Arabic-speaking anarchists have a lot more to contribute to Palsol as it already exists, in a straightforward sense, than I probably do—and thanks to their familiarity with it, they are less likely to romanticize it or fear saying the wrong thing when they criticize it (and critique is definitely valuable). Ideally we’d let the Arabic-speaking anarchists do all the talking, but they are a minority in the local anarchist movement, there are certainly fewer of whichever tendency (a nihilist and a syndicalist walk into a bar…), and the project of the rest of us schlubs going out and trying to recruit a few dozen more is, um, weird as fuck. This leaves most anarchists on the outside, then, of a movement that is led principally by Palestinian youth (and/or various besties: Algerian, Haitian, Pakistani, etc.), in which French and English are not the only languages of influential political discourse, in which the average participant can look us once over or hear us speak and not really give have much of a fuck about what we have to say as soon as we get even slightly critical.

This situation, then, is not so different from the position of an anarchist who couldn’t speak French in 2012, but the problems are of a different magnitude. Most people in Montréal, and most anarchists certainly, don’t really have our own space, our own stake, within the pro-Palestinian movement; the Palestinian national cause is not our own. Some have argued that freedom for Palestinians will free the rest of us, and I kind of buy that, but only insofar as the struggle for Palestinians’ freedom is a struggle against prison society, against the Waste Land. Great, but, if that’s the case, this is my movement—which means I have to be to be honest when I have tactical disagreements with someone else.

But… it’s not my movement, is it? I certainly don’t feel like it is!

An important difference is that, unlike 2012, when the ethnic character of the adversary was nearly identical to the ethnic character of the protagonists (Québ-on-Québ violence), the pro-Palestinian movement is anti-Jewish to the extent that there is an adversarial social movement in Montréal that is “Zionist”—and the majority of people who will regularly come out to pro-Israeli demonstrations here, who will speak out in defense of Israel’s ongoing ground invasion, who have been putting up KIDNAPPED posters and other forms of propaganda that serve a pro-Israeli narrative since at least 2021 in fact, are Jewish. Hence, whenever there is next some conflict in the streets (when there are fisticuffs), it will typically look like countable Jewish people fighting together against countable non-Jewish people, and that’s typically what it will be, no matter how many anti-Zionist Jewish comrades we can round up.

Montréal knows ethnic tension, even if the history of violence among white settlers was mostly limited to bombings of property, not killings. (If this seems such a charming contrast to violence anywhere in the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Africa, or indeed Palestine over the last 30 years, please note the last major instance of race riots in the Montréal context in 1990 during the Defense of the Pines, the so-called “Oka Crisis”.) In this city’s popular history, anglo-franco divisions are usually at the fore, but Jews have been a major factor in Montréal’s ethnic politics for at least a century—and perhaps a critical public screening of The Apprenticeship of Dudley Kravitz (1974) would be edifying, for some, in the current moment.

My point is that important that there is a cultural substrate in Montréal, and in Québec and Canada both, and this subtrate interfaces dangerously with certain objective facts. Such facts include: many Canadian Jewish institutions, from synagogues to grocery stores (as well as some anarchists’ dads), actually do “support Israel” in one way or another. This is, to be clear, a bad thing, and I don’t want to suggest that it is ethically irrelevant. It is simply the case that I am skeptical that zealous attention to the consumer habits of Jews by non-Jews will be anything but a recipe for disaster. I think it is unlikely to help achieve a free Palestine in any meaningful sense. I also think that commercial targets (like Scotiabank and Indigo) are worth going after in a way that, well, a synagogue with a politically questionable billboard out front is not (even if that synagogue is in a high-income neighbourhood). Because otherwise, where do we draw the line on what “supporting Israel” means? Or what kind of consequences it should magnetize?

I didn’t like the poster I saw in the hallway of a synagogue once, promoting tourism in the Negev desert, showing off two blonde people with big backpacks. But… ok? There are many hallways with shitty posters in them in this world. There are many ghouls who yell at strangers and there are many cousins and old university friends with bad politics. This is the small stuff, and I can’t bear the burden of hating people because they are on the wrong side of history. Low-stakes forms of complicity with the existent, which may mean whichever conservative community, is not worth the emotional energy. Hence, unless your chosen strategic method for anarchy and/or a free Palestine includes a commitment to some pretty serious violence—like you’re taking a page from Czolgosz and Schwarzbard (or, in a different register, the commandos of Al-Aqsa Flood)—there is no reason to be a zealot.

As the posters you can see around Montréal campuses these days tell us, 2012 was a movement borne of a much longer history of student strikes in Québec, dating back to 1968. What that means is that, during that lovely season a little more 11 years ago, there was already a history to draw on. So, what history does Palsol in Montréal have to draw on? Well, there are movements for civil rights, both in Montréal and elsewhere; certainly the Palestine solidarity movement of 2023 bears similarities to Black Lives Matter as it manifested itself in the years between 2014 and 2020. There is also the example set by a variety of armed groups that have operated overseas during the last 30 years, largely theocratic, that have been at war what they have, very often, understood as a Christian-Zionist (and in the past, Soviet atheist) alliance.

But what I think that is really the most important, for more people in our society, is the tradition of thinking about Jews and/or using Jews as rhetorical objects, of articulating political quandaries through examination of various (often poorly understood) Jewish case studies. This discourse is passed on as part of a folk movement, one that has rarely needed any kind of consciously political dimension in order to attract believers and repeaters. So too the social technology of scapegoating, which in the present day may look like Jews holding the bag for the entire history of white supremacy and European colonialism.

[This is the MOST important thing right now???—ed.]

No, I definitely got carried away. △

A different view, from analogy: I never hated “French” people, as we called francophones where I was growing up—but my hometown didn’t have too many. When I went to college in a slightly bigger place near why I grew up, I met people who had had more daily interactions with francophones throughout their lives. As a rule, they detested francophones. Like, a lot, and quite a bit more than in my town, only a few hours further into the land of all anglophones. This was in a place where francophones were usually not landlords, usually not bosses, usually not politicians, usually not wealthy clients living in high price tag urban neighbourhoods, in other words usually not assholes whose shit some of us covet and/or who we think might be “doing a bad job”.

Montréal, in contrast, seems like a powder keg. Jews, and some Jews more than others, are in danger because some of their neighbours, employees, tenants, and violently antisemitic fellow family members also hate their guts, even before we think about Israel.

I like lobbying with bricks, well enough at least, when the target is the Canadian government and the Laurentian elite, e.g. the richest of the rich, denizens of the glitziest addresses in and around Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Charlevoix, and the Muskokas. Fuck a Scotiabank gala in other words. But, I wouldn’t advocate literal bricks most of the time. When and if I would, with respect to Jewish institutions (I’d name a few, but it doesn’t seem prudent), I’d personally prefer to see Jews doing the lobbing—and in broad daylight, too. They can wear keffiyehs if they want to. But yeah, at night, anonymously, with threatening letters to boot, it’s not cool, and it’s probably important for anarchists (the multiethnic lot of us) to say, loudly and clearly to our Jewish neighbours (even those who are sympathetic to extremely yawntime nationalistic versions of Jewish history for children and dads), that we will never think it’s cool.

Not even because a synagogue is a “sacred space” or something, but because intimidating Jews is not useful. Like, at all! For anything! Except scratching an itch that, I’m gonna just hazard to say, you’re better off not scratching. Maybe talk to a friend about that one.

[Okay, but the anonymous night attacks have not clearly come from the Palsol movement… Not to say they’re unrelated, but I’d just be careful to conflate them… And folks within the movement (at least some) have in fact spoken out against those attacks.—ed.]

If we’re talking about provocations that more closely resemble a bag of flaming dog poop left on someone’s front stoop, however, that shit is also happening to Jews in Montréal—and the motivations, both political and emotional, are similar whether the attack is serious/violent or moronic/infantile. Of course, what’s been happening to Palestinians, Muslims, and people who are just brown, who speak up on behalf of the Palestinian cause, has actually been worse (more widespread and awful), but what I’m getting applies in both situations. Anarchists should be able to say, We don’t think it’s cool, whatever the gravity of the situation. △

All of us should be engaged in a local struggle against everyone who oppresses us and exploits us here, which very much may mean people of your own ethnicity (unless you’re from a gold star never-oppressed-anyone ethnicity, congrats by the way), people of the dominant ethnic group (shout out to Québs, love y’all), and people of various ethnic minorities who end up collecting our rent, micromanaging us in this workplace, or not letting us do drugs in sight of their back alley balconies (shout out to Sikhs, Chinese people, Iranians, Portuguese people, East Europeans, and the LGBT community, fuck the homeowners). If such a struggle could generalize and blossom into a social revolution (perhaps in the context of a larger breakdown of geopolitical order and/or other social revolutions breaking out elsewhere), that would probably amount to something that looks like an “ethical foreign policy” among various other things.

The Montréal economy would not only secede, at least to a very large degree, from an entanglement with Israeli firms, but also with firms in capitalist countries the world over. Scientific research with practical applications for the development of weapons at local universities would cease. I presume we’d try to grow as much of our food as possible, and maybe Sabra hummus would be less present on local grocery shelves as a natural result of that, but so too Chilean wine, Canadian crude, Congolese metals.

Perhaps a few bricks need to be thrown in order to get where I’m aiming at. I do not think entrenched power concedes without a fight, that’s for sure. It is important to note that, in a still substantially Jewish city (of course, the population was once larger), that may mean fighting with a Jewish land developer or a local International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance booster once in awhile—and somehow we need to be able to do that without signaling, perhaps accidentally, that we think such a person needs to be murdered. The guillotine imagery used in anti-capitalist stuff here circa 15 years ago dances in my mind, and so too the image I have of pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 20th century and earlier, anti-Manchu pogroms in Qing Dynasty China in the same period, or later anti-Chinese pogroms in Indonesia, anti-Muslim pogroms in India, and other killing fields from Vietnam to Biafra.

Killing people indiscriminately does not work for anarchy—and even killing people very discriminately, like a targeted assassination of the tsar, still doesn’t have the intended effect most of the time. This is old news. We’ve known it awhile. More recent challenges to the contrary, from the eco-extremists say, have been unconvincing.

I will laugh when my Jewish landlord cries tears because I’m on a rent strike that will win because fuck him—but I will not laugh, never mind join in, when people light his house on fire with him in it. If this doesn’t seem very likely, well, it is my persistent belief that paradigms can change quickly and many presumed constants in our world are bound to change quickly again. I believe It Could Happen Here. I believe that a global famine, say, or another pandemic, or another major geopolitical crisis (Taiwan?), or simply some kind of completely unprecedented event (of the kind that are becoming more and more likely), could interface with ethnic violence that will not be liberating, in the final instance, but simply revolution-burying.

Some of my positions, I think, are a bit irreconcilable. Do I think it is cool to shoplift from Indigo? Clearly yes, because I have done it. Do I think it is cool to hurt the CEO in other ways? I don’t know! I probably do, on some level. I am pretty sure she sucks. (Prove me wrong, stranger!) What if I “found out” (rather than “made an educated guess”) that she and my landlord, someone else who sucks (because he is my landlord), are in some sense or another both supportive of Israel? Well, that would probably justify some of my worst impulses.

