A French version of this open letter was published on the Voir.ca website on September 8, 2011 under the title “Lettre ouverte aux autres humains” and it generated more than 40,000 page viewed, more than 18 000 Facebook references and hundreds of comments. This English translation was done by Susannah Rubin.
Open Letter to Other Humans, by Denis McCready
I’m not here to make you laugh, or to make you cry. I don’t know you individually, but I love you collectively, for now. I don’t always say hello, but I rise each morning thinking of you, of your children, of their future, thinking of our little plot of this land.
This may come across as another piece of intellectual vagary, but I prefer to see it as a pre-revolutionary essay — an invitation to consider a call to arms. If you are sitting comfortably right now, enjoying your life, I have come to deliver a message.
Who does this guy think he is — waltzing in to broadcast his little vision? Brief introduction.
In 1968, I am born on the asphalt. Not right on the sidewalk, like Edith Piaf, but nearly so. I grow up on the asphalt and cement of the Plateau-Mont-Royal’s sidewalks. For many childhood years, the land stretching from La Fontaine Park to Laurier Park and from De Lorimier to Saint-Denis is my land. My country. By my people. Citizenship granted to those who, like me, left the skin of their knees on the sidewalk, a sort of blood allegiance. We bled on the same sidewalk, we were injured on the same spot, we were brothers. Working class neighbours were fellow citizens; the faces contained in the closed universe of this era sketched a geography of poverty. Our language had yet to be emasculated by the upright apostles of mental rectitude. I watched the world of other neighbourhoods roll by the windows of my father’s station wagon. In my language, the car wasn’t a voiture, it wasn’t an automobile, it was a char. A char: the chariot–just like Romans. A steel monster on great big wheels. Eight cyclinders. All is well in the Middle-East.
Sesame Street, Fan Fan Dédé, Sol et Gobelet, Fanfreluche, Cousteau and The Mutual of Omaha: I feasted on the world in black and white, on television. And along came a strange magazine I couldn’t read because it was written in English: National Geographic. There were a few colour photographs. I must have been about 4 or 5 the first time I saw one. And this is how I met men and women from all over the world. Each one different, each human. An expansive family in a village on the verge of going Global.
I am a city dweller, in the same way others are men of the woods. This fact doesn’t prevent me from thinking that the twentieth century’s modern city has grown to be an absurd place of residence–a cruel place, one that helps control populations, individuals and thought. Each day we are told what to think, what to buy, how to live, and that, most importantly, we must not change the world. One thing becomes clear: we must reinvent the city or destroy it. And for this purpose, I need you.
Cities are captivating, but let us not be captive. I am empathetic to the plight of weekend escapees―it’s a matter of mental health. Containing us like rats in a cage, proximity becomes dangerous. Henri Laborit, in Alain Resnais’ Mon Oncle d’Amérique, discloses the results of his experiments on rats. The French researcher places two rats in a single cage. In moments of stillness, the rats are perfectly “civil” with each other, but as soon as the cage’s floor is jolted by an electric current, either rat attacks the other. When the current stops, the rats stop fighting. They respond to immaterial aggression by instantly attacking the perceived source of hostility: the other. This experiment leaves no after-effects. Henri Laborit then repeats the test with only one rat to a cage. The rat has nothing to attack. It jumps, suffers, is subjected to this act of hostility without recourse to a physical outlet. Laborit discovers that if the rat endures this treatment regularly, the animal will develop a tumour. Laborit then theorises that a body which undergoes some act of aggression and denied a physical outlet, finally attacks itself. That is not to say you should, in a fit of ill-humour, fight the nearest human! Or beat your dog, pigeons–please, I should think not! Time spent carrying on fights against fellow city-dwellers is time stolen from the fight against what really hurts: corporation and state.
For months now, all over the world, multitudes have been rising against and toppling their governments, sometimes overtaking power at a grassroots level, sometimes merely pawns in a game of chess that has already been played, and still at other times in a state of peaceful joy ― sometimes a bloodbath. Citizens of the world wish to free themselves from the repeated failures of their overwhelmingly incompetent rulers. Quebecers have no fewer reasons to be angry.
Collectively, we are well-off, our bellies are relatively full, we are free to hold opinions ― “there is always someone worse off” someone will say ― but somewhere, anger lies dormant. You know it, you feel it. They lie to us, they step on us, they erode our fundamental rights, they divide us only to conquer. Let us not be fooled; let us not silently endure these acts of aggression at our own cost. Collective pain demands collective action.
As it stands now, our road infrastructure has become symbolic of Quebec itself: politicians and corporations sit down and decide to spend tax revenue to their own benefit: political dues for the politician, excessive cash flow for the corporation, be it a construction contractor or a hydroelectric dam, a media empire, a soda company, a peddler of oil, of gas or of minerals. Our bridges crumble and collapse ― and we’re not sure who is at fault. Power is exclusive, profit is private, debt is public and ineptitude is anonymous.
