I will do little political contextualizing, so if you have not read or heard about the strike, suggested readings include this article and this wiki page. Event by event, here is a recap of the major art installations or artistic demonstrations collective Maille à Part and other activists participated in during the student’s General Unlimited Strike that lasted from Febuary until September of 2012.
Weekly knitting gatherings (stitch ‘n’ bitch)
Maille à part started the invitation as early as January 2012. Every week, the event was normally hosted at UQAM University’s Art Faculty student-managed café, but the collective also moved throughout diverse campuses and places around town like University of Montreal, Cegep de Saint-Laurent, and even a housing center for the elderly. There were also regular stitch ‘n’ bitch sessions organised at McGill University by a different crew.
During political turmoil, it is pretty important if you want to make yourself a good opinion to discuss and debate time and again with friends, family, coworkers and even strangers. The stitch ‘n’ bitch formula was thought to be a good and inviting introduction to politics to some people who could feel intimidated by General Assemblies or other forms of public speaking. Women, who too often have not been socially educated to speak out loud what they think or either seriously introduced to the man-dominated politics world, may feel safer to partake in a debate in a traditionnally feminine social activity such as knitting. These moments were also beneficial to the militants who needed to relax after stressful confrontations with the police.
The stitch ‘n’ bitches organised by Maille à Part also had the objective to have people knit red squares (the symbol of the student struggle) and assemble them in an evergrowing quilt. Symbolizing the union of every different individuals in a global struggle (and strike), the quilt project was very popular and organically grew from January to August 2012. Maille à Part used it often as a banner during protests and events.
Red urban knits everywhere
When looking at yarnbombing as a form of civil disobedience, you can’t ignore the importance of leaving your mark around the city, especially when you are trying to grap everyone’s attention towards your political claims. Covering Montreal in red knitting was a way to be present in the public sphere and to reclaim the streets the feminist way.
Marguerite Bourgeoys installation
Margueritte Bourgeoys was the first woman, during the colonial period, to open a public and free school for the children of Nouvelle France. Maille à Part decided to show some respect and knit her and her children some nice sweaters decorated with red squares. The intended message was that if she were still alive, Bourgeoys would probably have been against the tuition hike and would have worn the symbol too. The installation took about one month to prepare, and involved a dozen of militants from and friends of Maille à Part. The statue was located on the front lawn of the city courthouse so sadly it did not last very long!
Other public forms of protest that involved yarnbombing/craftivism
On March 22nd, Maille à Part joined the Montreal Center for Contemporary Textiles students for a Knit bloc (inspired from radical protest techniques such as pink bloc, black bloc or baby bloc). The MCCT girls and boys had made gorgeous knitted protest signs and MAP had brought the quilt and some tags to bomb around town.
The Great Masquerade, inspired by the costumed/masked charivari tradition, was one of the strike highlight protests of the winter/spring. Because the Montreal Police kept blaming the students for not making public the demonstration planned route (there were never planned routes anyway) and justifying violent repression because of this, some organizers decided to get back at them by publishing for this protest a planned route alright. Not one but four different routes were planned and followed, criss-crossing themselves and going all around the downtown area. Maille à Part held a costume creation workshop where students were invited to decorate masks with yarn and knit some tags for later installation. This is the first time the group sported their funky costumes, along with the quilt as a collective protest prop/banner. A pretty big yarnbombing installation was done at Place des Arts where the march ended, but did not last long either since the public place is a highly touristic (hence clean) location.
Another project by Maille à Part was to host public workshops during political events regarding the concept of Maple Spring (a pun and reference to Arab/Jasmin Spring) where citizens militants and striking students were invited to create yarn flowers to make that spring happen.
For the International Earth Day on April 22, the group also created a huge knitted replica of an endangered local plant species and brought it with them to the monster family protest, also wearing the costumes made for the previous masquerade.
To complete the circle of the flowered theme, on International Yarnbombing Day, MaP installed the small spring flowers along with the big flower from Earth Day (lézardelle penchée) next to a cycling path in Rosemont neighborhood. You can watch the video of the installation below.
Casseroles for IYBD
In early May, after the government announcement of the bill 78, Montrealers expressed their outrage and solidarity with the striking students with taking the streets while banging pots and pans. The casseroles became a symbol of popular political ‘awakening’ and revolt. On June 9th, the Ville-Laines hosted an afternoon of public knitting and installed some yarnbombed casseroles with their other tags in a downtown park, to show their solidarity with the student movement.
The end and the beginning
When the government announced provincial elections for September 4th, the students and population divided themselves between different strategies. Some thought electing the nationalist party would resolve the crisis as they had promised to abolish the hike. Others would say that general elections were not the right way to solve a specific education issue. And as the summer started to end, so did the strike mandates in Cegeps and Universities. As bill 78 had planned, the forced back-to-school term started in mid August, and everyone gradually came back to the classrooms. But Maille à Part thought all the global economic and political issues brought to light by the past 6 months of social turmoil had to be marked as the start of something, rather than the end of the strike. They sew big fabric letters on the quilt that could read a short slogan meaning ‘The struggle is only starting’, and used the work to participate in a national action of banner-drop day.