LAST NIGHT, WE MARCHED.
The Casseroles movement, in solidarity with the Quebec Student Strike, has spilled over into cities across Canada and around the world. I gathered with those who showed up at Vancouver City Hall, quietly at first, then pots and pans began to clang. I recognize many faces – some from the Occupy encampments, others from a spectrum of rallies. One wears the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, the sly grin a global symbol of resistance. Others carry fresh sandwiches and sliced fruit. A large banner reads “Stop the War on Education” while another “Vancouver in Revolt.”
We march on City Hall. There was a rumour that council was in session, debating an unrelated issue. (Or perhaps it’s all related?) Regardless, the line of 50-60 citizens clang their way into the lobby. The security guard stands aside but looks nervous. You can see the plea “Please don’t break anything” in his eyes. The din is deafening. Police line the entrance outside, standing stoically.
A black masked protestor, only one of two, grabs the “wet floor” plastic sign and slams it repeatedly on the lobby desk. Now the security guard leaps in to wrestle it away from him. The protestor lets go, but sneers defiantly. Another security guard yells at the police to enter. The rest of the Casseroles marchers continue their cacophony, but there’s a sense of uneasiness. One of them calls for the group to filter out and continue the march.
Outside, the marchers gather. Behind me, harsh words are exchanged and a scuffle at the City Hall doors. The police try to close the building, a few marchers hold the doors open. It’s a tug of war. Tensions run high. From my angle, it looks like a policeman strikes the angriest protestor in the face. Others scream out in shock. The man who was hit, baggy jeans, scarf around his neck, becomes Anger.
The shoving continues until a woman pulls Anger away and screams at him “WE ARE WRONG. WE ARE WRONG. THIS HELPS NOTHING!”
Anger backs off, the litany of outrage by fellow protestors continues. Guy Fawkes yells in his face “THIS IS A NON-VIOLENT PROTEST. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING.”
Anger screams back “YOU THINK NON-VIOLENCE WORKS? FUCK YOU. YOU HAVE NOT LIVED MY LIFE. FUCK YOU.”
Anger storms away. The crowd attempts to re-establish harmony with their pots and pans. No one is sure quite what to do. Someone yells “MIC CHECK.” Still unsure. “MIC CHECK” again.
Suddenly, I see Anger come running back, a large rock in his hands. He’s heading for the doors of City Hall. I yell “STOP!” Others turn and scream “STOP IT! NO!” At the last moment, Anger drops the rock. “FUCK YOU.” He shouts. Others crowd around him and scream. There are calls to move on, continue the march. The group, now hovering around 50, tentatively crosses the road. Someone yells “MIC CHECK!” and this time we listen. We join the rest of the group heading away from City Hall and the march continues.
We circle around the building, in front of a row of police and their flashing bikes. Anger, still with our group, heads over to give them all the finger.
We march on. We circle a few more city blocks, the police riding ahead of us to block traffic before we get there. There’s talk of heading toward Cambie St. bridge, to join with the Casserole marchers who began at the Art Gallery.
We head north. In the distance, the impeding towers of Yaletown, in the fading blue light. The police block off the bridge from both ends.
As we march, the pots and pans become our only sound. The ambience of the city recedes into the distance. Up head, we hear the same language of our brethren. A clown dances along the middle barricade. A friend, having arrived without pot or pan, crunches two pop cans together instead. I take their photo.
The city slips away.
Finally, the groups meet. The harmony of the din surges, we cheer together. We have taken the bridge. We are Absurdity.
The voices die down and I feel like we are alone at the edge of the world. This is where reality breaks down. This is where we poke a hole in the seamlessness of our society, and realize there’s nothing there. We are staring into the abyss.
Carlos Castaneda, quoting the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan, wrote:
“The world of everyday life is not real, or out there, as we believe it is. […] What you hold in mind as the world at hand is merely a description of the world; a description that has been pounded into you from the moment you were born.
Everyone who comes into contact with a child is a teacher who incessantly describes the world to him, until the moment when the child is capable of perceiving the world as it is described. We have no memory of that portentous moment, simply because none of us could possibly have had any point of reference to compare it to anything else. From that moment on, however, the child is a member. He knows the description of the world; and his membership becomes full-fledged, perhaps, when he is capable of making all the proper perceptual interpretations which, by conforming to that description, validate it.
The reality of our day-to-day life, then, consists of an endless flow of perceptual interpretations which we, the individuals who share a specific membership, have learned to make in common. The idea that the perceptual interpretations that make up the world have a flow is congruous with the fact that they run uninterruptedly and are rarely, if ever, open to question. […]
Stopping the world is indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to that flow.
The precondition for stopping the world is that one has to be convinced; in other words, one has to learn the new description in a total sense, for the purpose of pitting it against the old one, and in that way break the dogmatic certainty, which we all share, that the validity of our perceptions, or our reality of the world, is not to be questioned.
After stopping the world the next step is seeing.”
As I looked around, at the proclamation of civilzation, I felt we were revealed as we are: fragile storytellers in a universe much bigger than all of us.
The group rallied once again and headed into the city. I turned off my camera, tucked it into my bag, and headed back to City Hall.