In the midst of all this chaos and fear and pain there were bright moments. On Thursday I was present at the start of the Women's March, which was colourful, beautiful, peaceful, magical. There were huge puppets and decorated artwork that the women wove into the Wall of Shame. That night I walked with the Torchlight Parade all the way fromUniversite de Laval to Ilot Fleurie.
Along the entire route, for many countless hours, the group sang songs, chanted, drummed and danced. Slogans such as "This is what Democracy looks like", "Whose streets? Our streets?", "Ain't no power like the power of the people and the power of the people won't stop" and "So So So, Solidarite!" were repeated over and over. There was a festive atmosphere, with many residents waving from their homes and calling out their support to the crowd.
On Friday things went bad as soon as the next march from Laval reached the perimeter, but I saw some beautiful things through the clouds of gas. A group of women joined hands and danced in a slow circle, singing beautiful songs about peace and nonviolence. They were angelic, young and old, a space of quiet in the midst of a thunderstorm of pain. Starhawkled her Pagan group with blue banners and an aura of calm, straight into the tear gas. I saw them go by and felt safe for just a moment.
I heard later that they went straight through the gas and the bullets, and sang and danced right by the row of riot cops. Apparently some were later treated for injuries. Their courage and faith was inspirational to many, including me.
On Saturday down at Ilot Fleurie a party was going on all day long. In this space, supposedly the "Green Zone" (safe, non-confrontational, nowhere near the perimeter) had a booth set up for Food Not Bombs, a group that fed us all weekend long. Everyone was welcome to come and eat for free any time of day, and there were containers to eat out of with a wash station nearby that everyone was expected to wash their dish out in after eating. There was also an art space set up where artists would fashion their work to use in the protests. By late afternoon there was a huge fire going in the street, with people dancing around it.
Many people ripped down street signs and used them as musical instruments a steady beat went on for hours and hours, late into the night. There was a group dancing to the beat, and everyone felt so free and beautiful. It felt like the kind of society I want to live in, at least until the cops arrived and the fear set in. A whole phalanx of riot cops stoodtheir ground at the top of the stairs looking down on Ilot Fleurie, and were an intimidating presence for hours on end (from approximately 5 pm until they gassed us at 2:30 a.m.). Six choppers circled overhead as well.
Getting back to good moments: while we medics were holed up inside a shack that was being used as a "Free Space" in Ilot Fleurie (they let us use it as a makeshift clinic), a guy was brought in with a serious asthma attack. He had been having the attack for about a half hour, and his breathing was extremely laboured. I sat him down and attempted to calm him down, but it only got worse. I could hear the wheezing and feel his body shaking with every effort, and I knew the pain he was in because of my own experiences with asthma. I recognized his panic. He also didn't have his ventolin inhaler.
As I sat there by his side I went over my options in my head and realized I had none. An ambulance wouldn't come into such a "hot" area,our clinic had just been busted by the cops, and I had no ventolin or adrenaline for him. So in a moment of clarity I realized I should try my only other option an acupressure point I had learned the week before, that supposedly stops asthma attacks immediately. I admit that before Saturday night I wasvery sceptical of these techniques, but when I was confronted with this guy's obvious need, faith just kicked in. I knew it would work, I just knew it. Maybe because I believed it so much, maybe because of something else, it worked. Within seconds of my pressing that point on his hand, his breathing began to slow down. Within a minute he was calm, and walked out of the clinic!!! That moment for me was magic without any Western medical techniques or medication of any sort, I managed to take away this man's pain. Unbelievable. I began to cry as soon as he walked out I was so shocked and so relieved.
What I saw this weekend, what I went through, what I saw people going through it made me realize how much stronger I am than I previously thought. I kept saying to myself if you can get through this moment, you can get through the next, and the next, and then whatever life drops on you. And I got through it all. Without serious injury, without arrest. But I haveto say, I didn't get away scot-free. My heart hurts. My mind hurts. Most of all, my soul is aching with pain and disbelief. I can't believe how people hurt each other.
I am shocked at the violence I saw in the span of two days, Friday and Saturday. I can't believe the ferocity of chemical weapons, and that a government would allow its police force to use such arms against its own people.
I am angered that a) the Black Bloc, formed of a handful of protesters at any one point, attacks the police and that b) the police react by gassing the thousands of peaceful protesters!!! I fully appreciate the cops need to defend themselves against the concrete and plywood wielding Black Bloc-res., but each of these cops is heavily armed and protected, and a handful of them could have easily surrounded the Black Bloc and dealt with them instead of affecting the peaceful demonstrators. Tear gas was being shot deliberately at the peaceful demonstrators at the back of the crowd!
I know all this because I was there. I am not spreading misinformation or propaganda of any sort, because I saw the majority of this with my own two eyes. The information that I heard from other medics is 100% reliable because I worked with these people all weekend, and much of this was talked about in our debriefings at the end of every night. No one in those debriefings was lying, and none of these stories are without two or more witnesses.