An anarchist critique originally posted to Montreal Counter-Info regarding the recent curfew measures in Quebec in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday night, a curfew took effect in the streets of Quebec – the widest and most intense restriction on movement since the October Crisis of 1970. The Legault government has given police the power to stop anyone outside past 8:00pm and fine them up to $6,000 if they cannot provide a reason that the cops deem valid. Over the coming weeks COVID will continue to spread. Meanwhile, people without papers, homeless people, those dealing with unsafe living situations, workers of the underground economy, and people who just want to go for a walk at night – among others – are facing harassment by the police on a nightly basis with no definite end in sight. All this to protect the status quo of an economy that is killing us and the planet. This brutal development in an era of experiments in social control cannot go without a response. It is not only possible, it is necessary, to fight back.
We refuse this escalating government control over our lives while rejecting the position of the populist right and conspiracy theorists. These groups either deny the threat of COVID-19 altogether or falsely blame certain racialized groups, often with thinly veiled dog-whistles about a “globalist elite.” Their response to COVID makes clear that we are faced with a confrontation between two ideas of freedom. The freedom we want to defend does not subjugate individuals to a state-sponsored idea of the collective good. However, it demands that we acknowledge the material reality of our world and the actual conditions of oppression – ours and others’ – and not take shelter in whatever fictional geopolitical plotlines might soothe our sense of powerlessness and affirm our indignation. This freedom assigns responsibility to each of us to fight for a life worth living, rather than endlessly projecting responsibility onto imaginary enemies. COVID is real, so is the police state.
We have never believed Legault’s calls for restrictions were based on concerns for our safety. Since the beginning of the pandemic Legault and his cronies have hesitated to shut down workplaces and schools, while at the same time further restricting our ability to create our lives on our own terms outside of work. This shows that the state only cares about us while we continue to produce and consume, keeping us just healthy enough to continue lining the pockets of the wealthy. All over the world the rich have gotten exponentially richer during the pandemic, while our pain increases. Capitalists and governments (they are the same!) are adapting to social restrictions, allowing them to profit off us while we continue to suffer. We have always been against this world of work which steals our ability to create our lives for ourselves. Let’s not allow the state to further define how we live and how we protect ourselves and our loved ones.
The criminalization of our relationships by the state is harming the mental health of more and more of our friends and family. A life lost to a mental health crisis is no less tragic than a life lost to COVID-19. The press conference of January 6th made it clear that mental health is barely an afterthought to the government. We believe how we live our lives is more important than mere survival, and reject any definition of health dictated by the demands of economic production.
Meanwhile, the state is attempting to turn us against each other. They would have us become our own little surveillance operations that need only call the snitching hotline put at our disposal to do the job of the police – who themselves have been invited to “make their rounds, sirens on, through the streets of cities in order to mark the beginning of this exceptional period”, according to La Presse (January 8, 2020).
But contrary to La Presse, we expect this period will be anything but exceptional. Exposing the power of the police state at its most violent is at best a test; at worst it is the new normal. It is up to each of us to ensure that their show of force cannot hold up against our inventiveness, and that the streets, emptied out of their inhabitants, can become a playground.
photo: Mika Baumeister via Unsplash