Last October, Occupy Montreal took over Square Victoria, renaming it Place du Peuple and transforming the square into a tent city. This weekend, a similarly diverse group organized Occupons le Sud-Ouest, an occupation of Parc Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier in St. Henri.
François Genest, an active participant of Occupy Montreal, doesn’t think that the lack of a permanent home substantially changes the nature of the movement.
“Obviously we can’t have any tents anymore, but we can still continue to meet in public spaces and say, we’re here, the problems are still here, and we are working with the people.”
“Welcome Home” was chalked in French on an asphalt pathway, and next to a play area with children’s toys there was a “free market” where clothing, books, and other miscellaneous items had been laid out in the grass for people to give or take as they wanted.
Workshops were held at the park throughout the weekend.
Shannon Franssen, spokesperson for Mobilisation Turcot, gave a presentation about the Turcot Interchange project, which aims to halt plans made by the Charest government to renovate and expand the major highway intersection between St. Henri and Côte St. Paul.
According to Franssen, “The current project has some really disastrous effects on local neighbourhoods, but it also has some disastrous effects on all of Montreal and is going to cost the taxpayers about $1.5 billion dollars more than it should.”
On Sunday, people from different Assemblées populaires autonomes de quartiers (APAQs), neighborhood organizations that emerged during the mobilization and general discontent of last spring, met to share ideas about popular education.
Christine Dumas, an active member of the Hochelaga/Maisonneuve APAQ, said that these groups have great potential as tools for political organizing and bringing about tangible change.
“[An APAQ] is a place to take hold of the dialogue, a place where projects for the neighborhood and for the society can emerge, and it can go in all kinds of different directions,” she told The Daily in French.
McGill Political Science student Hugo Martorell attended Occupons le Sud-Ouest and participated in the workshop on popular education. He has also been involved in the Alternative University Project at McGill, which aims to re-imagine the way that people think about education.
“In March, [Alternative University organizers] started realizing that there were other groups that were doing the same thing we were doing, and there was this willingness to build a network, and trying to get out of your own social groups that you are predestined to be in, and being in this experiment where you learn from people that have different experiences from you,” he explained.
St. Henri Municipal Councillor Sophie Thiébaut spent most of the weekend at the park.
“An event like Occupons le Sud-Ouest allows elected officials to listen to the population, because I think that there are few places where you can hear what people think about politics,” she told The Daily in French. “So [this is] a place to listen, and also a place to exchange, because an elected official is, above all, a citizen, and nothing more than a citizen.”
Occupy Montreal activist Paul Bode told The Daily, “The reaction to [the neighbourhood occupations] has been great, and this is going to be our last one of the season probably, but we’re going to do them all again in 2013.”
This weekend was Occupy Montreal’s sixth occupation of a public space since a four-day reoccupation of Place du Peuple in May.