Monday, May 28, 2012

Bang A Drum!

Each night in Montréal, and now in other cities and towns in Québec, the locals are treated to the loud din of thousands of protesters taking to the streets. The video above is from last night, and was relatively peaceful with only a handful of arrests but so far a staggering 2500 have been arrested in the standoff over student tuition and now draconian law enforcement. The Pots Protest ("Manif de casseroles") began earlier this month in response to the Student protests, which are now over 100 days old, see no sign of abating any time soon, and in fact are only growing in numbers -- and volume. The protests started with the planned 80% tuition hikes by Quebec Universities proposed by the Conservative Quebec Government led by Premier Jean Charest. In response to the initial protests, The Quebec government adopted the draconian "emergency law" #78, which gives the government unlimited powers to suppress any form of protest.
Traditionally, Quebec because of it's rural economy and ancient French Catholic heritage had the  fewest Universities and college student population per capita of all the Canadian Provinces. It's only been in the last 25 years that the student population has begun to catch up with the rest of Canada. The rate increases will make the dream of college out of the question for another generation of Quebecois. The Conservative government criticized the students as abusing a privilege and used the code word "entitlements" to try to paint the protests as the irresponsible actions of an over privileged population.
What started as a protest which mainly involved students, who are directly affected by the tuition increases, now has grown to include Quebecois of all varieties. The governments hard line refusal to tolerate protest or even engage in negotiations with students is now threatening Quebecs tourist season.

“The government made a big mistake adopting Law 78… we have gone from a debate about university financing to a debate about fundamental rights,”  stated Jocelyn Maclure, professor of political philosophy at Laval University in Quebec City.
The law has been condemned by Amnesty International. This illustrates the basic differences between the way democracies operate in different systems. A Parliamentary system, like France or Canada has more direct power concentrated at the top. When a government changes, policies can change very swiftly as opposed to the American system. The election of the Socialistes in France is swiftly effecting a shift from oppressive right wing nationalism to a more liberal attitude. Conversely, we have always thought of Canada as being our nice neighbor of the North...But 5 years of Conservative politics have created a repressive environment on the verge of enacting some of the most draconian internet censorship laws on the planet. But, then things change. The Canadians are beginning to react to their economically manipulated shift to the right. It will be interesting to see the results of the next wave of elections in Canada.

 Here's another great recent video ofMontrealers engaged in charivari, a form of protest involving beating pots and pans in the streets.  This form of protest was widely used in Chile after Pinochet banned public protest. The Guardian's Adam Gabbatt writes from Montreal:
"I'm very surprised at what's happened," said Kevin Audet-Vallee, a 24-year-old history student who had attended tuition fees protests before bill 78 was introduced.
"Now that the ordinary citizens are in the streets I think the government is really in trouble, because the middle class is in the streets. At first [critics of student protesters] were saying we were radicals. These are not radicals."
Indeed, at the pot banging near the Jarry subway on Friday night the age range of the crowd was strikingly diverse. Sensibly dressed fortysomethings wearing hiking boots and kagools intermingled with long-haired students wearing only shorts. Men and women pushing young children in prams were flanked by hipsters on fixed-gear bikes.
The range of protesters was matched by the diversity of utensils they chose to create noise. Some had reached past the saucepan and wooden spoon, with the Guardian spying such unlikely pairings as a colander and a drumstick, a pan lid and a pair of chopsticks, and a barbecue lid and a pair of tongs all being put to alternative use.
As the protesters marched for more than four hours through various Montreal neighbourhoods, many people had taken to their balconies in support, bringing their own kitchenware and adding to the din.

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