The Power of Creativity: participating in the “Red Line” and other creative happenings
The act of protesting is an important right we have as citizens to express ourselves when we are not satisfied with the choices our government make on our part. In the context of the Quebec student strike of 2012, the protests have been of great importance for the advancement of the cause. Indeed, in the fall of 2011, the Liberal government of Jean Charest announced they would raise the tuition fees by 75% over five years. This prompted the Quebec students to fight back and strike their classes till the government agreed to sit down and negotiate with them. Almost every day, there have been countless demonstrations and marches, some bigger than others. However, what I have come to notice is that the strike-related events I’ve participated in that had the biggest effect on the population were the actions that were the most creative and artistic. Sure, during the many protests, when I was yelling out to people “Avec nous, dans la rue!”, I was hoping the passerby would join us and protest, but really I noticed people were mostly intimidated by the huge mass of red people screaming their anger at the top of their lungs, and not many came down to march with us. However, almost every time I participated in the Red Line event in the metro, the effect was quite opposite. The concept of it was that a group of strikers would meet up at Jean-Talon metro at 8:30 AM, all dressed in red. Each of them placed themselves in front of a metro door (Côte-Vertu-bound) and simply waited for the next wagon. Then, they would enter, get off at the next station, wait in front of the door, and so on till they reached the Berri-UQÀM metro station. It might have been because we were investing the public space in such a peaceful, quiet manner, and in a way that had been unheard of before, but people felt compelled to approach us and strike up a conversation. This was not unnoticed by journalists, such as Tristan Péloquin who underlined the positive effect of the Red Line in his report for Radio-Canada on the discussions between the students and the population (Péloquin 2012).
Bread and Puppet’s Peter Schumann accurately explained this phenomenon, “I’ve seen a number of groups who seemed more interested in insulting people than in getting to them. You can’t simply try to shock an audience. That will only disgust them. And it is cheap.” (Schumann, 163). Indeed, if one screams at a group of people, they will feel aggressed and are not going to want to hear what that person has to say. However, if he or she creates a safe and peaceful space which uses art as a way to grab the attention, it is more likely the group of people will want to get closer and be a part of the movement as well. As a matter of fact, often we would finish our journey on the Red Line with more people than we had started off with.
Throughout the strike, there have been many traditional protests and marches that have gone horribly wrong, ending with violence and police brutality. Rapidly, some students realised this bad press was not helping their cause and the population to get on board with them. Thus, they found new ways of investing the public spaces in a creative way to prove that they really were opened to communication. On March 15th 2012, I attended the CBC sit-in where we read peacefully in front of the offices for a few hours. The police officer watching us saw that were there peacefully, so he joked around with us for a bit and then left us alone. On March 19th 2012, there was a huge flash mob that was organised near the Place des Arts where 3000 students dressed in red froze for fifteen minutes silently. Later that same week, another flash mob happened where students laid down on a red square in the middle of the street and then move to another location. On April 1st 2012, 4000 people suited up and ironically protested in favor of the tuition hikes, as it was April Fool’s. That same day, 6000 students cycled around Montreal, dressed in red, for the Tour de l’île en rouge event. These peaceful actions were praised by the media and Radio-Canada even created a web page dedicated to the most creative videos and actions that had been done by the strikers during the Printemps Érable (Radio-Canada, 2012).
The growing number of creative happenings coincided with a growing number of non-students who were in favor of the strike. The population wearing little red felt squares kept getting bigger and bigger. One of the reasons our artistic protest actions were so effective was that the people witnessing them were not expecting it. The businessman, the mother, or the teenager who got on the metro that Monday morning was not expecting to see the Red Line, as it was also the case for the people who were sitting on the stairs of the Place des Arts when the flash mob happened. According to Schuman, the way to get people to really think is through invisible theatre. “The audience who does not go to the theatre is always the best audience.” (Schumann, 165) The people who are not expecting to be part of an audience have no expectations and thus will react more openly to what they will be witnessing. This is when a window opens for social change.
The creative happenings that have been developed have brought more credibility to the students’ cause, bringing the attention of the media and the population on the fact that the strikers’ anger can have a positive outlet that might lead to better communication. Desperate situations do call for desperate, but still creative measures.
Helen Brown and Jane Seitz, “With the Bread and Puppet Theatre: an interview with Peter
Schumann” in Theater of the Avant-Garde 1950-2000, ed. Robert Knopf and Julia
Listengarten, Yale University Press: 2011. P.240-245
Péloquin, Tristan, writ. La ligne rouge: manif underground des étudiants. La Presse
Canadienne, 2012. Web. 12 Apr 2012. <http://www.cyberpresse.ca/videos/ actualites/201202/23/46-1-la-ligne-rouge-manif-underground-des-etudiants.php/ 333938fb53094b798cded955af93455d>.
“La grève étudiante sur le web.” Radio-Canada: Montreal, 2 April 2012. Radio. <http:/ /www.radio-canada.ca/sujet/Droits-scolarite/2012/04/02/001-videos-etudiants- greve.shtml>.