This logic leads inevitably to violence, of the kind that is both negative for me, the perpetrator (because I might go to jail and I, or my associates, might be subjected to various forms of vengeance), and of course the individuals who I will have attacked (or hell, even threatened to attack). But even more importantly, it also diminishes the chance of a social revolution (anytime soon) that could consign to history the hellish present.

I’d rather just convince Jews, one by one if necessary, that Israel is tacky, lame, dusty, and hot, that they should actually live in cold Montréal or German Berlin instead, and by the way, um, Israel is on the wrong side of history so please smarten up if you haven’t yet. But better than me saying this stuff, I’d prefer to leave that to my Jewish friends, who presumably aren’t gonna come off as Nazi-esque as myself in the eyes of Zeyde and Bubby.

As for me, I’ll write things—and perhaps I’ll come to the direct action, if I think it’ll help materially, not just symbolically.

The Holy Land is not holy, it’s just land

Individuals are, of course, shaped by their social context. So, what is the social context of someone who grows up as a citizen in a settler colony? Especially one who grows up on the front lines of conflict with a resentful subject people? It can’t be surprising that, in a hundred ways, Israelis have become fascists. Robustly democratic Israel (remember: Athens, the classical example of democracy, was a democracy only for its citizens) has not seen a complete purge of its leftists and its anarchists, but these movements are marginal in a context where even left-liberal and social-democratic forces are completely sidelined politically, lacking any influence on the direction of state policy or the progression of history. Those inclined to direct action against the war machine, or even mere boycott and dropout lifestylism, are even more marginal (and often in jail because they refused to be a part of the IDF); many leave the country.

For all the horror of Al-Aqsa Flood (made intentionally spectacular for propaganda broadcast, because the intention was clearly to provoke Israel into a clumsy and costly revenge operation, as well as to inspire similar actions around the world), the murdered, kidnapped, and displaced all make up a much smaller fraction of the Israeli population as a whole than those same groups within the Gaza territory. This is before we even consider the larger temporal context of the Nakba, the 1967 war, and resistance to normalization from all echelons of Palestinian society since the First Intifada onward. It is not surprising that Israel has been disrupted (school is out, for example), but nor is it surprising that commodities are still flowing and essential jobs are still being done. Yet, the situation on the ground could change on a dime. I am not making bets, but surely we should be prepared for a rapid paradigm shift of the kind that has become increasingly common in recent years. Geopolitical instability is the order of the day. As the Red Sea crisis expands, it is reasonably likely that a larger war could still break out between Israel and many of its neighbours. It is hard to imagine that death, injury, and loss of comfort and safety in Israel would equal that of Gaza (especially given that Gaza would no doubt be pummeled even harder in this scenario), but the pain would certainly increase in the event.

Regardless of what happens in the next weeks or months, I believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved, eventually, in one of three ways: a more general war as described above, in which the Israeli state is destroyed and/or a place like Cairo, Tehran, or Mecca is nuked; decolonization; or some kind of techno-apocalyptic scenario in which this petty bullshit is made a lot less relevant to everyone and anyone as, for instance, the oceans and then the air turn to literal poison.

Let’s talk about decolonization.

Without even mentioning all the famous pro-Israel lobby organizations, it is alleged by rightists like Elon Musk (who is also, not that paradoxically, an antisemite) and Suella Braverman that calls for “decolonization”, as well as the slogan “from the river to the sea”, indicate a desire to ethnically cleanse Jews from the land of Palestine.

I don’t like the sound of “ethnic cleansing”. It makes me think of the massacres of Bosniaks in the 1990s—and that is when this verbiage first came to prominence—and indeed of what settlers have been doing for years in the West Bank. But I can’t help but notice that, well, ethnic cleansing has pretty much been happening somewhere for my entire life, and somehow, some way, I always failed to care. Would that I am a better person, but I am not. And, if I can’t shed a tear for people killed today, I am less able to get weepy about obscure events from the past.

The past is also a place in which October 7 now rests.

Over 200 years ago, Haiti was ethnically cleansed of its French inhabitants in massacres that, in their ruthlessness, were not unlike what happened on October 7.

In Eastern Europe (which includes Greece), many people live in places that were once home to large urban Jewish communities. The same is true of many people living today in North African and Southwest Asian countries, from Tunisia to Iraq; the Jewish populations of these places disappeared in the 1940s and ‘50s as they became the targets of locals’ rage, which was a boon for the newly independent Israeli polity. Ethnic German across Europe communities were also ethnically cleansed in the aftermath of World War II, while in the heartlands of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991, those subjected to Stalin-era policies on national minorities would later fight wars that included commitment to the nation-state concept, that is an Armenia for Armenians, an Azerbaijan for Azeris, a Chechnya for Chechens, and so on.

We could argue that whites were ethnically cleansed in Zimbabwe after the victory of the anti-colonial forces in the 1980s, too, which is to say a variety of factors (the victory of the local anti-colonial forces, for one) made living where they live, on land that their ancestors had taken out of the control of the locals (whom they had often killed with their more advanced European guns), less comfortable for them than it had been up to then. Many “Rhodesians” as they called themselves (named after the principal architect of the British colonization of Africa, Cecil Rhodes) felt compelled to sell their land, possibly not for the price they would have wanted, and then immigrate to countries such as England, Australia, the United States, and Canada.

I haven’t yet heard anyone claiming that Jews are undergoing “ethnic cleansing” in modern France, but many of them have moved away since the Daesh-associated Hypercacher massacre of 2015 and similar attacks, to places like England, Québec, and Israel. We can see in the French example a combination of diffuse social pressure and targeted violence that the authorities, diplomatically and ideologically on the same page as Israel most of the time, are nevertheless unable to stop. At the same time, the violence has justified the expansion and entrenchment of a police state in France.

Finally, what is the phenomenon of gentrification, if not ethnic cleansing by less overtly violent means? Except when the means are indeed also overtly violent, as in the gentrification of East Jerusalem.

Rather than focusing on what to call what is happening over there, or what kinds of violence (which are scary and hard to always rationally contemplate) might break out here or anywhere as a result of any further events, it is worth considering on what some of the anticipated violence—in the form of general war, or anti-colonial resistance in all its myriad forms—will imply. One thing, that seems pertinent to me, is movement. When things get uncomfortable, if enough people have the means to leave, at least some of them will.

Where will people leaving the chaos go? And what do we believe will happen to them?

On October 29, a very confusing incident in Dagestan was reported out. Evidently, locals had tried to lynch, I guess, the passengers on a plane arriving from Tel Aviv, and there had been other antisemitic incidents in the North Caucasus. The details do not matter much to me; I bring it up because this is a good example of something that I hope does not happen in Montréal. If people are leaving Israel, fine. Sometimes people need to leave where they are and they have the means to do so. The relevant questions are, Where will they be housed? Does our society have the means to accommodate the people fleeing, and if it does, then what obstacles exist that prevent the adequate provisioning of resources to new arrivals?

[This section makes it sound a bit like those primarily at risk of ethnic cleansing are Israeli Jews rather than Gazans and that we need to mostly think about accommodating hypothetical Israeli refugees rather than actually existing Palestinian refugees.—ed.]

It should go without saying that the more likely event in Dorval is a plane of refugees arriving from Palestine, or perhaps folks from Lebanon fleeing an expanded Middle Eastern war. △

These questions preempt my worries about certain classes of refugees being unduly privileged by a racist Canadian immigration policy, for reasons that are too banal to list out. Like, to be clear, of course it is terrible that Canada’s policy (in the 2020s, not the 1920s) will favour Ukrainians and Israelis unduly over Africans, Asians (including Southwest Asians), and people from the southern part of our own hemisphere, but I am not principally concerned with changing that policy because that is actually outside of my power. I can lobby the government—by brick through bank window or by letter to parliamentary representative—to open the border completely to everyone, but that is a call that government executives are going to make about their policy. I can (try to) influence the decision with my actions, but I can’t make the decision (without getting elected to power myself).

What actually is in my power, as an irrelevant schmuck living in Montréal, is how I respond to what has happened already, what is happening right now, and what may happen perhaps sooner than I would anticipate.

For instance, consider this question: where the hell do people living in Palestine, be they Israeli, Palestinian, or something else, actually physically go? Assuming they don’t go wither in the desert, as Netanyahu’s governments plans for the Gazans, they might do as mostly anti-war, anti-Putin Russians have done in Georgia since 2022: move to a relatively prosperous and peaceful place, perhaps Montréal, and crowd locals out of their own spaces and drive up prices, potentially inflaming pre-existing local ethnic tensions. If the new arrivals are broke or close to it, they might receive government money and general societal good will in their new surroundings. Or, if the government coffers are just about depleted, as seems to be the case in the Canadian instance, it may be presumed that citizen taxpayers will not put up with paying the refugees’ living expenses. Hence we can imagine that, under a Poilievre government for example, Israelis will be expected to pay their own way and Palestinians won’t be let in at all.

All this shit is unpleasant and, frankly, it’s hopeless. Canada’s immigration policy is, and always has been, vile. Racism and the myths that reinforce it are omnipresent. Someone is going to be prime minister, and he (probably he) will not be a just philosopher-king (the authority of which anarchists would reject anyhow). So, I want to keep the eye on what anarchists in Montréal can actually affect—and, to the extent it matters, to keep our eyes focused squarely on what the central issues are in Palestine and, in fact, anywhere else.

People need housing in order to live, and there’s not enough of it; what does exist is controlled by rent seekers who are also often racists. Access to land, and to resources, necessary to provide housing, are restricted to some—citizens of certain countries, and generally those with full citizenship. Crises of unemployment, of homelessness, of insecurity, are addressed by governments with prisons, police, and punishing military options. A victory for “the people” on any of these fronts, in any country, would in theory if not necessarily in practice help “the people” everywhere. How can we help to make that happen?

Foreign affairs, foreign to (y)our experience

A friend who attends Concordia University, who goes to the downtown campus several times a week, tells me that even there, famous around the world as a North American campus that has been particularly rocked by the conflict, what is happening barely affects him. I don’t doubt that this is true. But of course, his experience is not universal. I live in the same city as he does, and on a hundred fronts—when I look at socials (I know I shouldn’t but I do), when I look at posters on my street (a more wholesome and outdoorsy pastime), when I talk to friends of mine who are also anarchists, when I talk to friends of mine who are also Concordia students, when I think about what is fruitful to do in this moment, in this place—the conflict can’t be ignored. (Okay, it couldn’t be ignored until Christmas rolled up.)

