The march is on Rene Levesque Boulevard now, according to my nameless guide. The crowd's at least a few hundred strong, from the sound of it anyway. Chants are going up, including the familiar, "Whose streets? Our streets." It's Montreal, I think to myself - they could have bothered to learn the French translation. It's not that hard. I want to start chanting it myself, but I don't. Someone else will. And sure enough, someone does. "Á qui les rues?..." In front of the hotel now, my new friend points out how all the police are already wearing their gas masks. The crowd sound rises, including the noise of barricades being rattled. "Riot cops are moving in," says the man with the tape recorder, over unintelligible shouts of anger and taunts of glee. My pulse pounding, I'm ready to check the location of relevant first aid gear, to parse the crowd for cops, to move fast. But I have no first aid gear in my boxer shorts, there are no police here (unless they're particularly crafty), and there's nowhere to go except the kitchen. And I can't hear the radio in there.
I'm listening to Rock The WTO Radio - a joint project of the Montreal's Independent Media Centre (IMC) and Taktic media collective - a fly-by-night radio station reporting on the WTO protests, its home base an alternative bookstore, its voice an Internet streamcast and pirated FM broadcast. I'm at home in T.O., glued to the laptop, listening.
I often feel I was born in the wrong era. This intuition is especially strong when I'm listening to the CBC for hours. I enjoy the ease with which anyone with a phone and a hastily concocted theory can get on the air and rant, and the eye-candy-free immediacy of the medium that lets you know right away whether or not the caller is full of shit.
But sometimes radio feels too polished to be real. Enter a small group of Montreal anarchists with pooled technology and DIY ethic in tow, who set up RWTOR not just to cover the protests but to give a bit of the airwaves to the voices the other stations ignore. "That's one of the goals," says iZ, one of those involved, "- to just get people coming in and using the mike."
And they do. People wandering by the pseudo-studio are invited to come in and sound off. Fall-down-funny gonzo interviews with the local constabulary are played. ("It's a big job for us," says one beleaguered officer of Monday's mass arrest. "That's 238 people to give water to.") In one of the more surreal moments, serial political prisoner Jaggi Singh uses his phone call from prison to be interviewed live on the air.
Singh has been arrested for an alleged breach of his bail conditions, which bar him from using a megaphone in Canada. Since he was actually using a microphone, before his release on bail his conditions are subsequently clarified to state that he cannot use "any instrument that will amplify his voice." It's exhilarating to hear a radio station doing just that for Singh and many others.
Similar projects have met repression (a Philadelphia IMC radio truck was once shut down by police because of an unspecified "bomb threat"), but RWTOR is even left alone to play live audio from the mass arrests that happen right outside its windows.
"A lot of people wanted to know what was going to happen to the radio after the actions," recounts iZ. But the netcast is still going. "If people want to help out with programming, they're programmers. If people want to help out with tech, they're technicians." That's how they got access to the FM band. Someone just called up and said, 'Hey, I set up an antenna for you.'
It's a concrete example of the new society that's germinating in the anarchistic protests against the old one. It's also riveting listening. Back on the street, there's a shattering sound. "Three broken windows," says the narrator (or there-ator), and then, "Four broken windows." Shouts go up, and my heart swells along with them at hearing that atonal music. Then the police charge and the crowd scatters. I'm not scattering with them, but I know what they're feeling.
Many have commented on the fact that as society progresses it also regresses. One result is that those of us born in the wrong era can sometimes find a bit of vicarious satisfaction if we just dig through the postmodern trash heap. In short, I have found my radio drama.