« The Rebellion of the Panda »: Radio-Canada Interview with Anarchopanda

[English transcription of an interview I gave to Dessine-moi un dimanche. SRC Première Chaîne (95,1 FM) on Sunday, May 27 2012 by the Translating the printemps érable collective.]

Franco Nuovo: Me too, I want a hug! Everyone wants one! So, Anarchopanda, you’re doing well?

Anarchopanda: I’m well, thanks.

FN: So where did you get this idea? Because it’s quite brilliant, because it’s currently…all these protests, this whole social situation needed a little softness and a little relaxation, so between the casseroles and you, we seem to have truly found that. Something was defused upon your arrival.

A: Well, I hope. We never know what would have happened had I not done it. But the original idea, well, there were a few steps, let’s say, to the idea. When there started to be police violence at the beginning of the process with Francis Grenier and all that, I wanted to plan an intervention in relation to that. The original idea that concretized was a chain of teachers, who were identified as teachers who were going–

FN: You are a teacher, right? Remind us.

A: That’s it. So they would go and support the protests. So when the police would intervene, we would go in the front line with the students to calm things down. But that idea was, well, it lasted a while, but that idea was the worst case scenario. My original idea was, but that was impracticable was to have a chain of mascots, really, who are doing that work, that is who are putting themselves between the students and the police officers when they are being charged by the riot squad. But naturally, that’s complicated because firstly, it requires a lot of mascot costumes, that’s expensive. Secondly, it takes people who are ready to be in that situation. And even those who are ready to be in the front line against the riot squad – already that eliminates a lot of people – but in a mascot costume, it’s a little more unsettling still. And we can’t drink a lot and we’re less protected than we think.

FN: Why have you chosen the panda?

A: Well, the panda’s colours, black and white, are the colours of anarchopacifism, and it’s a philosophy that interpellates me, but the principal reason I’d give you is that for 200$ on eBay China, it’s the costume that looked the best. It could have been something else (repeat).

FN: You’d wanted to help calm the tension. That worked, it’s obvious that it worked. Has it surpassed your expectations?

A: Um, no, because my expectations regarding the end of the violence displayed by the SPVM and the SQ are much higher than what we’ve seen recently. There are still people who are getting beaten up every night, even if it remains unseen. And the number of wounded every night is underreported. Um, so no, as long as arbitrary violence hasn’t ended, my hopes will not be met.

FN: Do certain activists reject your tactics? For example, amongst your colleagues –

A: No, my colleagues are quite understanding of what I’m doing. Well, it’s certain that some of the protesters are not, or not quite pacifists, and there are certain kinds of damage that they encourage that I don’t. They’re a minority, but they still exist. And even amongst them, many understand what I’m doing. And we needn’t agree on everything. There can be diverse tactics employed. And the question – there are many questions – the question is naturally moral – is it okay to break windows, or, well…But the question of efficiency. Does it have an impact? Does it help the movement or not? And these are questions that are complicated and they are questions to which I myself do not have the answers. So, in general, when I talk with these people, even if they talk as though they have the answer – the right one – to that question, quickly enough, when we talk, we arrive at a point where we just don’t know the answer.

FN: Well, you were mentioned in the international press, you were mentioned in Le Devoir yesterday. We’re talking about you a lot. Generally mascots don’t talk. Why have you accepted to do this radio show this morning?

A: Well, what I try to do in general, I’ll reveal my game plan, is not to speak of myself – well, the least possible. It’s to talk about what the students are doing, about the cause, which is a just one, and to remind people that in the majority of cases, the violence suffered by the students is one that is unjustified, that they don’t deserve. It’s really a question of whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. And it happens to you, and there’s nothing you can do. And the students, the great majority of them who are peacefully protesting, and when there’s damage done, it’s usually after the police has started getting involved. When I see someone getting hit, or when I get shoved around, I get more depressed than anything else, but there are people who get more aggressive, which is also normal. So that’s it, the students don’t deserve it. And their cause is noble. They are fighting in a very superb fashion, in my opinion.