I don’t want to make too clean a distinction between the emotional dimension and the physical dimension. In the wider context of our region (about 4 million people in 2023), the tens of thousands, not yet hundreds of thousands of people, who have came out into the streets are still a small minority—and yet, in absolute terms, they have been doing the most disruptive shit in the streets for awhile. The sheer number of participants probably rivals, if not surpasses, the Shut Down Canada movement of early 2020, which also saw action in Montréal that was inspired, first and foremost, by a developing political situation in a distant land (albeit elsewhere on our continent). Most people involved on the Palsol side are not there for any crass financial reason, either, although let’s acknowledge that we might have to ask questions about the keffiyeh and Palestinian flag seller someday. In most cases, local pro-Palestinian folks have actual family connections, they have some kind of pan-national affiliation, they are a well-meaning humanist and/or communist of some kind, or they are a combination thereof, and that is what makes them identify with Palestinians in Palestine. Some kind of love, then, is certainly a more important factor in motivating people to walk with the Palsol movement than rage or hatred.

This is, incidentally, also true of people on the other side (whom I expect I, and perhaps you, will have to confront physically at some point sooner or later). At least one or two people in Montréal probably owns a property they’d like to retire to in the Galilee. The reason that person bought that condo is as emotional as the reason I chose to move to Montréal as a young person, and it probably has to do with love, with memory of love. And one component of love is connection. In a world in which ethnicity and religion have an iron grip on human imagination, most Montréalers, and certainly most of the anarchists here, don’t have that same kind of connection that can become a nationalist kind of love, be it Zionist or Palestinian, be it on the wrong side of history or the right.

And maybe that’s okay? To be aloof often offers a better perspective.

Alerta! Alerta!

When love interfaces with a zero game logic of fighting for land, for scarce resources, people kill each other. And people here have the potential to feel just as strongly about this stuff as anyone.

Obviously it’s on a different magnitude from the dazzling there of Palestine, or the curious then of 2021 when maybe there was something that looked like a riot here in Montréal if you just squinted right (and you had never been to a real riot). But it is really happening, right now—in a world that is increasingly unstable, in an economy that is increasingly depleted, generating widespread desperation and chaos.

In our region, some commuters have been blocked in traffic. Some protesters have been arrested; there have been house raids in Toronto and much hubbub about a teenager arrested on terrorism charges in Ottawa. Some janitors at Jewish institutions had to address bullet holes and SPVM investigations during their work shift. The war is ongoing. Palsol is too big to suppress, but the local pro-Israeli camp is also large; while it is not yet organized into much of a street movement, it certainly has the potential to do so.

Hence, I suspect we’re presently experiencing something more analogous to spring 2011 than spring 2012. We shouldn’t underestimate just how big this thing could get, even locally.

A round-up of other areas of possible examination

  1. Circa 2010, cops in Hamilton politically persecuted anarchists as such because it was alleged that their ideology, by definition, was anti-police—and I guess they felt, almost reasonably, that police are a protected class (because after all, they are a protected class, literally protected from prosecution in most cases for being unnecessarily violent). The very language of anti-hatred should be critically examined, and rejected, by anarchists. It would be fruitful to study how this discourse was used to redirect energy away from a critique of the French state and global inequities and exclusively towards the (obviously necessary) critique of the Front national and other “fascist” (more precisely, rightist and politically or subculturally “extreme”) elements in French society. It would also be fruitful to analyze the compromised position of an organization like Anti-Hate Canada, which is government-subsidized, and try to get people to think critically about which political rivals the incumbent government in Canada is willing to cast as hateful, why they do it, and how similar strategies can be used against social movements of all kinds, including our own and ones we broadly support.
  2. The ubiquity of social surveillance in the current moment, and the fading of a pandemic masked sociality into which criminality (which is among the politically valuable components of any social movement in history, and in some cases the only thing that’s good about it) could easily fade, requires serious analysis. I personally don’t feel like educating people in the Palestine solidarity movement about shit—not unless they care to ask me. But, others perhaps feel differently, and maybe they be more influential in arguing their points. Perhaps not to boomers and liberal democrats, but to hools and chill and/or vaguely radical people.
  3. Palestinian flags everywhere are corny as shit. I don’t think it should be cancelable (shout out Berlin/the German scene, what the fuck lol), but a national flag is a national flag. If you are literally trying to pretend that you are Palestinian (not what I would do, but I lie about being East European and francophone all the time, so who am I to judge), that’s one thing. But if you’re an anarchist, and incidentally also not (even) Palestinian… uh, does that compute? I think this might be performative. I think keffiyehs (which are not national flags) look pretty cool and I might get one someday, but seriously, what’s the point of telling the whole world “I am an anarchist” (literally never-heard-of-repression energy) and then waving a national flag. This just confuses people, or it makes you look like you are confused. (“Um, how can an anarchist support Palestine which is a…” We can expect this line of questioning as much from a fellow demonstrator in the free Palestine march as much as from someone’s white Canadian conservative dad, although the fellow demonstrator may be polite enough that he won’t say it publicly.)
  4. I was never a Rojava guy, and I must admit, I have lost track of events there in recent years. As far as I know, people still live there—and I want to hope that they have at least a few good things going on there, and it’s not too fucked up. The reason I bring it up is because Rojava, even if it was not utopia, had a few good things going on at the height of the revolution. Principal among these was that the flourishing of cultural production in the Kurdish language was almost never paired with a chauvinistic idea of Kurdistan for the Kurds; this was in sharp contrast to solidarity movements in the West that emphasized, and fetishized, a specifically Kurdish character to what has long officially been called North and East Syria. Whatever else you want to say about it, Öcalanism and/or democratic confederalism, as executed in the Rojava experiment, included very cogent critiques of national states, which is to say of categories like ethnicity and nationality, and their concrete expressions in law and technique as passports, borders, citizenship. Working out how one could apply a similar approach to the land of Palestine, historically always polyglot and multifaith, is a task best left to people presently living in Palestine. For us here in Montréal, however, it provides a potentially useful framework for our comparably diverse region, itself riven by conflict (from time to time) between different indigenous, settler, diasporic, and civic nationalisms. It also provides us a useful way to imagine what we think we would like to see in any other place.
  5. As far as geopolitics goes (and I do think it’s helpful for anarchists to have a good grasp of what’s coming down the pipeline), the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan may need a little more attention from anarchists. In 2020, Armenia lost a war to Azerbaijan, which ended when Russia, very late, intervened and helped to impose a very bad deal on the Armenians. In September of 2023, in a one-day operation, Azerbaijan, a close ally of Turkey and a client of the Israeli military technology industry, invaded Artsakh without Russian “peacekeepers” stationed in the region intervening. Artsakh, of course, was itself ethnically cleansed of Azeris decades earlier. The Armenians definitely did massacre a few hundreds (probably not a few thousands) of people during the break-up of the Soviet Union and the early 1990s—and yet the majority of people left voluntarily, despite the fact that may not have had anywhere else to go. In the present day, Azerbaijan’s president uses the term “Western Azerbaijan” to refer to the entire territory of the Republic of Armenia, not just the land occupied by a supposedly independent Artsakh; and this in a situation where Russia, Armenia’s military protector, is no longer willing or able to intervene in its defense, while Azerbaijan has emerged as both well-armed and well-connected. Some Israeli officials must have felt emboldened by Azerbaijan’s decisive annihilation of a perceived demographic and military problem through the use of ruthlessly applied kinetic force, mere weeks before Al-Aqsa Flood, a military operation that certain echelons of the Israeli security state knew Hamas had been planning, was executed with stunning success.

Back to Earth

I recently spoke to a friend who said she felt bad for not going to the FLIP demos, and that she was going to try to attend on Saturday, December 2. A Palsol demo was planned for the same day, as had been the case for every weekend since October 7 (up to at least the week of December 4, when I wrote this line). My friend said she felt that her attendance at a demonstration against Bill 31 might be more helpful than at the Palestine one. In her words, the war is going to happen whatever she does.

I’m not convinced that this is right way to think about these things. Our actions have effects; we can contribute to a movement that really can stop the genocide in Gaza—and preferably in such a way that we can head off horror in our local (or continental) context, of the kind that either 2024 or 2025 is likely to bring. The pertinent questions, for me, are how anarchists can build power so that we have the capacity to be influential in local social movements to come, without burning ourselves out and leaving ourselves weaker in the longer term. △

Photo: André Querry

Female Keep Separate: Prisons, Gender, and the Violence of Inclusion

 Comments Off on Female Keep Separate: Prisons, Gender, and the Violence of Inclusion
Dec 052023
 

Anonymous submission to North Shore Counter-Info

First, a warning: This text is written by and for queers and their friends. It is meant as part of a conversation around inclusion and identity where the validity of queer people isn’t in question. Anyone using this text to contribute to homo- or transphobia is a fucking goof.

***

When finally the cell door closes, when the jangling keys recede, you’ve arrived as far as you’re going that day. Then you can exhale alone with your mattress and be in your own body again, your body no longer a problem to be solved or a question to be answered. Just your own familiar weight under the blanket, where you can just shake and shake and try to sleep and get ready for whatever happens next.

I’ve done time in both men and women’s prisons, and from this I’ve learned a lot of things about the world we live in. About gender and how the state perceives it, about how gender is a form of control. Here in the territory called Canada, the state changed its rules about how its institutions engage with gender a few years ago by listing “gender identity” as a charter-protected category, like race or sex, in Bill C-16i. This meant that all the arms of the state have been required to figure out what it means to respect self-identification around gender.

In the stark, violent world of prison, the weakness of the liberal framework of gender is very clear. Canadian society officially approaches difference positively, through inclusion of diverse identities based on self-identification. This is in many ways the product of struggle, but we also have to be able to critique it to continue working towards a world without prison and the violence of gender. We will get into this more in a minute, but adopting the state’s purely positive understanding of gender identity can lead us to oversimplify our understanding of (hetero-)sexism and end up defending the state’s projects from reactionaries when we should be attacking them on our own terms.ii

Getting Identified

Prison is one of those rare remaining spaces where the state is openly involved in categorizing people by gender and exposing them to differentiated treatment on that basis. When I lay on that shitty mattress, I was in a cell in the seg unit of the women’s section of my local jail after having been identified as trans. I had been grilled about my gender and sexuality for about two hours until I was in tears, which felt horrible since I normally try to not show much to the guards.

On a human level, I don’t think their actions were at all malicious. The process was new, most of them hadn’t dealt with it before, and they probably don’t know any trans people. And a lot of it wasn’t the official questions – when the guard behind the desk paused to type something, one of the ones off to the side would chime in with curiosity, “So you won’t identify as anything, but do you like men or women? You gotta make up your mind.” Then the desk guard would continue, “So if you’re on suicide watch and we’ve taken your clothes away, who do you want to be watching you on camera, a male or a female?”

How do you identify. Identify yourself. There are two metal detectors leading to two different incarcerations, you need to identify yourself so we know which to use.

The pressure to identify had started just before dawn that day, not long after our door got kicked down and the flashbangs went off. I was zip tied naked under a sheet by a masked and armoured cop carrying an assault rifle, then a more normally dressed cop came in. He told me some charges, and then asked if I wanted a male or female cop to watch me get dressed. I said I didn’t care. He went and got a female cop and then cut the zip ties off. I sifted through my clothes for something both femmy and warm, then ignored their calls to hurry as I slapped on some makeup.

