Read

Search form

Letter from Quebec: They Villified Us, Then We Won

Letter from Quebec: They Villified Us, Then We Won
This article originally appeared on Toronto Star

Many mocked us, many vilified us, many told us we would achieve nothing.

But after a wave of student mobilization in Quebec through the spring and summer, we can count our victories: on the first day of the new Parti Québécois government’s term, it cancelled a tuition hike and repealed an anti-protest law that curbed basic freedoms of expression and assembly.

If the PQ yielded so quickly to some of our demands, it is because we organized a strike movement whose support was popular and broad, which allowed people of all ages and walks of life to express their grievances about our political and economic system, and which helped defeat the Charest Liberal government.

That might be hard to believe, going by the depictions of us in English Canada: halfwitted hooligans, spoiled brats or frightening extremists.

But if we are guilty of anything, it is of questioning the dogmas of the rich and powerful, who have spent the last decades trying to lower our expectations for what is politically possible.

The purveyors of such dogmas insisted we be quiet and content, because our tuition was already the lowest in Canada. But it remains lowest precisely because we have fought our government every time it tried to raise it.

As with education, the fundamental rights we value today — of abortion, collective bargaining, health care and many more — are not gifts from politicians, but a legacy of the struggles of ordinary people.

The struggle of CLASSE has been not merely to stop the tuition hike, but to campaign for high-quality, public and free university education. This is education as a right accessible to all, not as a commodity available to those with the thickest wallets. This is education dedicated to the common good, serving freethinking and the flourishing of the potential in each person. It is an investment in our generations to come.

Our commitment to genuine democracy is a reflection of the type of society we seek to build: one that is more equal, not less, and revolves around the needs of people, not corporations.

It is also within reach. No wonder the Globe and Mail would label us “irrational,” the better to distract the public from our proposal, feasible across Canada, to fund free university education with a tiny tax on the transactions of banks — the same banks that shackle families in debt, while making billions of dollars of profit.

What we raised with such arguments and peaceful, creative protest, the government tried to silence with “emergency” laws, riot squads and tear gas. More than 3,000 have been arrested and are still charged, three times more than during G20 policing debacle in Toronto in 2010.

Such scenarios are possible only in a broken system of democracy that comes up for air once every four years, in which politicians prefer the murmurs of business lobbyists to the voices of those they supposedly represent. Our faith is in direct, participatory democracy, which we practice in assemblies of thousands where every student can give input into the decisions that impact them.

Our commitment to genuine democracy is a reflection of the type of society we seek to build: one that is more equal, not less, and revolves around the needs of people, not corporations.

Ours is an age of cynicism, but we are learning that our dreams can be made real.

What we are fighting in Quebec, many are fighting across Canada: the privatization and degradation of public services, cuts to people’s wages and old age pensions, and the free rein corporations have to destroy our environment and fuel climate change. If our rights can be taken from us by throwing our educational system into the marketplace, we can say the same for our hospitals, our water, our forests, and the soil beneath our feet.

This has always been the essence of our strike and our mobilization: a shared, collective vision whose scope lies well beyond student interests. In our campuses, in our workplaces, in cities and villages across our province, people have come together like never before: to talk, to debate, and to imagine a new society with us. And we are making new alliances, overcoming old divisions, all across Canada.

At the upcoming provincial summit on the future of education, the Parti Québécois will aim to increase tuition fees by indexing them to the cost of living, their stated policy. But we think the time has come for free post-secondary education.

This is what we demanded on Saturday, marching as we have on the 22nd of each month since the spring. If we have demonstrated anything in Quebec, it is that a condition for social change is not that people should hunger for it — we know they do. It is that they believe their actions matter.

The social movement of the past year has taught us that police batons and corrupt politicians will not always prevail over the power of ideas. Ours is an age of cynicism, but we are learning that our dreams can be made real.

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

wealth inequality, income inequality, Fat Cat Wednesday, corporate pay, executive pay, National Living Wage, U.K. anti-austerity protests

Findings from the High Pay Centre show jaw-dropping levels of inequality in Britain, where executives earning £1,000 per hour exceeded the average U.K. annual salary of £28,000 by lunchtime on Jan. 3 – dubbed Fat Cat Wednesday.

