You know when you dislike someone and then they go and do something really cool and you start thinking that maybe you’ve misjudged them? Inevitably, they go back to their old ways and you realize that nope, you were right about them all along and you kick yourself for doubting your preconceptions.
That’s exactly how I feel right now about Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and I doubt I’m the only one. For weeks, Tremblay kept a drastically different tone than the mayors of other major cities with an occupied public space.
Following the 1am commando-style raid on the original #OWS, Tremblay told the press that Montreal policy does not take its cues from the mayor of New York. When Toronto occupiers were going to court to fight the city, Montreal protesters were still working out details with the city on how Occupy would survive the winter, dismantling wooden structures deemed too permanent by the Tremblay administration and preparing for large multi-person tents to stave off the cold weather.
Shortly after those structures came down, Tremblay changed his tune. Bringing up supposed “fights” that may have occurred over the weekend as his reasoning that everyone had to go. This culminated in the cops forcing everyone out Friday morning, a few days after the original statement from the mayor. In this announcement, Tremblay brought up the fact that the city had let the occupiers camp for five weeks, and said that they now had to find other avenues to express their disappointment in the economic system.
This “you kids had your fun, now it’s time to go home” approach mirrors the paternalistic tone NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg took when he claimed that he was only “temporarily” evicting protesters for their own safety. He said the park needed to be cleaned and occupiers would be allowed back in after, but without tents or sleeping bags.
Not only did Bloomberg’s statement miss the whole point of this being an occupation instead of an easily contained and just as easily dismissed protest, but it also ignored the fact that #OWS had its own cleaning crews and medics. The mayor was well aware of this situation, in fact, it’s what foiled his attempted eviction a month earlier. Well, that and a mass mobilization on the internet to get everyone and their uncle jamming the city’s phone lines and those of public park “owner” Brookfield Properties.
Bloomberg wasn’t ignorant of what he was really doing, the choice of an unannounced 1am brute force eviction when many politically motivated people had gone to sleep for the night proves that. He probably is guilty of a more profound ignorance of what scenes of NYPD officers and sanitation workers throwing 5000 books in the trash means for his place in history, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, but that’s another story.
While Bloomberg tried to put a somewhat liberal spin on what was clearly a repressive act, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his administration didn’t bother, opting instead to keep repeating that what the protesters were doing was illegal. Makes sense, stay on your own superficial message but shut down occupy at all costs. They were, after all, probably part of the same conference call (and apparently so was US Homeland security).
Now, it looks like Tremblay was on that call too. What superficial political message did he have to maintain while getting the job done? Well, he’s not really left or right, nor is he progressive or repressive. He got in on an anti-merger ticket and then made life tough for de-merged communities. He claimed to be a champion of the arts then fought hard to remove a performance space from artists and replace it with an office tower in his brand-new entertainment district (dude likes to evict, just sayin’).
Now, he rode a wave of praise for a respectful and unique approach to occupy, possibly due in part to the legal precedent of huge fines for a similar eviction and the fact that Square Victoria is technically a public square so park hours don’t apply, then switched over night and copied what other mayors were doing. Classic Tremblay, really.
While we may have been duped by what seemed like a really cool, trend-bucking thing our mayor was doing, Montrealers have now been reminded of just who he works for. We’ve also just seen him attack our city’s foothold in the most important global social movements in ages, treating it like a bureaucratic nuisance.
His nuisance was a thing of beauty. I went there on the first day and witnessed people peacefully assembled, dancing, cooking for one another and planning something big. I returned a couple of times and witnessed a growing community, living in the shadow of tall buildings and big money. They were planning for winter, had invested in giant tents so people didn’t freeze, it was continuing and adapting.
In one swift gesture, Tremblay got rid of that. But he didn’t kill the movement in Montreal, just as Bloomberg didn’t kill it in New York, in fact he made it stronger.
As it’s been said, you can’t evict an idea, so now occupiers around the world are talking about what form the next phase of this movement will take. If phase two, three or even four gets rid of the ultra-rich politicians like Michael Bloomberg, a small-by-comparison lackey like Gerald Tremblay may simply one day be disregarded as a nuisance himself.
While sometimes it sucks to be wrong about someone, at least it’s better than being on the wrong side of history.
* Photos: CBC, OccupyWallSt Facebook Page and by Chris Zacchia for FTB