In the police station, I kept my face blank as the detective showed me pictures and documents and asked me questions. When the time came to get transferred to court, the court officers asked who should pat me down, a male or a female. I said I didn’t care. They said I had to answer. I said whoever wanted to could, I couldn’t stop them. They decided to have the male officer grope my bottom half and the female my top.

After court, I was loaded into a transport van, a single-prisoner box, classified as FKS, “Female Keep Separate”. A bunch of men were in the other boxes, and one of them started joking, calling me his girlfriend. We got moved one after the other into the men’s section of the jail, put in cells beside each other, and the joking continued. I nervously played along. I’ve been in men’s prison before, I sometimes got identified as gay there, but I looked pretty different at that time. The guards saw what was happening and pulled me out after a few minutes. They asked me where I wanted to be. I asked what my options were and they said probably men’s seg or women’s seg. The other prisoners were still talking about me. I said women’s. It was the first affirmation in answer to a question I’d given that day.

Constructing and affirming an identity, on instagram like in the interrogation room, is a way to get us talking. The prison has to be inclusive of gender diversity, and to be included is to be invited to participate: “Where do you want to be?” Should I be happy to be included in a prison, affirmed as a trans person, whatever that means? Of course I’m glad I didn’t experience more violence, but does this actually represent a win for those who have demanded inclusion?iii

It’s easy and nothing new to make critiques of inclusion, because there’s so much we’d rather ask for – I come from an anarchist tradition where that’s what the word “queer” means. It’s different to start from what inclusion feels like in our bodies though, how it shapes us. The ways that exclusion is violent are often obvious, but is there a violent dimension to inclusion too, something from which we rightly recoil?

A starting point then is to ask how the state sees gender. What does the word “woman” in the phrase “woman’s prison” mean? What are the consequences of being included as a woman in such a prison? How does the state understand “trans” and how does that understanding manifest itself through walls and bars?

Identity has two parts, a positive and a negative. The negative refers to oppression and violence, the positive to affirmation and belonging. I was first exposed to this distinction around blackness (I’m white) where “Black” refers at once to a history and ongoing experience of racist violence that produces certain people as Black, as well as an affirmation of a resilient identity, a shared struggle, and the culture that emerges from theseiv. A similar conversation is going on in my region around indigeneity and the role of lineage, culture, belonging, violence, racism, and struggle in forming those identities.

The discussion of trans inclusion and the state’s official discourse focuses heavily on the positive side, on affirmation — self-identification as a basis for membership in a recognized class of people (for me, women). But that positivity is just a veneer, which is especially obvious around prison where our positive affirmation, our self-identification, is precisely the thing that exposes us to identity’s negative side – the gendered violence of women’s prison.

Being Real

In the context of prison, women exist as an other. Prison is for men, the prisoner is male, even as the rate at which women are incarcerated continues to increase. In the context of patriarchy, to have a gender-blind prison would expose women to additional violence of a kind this society doesn’t officially endorse. So in a spirit of bourgeois equality, the prison system produces a separate institution for women, grouped together on the basis of an experience of sexual violence. When the state starts seeing its legitimacy threatened by queer and trans peoples’ experience of similar violence, they can be added to that existing category without having to fundamentally change what prison is.

Men and women are meaningful categories in as much as there is an experience of patriarchy distinct to each; transwoman may be a distinct identity in as much as it too has a specific relationship to the violence of patriarchyv. Prison then functions as a factory, sorting bodies, exposing them to differentiated treatment, and violently reproducing them as gendered beings in a world that requires such beings.

Separate is not equal. The way people are treated in women’s prison is not the same as in men’s prison. Some of this is to accommodate different needs – clothes with separate tops and bottoms instead of a jumpsuit, access to pads and tampons, more social workers, less emphasis on anger and more on trauma in programming. Some of it is clearly sexist and is the prison enforcing gender norms – strict dress codes and rules against touching, discouragement of exercise, low tolerance for conflict and fighting.

Beyond different treatment though, even things that are the same between men and women’s prisons don’t produce the same effect – standardized meal trays, visitation, surveillance and searches, the presence of both male and female guards. The two experiences of these identical features end up strikingly different. Lets quickly flesh out one example:

The men’s and women’s provincial prisons in Ontario get exactly the same food. In men’s prison, this is usually experienced as insufficient, in part because a big part of prisoner culture there is working out – it’s common for prisoners to be released fitter and more muscular than when they went in. In women’s prison, working out is strongly discouraged between prisoners and is sometimes even treated as a rule violation by guards. It’s normal for prisoners to quickly gain weight while having overall fitness erode due to enforced inactivity. Society as a whole treats fatness super differently for men and women, so this weight gain often comes along with shame and interacts with eating disorders or other mental health challenges.

The equal meals in a deeply unequal society produce a very negative impact overall on prisoners in women’s facilities – prison harms and controls as much by what it gives as what it takes away. In that way the women’s prison reproduces a specific vision of patriarchy through the forms of harm it causes and the toxic dynamics it encourages. We could make a similar analysis for how women’s experiences with sexual violence and objectification make the frequent strip searches more harmful, as well as the presence of male guards observing you at all times. Or how the intense restrictions around visits and phone calls interact with women prisoners having much less access to resources and outside support than do prisoners on the men’s side.

Continuing my story, I ended up in women’s seg at the end of that first day. Which is more or less the same as men’s seg, superficially at least. The cell is about the same size, the layout is the same, as are the strange rules about not being allowed shoes and the TVs out beyond your cell door having no volume. I did eventually end up on a regular women’s range with other prisoners the system considered women, but it took some time.

A lot of horrible things happen inside prisons. Most of it never emerges, never becomes visible to those outside. There are exceptions though, the most notable being death. Currently, provincial prisons in my area are restructuring themselves to reduce drug overdose deaths – this isn’t because they care about prisoners, but because having a body emerge as a corpse is unignorable. Therefore they’d prefer prisoners have no programs, no books, and no letters rather than risk fentanyl getting inside. Pregnancy is another thing that prison can’t hide.

In its business of sorting bodies, the prison considered my body to be a potential source of the violence women’s prison exists to avoid (or at least manage). In my early days of women’s seg, I was told I could only move out of there if I could prove that I couldn’t get an erection. I didn’t rise to the bait (no pun intended), so I don’t know what “proving” that would have entailed. But there are other ways that prison tries to satisfy itself that you aren’t a threat – they look at whether you’re taking hormones and what the doses are, they look at how you present inside and on road, at what you fight them for (“How many times will you beg at the window of your seg cell for a razor?”). They also assess how other prisoners react to you.

At one point, a sergeant came and told me I had ten minutes to get ready, I was going to visit a range. I resisted, saying I hadn’t been given a razor yet, so they brought me one but didn’t budge on the ten minutes. Fortunately I’d been in for a month by then and there were people sending me money, so I had already been able to get some makeup off canteen. So I rushed shaving with the shitty razor and dumped foundation over all the cuts before being marched over and deposited on a range with thirty other prisoners.

I’ve never experienced anything quite like walking on to a new range for the first time. The only thing that changes in prison from day to day is the people, so everyone scrutinizes each other, and new people especially are curiosities. You need to make yourself uninteresting, but I was clearly brought there to be a subject of conversation.

I was only on the range a few minutes for my “visit”. Some people talked to me, everyone looked, and then I was pulled off again. It was deeply awkward and embarrassing. I passed the test, which was later explained to me as being about the sound of my voice, if I tucked, how I looked and moved. I’m pretty small and I was told that helped too. The prisoners who the guards talked with agreed that I was “real”, and I was moved on to the range that night.

I’ve heard a lot of stories about “fake” transwomen. This might mean transwomen who didn’t pass, but usually meant those who were considered not to be making an effort to. I heard my fellow prisoners describe being assaulted or propositioned by transwomen while inside. I have no reason not to believe their experiences – we spent months together and got to know each other pretty well. A number of the people who told me these things were also the ones most welcoming to me personally. It seemed that scorn for “fake” transwomen was directly proportionate to how strongly my fellow prisoners felt that the “real” ones should be included.

“Real” transwomen don’t fight, yell in masculine voices, do pushups, or hit on women; on the other hand, “fake” transwomen like to bully, force their voice high except when its convenient to intimidate, don’t want a feminine body, and their sexuality is that of a straight man. It feels gross to repeat this narrative, which echos the worst anti-trans propaganda. I do believe though that in the context of prison, it was also a way that people who I know don’t hate transwomen were trying to keep each other safe.

The distinction between “real” and “fake” is even more garbage than gender itself, but I want to own the way I ended up playing into it. I was incarcerated three times over the course of a year and a half, and during that time I moved from femmy non-binary to trying my best to pass as a woman. In some ways this process was very fulfilling and is maybe what I would have done anyway. In other ways, a big part of my motivation was to not spend months and months in solitary confinement. I still understand my gender identity as being essentially coerced and I still try hard to pass, even though it’s been almost a year since I last heard a cell door slam shut.

However, I don’t think the problem is one of individual attitudes – not mine, not my fellow prisoners’, not even the guards’. I think the liberal understanding of gender as being purely positive is false and harmful, and I see this especially clearly in the prison system’s adoption of gender self-identification. I intend to dig into this in more detail, but I’ll have to circle back to it since first I’d like to tell a story I heard while I was inside.

Identity as Access

The state has a rule where it has to provide meals appropriate to religious diets, and the most complicated one is Kosher, since it’s not just a question of replacing one thing with something else. So Ontario prisons contract out for kosher meals, and they typically end up being of much higher quality than the standard fare. This means that prisoners are constantly trying to convince the institution they are Jewish in order to access the better food. The prisons are thus in the role of policing Jewish identity and throw up all sorts of blocks to people who are actually trying to meet religious needs.

I heard recently that a range in the adjacent men’s prison tried to solve that problem once and for all by bringing a human rights challenge in court about access to kosher meals. They argued that the dietary rules followed by Jewish people are also laid out in scripture honoured by other religions, so all devout people of the book should have access to food compliant with those rules. Their challenge was successful, and suddenly hundreds of prisoners were exercising their new-found right to kosher food. This caused the supply of kosher meals to collapse (or at least the budget the prison system had for them) and resulted in most Jewish prisoners being told to take the vegan diet, since kosher meals were scarce.

I have no idea if that story is true. I can’t find any record of it in google. But I’ve witnessed, both as a prisoner and as a person in solidarity, several moments where access to kosher food became a flashpoint for prisoner struggle in Canada, as a stand-in for better food for all. Even if this story is a fable, it highlights some dynamics of how change on the basis of identity occurs.

The prison system was forced to except an expanded definition of a recognized class of people and, because of this, to provide the accommodations associated with that class to many more prisoners. Both the system and the prisoners understood these accommodations as privileges, and obtaining them represented an improvement in conditions for many prisoners, along with an increased financial obligation for the institutions. The prison then transferred the burden onto another group of prisoners (in this case, Jewish prisoners who are observant on road) while moving to restrict access to the accommodation/privilege on a different basis, rather than challenging anyone’s identity.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but I’ll lay it out. The system is required to expand its policing of gender to accommodate self-identification, resulting in a greatly increased number of people who were assigned male at birth landing in women’s prisonvi. It also creates an easy pathway for anyone to move between men’s and women’ prison. The conditions in the two facilities are different, as I described above, and the basis of that difference is to reduce or manage the violence faced by people the system sees as women.

