For several weeks a panda mascot has been at the front lines of the student protests. This anachronistic two-toned teddy arouses and improbable wave of sympathy. At Tuesday’s big protest, the panda was no longer threatened with extinction: stuffed animals and drawings were shown by protesters, some even saying “Panda for president”. Thursday, he was welcomed as a star in Québec. Tonight he hopes to get itself arrested. An interview with a prof who, beneath his fur, makes philosophy on the sidewalk.
It’s the No-Kung-Fu Panda. The dalaï-lama of the stuffed animals, who puts hugs up against truncheon blows. When the pressure on protesters increases, AnarchoPanda collects hugs, putting more value on those stolen from police officers. “My fantasy was a squad of mascots who systematically put themselves between riot cops and students during unjustified interventions,” the panda told le Devoir in plain clothes, “more fundamentally, if the peaceful students protesting in a normal way deserve to be beaten, to have pepper spray, gas, rubber bullets or sound grenades thrown at them, I deserve it too.” Why a panda? “For bizarre circumstances, a bizarre answer. It’s my way to intervene to stop the students from suffering without betraying their struggle or redirecting their discourse.”
He met with us, furless, in his bamboo plantation and spoke to le Devoir over a beer about “the unofficial HQ” of his pack “profs against the hike” (profs contre la hausse). AnarchoPanda, when Québec isn’t in crisis, teaches philosophy at cégep. He loves the classics, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and reads the ancient greeks “with time and a dictionary. In philosophy, I want peoples to question themselves, even the most difficult ones, to take the time in their life to think about them, to understand that there are no easy answers to complicated questions, that all alone in your corner you have less of a chance of finding a solution if you make a debate of it.”
As they pass by, his colleagues don’t cease to interrupt the interview with handshakes and comments on yesterday’s protest, worrying for the health of the little bear. Anarcho is not alone. “In a costume like mine, you are in a position of absolute vulnerability: There is no real padding, your field of vision is greatly reduced, your mobility as well, you don’t have real shoes in your paws, it’s not possible to really run, it’s hot, you have four fingers… I am not even able to take the costume on and off by myself.”
Why the Panda? For the symbol and the colors, black and white, of anarchism, but essentially “because it was the nicest of the cheap mascots on sale on E-Bay China.” We digress to recall that China has had “the diplomacy of the panda” since 2000BC. There they offer giant pandas as a sign of good relations. Er Chun and Li Ji attest to this, two emissaries of friendship loaned to Stephen Harper in February for ten years. AnarchoPanda, here and now, offers himself to dissolve the tension between students and police.
Before, he participated in his human form in almost 70 protests for this strike. “The idea was to go between the students and the riot squads to prevent brutality. It’s impractical in the heat of the action. And one can read a paternalism in the gesture, me, adult, I will protect you, you, children. I want to support the students without influencing them.”
His solution? A kiss attack the Tao Tao way. “The day before yesterday, I had got police officer; yesterday, three. I feel like they have an exact code of conduct – do not answer questions, do not look make eye contact – but the line of the code that says what to do when you are hugged by a mascot seems nonexistent,” says the AnarchoStuffie, giving a half smile. Québec’s police officers seemed less receptive to his disarming gestures than those of Montreal. Afraid of the bear, perhaps?
In the street he saw everything. “In the current context, you never now if violence will start, from which side, or how far it will go.” He is outraged by the abuse at the hands of the police. “I have often seen police officers hitting students who are dispersing, running far from the action. You can’t ask 1000 people to disperse in five second. It’s irrational: you ask people to do something, they do it and you hit them.” It’s just as incongruent to tolerate a protest several tens of minutes after the police warn they will charge without informing them again.
AnarchoPanada is no more comfortable with the new “paciflics”, those peaceful protesters who encircle, denounce or hit rioters. “I don’t like to see public opinion blame the students for their incapacity to control the breaking of things: it’s a problem that touches on the morality of the acts themselves and the strategic contribution that these acts do or do not have. Some questions are extremely complex. That they aren’t capable of resolving, in the moment, strategic moral questions, where often the only honest answer is ‘I don’t know’, it’s just normal. And in the movement of thousands of people, it’s certain that there will be enclaves within the crowds. Amongst the rioters and those holding the truncheons.”
During the more than one hundred days of the strike, AnarchoPanada has observed some changes. “The students have radicalized in their conduct as protesters but not in their positions. And these aren’t even radical positions, but the values of the quiet revolution. To want free education, that isn’t radical or communist.” This extra-large Ewok is fascinated by what these youth, said to be hyper individualistic, are ready to sacrifice. “They are astonishingly adapted to protests. You get pepper sprayed, people with masks bring you to the back and take care of you. I swear to you that you that after they have taken care of you, you see the people with masks and goggles differently. In my opinion, we are witnessing one of the most intelligent, the most thoughtful, the most strategic and the most noble social movements in the history of Québec because these university or cégep students will not suffer the majority of the hike. They are thinking long term, they fight for the others. And they know that, if this small hike passes, it won’t stop there. I love the students, the green squares. But the reds, I admire them. Because they have more arguments, for what they sacrifice and because they are right. It moves me daily.”
This passion in their voice, this whole undertaking are those of the great political discourses. Panda for president? A half smile pierces the smoke from his cigarette. “That would be contradictory for an anarchist panda. I don’t lead, I don’t control, I’m not a spokesperson, I’m not a freaking mascot. AnarchoPanda, it’s my act of consciousness. In my opinion, the students’ cause is just, what they endure, as the government and police’s response, is illegitimate. My act may be absurd or useless, but I am there with them. As long as the students will make themselves a part of this, Anarcho will be there.” He will be back out tonight, inviting the crowd to meet him at place Émilie-Gamelin to beat the Guinness world record for most police arrests. “In an original act of collective solidarity, help the SPVM pulverize their record in a phenomenal way so that they can move on to something else as quickly as possible”, says the Facebook page for the event. AnarchoPanda, it’s practical philosophy. On the sidewalk. In real time.