After the invention of the modern city, the invention of the virtual city. And, like the doe-eyed livestock we never cease to become, we have crowded every internet hotspot: email, web, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc. We are willing urbanites, both in our tangible cities and those on the internet, but we are divided. Daily squabbles, by useless and mind-numbing distractions. We can barely hear the voices of those who wish to help and inform over this deafening clamour. We are more interested in a recipe for dinner than a recipe for freedom. Our sense of indignation is unhinged. We kick and scream atop our soapboxes when a father kills his children ― a horrible act ― but even as our Prime Minister announces that our natural resources will be auctioned off to foreign interests for a few crumbs, our noses stay comfortably buried in a smartphone. We don’t grumble at the implications of our government’s decision to set a price on drinkable water treated by our city’s water plants so bottling companies can go on to make multimillion dollar profits. We don’t flinch when Ms. Nathalie Normandeau, our ex-minister of natural resources, lays down and follows Petrolia’s strict orders to keep quiet on the subject an agreement with Hydro-Quebec: the public utility has handed over Île d’Anticosti’s oil ― a collective resource — for an undisclosed amount. I’ll spare you the details of the environmental assessment, but know this: the oil reserve is accessible only by hydraulic fracturation, fracking, which could bring in up to 3 trillion dollars of profit. If Petrolia agreed to a 50-50 split, we could pay off Quebec’s debt and the health care needs of every child born this year until his or her death. But Mr. Charest would rather sell off our natural resources to the lowest bidder. Mining companies have been scraping out our subsoil for years now, leaving us a pile of change (barely 3% of actual dues), and if shale gas extraction were to go ahead as planned, the process would be play out under similar conditions; we might as well say that we’re risking the environmental integrity of the St Lawrence Valley ― our pantry ― for peanuts. I’ll spare you the hydroelectricity lecture, that’s been covered in the film I produced, Seeking the Current, but with the Romaine River project, one could nearly drown in the absurdity of spending eight billion dollars to produce hydroelectricity that will be sold at a loss. Charest’s Plan Nord will cost 80 billion investment dollars, only to yield 28 billion in revenue to the State… Is this guy nuts? We will spend 80 to earn 28. Imagine the reaction of a banker or of a credit union head to a loan application operating following similar logic. The applicant would likely be advised not to let the door hit him on the ass on his way out. If we allow the current government to act as it pleases, our children’s future may amount to working underground, in a Plan Nord mine, for a foreign boss. I have no desire to become enslaved to a corporation that pillages our resources and plunders our riches. Water, oil, mines, natural gas, hydroelectricity, this government pimps us out to vultures and tells us it’s for our own good. And after they’ve cleaned us out, when we become a wasteland purged of it’s resources, they’ll let us spend the few dollars we’ve earned in this exchange, this heist, to clear the oceans of the toxic slop they’ve left behind.
But “they” don’t have to have the last word and there is still time. Here is where you step in. You are city-dwellers, yes, but it’s time to become citizens. Look beyond your neighbourhood, look beyond your partisan disagreements (which only divide us further). If we do not now finish what was started in the 60s during the quiet Revolution–whether we wish to be federated to Canada or Sovereign–we will remain a people enslaved by foreign corporations. The citizens of the Saint Lawrence Valley came together and sent a message to governments and gas companies: they would have their say on the shale gas question. It was happening in their own back yard. But Quebec itself is our back yard. As it stands now, the government disregards us and companies like Petrolia use the courts to gag their critics; it is time to rise up and to act and to exercise our agency as citizens.
Quebec has become one big city. We live side by side, we are connected. In 1962, René Lévesque toured the province with chalk and a blackboard, reaching out to the largely uneducated masses with the message that they must become “Maitres chez nous” (Masters of our own house) and nationalise electricity. A quiet revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. Your uncles, your fathers, your mothers toiled away, pulling our province out of the middle ages, offering us prosperity and innovation, and here you sit, waiting for that email saying the revolution starts tomorrow.
While the fascists are in Quebec and in Ottawa, while the opposition sits toothless, while we torture children in your name, while we auction off Quebec’s subsoil for the price of an old car, you navel gaze, fretting over your rank in a clique, clinging to the righteous conviction that your weekly recycling rites and your bike rides have more than earned your citizenship. In my eyes, you have not proven you can act like real citizens.
Today, you hold in your hands the most revolutionary tool since Gutenberg’s printing press and all you can find to say is: “I’m drunk”, “I’m eating poutine”, “what a babe”, “sleeping”, “my dog is so cute”!