The violence in men’s prison, in Ontario like many other places, can be intense, and many people have reason to flee it, not just transwomen. The men’s prison system attempts to accommodate this need (because hospital visits, like corpses and babies, are products the prison has a harder time hiding) through Protective Custody (PC), which is basically the same as General Population (GP) except everyone there didn’t feel safe on a regular rangevii. Typically, a lot of queers end up in PC, but it is also where people accused of sex crimes or violence against children go, as well as people with too much conflict, who are in the wrong gang, who have a bad reputation, who were in law enforcement… Admission to PC is voluntary, prisoners just have to ask, but once you are in PC you can’t usually switch back. Over time, the result is that the numbers of prisoners in PC and GP get closer together, as do their levels of violence.

So where do people go who then need to escape the violence of PC? There has been an expansion in recent years of new forms of segregationviii. More and more queers were finding themselves doing all their time in seg. Ontario prisons are already overcrowded and this makes that worse, since these seg units often can’t be populated as densely and the prison system wants space there to use at its discretion. Trans people in particular usually end up being in a cell alone, instead of two or three to a cell, as is standard for others.

Being able to move trans people to a different institution where they be put on a regular range is thus partly a response to overcrowding. It also means that identifying as trans can give prisoners who may not have identified as trans otherwise an additional option to escape the choice between violence and isolation. I don’t think very many people do this wholly cynically – for many, it seems more similar to my process of moving from non-binary towards a way of presenting that more neatly fits the prison’s (as well as the broader society’s) understanding of a “real” (trans)woman. Add into this that prison violence disproportionately falls on those whose mental health makes them unable to conform to the rigid social environment, which is in turn a response to overcrowding and incarceration itself.ix

The pressure to identify your gender to the prison starts to resemble more and more the pressure to identify yourself to a cop who’s arresting you. It is an invitation to participate in having the process of controlling your body move smoothly, causing you the least physical harm. I remember myself crying in the intake room because it was no longer that I was refusing to tell them which gender boxes to tick, but that I just didn’t have the right kind of answers. In the end, I came up with an answer that got me what I needed at the end of that very long day – a safe place to sleepx.

Some people do identify as trans cynically, more like those prisoners fighting to be identified as observant people of the book so as to access the better kosher meals. This seems to be a very small minority. Regardless, women’s prison comes to operate as a kind of “super PC” for the prison system as a whole.

Always Against Prison

I spent a lot of time talking about this with other prisoners, both cis and trans. Maybe it’s not a problem that women’s prison is also the super PC. Coercion and violence is a part of identity anyway, so maybe its just up to the culture among prisoners in women’s prison to accommodate this shift. That is the liberal ideal no? that enlightened rulers determine peoples’ rights and then our freedom is limited only by the requirement to respect those rights? because oppression is just individual behaviour, yeah? So thank goodness the prison system put up copies of the GenderBread Person ™ poster on all the ranges in the women’s prison, so prisoners can educate themselves and keep the space safexi. I’m not joking, it’s right there next to the obligatory printout of our rights, a dozen pages behind a plastic panel whose characters are so small as to be illegible.

Everyone who cares about trans inclusion as a project, who struggled in the campaigns that were recuperated by the state and regurgitated as federal Bill C-16 should take an honest look at how their project has been taken up by the prison system. Seeing it in this grotesque form should challenge our analysis of gender and inclusion to become richer and more nuanced. Because self-identification as a basis for inclusion in prison is unsustainable. When there is an anti-trans backlash on a legislative level, you can be sure there will be no shortage of horror stories from prison to fuel the outrage.

This is not because some transwomen are “fake” and it is not because some transwomen reproduced predatory behaviour of a kind that ciswomen prisoners do too. It is obviously wrong to hold a whole group of people responsible for the fucked up things some individuals in that group do. The backlash will come because stapling a positive understanding of gender identity onto the prison system is totally inadequate.

It feels important to me that there be a critique of Bill C-16 and how it has been implemented that comes from queers and from people who carry a liberatory project — not just from opportunists who hate trans people, like Jordan Peterson. I don’t see the state as an agent of positive social change, but even those of you who do should ask yourself if we really have nothing to critique in C-16, as if Trudeau just got it perfect on his first try.

For those outside of Canada, perhaps seeing how liberal trans inclusion has played out here can be useful for avoiding some of the pitfalls that we have run into. It’s a subject for another day, but the starkness of prison might mean that analyzing how trans inclusion has played out there could reveal certain weaknesses with self-identification as the basis of gender in other spaces too.

There are a few ways the prison system might react to these contradictions, but first a quick story. There were a couple of queer guards I interacted with in the women’s prison. One was a transwoman who, while strip searching me, said “We’ve been making huge gains these last few years, things are getting better.” But the one I interacted with most regularly worked on my range and they were pretty friendly towards me. One day, they brutalized one of my friends by emptying a can of pepper spray into her eyes from an inch away while another guard held her down. We gave them a mean nickname based on the incident, and they complained to management to make us stop “bullying” them. Later they got top surgery and enthusiastically told me about it while I was standing in line for meds, and I regret that I ended up congratulating them.

The first way the system might react is by doubling down on improving its project of inclusion, fine tuning their trans policies and working out the kinks in implementation. I hope stories like this one can help convince us that their efforts in this direction have nothing to do with meeting out needs. I don’t care about the gender identity of the guard brutalizing me just like their accommodation for my gender identity didn’t make me any more freexii.

Alternatively, the prison system might react by falling back on its origins and applying a model of control through separation. There is a lot of talk of queer-specific units, or possibly even a separate facility. Gender queer people will thus exist in a status not midway between the men and women’s prisons, but between the regular and psychiatric prisons, which are already the system’s way of managing forms of deviance that we can’t be blamed for. We should oppose this as we do all expansions of the prison system.

As an anarchist, I am of course against all prison and I’m not going to offer any policy suggestion. I’m writing shortly after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and the massive rebellion that followed, in a moment when critiques of the police and prison have spread in a way I never thought I would see. This motivated me to actually finish this text instead of just carrying these experiences around inside, because I think feminist and queer spaces could do more to build hostility to cops and prisons in their own way. I live for the day when all those whose lives are impacted by prison will gather together to destroy them, turn them over to the pigeons and rain. We will plant the ruins with fruit trees and have a bonfire of all the prisoner and guard uniforms. I know the smoke will carry away some of the gendered nightmare we are all living both inside and outside the walls.

***

Endnotes

i) Here’s bill C-16’s summary as it’s laid out in the bill: “This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The enactment also amends the Criminal Code to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.” https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-16/first-reading

ii My experience isn’t everyone’s, I can’t speak for all trans experiences. A few notes about me to help contextualize:

-I’m white, and so don’t face the same level of criminalization in my daily life or the same level of hostility within the prison system. Black and Indigenous trans prisoners I interacted with had often experienced more violence and refusal from the prison system around their identity than I did, which just makes sense considering they also experience more violence and exclusion on the street.

-I’ve only ever been inside for anarchist activity, so that’s a big difference in experience from basically everyone I ever met inside, and I get far more outside support. I’ve gone in five separate times that have totaled about year, which is in some ways long, but compared to a lot of people it’s really not. –

-Also, transmen are in quite a different position than what I describe in this text – the transmen I talked to were forced to choose between stopping taking testosterone and staying in seg, so the inclusion question is not the same for them.

-I intend this text just as a starting point and hope others will add to it. This text is not signed, even though I know it’s not very anonymous. If you want to get in touch with feedback, you can reach me at justsomerabbit at riseup dot net

iii I don’t blame the prisoners for my bad experiences as much as I do the dehumanizing institution that puts all difference under such intense pressure.

iv Beyond the identity element, I wouldn’t have the analysis of prison I do without the writings and example of Black radicals. Reading Assata Shakur, George Jackson, and Kuwasi Balagoon in men’s prison and discussing it with other prisoners was pretty formative for me.

v Although I understand why this framing exists, insisting that “transwomen are women” is too simple. Most of us grew up with male privilege and don’t understand what it means to be produced as a women from birth; as well, the exclusion and violence transwomen face in society isn’t the same as what ciswomen face, and no one would claim ciswomen understand it simply because “we’re all women”. We don’t need to argue if one form of violence is worse than the other, it’s that they are different. Difference doesn’t mean that inclusion shouldn’t occur (this is not an argument in favour of having to hold your pee until you get home). It’s an argument against letting the necessity of inclusion, because of similar needs for safety in the world as it is, lead us to an idea of gender that has been reduced to its positive dimension. Similarly, there’s a difference between identifying as something and being identified as that – whether or not the two of those coincide for a given person will also lead to a different experience of violence. Problematizing categories like man/woman (or cis/trans) is useful, but I don’t want us to flatten things out and actually end up with less ability to talk about our different experiences of systemic violence.

vi There have been occasional transwomen in women’s facilities since at least the 80s, but the majority of transwomen were in men’s prisons.

vii I know all the classifications can be a bit confusing if you haven’t done time before, so I want to explain here. PC and GP are both very similar in terms of how your time is structured – same schedule, same level of crowding, same (lack of) access to programs. It is not segregation, you’re still with lots of other people and sharing a cell.

viii This is also partly in response to Canadian court rulings that have limited the prison system’s ability to use solitary confinement as a punishment

ix To be clear, women’s prison isn’t some kind of safe space for queers. For instance, I saw situations where AFAB queers got passed around by tough cis women who were straight on road. The queer folks thought at first they were in some sort of gay summer camp, but they eventually realized they were in situations it wouldn’t be easy to leave or change.

x This pressure on prisoners’ gender identity isn’t just a trans issue. I’ve seen the ways that men in men’s prison experience pressure to perform hypermasculinity, as well as how women’s prison reproduces people as powerless victims by stripping prisoners of their options and supports and playing on trauma. Almost everyone’s gender is scrutinized and changed by prison. There is a distinct experience of this related to being trans though, and that’s what I’m most concerned with here.

xi The Genderbread Person is a teaching tool poster for explaining differences in gender, sex, and sexuality that is very much within a liberal understanding of gender: https://www.genderbread.org.

xii It’s a weird irony that the prison guards’ union managed to get acceptance for the gender identity of their workers before the system got around to doing the same for prisoners. There have been transwomen guards in women’s prisons since well before Bill C-16

***

This text was submitted anonymously to North Shore. It is available as a pdf for printing and sharing

Shining a Light on Shawn Beauvais MacDonald, the Neo-Nazi from NDG

 Comments Off on Shining a Light on Shawn Beauvais MacDonald, the Neo-Nazi from NDG
Nov 292023
 

From Montréal Antifasciste

Since 2017, Montréal Antifasciste has regularly mentioned a local neo-Nazi named Shawn Beauvais MacDonald in its publications. However, we have never taken the time to devote a full article to him. As he has clearly never questioned his beliefs in the face of negative attention and continues to drag his carcass—usually decorated with neo-Nazi symbols—through the streets of Montreal, we decided to correct this oversight. This is all the more important now that we’ve learned of his recent attempts to infiltrate Palestine solidarity demonstrations and other spaces that should be safe, inclusive, and in solidarity with the groups and people whose destruction this individual seeks. Let’s be perfectly clear, Beauvais MacDonald is stridently racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic and, of course, crassly antisemitic.

