Creating Possibility: The Time of the Quebec Student Movement

Theory and Event 15 (3) (2012)
Alia Al-Saji
McGill University
Introduction: -/- Walking, illegally, down main Montreal thoroughfares with students in nightly demonstrations, with neighbors whom I barely knew before, banging pots and pans, and with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people on every 22nd of the month since March—this was unimaginable a year ago.1 Unimaginable that the collective and heterogeneous body, which is the “manif [demonstration]”, could feel so much like home, despite its internal differences. Unimaginable that this mutual dependence on one another could enable not only collective protection from traffic and police but the affective strength and audacity to take back the street—a mutual dependence that includes the masked demonstrators ready to help when gassed by police. Unimaginable too that we would be breaking the law daily,2 that blocking traffic and seeing the city from the center of the street would become habit, and that as the “printemps érable” becomes summer, we would be investing our time in neighborhood assemblies, in weaving social bonds, and in sustaining and deepening the mobilization. -/- I say these actions were unimaginable not merely because the context that motivated the enlargement of the student movement into a popular struggle combines a number of unique features. Nor were they simply unimaginable because the Quebec I previously knew was marred by the Islamophobia and cultural racism made visible during the reasonable accommodation debates, a society whose mapping excluded me and for whose sake it would have been difficult to protest.3 Rather, I say these actions were unimaginable because the possibility of this popular and inclusive mobilization had not yet been created. It is this possibility that the Quebec student movement has created, I argue, not only in quantitative terms by engaging so many, but at the level of lived subjectivities and intercorporeal solidarity. The evolution of the movement should be understood, then, both as a swelling of its popular base and as an intensification and qualitative transformation of ways of life
Keywords time  politics  possibility  Bergson  student movement  reconfiguration of past  popular mobilization  Quebec
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