Long after the protests have subsided for the evening I can hear the half-hearted clanging of pots and pans up and down Berri. 8 PM every night, without fail since Bill 78 was announced, Montreal Casserole begins. Cazerolazo, an act from Chile where people literally beat casserole dishes to create ruckus.
I watch from the 11th floor balcony, very aware of my foreignness. Trash cans, pots, pans. Stand on your street corner, or your balcony, and proclaim your dedication.
This is no longer about the students.
I made the temporary move to Montreal for the “big city” living, the glories of the anonymity factor, and the chance to challenge myself in a new setting.
I also came here in the middle of a revolution.
This past week marked 100 days of student protests over tuition fee hikes, an increase of 75% over five years. Their consistency has been astounding. Every day and night they march through the streets of Montreal in what sounds more like a parade than a protest.
It’s no longer just about tuition fee hikes. Since the protests started, Quebec has been rolling out a slew of new laws, some of them absurd. And then Bill 78 came along over a week ago, which “suspends the winter semester for striking students, and imposes strict limits on their protests, with restrictions guiding location, timing, and organization.”
Walking around with a group of nine or more people? Yes, you can get arrested for that.
Quebec reminds me of Newfoundland with its intense notions of patriotism and independence. But here I am very much an outsider, and I understand very little about what this protest stands for.
What I do know, however, is that most of Canada has a very, very skewed opinion about what’s going on here. Tip: Turn off CBC and watch CUTV Montreal. I’ve tried hard to remain neutral, but even when I allude to the protests on Facebook, I get an absurd range of responses. Most of them include something of the “these spoiled bastards should go home and work hard like everyone else” variety.
My mind is blown. This is the reaction to one of Canada’s biggest protests in history? A movement that has caught world headlines?
I’ve heard other variations. “They already have the lowest tuition in Canada, who cares if it increases by $200?” Here’s the thing, though: Quebec has the lowest tuition rates because they fucking fought for it. Get it? This has happened before. They fought for their rights, and they won. That’s how shit works. You fight for it. No matter what the cause is, you put passionate people behind it, and you see results.
Canada, are you listening?
And now, with trade unions outside of Quebec supporting the activists, things are heating up. More than $36k has been used to help out the largest student federations, and soon Ontario students will march, too.
Why aren’t we all fighting? Sure, things have to change with a rising standard of living, but why are we letting this cycle of debt continue? Student loan debt in the US alone exceeds over one trillion dollars. Things aren’t quite so bad here yet, but who says they won’t be?
Things came to a head last weekend with students lighting massive fires in the downtown core along St. Denis, while police made arrests and went into bars pepper spraying people fleeing the scene.
Let me be clear: I don’t support this behaviour from the protestors. Same goes for those disrupting classes and harassing students. You’re a stain on a perfectly good message, and you stand for nothing that the rest of the movement stands for.
There are generalizations on both sides: not all police are bad, and neither are all the students. I’ve never been anti-authority. I’ve known many amazing police officers. We need them. Don’t deny that we don’t.
But I am so inspired by these protests. I am so inspired by the fact that our youth has encouraged even the elderly to get involved, by proclaiming that freedom of speech is OURS, and so is a right to an education.
Because it is.
I’ve been caught in these protests several times, including on the way home from the gym during the “100 days” anniversary.
It was peaceful. Three times the population of St. John’s marched, and it was peaceful. I sat on a giant cement block hoping to cross the street before the thundercloud burst, but remained seated for an hour. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the demonstration.
This movement – the wearing of red felt squares and the waving of giant flags – is a message. No matter how big or small the issue, WE have the right to refute. WE have the ability to turn things around.
And that’s my completely neutral, non-committal opinion on the matter.
PS Montreal fucking rocks.