Tony Atkinson, wealth inequality, income inequality, Obamacare, affordable healthcare, gutting healthcare, Republican agenda, Donald Trump, tax cuts for the rich

With a new Congress and White House committed to wealth’s concentration, we’ll sorely miss the scholar who dedicated his life to documenting wealth’s maldistribution.

Nicaragua renewable energy, clean energy revolution, solar power, wind power, renewables revolution

In 2012, Nicaragua invested the fifth highest percentage worldwide of its GDP in developing renewable energy, and now it is reaping the benefits.

Greek healthcare crisis, Greek austerity crisis, Greek austerity policies, Syriza party

Due to imposed austerity cuts, 850 medical clinics have closed, 10,000 beds have been shut down and 30,000 healthcare professionals were removed from frontline positions – while those who remained saw wages cut by 50 percent.

Zapatistas, EZLN, Mexico indigenous populations, Chiapas struggle, direct democracy, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés

“This council proposes to govern this country,” the Zapatista Army of National Liberation said.

Last week's decision deals a serious blow to the Millennium Bulk Terminals project – which has already experienced the bankruptcy filing of its parent firm Arch Coal, in the latest of several blows to the fossil fuel industry in the Northwest.

Posted 6 days 18 hours ago
anti-Trump protests, Inauguration Day protests, anti-Trump movement, Socialist Alternative, Students for a Democratic Society, student walkouts, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, authoritarian rule

The protests against Donald Trump on his Inauguration Day could stand out as one of the largest counter-inaugural protests in U.S. history – and organizers insist this is only the beginning of a broader resistance movement.

Posted 5 days 1 hour ago
creative activism, Act Out, 1984, George Orwell, Ministry of Truth, NDAA, Global Engagement Center, Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, red scare, blame russia, James Clapper, NSA, national intelligence, CIA, Russia hacks, mainstream media, corp

This week on Act Out!, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength—and it's still Russia's fault.

Posted 5 days 1 hour ago

“It’s important that everybody go there. This will have an effect.” -Michael Moore

Posted 5 days 14 hours ago
Spectra Energy, Spectra pipeline, Indian Point nuclear power plant, Andrew Cuomo, Martin Stolar, National Lawyers Guild, pipeline spills, pipeline disasters, AIM pipeline, Resist Spectra, Sane Energy Project, Algonquin Pipeline Expansion

The defendants' argument hinges on the interpretation of “imminent danger” – in this case, proving that the pipeline construction blockade was necessary to prevent a disaster far more harmful to the public's interest than lost corporate profit.

Posted 5 days 14 hours ago
anti-Trump protests, Inauguration Day protests, anti-Trump movement, Socialist Alternative, Students for a Democratic Society, student walkouts, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, authoritarian rule

The protests against Donald Trump on his Inauguration Day could stand out as one of the largest counter-inaugural protests in U.S. history – and organizers insist this is only the beginning of a broader resistance movement.

Donald Trump, Barack Obama, neo-fascism, 21st century fascism, transnational corporate power, anti-Trump movement

The Obama project was never intended to challenge the socio-economic order – but Trumpism has further fractured ruling groups, leading to a crisis of the state that opens up space for popular and leftist responses from below.

Spectra Energy, Spectra pipeline, Indian Point nuclear power plant, Andrew Cuomo, Martin Stolar, National Lawyers Guild, pipeline spills, pipeline disasters, AIM pipeline, Resist Spectra, Sane Energy Project, Algonquin Pipeline Expansion

The defendants' argument hinges on the interpretation of “imminent danger” – in this case, proving that the pipeline construction blockade was necessary to prevent a disaster far more harmful to the public's interest than lost corporate profit.

Tony Atkinson, wealth inequality, income inequality, Obamacare, affordable healthcare, gutting healthcare, Republican agenda, Donald Trump, tax cuts for the rich

With a new Congress and White House committed to wealth’s concentration, we’ll sorely miss the scholar who dedicated his life to documenting wealth’s maldistribution.

Bayou Bridge Pipeline, Dakota Access Pipeline, #NoDAPL, Energy Transfer Partners, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Southeast Louisiana Protection Authority-East, pipeline spills, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Atchafalaya Basin, Lousiana oil industry, Florida Gas

Opponents of a proposed pipeline through Louisiana’s fragile Atchafalaya Basin have vowed to halt its construction, starting with a vocal protest at a Jan. 12 public meeting being attended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Baton Rouge.