In­ves­ti­gat­ing the myth­i­cal Mob Squad

In 2012, Mcgill stu­dent pro­test­ers reimag­ined the Univer­sity. In 2017, what can we learn from the myth­i­cal Mob Squad?

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Writ­ten by Han­nah Kaya | Vi­su­als by Marina Djur­d­je­vic

it’s day five of the oc­cu­pa­tion – Feb­ru­ary 10, 2012. Poster board plac­ards and pa­per signs with witty slo­gans pep­per the linoleum tiling on the sixth floor of the James ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing. It looks as though a group of in­sur­gent clowns have moved into a space that, on a reg­u­lar day, houses the quo­tid­ian op­er­a­tions of Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. The pro­test­ers have rad­i­cally reimag­ined the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the space: stu­dents pass the time com­pos­ing im­pas­sioned man­i­festos, catch­ing up on read­ings for classes they aren’t at­tend­ing, dis­cussing strat­egy, the­ory, imag­in­ing beau­ti­ful, queer, class­less fu­tu­ri­ties – the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of pri­vate prop­erty! The rad­i­cal re­dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth and priv­i­lege! The erad­i­ca­tion of sys­tems of dom­i­nance and op­pres­sion! The dis­man­tling of the white su­prem­a­cist colo­nial cis het­eropa­tri­ar­chal na­tion state! One par­tic­u­larly play­ful stu­dent reads aloud from the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo to the guards sent to keep watch.

A few months later, over 250,000 stu­dents would take to the streets de­mand­ing, free and ac­ces­si­ble post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion, among other things. Later still, night demos would be­gin, in protest of the still in-ef­fect Law 78, along with the now in­fa­mous tradi- tion of bang­ing on casseroles ( pots and pans) as a show of in­dig­na­tion. The night demos ran for a hun­dred con­sec­u­tive nights. Black Blocs marched be­side baby car­riages, of­ten to a com­bi­na­tion of de­light, cu­rios­ity, and cha­grin from all par­ties. There were weeks of tar­geted eco­nomic dis­rup­tion. A pro­vin­cial elec­tion was forced, neigh­bor­hood as­sem­blies strength­ened, com­mu­ni­ties forged. It might not have been “the rev,” but the 2012 stu­dent strikes achieved a lot, and Mcgill stu­dents, for the first time in a long time, were right on the front­lines.

The above im­age of the 6party oc­cu­pa­tion is part real, part imag­ined (the Marx bit is, in­cred­i­bly, real). It is, how­ever, based off of sto­ries. Sto­ries I’ve read, sto­ries I’ve been told, sto­ries I’ve over­head mur­mured be­tween song breaks at a base­ment punk show. This ar­ti­cle will fo­cus on the Mob Squad, the name com­monly used to re­fer to the 2010 to 2012 stu­dent mo­bi­liza­tion com­mit­tee at Mcgill, and the role it played dur­ing the strikes.

The 2012 stu­dent strikes – and the shad­owy group of stu­dent ac­tivists be­hind them – have be­come the stuff of myth. And, in a way, the mytho­graphic process of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing th­ese sto­ries, ex­pe­ri­ences, and re­flec­tions im­i­tates the way the 2012 stu­dent strike is ex­pe­ri­enced by un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents cur­rently at Mcgill. But this fea­ture is about the real peo­ple, the real sit­u­a­tions, and the real chal­lenges be­hind the myth­i­cal Mob Squad. This will not be a nos­tal­gia piece, nor will it try to force some kind of to­tal­iz­ing moral nar­ra­tive on the past. His­toric strate­gies of re­sis­tance can­not be sim­ply im­puted di­rectly into our own con­tem­po­rary con­text. Even so, it’s im­por­tant to learn from those who came be­fore us.

How did Mob Squad form?

