Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.
Maybe if we focus outside the U.S., we can gain some insight, some perspective, about what’s happening here. It’s certainly all connected. And it certainly helps understand the frustrating familiarity of the latest round of electoral politics. So, let’s look north to Canada, to Québec in particular. Like people around the world, Canadians know all about “austerity measures,” and about restrictions on the right to protest. Funny how those two things seem to go together.
This video is from the ongoing student, and well beyond students, protests in Montréal. The actions occurred on May 22, the 100th day of the student strike in protest of rising (82% over five years) cost of tuition, and in protest of the newly enacted “Law 78,” which was clearly an effort to stifle if not end the protests. What happened instead was the largest action to date – some say the largest in Canadian history, with estimates ranging between 250,000 to 500,000. It didn’t “just happen.” The current strike builds on the years of work by student unions, and other groups. The beating of pots and pans is a frequently used tool of activism. In this case, I’ve seen it explained as, “the pot is the government, we’re the spoons.”
From Roar Magazine:
Québec: ‘we didn’t know it was impossible, so we did it!’
Over the past 3,5 months, a student strike against tuition hikes in Québec has evolved into one of the biggest anti-capitalist movements in North America. …
But this struggle represents more than students. It represents an attack on the middle class and lower income families, their sense of social cohesion, and the social entitlement and equality of access to public services amid rising cost of living.
“A Chronology” follows, tracing the beginnings of the current actions to November 10, 2011, when “over two hundred thousand students went on a one-day strike, and thirty thousand took to the streets.” On February 23, “forty thousand post-secondary students across the province joined the unlimited general strike.” By March 22, “over three hundred thousand students had been on strike, a massive march in the streets inaugurated the Maple Spring … with university after university, and college after college, going on strike. Two months later, on Tuesday, 22 May, the Quebec students’ unlimited strike celebrated its one-hundredth day … .”
According to the Roar piece, the use of the “red square,” (and why there’s a sea of red seen in protests), signifies
… being financially ‘squarely in the red’ amid tuition hikes, cuts in social entitlements, and the specter of spiraling student and consumer debt. As their movement has powerfully reminded us, we are all ‘in the red’ as long as the one percent imposes upon us austerity, debt, and repression.
The politics of austerity and the increased policing of everyday life reveal themselves in these instances to be inseparably linked. We can see the direct link between tuition hikes and the criminalization of assembly in Quebec, just as we can see Bloomberg’s management through ‘free speech zones’ of political protest, the silencing of media, and the increased police aggression in suppressing the Occupy Wall Street movement. … When times of crisis provoke ramped up police power and allow desperate politicians to pass ‘emergency laws’ that target unquiet sectors of the population, we are certain that the class balance of present society is threatened. But it is a cautious joy we should preach, along with the sober insight that without powerful international solidarity and coordination, as James Baldwin once wrote to Angela Davis, ‘if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.’
… Wherever the site of struggle, the very idea of opening up space for collective imagination is policed.
NYC Occupiers, and college students, Zoltán Glück and Manissa McCleave Maharawal visited the Montreal protestors on May 23, the day after the huge march. Check out How students are painting Montreal red. An excerpt:
The media in the United States have hardly noticed the Quebec student strike, despite it being the longest and largest in the history of North America. Those of us who have been following the movement have been amazed by the sheer numbers that these mass demonstrations have mobilized, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets on major days of action. What is less known, but equally important, is that every single night for the past month there have been marches of several thousand protesters. …
When we ask how … so many students have been mobilized and politicized, the answer is both simple and complex. As student organizer Myriam Zaidi said, ‘We’ve been standing on corners handing out leaflets and having conversations with people about this for years. Just opening up that space of conversation has been hugely important. This didn’t happen overnight.’ …
Last night, as we marched in Montreal, it was with the knowledge that hundreds of our Occupy Wall Street comrades in New York were marching in solidarity for the third time. … Occupy Wall Street itself grew out of solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian and Spanish and Greek uprisings, after people began asking themselves, ‘How do we do that here?’ Our generation of students in the United States has yet to mobilize on a mass scale, but after watching what’s happening up here in Quebec, perhaps that will change.
It takes time, creating public space within which conversations and actions can occur, conversations and actions which work to help people see what they often don’t want to see: the inconvenient, the ugly, the “it doesn’t fit what I think I know about my country,” frightening realities of what’s being done by people in power, in the name of “traditional values” or “patriotism,” or “austerity” and “Homeland Security.”