Morning. It is a perfect day for a demonstration, except for the fact that I am underslept, mildly hungover, and on my period. Like all good revolutionaries, I resolve to suffer for my cause.
I meet four of my colleagues at the main gates of the university, and, with the rest of the group that has gathered there, we begin to walk to Berri Square. As we do, I realize that I may be the oldest person in attendance. This does not bode well.
Despite the fact that there are, at this point, fewer than thirty of us, the undergraduate students that are leading our delegation decide that we will walk in the middle of the street. I suggest that it might be prudent to leave one lane open for traffic to pass, a suggestion they choose to ignore. Several minutes later, they are very nearly run over by a Mack truck.
We arrive at Berri Square to find approximately seven hundred students armed with red cardboard cubes and placards, a disproportionate number of which are written in English. A van containing a sound system is parked nearby, from which the obligatory mix of Public Enemy, Bob Marley, and the Clash is blaring. This does not make me feel any younger.
I survey the crowd and remember that I have not had coffee yet. I briefly consider getting one, but decide that having to pee every ten minutes while attempting to foment revolution would be marginally worse than going without. Marie-Marcelle suggests that we duck into a bar for a quick drink instead, but I’m not at all sure this would solve the problem.
In lieu of purchasing beverages, I decide to mingle. I am relieved to discover that there are, in fact, other people over the age of twenty-five in attendance. One such specimen has thin, grey dreadlocks and a bongo drum, which he is playing badly. I tell myself that it could be worse: at least I don't have bongos.
Turning my attention to the younger demonstrators, I notice that they are, on the whole, substantially hotter than their counterparts in my generation. Okay, I’m cruising now. I feel momentarily guilty about this, then remember that virtually every thirty-something man I know is having a fling with an undergrad. My guilt evaporates in an instant, and I make it a point to ogle the youngest CÉGEP student I can find.
After an hour or so of aimless wandering, the demonstrators begin the march to Jean Charest’s office. By this time, my lower back is killing me, but I bravely soldier on. In twenty minutes, we will have arrived at our destination, at which point I promise myself that I will sit my throbbing ass down.
As we turn north on Jeanne-Mance, we stop in front of UQAM for a spell of chanting. So-So-So! My God, I would kill a government official for a cup of coffee. Solidarité! Hell, I’d take out a whole ministry for an Advil. So-So-So! Oh, and a glass of water. Solidarité! Jesus Christ, is it possible that I’m too old for this?
Suddenly, the demonstration stalls. The police advise the organizers that we cannot march on Sherbrooke Street, and direct us to turn back to President Kennedy. However, the hot revolutionary boys are having none of it. They stand defiantly where they are as the organizers plead with them to turn back. The boys refuse. I, for my part, am almost doubled over with cramps.
Then the riot police show up. Holding shields in one hand and cans of tear gas in the other, they form a solid black line across the intersection of Jeanne-Mance and Sherbrooke. The hot revolutionary boys have only their surfeit of testosterone to protect them, which they wield like small, weak fists. A standoff ensues.
I spot a bench and sit gratefully down, watching as the crowd cleaves into two distinct factions. One stands at the intersection at the top of the hill; the other waits patiently at the bottom. The organizers engage in shuttle diplomacy between the two, walking up and down the hill with their megaphones. There is a hint of desperation in their amplified voices. Nobody moves.
It occurs to me that we may not actually make it to Jean Charest’s office. Also, that my uterus is about to explode. Someone mentions that the organizers have phone numbers for lawyers on hand in case anyone is arrested. I think about asking to borrow one of their megaphones and taking over, on behalf of every demonstrator on her period. I imagine my speech:
“You may have testosterone, boys, but I have cramps that would knock you on your skinny, revolutionary asses faster than a hail of rubber bullets, so put those limp little fists of yours down and get a fucking move on!”
At that moment, the riot police call the revolutionaries’ bluff. First, they form a tight black circle around the group, then calmly announce that they will all be arrested. The boys back down instantly. As they skulk backwards down the hill, they raise their middle fingers at the cops and froth with rage. I think to myself, pussies.
Finally, we arrive at Charest’s office building, whereupon we are directed to sit down and block the street. I couldn’t be happier to do so, although I anticipate having to ask a kindly anarchist to help me get up again. I decide to chance it. Almost immediately, the dull throb in my lower back subsides, and I am almost pleased with the universe.
At exactly this point, I become aware that a car has elected not to stop for the demonstration and is heading straight toward me. I scream and jump to my feet, as do several dozen other panicked demonstrators. In a flash, the car is surrounded by furious students who are swearing a blue streak and waving their placards in the air. I am one of them. After several minutes and a few well-placed dents, the car’s driver shifts meekly into reverse. Someone hurls a red cube at him as he does. It should have been a rock.
I head over to stand with Contrary-wise, who observes that Montreal demonstrations never seem to have an ending planned. This one is no exception. A couple of students give speeches, one in each official language, then everyone mills around for a while, wondering what to do next. One of the organizers recommends that the group march to another university where student council elections are being held. I take this as my cue to leave, and gently deposit my placard at the university gates. As I walk away, I face the awful truth: I am definitely too old for this.