6party, the in­fa­mous multi-day oc­cu­pa­tion of the sixth floor of the James ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, was a re­sponse to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to in­val­i­date the re­sults of the Fall 2011 ex­is­tence ref­er­enda for CKUT and the Que­bec Pub­lic In­ter­est Re­search Group - Mcgill (QPIRG). The ac­tion de­vel­oped out of the much larger and more neb­u­lous Mob Squad. The Mob Squad func­tioned as a mo­bi­liza­tion com­mit­tee sim­i­lar to ones present at other fran­co­phone uni­ver­si­ties in Que­bec – such as at l’univer­sité du Québec à Mon­tréal (UQAM) – and was not the first of its kind at Mcgill. While it was af­fil­i­ated with the Stu­dents’ So­ci­ety of McGill Univer­sity (SSMU), hav­ing been spear­headed by 2010-2011 VP Ex­ter­nal Myr­iam Zaidi and re­main­ing vaguely within the Vice Pres­i­den­tial man­date un­til its dis­per­sal fol­low­ing the end of the stu­dent strikes, the Mob Squad acted in­de­pen­dently of SSMU and was not di­rectly an­swer­able to it. While this re­la­tion­ship was not with­out con­tention or op­po­si­tion, it did al­low for Mob Squad mem­bers to ac­cess the con­sid­er­able re­sources at SSMU’S dis­posal.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to pro­vide one to­tal­iz­ing def­i­ni­tion of what the Mob Squad ‘was,’ but that’s part of its beauty. The Mob Squad was in­ten­tion­ally many dif­fer­ent things to many dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The group quickly adopted an or­ga­ni­za­tional model that dis­trib­uted de­ci­sion mak- ing power through­out its mem­bers, which al­lowed for adapt­abil­ity, self­de­ter­mi­na­tion, and spon­tane­ity. Un­like cur­rent, global sys­tems of power that op­er­ate through dom­i­na­tion and con­trol, and wherein a small group of peo­ple seize au­thor­ity over the lives of the masses, a de­cen­tral­ized frame­work is an or­ga­ni­za­tional model in which each in­di­vid­ual is un­der­stood to have au­ton­omy over their own ac­tions, and power is dis­persed through­out the group rather than con­cen­trated on one in­di­vid­ual or a core group of “lead­ers.” In Mob Squad, a de­cen­tral­ized frame­work meant that mem­bers could pitch ac­tions, con­trib­ute skills, or en­gage in out­reach, tak­ing from the group what they found most use­ful, and giv­ing back ac­cord­ing to their abil­i­ties. As no one mem­ber had veto power to po­lice the ac­tions of any other mem­ber, Mob Squad served pri­mar­ily as a node of com­mon in­ter­est, where rad cats could find other rad cats who were also in­ter­ested in rad­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing, a fluid net­work of di­verse and some­times con­tra­dic­tory words and deeds. Mob Squad es­tab­lished a space for like-minded stu­dent ac­tivists and rad­i­cals to con­verge and or­ga­nize around is­sues at both a univer­sity and pro­vin­cial level out­side of the av­enues of con­cil­i­a­tion that were

The 2012 stu­dent strikes – and the shad­owy group of stu­dent ac­tivists be­hind them – have be­come the stuff of myth.

be­ing pre­sented to stu­dents by the ad­min­is­tra­tion at the time.

