To whom it may concern,
Please find below, as discussed, a short piece that represents a happy medium between my girlfriend, Katherine Gittins’, and my views on Montreal’s student protests. I would be curious about yours as well (see comments section below).
Quebec’s student protests were focused on a minor cause and involved poor tactics. The perseverance and passion of Quebec’s students coupled with the heavy handed mistakes of Quebec’s government are, however, gradually prompting recognition of the links between their cause and a broader societal malaise.
I originally thought the “strike” was ridiculous and in many ways continue to view it as irrational. It is hard to reconcile the contradictions of a strike which almost exclusively harms those striking. For example, most students had already paid tuition and will likely have to retake the semester. Their protests have have been poorly targeted and have alienated much of Montreal and Quebec’s populations. Why disrupt a surprisingly effective metro system that is good for the environment and the poor?
The students’ cause, a tuition hike that would maintain Quebec’s universities as Canada’s most accessible, was also low on my lists of political priorities in the face of countless provincial and federal offenses and cuts. Financial and tax reform could provide a more satisfactory response to the tuition increase and would partially fund education on a need or income basis rather than flat subsidies that instead end up subsidizing the rich’s education.
Nevertheless, in spite of their flawed strike, the students have organized a surprisingly powerful and effective protest. They have attracted an incredible amount of domestic and international attention and maintained the media’s focus for months.
From the outset, the protesters mastered the use of symbols. They first cut Montreal’s entire supply of red felt into small squares (their student debt being “carrement dans le rouge”) and are now identified with the color itself. Even nudity is now associated with the protests after thousands flooded the streets wearing only the emperor’s new clothes.
Montreal is the perfect hotbed for such symbolism and such a movement. It rivals Boston for the highest number of students per capita in North America and is the largest city in a province whose latin warmth and progressive activism have regularly resulted in the largest protests in Canada. This is in contrast with the rest of Canada’s political apathy and conservatism.
The Quebec government’s response has added fuel to the protesters’ rage and has resulted in wider support for their cause. La loi 78 forbids spontaneous assembly but has been impossible to enforce. It has been widely condemned for violating Canada and Quebec’s Charters and international human rights law by Quebecois lawyers, Amnesty International and the UN, among others. Mass arrests and cases of police brutality also echo other government overreach in Canada (e.g. G20) and abroad (Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, etc.).
As the government’s responsehas become more draconian and offensive, the strike has morphed from a controversial protest into an increasingly nuanced and broad movement. This is exemplified most recently by cinematic scenes of “casseroles”, individuals and groups walking Montreal’s streets wooden spoon and pan in hand, expressing their views through an almost instantly universally recognized sound.
The power of this movement is that it captures the zeitgeist of the Arab Spring and the 99%, a philosophical parallel made concrete by recent protests of support by red badge-wearing New Yorkers. And it does so in one of the most politically active regions in North America. Quebecers of all generations and backgrounds are seeing their own discontent with the erosion of social welfare systems, universal healthcare and corporate controlled and corrupt governments, reflected in the suppression of the often much more radical students. Whether this movement will result in positive political change or simply a return to divisiveness and separatism remains up to both the protesters and the police, the government and the people.
Kat’s mom responded with the following insightful comments from France:
On 2012-06-03, at 5:49 AM, Francine Lecompte Gittins wrote:
Views from the Europeans are that the point is no longer merely to express disagreement with the government’s decision to increase the tuition fees, but also to resist an unprecedented authoritarian crackdown.
The European’s perception is behind the ruling class’s frenzied response to the strike is their recognition that it represents an implicit challenge to the austerity measures being implemented by governments in the spectrum of politics. Europeans fear that the student strike could become the catalyst for a mass movement of the working class against their drive to place the full burden of the capitalist crisis on working people.
In fact, Europe relates Quebec’s malaise to the Greek and Italian governments which were unable to impose the staggering cuts demanded by international financial markets because of popular opposition. The events in Quebec exemplify this global process. Capitalist governments in the world are responding with state repression to mounting resistance to their class-war program of wage and jobs cuts and the dismantling of social services. They are trampling on democratic rights and criminalizing working-class opposition.
The two vital conclusions being drawn: the working class faces a struggle for political power against the capitalist social order and the defence of democratic rights requires the revolutionary mobilization of the working class.
It is understood that the rising popular movement in Quebec demands not only quality education but a different vision for society … lets hope that a happy medium can be found …
Despite the inherent difficulties it is interesting to live through these tumultuous times.