Tuesday, May 19, 2009

French word of the day: manifestation; protest

Our first day here in Montreal we saw a protest snaking down Rene Levesque boulevard. It was a sunny and frigid day, January 10th, Israel had mounted a recent offensive in Gaza, and people in Montreal organized a march that went on for blocks and blocks. We stood there watching for a long time, and when it was too cold to stand still any longer, we turned and walked toward home; we still couldn't see the last marchers in the procession. That made an impression on us, first of all, that this is a big city; second, that it's a cosmopolitan one, with many citizens still strongly connected with their original homelands, and still politically engaged with their original struggles. Finally, that it's a huge university town: many of the marchers were students.

The ongoing protest of Montreal's Tamil population is tiny by comparison, but it's been ongoing for months, maybe years, now. We've seen them staged in front of the U.S. embassy on Rene Levesque Boulevard almost every weekday for the last several months, and yesterday they marched down Rene Levesque past our house. We pass by them when we take Milo home from daycare. They wave Quebec, Canada, and red Tamil Tiger flags, they hand out leaflets pleading for intervention in Sri Lanka where their Tamil families remain. Lately I sensed a sadness from them as we passed by, a feeling of hopelessness that hadn't been there before. It seems yesterday was a crucial turning point in their 26-year civil war. The Tamil rebel fighters are surrounded in the jungle by government troops, and they have conceded defeat.

So maybe we have seen the last of the Montreal Tamils' protest. Yesterday, Victoria Day, was fine and sunny here, everyone out walking, but what a bitter day it must have been for them.

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