mail iconContact the collective

mail icon Return to top


Communication as Solidarity :pdf
On Translating the Printemps Erable

Anna Sheftel


I founded Translating the printemps érable with my husband, in my pajamas, on Saturday, May 19th supported the student movement from the sidelines since its inception, the special law was what kicked me into action. I did it because as a bilingual Anglophone Montrealer who was born here and who has lived here almost my entire life, I have long deplored the disparity between French and English media, the former which is at least a large enough world that it contains multiple perspectives, while the latter caters mostly to knee-jerk conservative and Québec-phobic politics. On this morning, I finally snapped. Over our morning coffee, my husband and I marvelled at the official editorial published in Le Devoir, which articulately denounced the passing of such a draconian and anti-democratic law and called for its immediate repeal. I then switched on my computer, and found friends angrily sharing the Globe and Mail's official editorial, which argued that the manifs had been so violent and disruptive that such an extreme measure was justified. My heart fell. I live downtown near UQAM, in the neighbourhood most affected by the clashes that took place for months as police kettled, pepper sprayed, launched tear gas and stun grenades at, intimidated, attacked and arrested protesters. I could not believe that a national newspaper would publish something so cruel—and frankly, untrue—and that poured salt in the wounds of thousands of students and their allies.

Translation seemed like the quickest and the most direct way to redress this profound imbalance in media representation. At the time, just leaving our windows open in the evening ; the morning after the Charest government passed Bill 78. While I had would leave our eyes stinging with the after-effects of the pepper spray and tear gas being used a block or two away. As a result, I admit that I was personally too afraid to be on the street for fear of being hurt or suddenly trapped in a police kettle.

Translating gave me something to do with myself to cope with the tremendous heartache I felt. It allowed me to contribute something meaningful to the movement. The first piece we translated and posted was that editorial from Le Devoir. We invited some friends to contribute to the project and they immediately rose to the occasion. Within a few hours like-minded strangers who felt a similar urgency to show the English-speaking world what was happening were contacting us. Within a day, we were getting thousands of hits on our website. I have never seen a project take off so quickly; it was my first and only experience thus far with something going "viral". From the beginning of the blog in May until September 20th tuition hike was officially suspended) we received over 92,000 unique visitors, and over 183,000 page views. We had a voice.

The idea was so simple; we were doing nothing but sharing information. Our translations were completed quickly and we translated anything that gave important perspectives on, or texture to the movement: newspaper articles, editorials, blog posts, first-hand accounts posted to Facebook, memes and funny videos. We wanted everyone to be able to really see what was happening here. We wanted them to feel it.

Every movement needs to be able to communicate and to disseminate information. In this case, I think translation was an important tactic for doing so because it bridged gaps between Francophone and Anglophone Quebeckers, between Québec and the rest of Canada and English-speakers around the world. Initially, I had worried that the people whose work was being translated would be angry with us, or that newspapers would threaten to sue us. Neither happened; the authors of the pieces we translated frequently got in touch to thank us for helping them get the word out. They understood. It spoke to the important idea of solidarity; this was about supporting the work that was being done on the street, in the general assemblies, and elsewhere.

Translating can bring people together at profoundly divisive moments. What started as friends, acquaintances and strangers all feverishly typing away in their own corners of the world turned into a vibrant community of engaged and kind people, many of whom are now good friends. Anyone who wanted to contribute was welcome to, and we came from all over; some of us were situated in the middle of the action, while others contributed from afar. Some of us were students while others were allies. Some of us were Anglophones while others were Francophone. Like the movement we were a part of, we ran the blog collectively, resolved contentious issues respectfully, and we dreamed big. In the following sections of this essay, placed at the beginning of each section of this book, members of theTranslating the printemps érable translation collective reflect on a crucial words or phrase that we struggled to translate, the place of translation alongside our activism, and how and why we were drawn to such a subtle yet impactful project as a means of making ourselves heard.

'manifestation'  »