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Quebec City: River of Courage, River of Change

by Juniper

Saturday is the second day on the streets for the River, the Pagan cluster’s flowing action. In the afternoon, two of us stand in the short block between Rue Jean Baptiste and the breached fence, which is guarded by rows of cops in riot gear: face masks, batons, shields, and what look like rifles ready to fire who-knows-what. I have only my imagination and intuition to tell me it would be something not good.

We are scouting for the River. Walking halfway down the short block toward the police, we both feel it: “There is an opening here.” “Let’s go bring the River.”

The River arrives and we flow down Rue Saint Genevieve, Saint of the White Wave, until we are face-to-face with riot police at point blank range. Hundreds of people flow behind us in the narrow alley and adjoining street. The police look like they are ready to advance on us. There is no exit. Then behind me, I hear wise words: “sit down.”

Just as we begin to settle in, a rock is lobbed from the rear. It flies over our heads and into the police ranks. A hundred voices respond in unison “No! Peace!” A stinging gas that is different from pepper spray or tear gas begins to seep through the alley. We are becoming connoisseurs of the different chemicals on our skin, moving into our lungs and blood. Which one is this? What might be its long-term effects?

Nevertheless, because my only weapons are my vulnerability, my prayers, my songs, and my ability to shift consciousness, I pull off the ski goggles and bandanna that provide little protection anyway. My allies are the ancestors flowing from the graves in the church yard, Witches and activists who hold this energy, and journalists whose cameras offer some protection.

Wilow is a few steps behind, working with others to create some space within the densely-packed River, a buffer space to protect us from a crowd surge that would force us into the clubs, the bullets, the concussion grenades, and the gas of the police just 15 feet in front of us.

Someone reads the Cochabamba Declaration in English and then again, passionately, in French. We sing, “Hold on, hold on, hold the vision until it’s born.” We sing it in French as best we can. A young man walks toward the police alone and lays flowers at their feet. A woman goes next with a copy of the Declaration. She reaches the document out to hand it to the police, asking them to carry it to the delegates. When it is clear that they will not accept it from her, she lays it at their feet. The flowers and the declaration framed by police in full riot gear.

There seems nothing more to do. Police begin to stir and talk among themselves, and other police arrive. I feel scared again. I felt their energy shift. At one point I notice that the riot clubs they hold across their chests have disappeared. Not actually disappeared, when I look closely, but energetically they are gone. But I don’t feel confident that I have either the energy or the luck to work that shift again. I am feeling, if not exactly victorious, at least a momentary success and no desire to end the experience with a bashed head. The River decides to snake out, arms linked. Two of us wait until the River is ahead of us; our bodies between theirs and the police.

At the end of this alley, at the intersection of Rue Saint Genevieve and Saint Jean Baptiste, the crowd is large. There is no room for a spiral dance, but we join together in raising joyous energy. At Star’s suggestion I’d passed my drum from the front line back into the crowd. Now I raise my hands over my head, make a drumming gesture and almost immediately, out of a sea of hundreds, my drum makes its way through the crowd and into my hands. But the energy is so intense that I lose the beat; leaving it to the young ones to drum. I dance and sing in ecstasy, glad to be alive in my sweet, whole body. Quebecois residents drop confetti from an adjacent building roof into our cone. I pray fervently that all people may experience only this clean rain of joy.

At the end of a long day, what remains of The River flows into a small park. We form a pee circle, drink water, clean our faces from the burning chemicals. We are 50 soldiers weary from the day. Vermont Witches lead a bit more magic, catching and tossing threads between here and their home community. As the sun moves toward the horizon, people bring word that the police are coming to clear the streets. I study the six-foot wooden fence that surrounds this park on all sides except the street. Could I scale it?

Hours later we stand in the street outside our rooms, strip off our bandannas, filters, goggles, rain suits and outer clothes. In our long underwear we carefully wrap everything in garbage bags so as not to contaminate the house. We spray and wipe our shoes and backpacks with decontamination wipes that Laura, the medic for our group, purchased from a police catalog. Inside the door we take off the rest of our clothes and wait, naked, for our turn in the shower. Finally, I am washed and sitting in my organic cotton long johns and linen jumper feeling wonderfully safe, clean, and satisfied.

I came to Quebec as the daughter of Elegba: daughter of the fool. I left his whiskey on the altar in my suburban home, told the people who work for my business that they are in charge, kissed my children in bed, my partner at the airport, and stepped onto an airplane wondering whether or not I was crazy. I knew almost nothing about direct action. I brought little more than an understanding that it is a Witch’s work to stitch worlds together and a willingness to step through whatever doors might open, no questions asked.

Magic has happened; my world will never be the same.

“The River" Call to Action

In respect for the diversity of means and tactics in our movement, we wish to clearly state our vision for this action and invite others to join who can support our intentions.

The heads of state and their ministers who will attend the Summit of the Americas believe they have come to endorse the process that will lead to ratifying the FTAA. We say this process is illegitimate and must be stopped...

We say that our lives, our communities, the health of the Earth’s ecosystems, the cultures of indigenous peoples, the dreams of children are too important to be subsumed to profit. Another world is possible: A world of justice, freedom, ecological balance and true abundance, and we will make it real.

Led by voices from the global south, we begin with water. After the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia succeeded in retaking their water from privatization, they issued the following declaration:

From The Cochabamba Declaration

“For the right to life, for the respect of nature and the uses and traditions of our ancestors and our peoples, for all time the following shall be declared as inviolable rights with regard to the uses of water given us by the Earth:

  1. Water belongs to the Earth and all species and is sacred to life; therefore, the world’s water must be conserved, reclaimed and protected for all future generations, and its natural patterns respected.
  2. Water is a fundamental human right and a public trust to be guarded by all levels of government; therefore, it should not be commodified, privatized or traded for commercial purposes. These rights must be enshrined at all levels of government. In particular, an international treaty must ensure these principles are noncontrovertible.
  3. Water is best protected by local communities and citizens who must be respected as equal partners with governments in the protection and regulation of water. Peoples of the earth are the only vehicle to promote Earth democracy and save water.”

For full text in several languages and more about the struggles in Bolivia, see

Juniper is a Witch, teacher and priestess with Tejas Web.