Plans for the 2012 stu­dent strike date back to at least 2007, when the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a tu­ition in­crease of $500 over five years. When it be­came clear that the strike planned in re­sponse to the hike wasn’t go­ing to be suc­cess­ful, stu­dents started plan­ning for the next one – and this time, they would do it right. Op­por­tu­nity arose when, in the spring of 2010, the Que­bec Lib­eral Party, then un­der Premier Jean Charest, an­nounced in the bud­get that, among other cuts to so­cial spend­ing, his gov­ern­ment planned to in­crease tu­ition by 75 per cent – the largest tu­ition in­crease Que­bec had ever seen. Things be­gan to es­ca­late from there, as a se­ries of in­ter­re­lated events took shape which would lead to the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of many stu­dents on Mcgill cam­pus, so­lid­i­fy­ing grow­ing in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing a Mcgill Mob Squad. An en­counter with po­lice bru­tal­ity by a Mcgill con­tin­gent at the G20 sum­mit protests in June of 2010 in­cited many to ap­ply their ex­pe­ri­ences in Toronto to fo­ment dis­si­dence in Mon­treal. In Oc­to­ber 2011, stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in ac­tions taken by strik­ing Mcgill Univer­sity Non-aca­demic Cer­ti­fied As­so­ci­a­tion (MUNACA) work­ers be­came in­ter­ested in fur­ther or­ga­niz­ing. On Novem­ber 10, 2011, over a hun­dred riot po­lice bru­tal­ized stu­dents on Mcgill cam­pus dur­ing an oc­cu­pa­tion of the James ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing. The Mob Squad at­tracted stu­dents from di­verse groups on cam­pus: some were en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, oth­ers worked with CKUT ra­dio, QPIRG-MCGILL or other so­cial ad­vo­cacy groups on cam­pus, but most had very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence or­ga­niz­ing. The learn­ing curve for Mob Squad mem­bers was steep, but the process lead to a se­ries of vic­to­ries and pow­er­ful ac­tions that put Mcgill on the map of the stu­dent move­ment.

Both Myr­iam Zaidi and Joël Ped­nault, who sat as VP Ex­ter­nal of SSMU dur­ing the 2012 stu­dent strikes, saw their po­si­tion within the group as one of fa­cil­i­ta­tion and re­source pro­vi­sion, as op­posed to one of lead­er­ship. Be­cause of its de­cen­tral­ized frame­work it would be wrong to call Myr­iam the group’s “founder,” as that lan­guage in­ac­cu­rately im­plies au­thor­ity or hi­er­ar­chy. That said, Myr­iam’s back­ground as some­one who grew up in Mon­treal meant that she was al­ready fa­mil­iar with the Que­bec stu­dent move­ment prior to ar­riv­ing at Mcgill. Her ex­pe­ri­ences with ac­tivism through CEGEP or­ga­niz­ing meant that she was ac­quainted with the culture of mil­i­tant or­ga­niz­ing that is par­tic­u­lar to Que­bec, and her ties to other fran­co­phone uni­ver­si­ties in the prov­ince – many of which have a long stand­ing culture of mo­bi­liza­tion com­mit­tees – con­vinced her and many oth­ers that Mcgill needed to step up its game.

Myr­iam and her peers es­tab­lished the Mob Squad to make space for stu­dents who wanted to be in­volved in ac­tivism on cam­pus. Mcgill is no­to­ri­ous for at­tract­ing and ar­guably in­cu­bat­ing an apo­lit­i­cal stu­dent body, es­pe­cially when com­pared to more po­lit­i­cally mil­i­tant univer­sity pop­u­la­tions at Que­bec’s fran­co­phone uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges, and CEGEPS. Mcgill’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is deeply com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing its im­age as an ‘elite,’ ‘apo­lit­i­cal’ in­sti­tu­tion, and this stu­dent ap­a­thy works to its ben­e­fit. “It is chal­leng­ing [to or­ga­nize stu­dents on cam­pus],” Myr­iam told me in a tele­phone in­ter­view, “but at the same time, when we did start this Mob Squad, I knew that there were ac­tivists on cam­pus. There are stu­dent ac­tivists, there are peo­ple who go to demon­stra­tions, there are a lot of very crit­i­cal stu­dents and so it was just a ques­tion of putting them all in the same room and be­ing like, ‘This is hap­pen­ing. The tu­ition hike is go­ing to come and there’s go­ing to be mass mo­bi­liza­tion against it and we just need to or­ga­nize.’ And peo­ple wanted to or­ga­nize.” For Myr­iam, the newly minted Mob Squad wasn’t in it­self rev­o­lu­tion­ary, but it was a vi­tal step in com­bat­ting the ef­fects of aus­ter­ity on cam­pus.

