May 8, 2013 Leave a comment
Antipode has posted a forum on Gerry Pratt’s latest book Families Apart on their open site.
See also the interview with Gerry about the book that was posted on our open site here last year.
An open site for the interdisciplinary journal published by Pion
December 3, 2012 3 Comments
“In opposition to the corporatizing of public schools, progressive educators need to define public and higher education as a resource vital to the democratic and civic life of a nation…” (Giroux, 2003, 9)
The student strike in Québec is over. While many student associations opted to return to class before the Québec elections on September 4th, the election of a minority Parti Québécois government brought a definitive resolution to the social crisis. In one of her first pronouncements, Prime Minister Pauline Marois announced that she would cancel the tuition raise scheduled to go into effect this fall. At the same time, she promised to repeal the odious “Special Law 12”, which had been designed to force college and university students to return to class while at the same time restricting the nature of all public demonstrations throughout Québec. The passage of this special law in May had the effect of turning the student movement into a veritable citizen uprising, which was particularly acute in the streets of Montréal. In the complex terrain created by the intersection of social movements with electoral politics, the student movement can claim a tentative sort of victory.
The Geography Department at the Université de Montréal was deeply affected by the strike. Courses in the department were completely shut down for over six months. However, contrary to whipped-up images of violence, the atmosphere in the Department was always pacific, if at times tense. Indeed, I would argue that a real anguish of uncertainty was the sentiment that most clearly prevailed. As the strike wore on, in fact, students were most notable by their complete absence.
The strike, which so thoroughly influenced our lives for over six months, produced a moment of intense learning, continuous debate, and forced reflection about the meaning and value of post-secondary education. At a time when critical scholars and progressive journalists throughout North America decry the rampant neoliberalization of education (for example, Washburn 2005; Aronowitz and Giroux 2000; Giroux 2003) students in Québec forcibly constructed a robust and multifaceted public debate in the streets, in the media, within universities, within families, among friends, neighbors and strangers. The student movement put into play a mix of political mobilization and debate in a way that demonstrates that ideas are not just theoretical but have, can have, political force.
An important minority of students in the Geography department was quite active in the strike, not only in organizing activities directly related to strike actions involving the department (such as maintaining picket lines and conducting student assemblies), but also in the broader mobilization.
In late August, I had the opportunity to sit down with three students from our department to discuss the strike. I knew that all three students had been quite committed to and involved in the strike, albeit in differing ways. It was a lengthy conversation, and inevitably I am able to share only a few fragments here.
Antoine Findeli is in the process of finishing his undergraduate degree, Guillaume Arnoux is entering his third year as an undergraduate student in our department, and Rodolphe Gonzales is a Ph.D. student. They started by explaining the paths that brought them into the strike:
Antoine: I participated in demonstrations against the War in Iraq, for the Kyoto Protocol. But I believe, in my existence, 21 years, I have never seen anything like this. For me it was all year long, because in the fall there was Occupons Montréal (Occupy Montreal). I stayed in the same dynamic since the month of September. It was the same logic, the habit of being indignant. You spend six weeks camped downtown, and then you go on strike, and all of your arguments are already there. You are already advanced in the process…the link with politics is already there.
Rodolphe: I was part of the small group in the graduate student association that tried to push for a vote on the strike in order to follow the example of the undergraduate association. Contrary to what we anticipated the vote passed by a large margin, and the mandate continued, easily. We really tried to encourage those who had a differing opinion to speak, but the votes in favor of the strike passed easily. We also voted in favor of adhering to the CLASSE, which was a big step for us, because before we were represented by the FAÉCUM. Politically speaking, making that jump made a lot of sense. With the CLASSE we attempt to organize votes in the local student assemblies and take those votes and democratic expressions up (through the CLASSE), ideally all the way to the table of negotiation with the government. I served as a delegate to the CLASSE. So I can summarize my implication in the strike in that way, as well as participating in the street demonstrations. Being hit, gassed. Six months of fear, of running in the streets, almost paranoia, it was really intense.
Guillaume: My political implication started in 2005 when I was at the CÉGEP of Drummondville. At that time, the CÉGEP of Drummondville was in the ASSÉ. Later, I transferred to the CÉGEP in Trois-Rivières, which was part of the FECQ. I realized that the way the FECQ worked was top-down, and I didn’t like that. So, you could say that I am an old militant in the ASSÉ and everything that is around the ASSÉ. It is there that I began in the struggle against the increase in tuition. When 2012 arrived, it was normal for me to become involved; it was a logical extension of my past involvement. It was pretty much me who had to take care of the picket lines, everyday. As a result, I missed a number of demonstrations. But I went to others; I was arrested once. I was pepper-sprayed and beaten, but in the continuity of the struggle, you know that you have to sacrifice for the struggle, to continue the momentum.