What follows is a portrait of one of the Montreal area’s most visible and unrepentant neo-Nazis, who, in recent years, has collaborated in one way or another with most of Québec’s white supremacist and neo-fascist projects. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that Beauvais MacDonald is not a once lost sheep, now back on the fold, but that he is to this day a white supremacist militant, ideologically fanatical, hardened, and irreformable. We hope that his case will be widely publicized, so that this despicable individual can never feel comfortable anywhere in our city.

[Note: Some of the information in this article has already been published in recent years.

Warning: this article contains racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic,
and antisemitic content
].

///

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald (SBM) first appeared on our radar in August 2017, in the wake of the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11–12, 2017. He was quickly identified as one of the Québecers who made the trip to Virginia to take part in this North American alt-right mecca, along with, among others, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, alias “Zeiger” (sentenced in September 2023 to fifteen months in prison for fomenting hatred against Jews) and Vincent Bélanger Mercure. SBM appears briefly in the Vice News reporting devoted to participants at “Unite the Right,” where he is seen shaking hands with the infamous “crybaby Nazi” Christopher Cantwell. Recall that on the afternoon of August 12, after several hours of often-violent clashes between various supremacists (neo-Nazis. KKK, etc.) and anti-racists/anti-fascists, James Alex Fields, a neo-Nazi associated with Vanguard America, drove his car into an anti-racist march, injuring numerous people and killing the militant Heather Heyer. This fateful event marked the beginning of the decline of the alt-right movement.

A subsequent analysis of the images captured during these events shows SBM at the torchlight march on August 11, chanting the anti-Semitic slogan “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” He was also spotted wearing a distinctive red baseball helmet in clashes the following day, during which, he later explained in an episode of the American alt-right podcast “Late Night Alt-Right,” he suffered an elbow injury.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald (left) in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 11, 2017, with Gabriel Sohier Chaput (gray t-shirt), Vincent Bélanger Mercure (Ensemble t-shirt), and Christopher Cantwell (right).
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” torchlight march, August 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” torchlight march, August 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” torchlight march, August 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the white supremacist “Unite the Right” torchlight march, August 11, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia.

SBM Never Misses an Outing…

We didn’t know it at the time, but we had crossed paths with him several times in the preceding months. Investigations into SBM after Charlottesville revealed that he had, in fact, been an active member of La Meute, the Islamophobic populist group formed some time earlier by veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. For a time, it seems, he managed La Meute’s anglophone social media accounts. Notably, he was present for La Meute’s baptism by fire in Montréal on March 4, 2017 (the first in a series of Islamophobic demonstrations), which he attended with several other members of a small local alt-right group whose existence we were to discover only a little later (see below). On this occasion, he and a comrade found themselves briefly among the anti-racist counterdemonstrators. The two scumbags were encouraged to leave with a kick in the ass after having the bright idea to call the counterdemonstrators “race traitors.” He would later explain to his peers that his involvement with La Meute was primarily aimed at propagating his “race-based” philosophy and his ethnic (read: racist) nationalist vision.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the La Meute protest in Montréal, March 4, 2017.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald talks about his role in La Meute in the chat room of the local alt-right group in August 2017.

In 2017, he also developed close relations with the Soldiers of Odin Québec (SOO), the regional chapter of an anti-immigrant network founded by a neo-Nazi, and the neo-fascist organization Atalante Québec, befriending Raphaël Lévesque, the group’s leader. He trained with the other members of Atalante at their private boxing club, “La Phalange.” Here are just a few of dozens of examples of his involvement with these groups during this turbulent period:

  • On September 30, 2017, he was spotted again at a demonstration near the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing organized the anti-immigration organization Storm Alliance.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald, with the Atalante/Soldiers of Odin contingent, in Québec City, November 25, 2017.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald, with the Atalante/Soldiers of Odin contingent, in Québec City, November 25, 2017.

In 2018 and 2019, SBM took part in various Atalante visibility actions in Montréal, where the neo-fascist group unsuccessfully attempted to gain a foothold.

  • In December 2018, he was identified in our “Unmasking Atalante” article as a member of the Montreal chapter.
  • On September 30, 2019, he distributed sandwiches in Montreal’s Quartier Latin and the Village. A few Atalante members posed in front of Berri Metro station and tried to intimidate customers at the L’Escalier bar, without much success.

In September 2019, SBM was identified, among others, in our article “Chasing Atalante: Where Do the Fascists Work?” where we revealed where he worked and studied. Thereafter, he seemed to distance himself from Atalante, possibly to avoid muddying the reputation of Raphaël Lévesque, who was then preparing for his trial in the Vice Québec affair. Nonetheless, he was part of the security detail that accompanied Lévesque to his court appearances.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald takes part in Raphaël Lévesque’s security detail at the Palais de justice de Montréal, fall 2019.

It’s easy to imagine that SBM’s presence wasn’t unanimously welcomed in Atalante’s ranks, since he’s regarded in his own circles as a troublemaker whose rancorous presence alone often causes his comrades problems. Whatever the case, Lévesque’s trial didn’t go as planned (the assault at Québec City’s LvlOp bar cast a pall over the proceedings), and the Atalante project lost steam and fell silent at some point during the pandemic.

Alt-Right Montréal

In winter 2018, a leak from the “Montreal Storm” chat room, a local neo-Nazi alt-right group (ARM), led to the public exposure of the identity of Gabriel Sohier Chaput, alias “Zeiger” and several other members of the group, including SBM, who took part under the pseudonyms “Bubonic” and, later, “FriendlyFash.”

An analysis of these discussions quickly revealed that SBM was at the heart of the group and was one of its most active militants. During this period, he was probably involved in neo-Nazi postering campaigns, in particular pasting up posters produced by “Dark Foreigner,” Patrick Gordon Macdonald, a prolific graphic designer and propagandist now charged with terrorist activity by the Canadian justice system. The “Dark Foreigner” propaganda is notably associated with the reissue of the book Siege, by James Mason, considered the bible of contemporary neo-Nazi movements, and the activity of the Atomwaffen Division network, now designated a terrorist organization in Canada and a number of other countries.

One of the neo-Nazi-inspired stickers that appeared in Montréal when members of the Alt-Right Montreal group were going out at night. The image is by “Dark Foreigner.”

SBM also promotes the identitarian group ID Canada (born of the same alt-right networks and modelled on the European example of Generation Identity and similar organizations), designed by racist activists as a more “socially acceptable” vehicle for promoting white nationalism in Canada. ID Canada stickers appear notably in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce district, where SBM lives.

Under cover of the false irony that characterized extremist alt-right forums and message boards, SBM made absolutely unabashed and aggressive racist, antisemitic, and misogynist comments on the “Montreal Storm” Discord server. As if to confirm his involvement in this milieu, SBM turned up, on July 1, 2017, in Old Montreal, with other members of the Alt-Right Montreal group, including the alleged leader, Athan Zafirov, alias “Date,” to harangue an anti-colonialist demonstration.

A sample of Shawn Beauvais Macdonald’s racist and misogynist comments in the “Montreal Storm” chat room.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald with his Alt-Right Montreal buddies, in Old Montréal, July 1, 2017.

During this period, he posted on Facebook under his own name and, later, under the pseudonym “Hans Grosse,” a reference to a famous Lufftwaffe pilot (and a character in the video game Wolfenstein).

A sample of Shawn Beauvais Macdonald’s uplifting Facebook posts in 2017.

In spring 2018, following the publication of a series of articles in the Gazette about Gabriel Sohier Chaput and the Alt-Right Montreal group (articles based in large part on the investigative work of antifascist militants), an aggressive postering campaign was organized in the NDG district to make the community aware of the presence of SBM and his comrade Vincent Bélanger Mercure. The next day, SBM was seen frantically tearing down posters bearing his photo and personal information.

During the 2019 federal election, SBM served as bodyguard for independent candidate in LaSalle-Ville Émard-Verdun, Julien Côté Lussier, an Immigration Canada employee who leads a double life as a white nationalist ideologue (he’s a spokesman for ID Canada, among other things) and a leading light in the local alt-right scene, where he goes by the pseudonym “Passport.”

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald serves as the bodyguard of white nationalist candidate Julien Côté Lussier, in Verdun, October 19, 2019.

The Pandemic Years

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, SBM could be found on the Telegram platform, where he still operates under the pseudonym “FriendlyFash.” At this point, his profile caption is “Meine Ehre heißt Treue” [my honour is called loyalty], an SS motto. SBM is active in the chat room of the local white supremacist group White Lives Matter Québec (WLM). He and other members of this group showed up at an anti–health measures demonstration in Montreal on January 22, 2022.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald at the anti–health measures demonstration on January 22, 2022, with other members of the White Lives Matter Québec group.

In March 2022, he turned up in the same chat room as another die-hard neo-Nazi, Sylvain Marcoux, discussing the hate speech trial of his former comrade Gabriel Sohier Chaput. He also promotes the “Active Club”» (AC), a direct descendent of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), explicitly affirming the need to develop some sort of militant neo-Nazi combat club in preparation for the coming race war. SBM had already expressed his support for RAM founder and AC spiritual father Robert Rundo. The Frontenac Active Club (the Québec section of the network) was born out of the WLM Québec discussion group. We know that the young Raphaël Dinucci, alias “Whitey,” who was undoubtedly directly influenced by SBM, is today the administrator of the Telegram channel WLM Québec and a leading activist at the Frontenac Active Club.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald debates neo-Nazi Sylvain Marcoux about his “old buddy” Gabriel Sohier Chaput.

We have no direct evidence of SBM’s involvement in the Frontenac AC project, but it’s reasonable to infer it, if only on the basis of his past publications. He is certainly a kind of “godfather” to that scene. Another hint of his involvement came on April 21, 2023, when Frontenac AC stickers appeared in Montreal’s Village neighbourhood on the eve of an anti-fascist event being held nearby. On the evening of the event, SBM had the crazy idea of showing up alone at the Yer Mad bar, an establishment well known for its far-left anti-fascist leanings, no doubt with the aim of intimidating the clientele. Instead, he was aggressively removed by antifascists who arrived shortly afterwards.

Frontenac Active Club stickers were stuck up in Montreal’s Village neighbourhood in April 2023, on the eve of an antifascist event two blocks away. We suspect Shawn Beauvais MacDonald was involved.