De­spite the stereo­type of the “Mcgill bub­ble” full of ap­a­thetic An­g­los, Myr­iam doesn’t buy that stu­dents weren’t ac­tive on cam­pus be­fore 2012. “Yeah, maybe we don’t have decades of stu­dent or­ga­niz­ing and strikes at Mcgill, but we had gen­der neu­tral bath­rooms. We had things present at Mcgill that were ab­sent from a lot of other cam­puses in Que­bec.”

What Mob Squad fought for and against

One of the stu­dent ac­tivists who be­came in­volved with the Mob Squad was Molly Swain, who grad­u­ated from Mcgill and now runs the “un­apolo­get­i­cally Indige­nous, un­abashedly fe­male, and un­blink­ingly nerdy” pod­cast Métis In Space. Molly first be­came in­volved in Mob Squad in Oc­to­ber 2011 when, like many of her peers, she was drawn to the group for its sol­i­dar­ity work with strik­ing MUNACA work­ers. Once the MUNACA dis­pute was re­solved, many stu­dents were start­ing to ques­tion what role Mcgill stu­dents would play in the in­evitable stu­dent strikes that were just around the cor­ner. “We started talk­ing about what Mcgill’s role was in Que­bec as kind of an An­glo, white-su­prem­a­cist in­sti­tu­tion, very elit­ist, and what its his­tory has been in stu­dent strike and stu­dent move­ment stuff,” she told me, re­call­ing con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing within the Mob Squad at the time. “We wanted to use our power and priv­i­lege as Mcgill stu­dents to fight th­ese tu­ition in­creases and to fight against th­ese aus­ter­ity poli­cies of the gov­ern­ment.”

Stu­dent ac­tivists at Mcgill ap­plied an in­ter­sec­tional ap­proach to their analy­ses of tu­ition hikes, with the un­der­stand­ing that high tu­ition dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacts racial­ized and Indige­nous stu­dents. Fed­eral govern­ments have been chron­i­cally un­der­fund­ing the Post-Se­condary Stu­dent Sup­port Pro­gram (PSSSP), a fed­eral pro­gram that al­lo­cates funds to sub­si­dize ed­u­ca­tion for Indige­nous stu­dents seek­ing to pur­sue higher ed­u­ca­tion. Ed­u­ca­tion is a treaty right, and it is a dis­grace that the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to de­lib­er­ately un­der­fund this pro­gram. The Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions of Canada are the high­est grow­ing pop­u­la­tions, mean­while Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau has yet to fol­low through on his prom­ise of $50 mil­lion per year in fund­ing for the PSSSP. In­ac­ces­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion af­fects the com­po­si­tion of our cam­puses; it’s no sur­prise that clos­ing off ac­cess to post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion be­hind a multi-thou­sand dol­lar pay­wall will tar­get the poor and un­der­priv­i­leged. As Canada’s deep in­come di­vide tends to fall along eth­nic and racial lines, it’s not hard to imag­ine that with­out a rad­i­cal re­con­sid­er­a­tion of what the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem can do and who can ac­cess it that th­ese di­vides will only be­come in­creas­ingly en­trenched. Many Mob Squad mem­bers be­lieved in the goal of free and ac­ces­si­ble post-se­condary ed­u­ca­tion, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ques­tion­ing the trend of univer­sity diplo­mas be­ing a nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion for ful­fill­ing and fair em­ploy­ment, as well as the racial and class di­men­sions to in­creas­ing tu­ition fees.

At their best, the stu­dent strikes in 2012 were fight­ing against the on­go­ing ne­olib­eral process of aus­ter­ity, which cuts fund­ing to so­cial ser­vices such as health­care, child­care, and af­ford­able hous­ing, as well as to ed­u­ca­tion. The Mob Squad mem­bers who I spoke with stressed that the strug­gle for free, ac­ces­si­ble post­sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion must si­mul­ta­ne­ously be a strug­gle to re­form the very foun­da­tions of a so­ci­ety dom­i­nated by the preda­tory and ex­trac­tive logic of ne­olib­er­al­ism.