And yet, you aren’t ignorant! You consume newspapers, TV, radio, web. That’s the problem. You consume. A city-dweller pays taxes; a citizen participates in the city. You have stopped thinking and acting ― meanwhile crooks are ransacking our province. Outsiders and traitors in neckties elected to the Quebec national assembly scheme away your health care, your schools, your natural resources, you freedom of speech, your freedom of the press, and you do nothing. In some countries, communities will hang a leader for much less. This is not a suggestion, but an observation.
You slumber like a nation of hopeless potheads, obsessed by the fathers who didn’t love you enough and by your overprotective mothers, suicidal in winter and snoozing in summer, spineless but critical, little stand managers in a stadium you don’t even own anymore, a new generation of electric sheep with the wool pulled over your eyes by another foreign corporation passing along the big brown envelope that will only seal your fate as modern slaves.
Wake up, wake up, wake up. They lie to your face and instead of getting organised, you wait for someone else’s signal. In your mind, solidarity is when televised roommates gang up on yet another target wondering if TV makes his ass look fat.
We are the descendants of a bunch of loons who discovered America in bark canoes, who traded with the First Nations instead of slaughtering them, who courted their women instead of offering them smallpox-infested blankets, the community who welcomed the Irish and the Scots, the Italians, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Haitians, even when we had nothing to offer but space. Without weapons, we freed ourselves from the bosses—foreign and domestic–that kept us in misery. I have a message for you: they’re back.
We live in the ever-present danger of losing that for which our ancestors so honourably fought — a fight they followed to Europe. I am a gregarious city-slicker, I live in this great big village with you, but I don’t feel like fighting alone. Please. Wake up, wake up, wake up now.
In reaction to hundreds of comments I wrote some precisions to clarify the numerous questions this text generated.
- MY REACTION
I was surprised by the speed of propagation of my text and hundreds of comments I received since its publication. Some have asked why I wrote this and my answer is simple: I was angry, I suspected that I was not alone, I screamed, I saw your response, your comments, as I am not alone, and in doing so you also realize that you are not alone either. Now we have to refuse being told “You are alone and powerless” because you know that others share your anger.
I want to do this with those who want to act, together or on our own, in a concerted manner or randomly. I do not want a label, a classification, a group that forces us to comply, my dream would be a citizens’ movement, an anonymous mass, unpredictable, impossible to corner, impossible to define, impossible to identify, unstoppable, like water around obstacles, implacable, a kind of citizen tsunami.
- WHO I AM
- I’ve made my living producing documentaries for the last 10 years, I write, I’ve been a photographer for 26 years, I’ve traveled a little but not in tourist areas, I am French but I speak English very well. I want to change the course of events because I’m worried about the future of my province. I am of no political party, I refuse to consider any party affiliation because I value my freedom of speech. Others want to work within a party structure, not me. I am neither right nor left, on the contrary. (Thanks Coluche!).
- My father left school at 16 because and he had to work for a living and to support his family, he was intelligent and he never stopped trying to become a better person and like that, he taught me perseverance. He left too soon, but it inspires me every day to stay honest and to never give up.
I have a Facebook account, a website and a blog (http://www.denismccready.com/), at 43 my resume spans over 20 years, I have touched on many things, and I will continue to explore the world and follow my curiosity.
My text implies that we lack a leader. Am I that person? It’s not for me to decide, but I hear the voices of those who want me to take a little more room in our society. I firmly believe that there are citizens everywhere in Quebec who have as much potential as I do, I hope they will participate in this call for change.
- CYNICISM AND REVOLT
Cynicism is a figure of speech, it is not a way of life. We can not live on just salt or pepper, we need real food. Be wary of spices sellers.
- Revolt and revolution are sometimes bursts that mark change, but they are not an end in themselves or a label for a pretty cool shirt. Better off are those who are comfortable and do not want to change anything, we’ll be better off without you on our journey; on a canoe expedition, I learned one should never carry rocks, but a good paddle, a canoe and colleagues who want to navigate in the same direction as us.
- IT’S WRONG TO THINK AND SAY WE CANNOT DO ANYTHING
- It’s a poison to the mind to think that we cannot do anything to change this society and this attitude is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we repeat that nothing can be done, the more defeated we become, the less we act, and then we realize nothing could be done because nothing was done. We must break this mental model, reject it, oppose those who repeat this claiming they care about us. Say it loud : we don’t want to hear people speak like that anymore.
- Whether you act for change or simply become a supporter for change, know that every action taken against resignation, every refusal to abdicate, is a gesture to be part of the solution.
- Many people have asked the question: what do we do? If I claimed to know exactly what to do, I’d be a liar or a dictator in the making, but I want it to come from us all, I want us to recognizes that we can collectively take a big step forward together.
- The first thing that comes to mind is to give ourselves a chance by devoting time. I suggest we start by devoting at least 1 hour a week for direct action, coordinated with a small group of people (4 or 5) and with the objective to persevere, while communicating our actions around ourselves, our progress.
