Just a quick memo to Canada’s vocal, reactionary minority (with vast over-representation on online forums and comments sections): the students in Quebec do not care that you think they are: “spoiled brats,” “crazy,” “anarchists,” “communists,” and/or “French” (?!). Your moaning and complaining is absolutely and utterly vacuous. Why? Because the students, unlike you, are actually mobilized and organized and are standing up for their rights. You, on the other hand, are sitting down for plutocracy. They are expanding our conception of what democratic politics ought to entail. They are engaging in the fundamental practice of politics, in fact: if you want something, you have to fight for it. They are a representation of the society we could be, rather than the tepid, depoliticized, ethereal mass we currently exist as.
That Canada’s media establishment, the Liberal Party of Quebec and their sycophants in the general public do not understand this is merely a testament to how divorced in this country we are from anything remotely resembling democratic politics. As I have droned on about before, “elections” are not politics in any meaningful sense of the word and, at least in their current form, are barely democratic at all.
Take for instance what is, ostensibly, the central concern of these protests: the question of tuition. Many a sweaty commentator on the CBC, for example, has remarked how they have “no sympathy” for these kids on account of the fact that they “already have the lowest tuition in the country!” Indeed, they do. And why do they have the lowest tuition in the country? Because several generations of students in that Province have demonstrated that they could and would mobilize hundreds of thousands of their compatriots to prevent any attacks on their access to a decent public education. The students, not the government, have delineated the contours of their political and democratic rights. And this, in turn, is why they will continue to have the lowest tuition rates in the country: because “direct action gets the goods.”
Ta-da! The mysteries of the arcane world of politics, revealed! A substantive, meaningful, “deep” conception of democracy can only exist in an environment where the citizens are prepared and able to wrest rights and resources away from the state. We need to understand that the state, especially in the era of neoliberalism, does not serve to provide for us, it serves to take things away. Corporate tax breaks, the creeping privatization of public services, the destruction of our environment in the name of “economic progress,” the criminalization, marginalization and exploitation of migrant labour—all of these are but means of dispossession.
As such, the completely backwards (and inane) argument which holds that because they have the lowest tuition rates in the country, Quebec students should not complain fundamentally misunderstands what democracy is. It is a reactionary, indeed, anti-democratic position. It is also one frequently applied to organized labour, incidentally: why are the unions always on strike? They already have comparatively higher wages and better working conditions than non-unionized workers. I know: they’re just greedy!
What a truly bizarre inversion. In a society where the rich have systematically conspired in the dispossession of the rest of the population, organized forms of resistance to this process are the one barrier between us and indentured servitude. Rather than resenting the dominant, ruling, corporate elite who have led us into the largest global economic decline since the Great Depression—and got off with barely a murmur of complaint from their government sponsors—we’re supposed to blame teachers and students (to use but two recent examples) because they have the audacity to speak out against this process? Gee, I wonder who this benefits?
I’m tired of the logic that blames other working class women and men, as well as youth, for the conditions the owners of this country have created. Yes, unions and organized populations, in general, have better living and working conditions than their non-organized peers. This is not an argument against organized labour et al, however, it’s an argument against the non-organization of working people! Rather than asking why “they” have it so good, we ought to ask why we have it so bad. And this applies whether you’re working in a non-union industry or sector, or you’re a student anywhere in this country wondering why our friends in Quebec have lower education costs.
I am excited and hopeful about what’s happening in Montreal and across Quebec (and hopefully, the rest of the country, soon enough!): it’s showing us that mass mobilization is possible and effective in Canada. At a moment where the rumors of the death of the “Occupy” movement have been so grossly exaggerated (another free hint for the reactionaries: the protests will end when the inherent contradictions of capitalism resolve themselves—good luck!), this is precisely the reminder we have needed: the emergence of what they’re calling a “Quebec Spring.” Change is possible, it is necessary but it can only happen when we organize, when we mobilize and when we dictate our own futures. All that which we might accomplish and gain depends on our ability to fight for it. Free tuition would be only the beginning, then.
Every working person in this country ought to stand with the students in Quebec, every progressive, everyone interested in a Canada that is not merely a subsidiary of oil conglomerates. Do not allow the media and the political establishment to deceive you with calls of “extremism” and “violence”; do not allow footage of Police brutality to be sold to you as evidence of domestic terrorism.
There’s hope for us yet but only if we look out for each other, if we defend each other, if we fight for each other. Solidarity means something: it means knowing who you’re with and what you’re against.
La barricade ferme la rue mais ouvre la voie.
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