How the Mob Squad fought: Di­rect ac­tion and ed­u­ca­tion

The Mob Squad’s ac­tions ranged from di­rect ac­tion to com­mu­nity out­reach. They or­ga­nized class talks pro­vid­ing stu­dents with in­for­ma­tion about up­com­ing strike votes and pos­si­ble means of en­gage­ment, they put to­gether in­for­ma­tional leaflets, and – once fac­ul­ties and, later, de­part­ments started hav­ing suc­cess­ful strike votes – the Mob Squad or­ga­nized to pass fur­ther strike votes and to con­vince stu­dents to re­spect the strike and not go to class.

How­ever, the Mob Squad is most fa­mous for its par­tic­i­pa­tion in di­rect ac­tions. The dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of di­rect ac­tion is that it im­plies un­medi­ated ac­tiv­ity, ex­ert­ing power di­rectly to­wards the de­sired goal. In con­tradis­tinc­tion to re­formist ac­tions such as lob­by­ing, vot­ing, or at­tempt­ing to cap­ture po­lit­i­cal clout through the me­dia, di­rect ac­tion is a way for ac­tivists to as­sert their own power while re­fus­ing to con­cede to the il­le­git­i­mate au­thor­ity of ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions which main­tain the sta­tus quo. Some di­rect ac­tion tac­tics in­clude block­ades, oc­cu­pa­tions, wild­cat strikes, and the de­struc­tion of prop­erty. Stu­dents in 2012 par­tic­i­pated in all of the afore­men­tioned ac­tions, and of­ten dis­rupted the day-to- day func­tion­ings of cap­i­tal­ism as a way of ex­ert­ing pres­sure on an al­ready buck­ling po­lit­i­cal or­der by ar­rest­ing the free flow of cap­i­tal and the mer­cury-smooth­ness of the machi­na­tions of state power.

Molly Swain is a firm be­liever in di­rect ac­tion. “I be­lieve it’s an in­cred­i­ble tool, not only to get your mes­sage out there and to get peo­ple talk­ing, but to also just di­rectly af­fect what’s go­ing on,” she says. “It changes your re­la­tion­ship to where you are, be­cause sud­denly ev­ery­thing seems pos­si­ble. You feel like you can win. And it’s amaz­ing. All of your pre­con­cep­tions, ev­ery­thing they tell you you can’t do falls away, be­cause you’re do­ing it!”

Di­rect ac­tions un­der­taken by Mob Squad mem­bers re­or­ga­nized and re­con­tex­tu­al­ized their re­la­tion­ship to the ge­og­ra­phy of Mon­treal. Bridges, sixth floor of­fices, and pub­lic streets were trans­formed from their daily ‘apo­lit­i­cal’ uses to be­come spa­ces for a rad­i­cal en­gage­ment with democ­racy. By demon­strat­ing that space could be used in ways that tran­scended – as op­posed to merely crit­i­cized – the sta­tus quo, the pro­test­ers ex­panded the win­dow of ac­cept­able dis­course and ac­cept­able ac­tion. As Molly de­scribed, through di­rect ac­tion the pro­test­ers self-trans­formed from docile, con­sump­tive bod­ies into play­ful, ac­tive agents. The pro­test­ers’ ha­bit­ual ways of mov­ing and be­ing in ur­ban spa­ces had been dis­rupted by trau­matic en­coun­ters with po­lice bru­tal­ity. In re­sponse, a burn­ing cop car or a smashed bank

“When we did start this Mob Squad, I knew that there were ac­tivists on cam­pus [...] it was just a ques­tion of putting them all in the same room.” —Myr­iam Zaidi 2010-2011 SSMU VP Ex­ter­nal “We wanted to use our power and priv­i­lege as Mcgill stu­dents to fight th­ese tu­ition in­creases.” —Molly Swain For­mer Mob Squad mem­ber

win­dow opened up a new world of seem­ingly lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties: a new re­la­tional frame­work be­tween self and other, self and space.