Recently…

SBM has been seen regularly on the streets of Montreal in recent months, always wearing neo-Nazi symbols, including a totenkopf pin that he wears on the lapel of his coat collar. When he’s recognized, he usually reacts in an aggressive manner, taking advantage of his imposing physique, making hard eye contact, and generally behaving like a lunatic.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald was the subject of this post on the Montréal Antifasciste Facebook page in February 2021.
This photo of Shawn Beauvais MacDonald was sent to us by a supporter on November 15, 2023, less than two weeks before this article was published.

Recently, SBM has been spotted at demonstrations organized in solidarity with the people of Gaza, who are being targeted by the latest ethnic cleansing operation carried out by the State of Israel. It’s important to note that he appears to be there alone, walking through the crowd without interacting with anyone, suggesting that he has no real contact with the pro-Palestine movement. It was against this backdrop that he posted a lengthy antisemitic diatribe on Instagram after the October 13 demonstration in downtown Montreal. In fact, during the week of November 20, he changed his Instagram account name from “FriendlyFash88” to “Awakened_amalekite” (a biblical reference to the enemies of the Israelites).

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald posted an antisemitic rant on his Instagram account on October 14, 2023, the day after a demonstration in solidarity with Palestine. Note that he took the time to edit his commentary to remove a racist and Arabophobic passage.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald changed his Instagram handle in the week of November 20, about a week before the publication of this article.
Shawn Beauvais MacDonald has the handle « FriendlyFash » on Telegram to this day, which he decorated with a Nazi logo in the days preceding publication of this article.

He was seen again at the November 4 demonstration, and on that occasion was expelled by the demonstration’s security service at the instigation of anti-racist comrades. He was seen and confronted again on November 11, but then disappeared in the crowd. This is one of the motivations for producing this article: to communicate to the wider community and to the driving forces of the Palestine solidarity movement this neo-Nazi’s intention to infiltrate their ranks. It is out of the question that the movement’s adversaries be allowed to exploit the presence of this isolated bozo to demonize the entire movement. He must be immediately and systematically expelled whenever he attempts to infiltrate spaces of solidarity with Palestine.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Shawn Beauvais Macdonald was and is a white supremacist and a neo-Nazi. He can still be seen in public adorned with neo-Nazi symbols, so it would be completely unreasonable to believe that he’s reformed, and any claim to that effect should be rejected. There is no space for him in any inclusive space.

Let’s Increase the Pressure…

Since appearing on the radar of Montreal’s anti-fascist community, SBM has suffered a series of setbacks and inconveniences. First, he lost jobs when his participation in the Charlottesville protests was revealed. Posters exposing his activities were put up in his neighborhood. He was visited by antifascists at his home (2045 rue Elmhurst, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce). Then leaflets denouncing him were distributed at the Centre intégré de mécanique, de métallurgie et d’électricité (CIMME), where he was briefly enrolled in 2019.

Shawn Beauvais MacDonald was visited by antifascists at his home in 2018; the Nazi flag he used as a bathroom curtain was confiscated.
These flyers exposing Shawn Beauvais MacDonald were distributed at the Centre intégré de mécanique, de métallurgie et d’électricité (CIMME), where he was briefly enrolled in 2019.

SBM currently routinely trains at the Nautilus Plus in LaSalle (he used to frequent the Nautilus Plus downtown). Sympathizers regularly pass on information about him, particularly on the bus routes where he is regularly seen. Of course, we have no intention of leaving him alone. If you have any other useful information to share with us, particularly about Shawn Beauvais MacDonald’s current employment, please don’t hesitate to contact us at alerta-mtl@riseup.net.

Fascists out of our neighbourhoods; no quarter for fascists!

Report-back from the October 21st Counter-demonstration in Defense of Trans Youth

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Nov 272023
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

Saturday, October 21 in Montreal saw a face-off between a shrinking coalition of religious conservative transphobes and a counter-protest in defense of trans youth. TL;DR: trans defenders won. 

Called as a Canada-wide day of action by “1 Million March for Children”, with the group “Ensemble pour protéger nos enfants” (hereafter EPPNE; “Together to protect our children”) leading the Montreal event, it was the follow-up to the clashes on September 20th in front of McGill University. That day, an unexpectedly large crowd, mostly composed of Muslim families, with children holding signs reading “I belong to my parents” and shouting transphobic and homophobic insults, confronted an underprepared counter-protest and succeeded in marching through downtown Montreal, leaving trans defenders and their queer and antifascist comrades shaken. 

EPPNE called their demonstration in front of 600 Fullum, the address of the Quebec Ministry of Education, to whom they address a series of demands concerning school curriculums that is but a pretext for seemingly limitless transphobia. We recommend checking out Montréal Antifasciste and P!nk bloc for more detailed perspectives on the developing political context, including the impact of war in the Middle East (it turns out the advocates of one genocide can be divided concerning another). This report-back will emphasize the tactical dimension of what we observed on the 21st.

The EPPNE protest was called for 11am, and the counter-protest was announced for 10, with the intention of occupying the area first. Predictably, it was barely past 8am when the dedication of a small group of early arrivals allowed us to claim the street in front of 600 Fullum and relegate the EPPNE organizers, who arrived at 8:15, to a patch of grass between the south side of the building and the bike path running alongside the highway. Dozens of police were already on site, and they cordoned off a segment of the roundabout at the bottom of Fullum with police tape to create a buffer zone between the two groups, informing counter-protesters that crossing the tape would be considered a criminal offense.

If we gathered in front of the offices housing the Ministry of Education, it was not as defenders of the education system, which, as a general rule, seeks to turn children of all genders and sexualities into docile subjects of settler-colonial capitalism, respecters of democratic authority, workers and consumers with the ability to ask questions but not too many. Rather, holding the space where the transphobes planned to be denies them the visibility they crave and demonstrates that we will stand in their way, wherever they may try to organize publicly.

Both sides arrived to a scene that had been covered in antifascist, pro-trans, and pro-Palestine graffiti the night before, with the ministry building, construction machinery and nearby walls bearing tags including “YOUTH LIBER(A)TION [&] TRANS LIBER(A)TION NOW!”, “Dykes for Palestine” and “Fuck transphobes”. Together with the rapid setup of five canopy tents directly in front of 600 Fullum, which would serve as a logistical base camp for the counter-protest and provide us occasional shelter from the rain, it could not have been more clear who controlled the space where the transphobes had intended to gather, or that our fight extends beyond the liberal defense of a tolerant social order.

Our numbers gradually then more quickly swelled as 10am approached. The arrival of a sound truck (a couple powerful speakers strapped to the bed of a pickup) helped to introduce a festive vibe. And newcomers were dispatched to one of two mobile units, color-coded pink and black (people with mobility restrictions or who just preferred to hang out around the base camp could do so).

One note concerning mass media cameras: a CTV News cameraman was spotted wandering the crowd in front of 600 Fullum, filming counter-protesters from close range. Guidelines published in the lead-up to the 21st had encouraged attendees to wear masks and watch out for mass media and livestreamers, but we’re not aware of planning around making sure journalists couldn’t freely explore our infrastructure, in areas where some people would be having private conversations or inevitably removing masks to eat or drink. Comrades took the initiative to confront the CTV crew and physically expel them after they refused a verbal request to leave. While banners and umbrellas can work well against media approaching our hard lines, we need to also be able to repel those who find their way into areas like those for welcoming newcomers. We think a team dedicated to this task is probably the best move going forward.

Around 9:30am, the pink unit moved north on Fullum to begin blocking the street at the top of the block, just south of Sainte-Catherine. They would hold this position, allowing new arrivals of our side to enter and denying entry to transphobes, for the remainder of the action. Because this intersection was the main access point for protesters who were arriving from Papineau metro or from street parking to the north, the pink unit blockade succeeded in turning away numerous anti-trans protesters, who left thinking the EPPNE protest had been cancelled or completely overwhelmed by the counter-protest.

Shortly after 11am, the black unit set off to try to make its way around the police lines protecting the anti-trans protest at the bottom of Fullum. After turning left on Ste-Catherine from Fullum, there was an altercation with a lone fascist wearing a t-shirt reading “Kill All Pedophiles”, who was knocked to the ground. About one-hundred-strong and protected by multiple side banners, the black unit moved two blocks west, then turned south on De Lorimier, before being blocked from turning east on René-Lévesque towards the EPPNE grouping by a line of riot police. For about 45 minutes, they held the intersection of De Lorimier and René-Lévesque, not able to advance closer to the transphobes, but blocking another possible access route from the metro to their gathering point, and blocking the way toward the Gay Village and downtown for any march (national 1MM4C organizers had called for marches at 1pm).

Outnumbered roughly tenfold under pouring rain, gradually being encircled by multiple groups of counter-demonstrators, and their march route to downtown blocked, the EPPNE crowd was visibly demoralized. Some vented their frustrations on their Facebook Lives, telling (and showing) viewers how much better organized our side was and reprimanding theirs for not showing up. One remarked on Whatsapp that their opponents were “only 0.33% of the population. But very smart and evil.” And we can only take that as a compliment.

Close to noon, the black unit met up with a group of reinforcements at the corner of Ste-Catherine and De Lorimier and set off again southward, with a plan. Upon reaching René-Lévesque, one contingent stopped and faced the line of riot police like before, forcing them to stay in place, while the rest of the group, about a hundred people, continued south, then cut east through the gap between two buildings. Despite these movements being slowed by some general confusion, the SPVM appeared completely on their heels for the first time that day, their plans for protecting the anti-trans protest at risk of breaking. Police vans sped around the corner, and a half-dozen riot cops moved in, shouting at the contingent to reverse course, as one made a show of loading his rubber-bullet gun and others brandished pepper spray. This intimidation succeeded in holding the crowd back for long enough that a number more riot cops and bike cops could arrive and form a proper line. Hopefully, these experiences with coordination in the streets will nourish our tactical imagination and help us prepare even better for next time.

The following map shows the final positions of the transphobes, counter-protesters and police:

Shortly thereafter, as the black unit regrouped on De Lorimier, word spread that EPPNE had called the dispersal of their protest, confirming their defeat by not even attempting to march and needing to instruct their attendees on safe routes out of the area.

There was so much going on in different places across the multiple city blocks spanned by the counter-protest on the 21st that it would be impossible to give a comprehensive account in one report-back, though we want to send a specific shout-out to everyone who ensured the delivery of food or served it and to everyone who held banners for hours on end.

While the logic of counter-protest can place us on the defensive, intuition tells us that we can move beyond a purely reactive posture — that we have something to gain — when we get organized on a basis of solidarity and put our faith in each other rather than media, law or the police.

Until next time,
– some anarchists

Canadian Tire Fire: Palestine Solidarity

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Nov 142023
 

From It’s Going Down

Excerpt from Canadian Tire Fire #65

Since Hamas’s October 7th attack, killing around 1,400 people and taking around 240 hostages, Israel has been carrying out a massive campaign of death and destruction on the Palestinian people through a brutal siege and military offensive. Thousands of Gazans have died, over 10,500 at last estimate, with thousands more estimated buried under the rubble of countless buildings collapsed by the bombings. Fuel has run out at many hospitals, worsening an already deadly crisis caused not only by the air and ground assault but also by the blocking of food, water, and fuel from entering the open-air prison.

