Friday, 20 January 2012

About Me, Part 20: In Yer Face!

I started my first year as an undergrad at Concordia University in the fall of 1990. The previous year had seen an explosion in activism, many of my friends and peers were getting drawn into various movements. The aftermath of the Universite de Montreal massacre nearly a year earlier had seen the growth of a gun control movement as well as the rebirth of the women's movement. Police brutality locally and in the United States had led to a new wave of civil rights marches. Hip-hop songs and the films of Spike Lee and John Singleton drew on these events for their material. An after hours rave held in the Montreal's financial district, attended by members of the local LGBTQ community was raided by the police who beat partiers indiscriminately; a rally in front of the police precinct station was broken up, on live television, by police clubbing demonstrators.

And early in the summer, northeast of Montreal, in the city of Oka, a dispute between developers intend on expanding a golf course on to a Mohawk burial ground next to the Kanehsatake reservation erupted into a stand-off in which the Mohawk set up a blockade preventing developers from moving any further. The provincial police were called in. They attacked the barricade with tear gas and gunfire and in the following shoot out, a police officer was killed. The public saw that the Mohawk community had been attacked and opinion strongly in favour of the stand-off; many made a personal connection between the raid on the barricade (and reserve) and a home invasion. The Kanawake reserve south of Montreal set up a sympathy blockade on the Mercier bridge. Demonstrations and blockades occurred across the country. The long, hot summer of 1990 saw the stand-off last weeks, seemingly with no end in sight. Food was collected at the Native Friendship Centre downtown (I was a contributor) and fundraising benefits were organized (I attended one organized by friends). There was also a backlash of south shore suburbanites and organized racist groups made inroads into the city. By the time the barricades came down and the tear gas cleared, the mood in the city and its surrounds had changed. I, for one, felt I had been radicalized. These events sparked many a discussion and argument amongst my family.

September of 1990 saw me becoming a member of the Concordia chapter of PIRG and writing for their newsletter. I began my Creative Writing program taking a few English Literature courses (Science Fiction, English Poetry, Chaucer) and two writing courses (Poetry and Short Fiction writing); the introductory Creative Process course had been waived in my case. I became very focused that fall and winter, learning about writers and writing, my vocabulary expanded. My writing had an audience and I saw what others were doing. But, the dynamics in my short fiction class became very dysfunctional very quickly. We were about a dozen students with sensitive egos who seemed (definitely true in my case) to think we were quite brilliant. Collisions were inevitable. Also, most of the other students were more worldly than I was. I wrote about ideas, the future of the planet and outcasts; some of the others wrote about sex, relationships and intimacy, things I knew nothing about, and it showed. The elation of being an undergrad in this program was quickly replaced by a sense of being scapegoated. During the winter session of 1991, I missed a couple of classes on purpose because of how uncomfortable I felt.

I got a call later that winter from my mother. Her cancer had come back, but the doctors were optimistic. She asked when I could come down. We agreed on a visit that spring, once I had finished my year.

The first Gulf War in Iraq started the previous summer with the invasion of Kuwait. Operation Desert storm with its carpet bombing of `installations` in the Iraq desert began in mid-January. Marches had begun in the fall, but late one February afternoon, almost at dusk, I was in the lobby of the downtown Concordia campus when word went around that a spontaneous march was starting up. I joined and we marched down to boulevard Rene Levesque a few blocks away as it began to snow. A police car from that infamous downtown precinct followed us as far as the business and shopping Complex Desjardins several blocks east. Then we disperse, but it was quite tense. Organized marches also happened. The internet was barely used at that point, so other than television news, which hardly showed anything, there was not much information on what was actually taking place. An independent news series called POV on US public television showed marches all over the country and the world and well as footage of bombings from the ground in Iraq and in hospitals caring for the victims, most of whom were civilians.

I was learning to become a discerning media watcher which put me at odds with folks who seemed to feel no need to go further than the headlines. They often wondered where I got my information from. My sense of the world in general became quite different from theirs; as did my priorities. Living together became more and more difficult, but unfortunately, though it would have done all of us a lot of good, me moving out was still not an option. Looking back, it must have been frustrating for them, as I was quite opinionated. But, so were they, we had simply developed different views based on each of our life experiences.

I finished my first year in April 1991, feeling a sense of accomplishment. The war had ended in February and that spring there was a lightness in the air, I had begun hanging around the growing drum circle on the east side of Parc Mount-Royal, across the street from Parc Jeanne Mance where I had had my trip years earlier. The feeling was unmistakably `summer of love`. The crowd included more than hippies, there were Rastafarians, ravers, hip-hoppers, mods, students, artists, families of all shapes and sizes: hundreds of people and growing by the weekend.

I had worked during the school year at McGill University library and continued to that summer. Meanwhile, I wrote and read and listened to music. During one week in July, I volunteered for the National Campus and Community Radio Association conference hosted by CKUT, Radio McGill. The experience turned me on to radio, big time!

To be continued ...

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