It is im­por­tant, how­ever, to re­sist the hi­er­ar­chy of ac­tivism, where di­rect ac­tion is seen as the most im­por­tant, le­git­i­mate, or ef­fec­tive form of dis­si­dence. Mi­gra­tion sta­tus, race, job pre­car­ity, trauma, and other forms of pre­car­ity all fac­tor into some­one’s de­ci­sion whether or not to take up di­rect ac­tion. Jaime Maclean, another Mob Squad mem­ber, also sup­ports di­rect ac­tion. She em­pha­sized, how­ever, that at the time she be­lieves there was a per­va­sive and prob­lem­atic be­lief that di­rect ac­tion was the only ef­fec­tive tac­tic. “There can be this valu­ing of di­rect ac­tion as ‘the best thing.’ But no, it’s one tac­tic that’s be­ing of­ten used dur­ing this move­ment be­cause it’s one tac­tic that’s ac­tu­ally ef­fec­tive right now,” she told me. A suc­cess­ful di­rect ac­tion is one node within a con­stel­la­tion of suc­ces­sive ac­tions, strate­gies, and tac­tics to­wards a larger, long-term goal. Of­ten the best way for­ward is through a di­ver­sity of tac­tics which al­low for broad-base par­tic­i­pa­tion – and Mob Squad’s de­cen­tral­ized struc­ture al­lowed for such a range of tac­tics. Sta­pling to­gether the same two pages for five hours to pro­duce a flyer or man­i­festo isn’t par­tic­u­larly glam­orous work, but it many ways it’s that kind of grunt work (of­ten, if un­sur­pris­ingly, un­der­taken by women and femmes of colour) that pro­vides the ground­work for any suc­cess­ful ac­tion. You can’t hold a demo with­out bod­ies, but the move­ment will floun­der if all en­er­gies are de­voted solely to mo­bi­liza­tion while ed­u­ca­tional and ag­i­ta­tional work suf­fer, and the or­ga­niz­ers of Mob Squad rec­og­nized this. Molly refers to this work as “pa­per­work for the rev.” Some­times it’s just as vi­tal and in­sur­rec­tionary to pass out leaflets as it is to block­ade a class­room, and the Mob Squad took on both roles.

Com­mu­nity stan­dards, or lack thereof

Es­tab­lish­ing trust and sol­i­dar­ity within emer­gent com­mu­ni­ties of re­sis­tance is per­haps the most vi­tal and yet most chal­leng­ing as­pect of or­ga­niz­ing. At Mcgill, frag­men­ta­tion, in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion, and com­pe­ti­tion is en­demic to the aca­demic culture. It doesn’t help that th­ese traits are fur­ther val­i­dated and con­doned by a ne­olib­eral sys­tem whose sur­vival de­pends on our iso­la­tion, con­sump­tion, and rivalry. Trust de­vel­oped or­gan­i­cally amongst Mob Squad or­ga­niz­ers through ne­ces­sity – of­ten it was in­cited by the bind­ing power of col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences of trauma through ex­po­sure to the ap­pendages of state vi­o­lence, as well as the dis­cur­sive vi­o­lence of be­ing a KSR (Known Stu­dent Rad­i­cal) on an of­ten openly hos­tile cam­pus. A core group of Mob Squad or­ga­niz­ers was un­of­fi­cially es­tab­lished, and mem­bers be­gan to rely heav­ily on each other for both emo­tional and po­lit­i­cal sup­port, and many of the friend­ships forged through strug­gle re­main to this day.