- We must stop being afraid of change, we must move forward and create our world as we dream it, instead of letting the media, advertising, politicians and corporations tell us how to think, what to do, tolerating their systematic use of fear to keep us in order.
- Despite my choice of words, I believe that we should not use the language of war. This is not a fight, it’s a change of direction. The change has already begun, we know that we are right ; the onus is not on our side, it is on the side of those who want to continue making the same mistakes. Let us raise awareness, let us make them realize their mistake.
- The current economic development is not an end in itself; without direction, it is a hollow vehicle traveling at breakneck speed. I am not against economic development, but I am against the selling off of our natural resources.
- I AM NOT AGAINST, I AM FOR
- I do not want to “destroy” the world today, I want to make it evolve in a direction that is more fair, and consistent with our values and in consideration of future generations. I am not against, I am for. We must collectively provide a blueprint for society and we need to personally work on it every day.
- CONSIDER FACTS, NOT THE “INTENTIONS”
- It may seem surprising, but I think that we should not waste time searching for the “why” of our current situation (Why does this government do this and that? Why are we asleep?) We all realize we are in a dangerous situation and we need to urgently act accordingly to stop what is going on before it’s too late. When one witnesses a crime, one does not ask the question: why is it that individual committing a crime? One acts to prevent or stop it.
- Breaking windows leads to nothing, because the next day broken windows are replaced with new windows and in the process, you have lost the sympathy of the people who think like you. Violence is not a solution.
Changing our way of life is much more effective. A freed slave can not become enslaved in his mind again, even if he returns to the handcuffs. So we must change our automatic allegiances, our guilty silences, our bad associations, our intellectual laziness, our silent abdications.
- Before I even suggested this text to Voir.ca, I knew very well that we should not stick to screaming and complaining. The next step is to engage in a conversation and look for practical solutions to determine our course of action.
It is useless to preach to the converted. I wrote this text to help reveal in what the company I was and the result is apparent. Little did I imagine a reaction of this magnitude. It may seem a little naive but I wanted to ask the simple question: Am I alone being this angry? It seems not. Is yelling and complaining all the time while doing nothing the best approach to bring about a tangible change? Certainly not. Am I perfect and do I have all the answers? No.
This text is for me a kind of cough to clear my lungs and breathe easier, but I do not want to continue in this style or approach. I’ve been thinking about this age-old question of how to change the world for quite awhile, I’ve spent the last four years working with people who are also seeking solutions, who are optimistic, who act in a tangible way at a grassroots level. I participated in several documentaries in this spirit, knowing full well that it led nowhere to make films about problems without proposing any solutions. I want to continue in that direction.
Basically, I want people to think about solutions or actions, they should share them at public events, some could even be broadcast throughout Quebec (using music, poetry, prose, discussions, video, etc..), The objective is to invite people attending to choose a course of action and select a small group to help them accomplish it. They must commit to persevere. If only 10 people keep to it, we will have accomplished at least that.
A 16-year old boy published the following commentary on the site Voir.ca:
“My name is Christopher, I’m 16 and I awaken and I’m just waiting for older people to open the door. ”
I replied this:
“Hi Christopher, you have more power than you think. Do not wait until we open the door: get informed, get facts on topics you care about, test out your ideas by talking to your friends and family, it will help you develop your ability to argue when someone wants to silence you. Then communicate your outrage around you, your anger, refuse the call to violence, act like a responsible citizen and you will be treated as such; chose a project you care about, start it with a few allies, persevere until you have exhausted all possible solutions. You will inherit this country, start early because time passes more quickly than you might expect.
In short: get informed, express yourself, act. ”
- WE DON’T BEGIN WITH SOVEREIGNTY
- I referred to the Quiet Revolution because it is a moment in our history where we have shown that a collective democratic decision can change the course of things. Although I am not of any political party, the overwhelming vote for the NDP is another example of our ability to take a big step together. I don’t suggest starting a partisan political leadership or supporting an existing one, I just want to change my society and find that I am not alone.
- Personally, I find that “sovereignty” has become like a big smart phone: people are obsessed with the tool, but they forget the basics – words and speech. In the absence of a tangible vision of society, discussions of “sovereignty” and “nationalism” are another way to put us to sleep while a great crime against Quebec is being committed, under our eyes and in broad daylight.
- Who is right?
If I made a mistake in this text, I invite anyone noticing to help me correct this. I am able to recognize when I am wrong.
I will not answer to everyone for lack of time (I make my living making films …) but you can be sure that if you hide behind a pseudonym, I will not answer. If someone other than you pays or mandates to respond to my text, I would appreciate you mentioned it. I put my name on this text, I fully assume its strengths and weaknesses. I wish the rest of this great dialogue to be done openly, with sincerity and transparency.
- Denis McCready