The colonial violence of the Israeli state has intensified in the West Bank as well, where Israeli settlers have been given increasing access and encouragement to arm themselves. Between IDF and settler civilian attacks, at least 133 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed. Israel recently deported Palestinians working in Israel to Gaza, where they will be under constant threat of death, but only after imprisoning, beating, and interrogating many of them. In the face of all this, Western states like the US and Canada have been standing by Israel, publicly mourning the deaths of Israeli soldiers, shying away from providing any meaningful international pressure for a ceasefire, and creating an environment generally hostile to solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

Across Canada, anarchists and others have been organizing to support Palestine from afar. So much has been happening there’s no way we can cover it all, but we’ve put together a summary of some of the efforts that have taken place over the last few weeks, as well as some reflections on proposals for anarchist interventions.

Occupations

On October 30, coordinated office occupations began of 17 Canadian MPs demanding that Canada call for a ceasefire.

In addition to office occupations, MPs have been targeted in other ways. On November 1st, the entrance to Melanie Joly’s MP office was drenched in red paint and had a banner hung on it. As well, the list of the names of the Palestinians killed by Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza (produced by Palestine’s Health ministry) was left in front of the door of the building.

Marches

Weekly marches have been happening in many cities in Canada. In Vancouver, protests have met most Saturdays at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

In Montreal, protests have been been happening downtown at least once a week as well, with emergency protests called a few times as well. These demonstrations have consistently brought out thousands of people.

A recent Montreal demonstration on November 4th was attended by an estimated 50,000 people and coincided with a symbolic blockade of the CBC/ Radio Canada building.

Weekly marches have been occurring in Toronto, with the latest on November 4 including a 5 hour sit-in in Toronto’s financial district going late into the night.

Blockades

In Toronto, INKAS Armored, a defense contractor with tied to the IDF, was picketed:

Early on the morning of October 30th, a crowd descended on INKAS Armored, a Toronto-based defence contractor with ties to the Israeli Defence Forces. Responding to a call from Palestinian trade unions for workers around the world to shut down exports to the Israeli military, the protesters set up picket lines to block access to the facility.

In Vancouver on November 3rd, anti-Zionist Jews held an action where they blocked a major artery to the Port of Vancouver, calling for an end to business as usual in the face of the assault on Gaza.

Anarchist Analyses of Palestine Solidarity

A few proposals have emerged recently for how anarchists and radicals should engage in this moment of international solidarity with Palestine. Because we imagine our readers will come across them, we’d like to offer a few reflections.

An anonymous submission to North Shore Counter-info has called for anarchists to escalate their interventions in the current moment. The article speaks, in part, to a desire for a specifically anarchist response to the unfolding crisis, one in which it is easy to feel powerless, and where the way to respond from a specific politic is at times unclear.

Commentary published in Montreal Counter-Info offers a different suggestion: for anarchists and the radical left to “prioritize the voice(s) of the people concerned and acknowledging their complete leadership of the ongoing resistance movement…accept a secondary role: to sometimes stay silent, to listen, and to learn.” It also asserts: “it is in no way our role to emphasize “complexity” and bring “nuance” to the situation.”

We believe that an anarchist response to this situation requires careful reflection, and identification of both the specific analysis and skillsets that anarchists bring. A meaningful anarchist response requires political clarity, which in turn requires time spent understanding the issue and building political analysis together. It requires reflecting on our range of tactics and skills, and what these can offer to an international solidarity movement. It also requires an honest discussion of strategy, developed with our comrades or adapted from other contexts. We can use a lens of effectiveness, or of what tactics we wish to see generalized, what skills we may be able to help foster and spread, but the why matters. Whatever words we use to describe it, we should assess both the intentions and likely effects of our interventions. Are we aiming to spread a message of solidarity in a new but still symbolic way, have we identified a chokepoint that allows for a more material intervention in the flow of money, information, or equipment to Israel and those supporting it, or are we doing something else entirely?

We should remain critical of our desire to ‘escalate’ – does this stem from a belief that ‘escalated’ actions (one-off or sustained) are more effective than marches and rallies in this moment, do they feel more politically fulfilling (to us, or to a broader movement), does taking on more risk mean we care more? How does acting with urgency support or hinder our goals? There are myriad good reasons to escalate, and it is worth being clear about what those reasons are, and whether the tactics we choose align with those reasons.

While the submission to North Shore Counter-info may give some anarchists a much needed push to begin reflecting on how to engage more thoughtfully and consciously in this context, its lack of specificity makes its message ring hollow. While hope is a critical part of any struggle, the vision for anarchists to “share food, tell stories, dance and sing songs, bask in the warmth of the sun, and marvel at the deep night sky” feels out of touch while the Gaza sky, day and night, is filled with explosions. Living free in Canada is not a suitable anarchist intervention in the absence of a direct proposal to use that freedom to affect something outside of ourselves.

While the commentary in Montreal Counter-Info proposes a model of solidarity that misses the opportunity for deeper understanding, unity, and empowerment, its assertion that showing up is never the wrong thing remains true: “While solidarity in words means little at the moment, solidarity in the streets will never be too much.” In this moment, we must not look away – with our eyes on Palestine, and a critical gaze toward every violent nation state, including our own, we can turn to each other and find a way forward.

Invitation to the First International Gathering of Anarchist and Antiauthoritarian Practices in Tijuana, Mexico

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Nov 082023
 

Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info

From the territory dominated by the Mexican State, we sound this call for the First International Gathering of Anarchist and Antiauthoritarian Practices to take place in the borderlands of Tijuana, Mexico.

We are organizing for the gathering to take place January 25, 26 and 27 2024, with the goal of agitation, solidarity, and self-organization of anarchist and antiauthoritarian rage against the borders across lands, the borders in our minds, and the emotional borders between us as individuals. As part of the anarchist legacy of confrontation, we have never invested any hope in the political spectacle of elections, nor waited passively for some rupture from “the masses,” nor expected the appearance of a clearly defined revolutionary subject to descend upon us and make the revolution or raise the consciousness of the bosses, the rich, or their lackeys.

Accordingly, we invite all collectives, projects, and individuals involved in publishing, audio-visual propaganda, counter-information, anti-prison work, and anyone else that advances daily on the treacherous path of anarchism and antiauthoritarianism—of attacks against power—to send in your proposals for workshops, discussions, book presentations, short films and documentaries, musical performances, works of theater or other art, which will be spread horizontally, in solidarity, and self-organized in an offensive against power and its henchmen.

To propose an activity, please reach us at: encuentroanarquico@riseup.net.

We will update the organization of the gathering as we continue to confirm the activities.

For more information: https://eninpaacf.noblogs.org/

Fundraiser: https://www.firefund.net/fenipraancof2024

When we leave we do not march: Anarchist thoughts on Palestine solidarity

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Nov 032023
 

Anonymous submission to North Shore Counter-Info. Those interested in this proposal might visit (using Tor) warriorup.noblogs.org

Today, November 1st 2023, when the veil is at its thinnest, the dead in Gaza speak to us.

We, the writers, are not Palestinian. We write this for fellow north american anarchists of a certain type. You’ll see yourself as you read. We also write this for the anarchy-adjacent, and for anyone who is interested.

The horror of Israel’s genocide of Palestinians is deep, inescapable, and intricate. We, anarchists and those close to anarchy, understand the history, the context of apartheid, the numbers, the hypocrisy, the exceptionalism, the cruelty, the torture. We sob. We lose sleep, and friends, and family.

We feel helpless, so we undertake the relatively and subjectively fearsome tasks available  in the current repertoire of “resistance”. These tasks are fine, and understandable: marches, popular education, “movement-building”, “speaking out” at school or at work, petitions and declarations, non-violent direct action.

Are you truly satisfied with the fine and understandable? Is the moral righteousness of “taking a stand” all that you need to live in freedom with others?

We see each other on the streets, marching grimly. We see each other on the subway, or at our places of work or study, wearing keffiyehs or other talismans of who we are and where we stand. We  see hundreds of thousands like us, in the glassy black mirrors of our lives, lit up with both spectacles of death, and spectacles of refusal.

It is unnecessary to repeat to each other, and possibly to anyone else, what we already understand. Anarchists, please don’t waste your time organizing webinars. Someone else will write the petitions, make the memes, write the tweets. Leave the begging of the state to the liberals. Hundreds of thousands will inevitably fill the perennial role of those who grovel for scraps, for concessions, for living death, instead of full and ecstatic life. They will film themselves dancing out these rituals.

What are these social movements that march and beg? Mass theatre. It’s fine and understandable, but don’t overestimate it.

We don’t beg. We take.

What of the students who are censored, the teachers who risk losing their jobs? Resist the seduction of individal drama raised onto the pedestal of collective action. That’s the work of radicals who have accepted they are living in non-radical times, professional revolutionaries making their personal trouble into a campaign.

It’s fine and understandable for some – but anarchists, please, don’t waste much of your breath arguing with enemies and trying to prove to the world you are right.

The speeches, the poems, the open letters, and declarations? Do these things quickly and don’t let yourself get exhausted by it, because words drift and flutter and dissolve, as will this text. Enjoy their transient effect while they last, but know that the expressions that last are of a more concrete kind.

Direct action? How direct is it? How long does it last? Is the effect just another colourful blip on the network of black mirrors, plus a fine or charge? We hear slogans chanted as you, the solidarity activist, gets dragged away. It’s good you’re doing the scary meaningful thing – whatever that may be for you, or you, or you. It is fine and understandable. But is that it? Is your end game just to shut down a small part of the infrastructure of genocide for a few hours, and inspire others and make people think?

Not all direct action gets the goods.

Whatever you do above ground, maybe it’s time to take it under. Whatever you do with the utmost care and secrecy, maybe now’s the time get even better at it.

It’s an old adage that few follow: Live as if you are already free.

We’re not going to be prescriptive except in this one regard: our entire existence should change. The horror compels us to do so. If you’ve been hesitant, the time is now to dramatically transform the self, the way we relate to it, and the way we relate to others. No matter how many stupid social rules you have already discarded, get ready to toss away even more. It’s not just a quantative effort, though: you’ll need to face the sacred cows of your subservience, your biggest fears, the most daunting obstacles.

Only in the condition of living free can we ever be able to enact our desire to live with Gazans in freedom. Together, literally or symbolically, we want to share food, tell stories, dance and sing songs, bask in the warmth of the sun, and marvel at the deep night sky.

It’s time not just for reversals, though these are fine and understandable for some: replacing inertia with action, silence with speech.

It’s time for a decisive step outside of the circle of death, the boring theatrics of refusal, repression, further protest, then more death. That circle is drawn by the nation state and his loyal pal: existing society. Within that circle, genocide and land theft will certainly persist, almost as if – it absurdly seems – fueled by our grief, our funeral marches.

If we haven’t already, it’s time for us to leave that circle, entirely. When we leave, we do not march.