How­ever, the Achilles heel of de­cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tional frame­works is that they lack ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures. Ac­tivism does not hap­pen within a vac­uum, and ac­tivist spa­ces are not im­mune to the same sys­tems of power and op­pres­sion ar­tic­u­lated within dom­i­nant culture. Ev­ery mem­ber I spoke with noted that, re­gard­less of the “best of in­ten­tions,” of­ten or­ga­niz­ing meetings would be dom­i­nated by men, with the role of reg­u­lat­ing those be­hav­iours fall­ing to the women, femmes, and peo­ple of colour in the group. Many ex­pressed their wish that there had been more dis­cus­sion around mu­tual care and ac­count­abil­ity, both to pre­vent burn out and to cre­ate safer ac­tivist spa­ces. While many of those in the group held anti-hi­er­ar­chi­cal be­liefs, to say that the group it­self was non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal would be to erase the very real, though some­times sub­tle, power dy­nam­ics which ex­isted.

The core group of or­ga­niz­ers de­vel­oped an in­for­mal and only some­what ef­fec­tive model for dis­cussing their feel­ings and at­tempt­ing to work through con­flict, but Mob Squad was a neb­u­lous and end­lessly mu­tat­ing group. De­pend­ing on what was hap­pen­ing at any given week Mob Squad meetings could see a turnout of eight to sixty stu­dents. With that kind of flu­id­ity, it can be dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish bind­ing ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures, es­pe­cially when tak­ing into ac­count the fre­netic pace with which the strikes moved. Strat­egy, in gen­eral, seemed to be of the “by the seat of your pants” va­ri­ety. I spoke with Jaime about the ef­fec­tive­ness of this method. “There were in­stances of ma­cho ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour which, over a pe­riod of time, is a lit­tle abu­sive. Es­pe­cially when they’re peo­ple you’re friends with and have re­la­tion­ships with out­side of this po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ment.” She says mem­bers never thought of group dy­nam­ics as be­ing “iden­ti­fied as ‘we all need to be ac­count­able to one another’ or ‘we need to work through con­flict,’ so much as ‘we all have a lot of feel­ings to­day and we’re go­ing to try to get to­gether to talk about it.’ And it wasn’t su­per suc­cess­ful, be­cause it wasn’t as im­por­tant to some peo­ple as it was to oth­ers.”

Most con­flict res­o­lu­tion de­pended on mem­bers’ will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate in de­briefs or com­mu­nity dis­cus­sions, and there weren’t con­crete mea­sures in place to reg­u­late who had ac­cess to th­ese spa­ces and when. The in­ef­fec­tive­ness of this method be­came hor­rif­i­cally ap­par­ent when, af­ter the strike had sub­sided, a num­ber of sex­ual as­saults were dis­closed. Many women and femmes had been forced into daily con­tact with their per­pe­tra­tors, some of whom were very in­volved within the stu­dent move­ment. Jaime con­fides that “there were a lot of in­stances of sex­ual as­sault dur­ing the stu­dent strike among stu­dent ac­tivists who were do­ing the strike ev­ery­day for months. Af­ter it was all over and the dust set­tled a lit­tle bit […] it came to light that there were all of th­ese peo­ple who were cross­ing bound­aries and caus­ing harm to one another. Be­cause it was a re­ally misog­y­nis­tic en­vi­ron­ment.”

Is this the rev? Or, what hap­pened af­ter

By late spring of 2012 things had be­come hec­tic. Those I spoke to de­scribe the har­row­ing de­tails of their lives once the strike was in full swing: early morn­ing study­ing be­fore 6 a.m. manif-ac­tions, run­ning late to class cov­ered in pep­per spray, ac­tions on cam­pus ev­ery day and night demos ev­ery night. Most sac­ri­ficed all other pur­suits and ded­i­cated them­selves en­tirely to the strike. The Mob Squad be­gan fo­cus­ing on or­ga­niz­ing de­part­men­tally, fo­cus­ing on smaller scale strike ac­tions, mo­bi­liz­ing stu­dents around strike votes, and con­vinc­ing stu­dents who were on strike not to go to class.

