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can count our victories: on the first day of the new Parti Québécois government’s term, it cancelled a tuition hike and repealed an anti-protest law that curbed basic freedoms of expression and assembly.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

Nicaraguan indigenous struggles, Miskitu people, Mayagna people, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, colonos, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Settlers are attacking indigenous communities with automatic firearms, killing, plundering and forcing residents to flee their ancestral lands, while foreign companies have entered the territory illegally and are burning the region at a rapid rate.

rising inequality, wealth inequality, wealth gap, rising incomes, growing unemployment, Great Recession, housing crisis

Recent research published about the Great Recession adds to the already clear evidence that rising inequality translates into nearly all of today's winnings going to the wealthy.

Jeremy Corbyn, MPs

The anti-Corbyn forces within Labour might very well have achieved the complete opposite of what they aimed to achieve.

shady financial practices, financial crimes, Dodd-Frank Act, Roosevelt Institute, too big to fail, Glass-Steagall Act, Gerald Epstein, Juan Antonio Montecino

The average U.S. household loses over $100,000 to destructive activities of bankers and financiers.

Bernie Sanders supporters traveled to Philadelphia from every corner of the country this week to show their enduring support for his candidacy.

Democratic National Convention, DNC, DNC protests, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bernie supporters, Food & Water Watch, March for a Clean Energy Future

More than 10,000 people calling for a “clean energy revolution” filled the streets here Sunday.

Posted 5 days 9 hours ago

Bernie Sanders supporters traveled to Philadelphia from every corner of the country this week to show their enduring support for his candidacy.

Posted 3 days 4 hours ago
All Lives Matter protesters come together for a group hug with join Black Lives Matter activists in Dallas at Park Ln & Fair Oaks Ave. July 10th.

In recent weeks, the Southern Poverty Law Center has received a number of requests to name Black Lives Matter a hate group. In our view, these critics fundamentally misunderstand the nature of hate groups and the BLM movement.

Posted 5 days 9 hours ago
Democratic National Convention, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Bernie protesters, progressives, Equality Coalition for Bernie Sanders, Migrants Rights March, Juntos, immigrant rights, Democracy Spring

We’re supposed to have a government of and by the people, but the government we have is only interested in protecting the rights of big corporations and billionaires.

Posted 3 days 19 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn, MPs

The anti-Corbyn forces within Labour might very well have achieved the complete opposite of what they aimed to achieve.

Posted 2 days 10 hours ago
Jeremy Corbyn, MPs

The anti-Corbyn forces within Labour might very well have achieved the complete opposite of what they aimed to achieve.

rising inequality, wealth inequality, wealth gap, rising incomes, growing unemployment, Great Recession, housing crisis

Recent research published about the Great Recession adds to the already clear evidence that rising inequality translates into nearly all of today's winnings going to the wealthy.

Democratic National Convention, DNC, DNC protests, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Bernie supporters, Food & Water Watch, March for a Clean Energy Future

More than 10,000 people calling for a “clean energy revolution” filled the streets here Sunday.

Nicaraguan indigenous struggles, Miskitu people, Mayagna people, Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, colonos, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

Settlers are attacking indigenous communities with automatic firearms, killing, plundering and forcing residents to flee their ancestral lands, while foreign companies have entered the territory illegally and are burning the region at a rapid rate.

Democratic National Convention, Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Bernie protesters, progressives, Equality Coalition for Bernie Sanders, Migrants Rights March, Juntos, immigrant rights, Democracy Spring

We’re supposed to have a government of and by the people, but the government we have is only interested in protecting the rights of big corporations and billionaires.