FN: Earlier on the show, I had a conversation with Mr Chené, who is the instigator of the casserole movement, and he’s also a teacher. I asked him this question: why is it that teachers are so involved, they’re getting so immersed, well, that two things, two very important movements in the last few days were created by teachers, why is that? He’d answered that it’s out of solidarity with the students, of course, but also to protect them because the pressure upon them and the tension they were living through were enormous.

A: Yeah, um, well that’s to say I wouldn’t go so far as to say that what we’re doing is all that important in the global perspective of the movement, nor is it that intense, and that as teachers, we’re doing more than we’ve ever done in a movement that –

FN: Why?

A: – that is student-based.

FN: You’ve all been teachers here lately.

A: I think there’s an generational element in part. There are new teachers who are much closer to the student cause –

Other host: Who also perhaps lived through the 2005 strike.

A: Yeah, that’s it. Or other ones. I lived through the one in ‘96 when I was in CEGEP, so they are close to those preoccupations. But there’s another side. I think that intellectually, even if they are things that don’t touch us in particular, we can arrive at the conclusion that the students are right. So then we can arrive at the conclusion that, well, I know that there are some who think that we have a duty to be reserved, that we aren’t supposed to say anything and all that, but in the end of the day, that a teacher is concerned with who has access to higher education –

FN: That’s fundamental.

A: – the best, or those who have the cash, I’m not surprised by the fact that a teacher may be concerned by that kind of question. If only in a purely corporatist way, that is to say that if you want to have the best students in your class, not just those who have money, you are concerned with this question.

Annie: You were confined by the cops for some time. Did you have a dialog with them? How do they perceive you? What do you tell them when you speak together?

A: Well, when I was confined, I was in human form, so we don’t have the same kind of conversation when I’m in costume, when I’m dressed up as a human rather than as a panda. Note that when they opened, because they conducted searches on the bus, which, in my opinion, is more or less questionable, and when they got to my panda costume, they didn’t quite know what to make of it. And the panda didn’t have the notoriety that it now has, so they didn’t know what it was. And I had nothing to say about it either. I mean, a panda costume is a panda costume. It’s self-evident. You needn’t say more than that. But…what was your question?

Annie: When you are, for example, at a protest, do you speak with police officers? Do they speak to you? What is said?

A: Yes, so in the normal context, as a panda, I speak to them in general to ask them for hugs, because…And in general, naturally, no one says yes, ok? We have to make that clear. Some people say no, in a very kind to very violent way, and some people hesitate. Those who hesitate, I approach them, and some just let it happen, some point their gun, and I say: Listen, I can’t take your weapon, I only have four fingers –

FN: And they’re big!

A: That’s it. And the other police officers I meet are the riot squad, and we don’t speak to them. We don’t have the time to anyways, and those people aren’t interested in talking, so I have nothing to tell them except to just be there.

Other host: Yesterday in the Journal de Montréal, they interviewed a police officer from the riot squad who explained that they were very frustrated, that people were insulting them etc. and that they were just waiting for their boss to give them the go ahead to just charge, that it was their candy. So I feel that deserves to be mentioned.

FN: Yes. Now we’re going to end on that note. So Anarchopanda, how do you envision the next chapter of this conflict, first of all, and do you believe in a possible resolution from the negotiations that are beginning tomorrow?

A: Well I don’t have a particular thought on that, it’s obvious that the government was acting in bad faith. There’s a noticeable change in the population in general, in the way the media is reporting on the events, they are now less often printing the police’s version than questioning, so I think something interesting is happening. Will it be enough so that the government – because at least on behalf of the FEUQ and CLASSE as well, I’m sure, one of the conditions of the negotiations is to scrap law 78, so we’re not necessarily out of the woods. As for Anarchopanda, he’ll continue to do what he’s done up to now, that is to be at the protest, when it’s getting rough, he’ll try to intervene. Do not expect derivative products, or a telethon –

FN: We hope not!

A: There’s no way.

FN: Thank you, Anarchopanda, for having stopped by.

« The Rebellion of the Panda »: Radio-Canada Interview with Anarchopanda