Self-preser­va­tion is es­sen­tial to any sus­tain­able move­ment, but most of the Mob Squad-ers I spoke with ad­mit­ted that self-care hadn’t been high on their pri­or­i­ties. Myr­iam pointed out that ac­tivists are not im­mune to the ide­o­log­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion that they re­ceive as mem­bers of a ne­olib­eral so­ci­ety. “It’s hard to re­sist the cap­i­tal­ist idea that your worth is de­ter­mined by how much you pro­duce,” she says, high­light­ing that this way of mea­sur­ing worth is ex­clu­sion­ary to peo­ple whose po­si­tion­al­ity, (dis) abil­i­ties, or other trau­mas might cir­cum­scribe their abil­ity to en­gage in ac­tivism in conventional ways.

For many, once things were heat­ing up and more and more peo­ple were be­com­ing in­volved, it re­ally did feel like the “rev.” They de­scribe a fre­netic, for­ward-ori­ented mo­men­tum that de­voured all that came in its path. When the stu­dents voted not to go back on strike in Au­gust, for many it was ini­tially dev­as­tat­ing. Even­tu­ally, most redi­rected their en­er­gies to­wards dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity-fo­cused or­ga­niz­ing. One ex-mob Squad mem­ber I spoke with has ded­i­cated him­self to nur­tur­ing the anti-op­pres­sive, anti-cap­i­tal­ist rave scene in Mon­treal. Danjo Francis­tico, who met me in the back of Casa Del Popolo, is a DJ and com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer. He re­calls the strikes as be­ing a time of in­tense learn­ing and growth, of rad­i­cal­iza­tion and trauma, but, above all, a time of beauty. “Even the tear gas, yeah, that was beau­ti­ful too,” he says with a hint of nos­tal­gia.

Nos­tal­gia, how­ever, is deadly for com­mu­ni­ties of re­sis­tance. The line be­tween thought­ful re­flec­tion and for­ward propul­sion can be chal­leng­ing. The Mob Squad mem­bers I spoke to all saw their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2012 stu­dent move­ment as a con­tin­u­a­tion of past re­sis­tance move­ments – from an­ar­chists in 1930s in Cat­alo­nia, to the revo­lu­tion­ar­ies of May 1968, to the Oc­cupy move­ment that was si­mul­ta­ne­ously sweep­ing the globe. His­toric strate­gies of re­sis­tance can­not be sim­ply im­puted di­rectly into our own con­tem­po­rary con­text. It is, how­ever, ar­guably still an im­por­tant project to know about those who came be­fore us, what their chal­lenges were, what they saw their goals as, what be­came of them when those goals weren’t nec­es­sar­ily re­al­ized. This com­pounded his­tory of the Mob Squad and its af­fil­i­ates has been just one more ad­di­tion to an al­ready over­flow­ing ac­tivist li­brary that tries to re­trace the stu­dent move­ment at the time of the strikes, and has been in no ways ex­ten­sive or de­fin­i­tive. But just as they were hun­gry for the­ory, for his­tory, for new ways to imag­ine the world around them, we too must be hun­gry for sto­ries which re­mind us that there is in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory within the stu­dent move­ment. The work of the Mob Squad can help us to imag­ine rad­i­cal, just fu­tu­ri­ties, and if we re­ally try, we can learn from their suc­cesses and fail­ures so that this time, as ev­ery time, we have some­thing of a fight­ing chance.

Through di­rect ac­tion the pro­test­ers trans­formed from docile, con­sump­tive bod­ies into play­ful, ac­tive agents. Af­ter the strike had sub­sided, a num­ber of sex­ual as­sault were dis­closed. Many women and femmes had been forced into daily con­tact with their per­pe­tra­tors. “Even the tear gas, yeah, that was beau­ti­ful too.” —Danjo Francis­tico For­mer Mob Squad mem­ber

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