Guillaume reflected at length on the evolution of the movement:
L’ASSÉ started organizing for this strike in 2006 – 2007; they prepared the terrain well in advance. I remember two or three years ago, we were already talking about this tuition increase. We started mobilizing and building awareness in the CÉGEPs. When those students arrived at university, they already knew the issues – what was at stake – and that they were against the tuition hike. That facilitated mobilization in both francophone and anglophone institutions.
I never thought that the strike would hold for six months. At the beginning we thought, me, and some of the “old militants,” that the votes would not pass. We affiliated with the CLASSE first, than we voted to strike. At first the association was against the tuition hike, but then we took a more radical position in favor of free tuition. All of those positions, the political evolution and the mobilization in Geography, I didn’t think it would go that far, that they would become conscious, militant.
At the beginning of the strike, we felt a strong division between the Federation of Students and the CLASSE. The Federation put forward actions that were more symbolic – festive demonstrations, actions like writing letters, the red square as a symbol, all of those kinds of actions. And slowly, as the strike continued and developed, and the government did not listen to us, and the police confronted us at each demonstration, people started to turn more and more towards the CLASSE. Our power is in the street. It is through demonstrating that we will be listened to. That makes you think that when the government is intransigent, that encourages more radical action because more moderate actions are less effective.
Rodolphe adds: And the intransigence of the government demonstrates the flagrant, marked limits of representative democracy; a strong contrast with participatory democracy. People realized these limits, and they realized that it is with the base that things can change. We lived that experience with Occupons Montréal in a punctual manner, while here it was continual. All of the local student assemblies that were on strike: participatory, local democracy.
Guillaume continues: One aspect that we have not talked about is the incomprehension on the part of the media regarding our bottom-up vision. The media could not understand that Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was not our leader. They could not understand that Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois could not respond to certain questions because the CLASSE had not yet made a decision.
Rodolphe adds: Yes, the government was always stating, “we want to negotiate with your leader.” The government could not understand that, this change of paradigm.
Antoine spoke at length regarding the diversity of tactics in the street:
What I also found interesting in terms of the forms of expression in the street was that there was an incredible diversity of tactics, which was difficult for some to accept. Those who were more radical would say, peaceful mobilization doesn’t serve anything; on the other side, others would say, it doesn’t help to break everything. These were things that we discussed continually at Occupons Montréal, because people had very different opinions regarding how to express ideas, and I realize that, in the end, it went pretty well. Despite the escalating violence, there were demonstrations that were incredible. It’s a detail, but I participated in the “All Naked March,” and for me, officially, that was a key moment. It was extraordinary, creative, 100%. Silent marches, with candles: amazing. The fact that that was respected… I spoke with some “casseurs,” people who went to some marches with their own ideology, who would break certain things. They told me, for example, the silent march with candles, we respect that.
Guillaume adds: Early on, even the most radical understood the need to respect a diversity of tactics.
Antoine continues: But I don’t think it was always that easy for both sides. For the big demonstrations, family demonstrations, okay. But for the nightly marches, when everyone went, there was often violence, and not everyone agreed with that. Some people would say, “Okay, tonight we are going to stop anyone who breaks windows,” which also seemed completely irrational. So there was a constant cleavage, but at the same time we all want to be in the street at the same time and we have different tactics.
All three discussed participatory, direct democracy and elections:
Antoine: It’s hard to make the transition, to have lived and to have fundamentally believed in direct democracy, whether with Occupons Montréal or in the general assemblies. I have a hard time imagining that we can have a system that is not a direct and participatory democracy. And from there, to say, “forget that,” go and vote, it’s hard, it’s really hard. Regardless, I will vote, because it is crucial at this moment.
I would like for us to work not only on these issues, whether it be accessibility of education, or other economic and political questions in Québec, but at the same time, restructure our way of doing politics, our way of living democracy, because we have seen that it works. Just to start rethinking it, you know, we talked about that frequently during the strike. People said to me a million times in the street, “why don’t you just go and vote?” But, why do you think that because I am in the street, I don’t vote? Why do you think democracy is once every four years? That’s it? Is that our democratic political power? Is to put a piece of paper in a slot, and that’s it?
Guillaume joins in: I think that has been one of the big legacies of Occupons Montréal towards the student strike: participatory democracy and the idea of always debating in general assemblies. Our generation, we see what is going on all over the world and we realize that our system – vote every four years, no citizen debate for four years – doesn’t make sense. Participatory democracy has been able to take off, triumph.
Rodolphe finishes on the goal of tuition-free education:
The idea of free education was not a part of the ideological landscape of Québec, that idea was a complete aberration. Now it is a political demand with solid, well-founded arguments. We have been able to make that understood to the Québécois society, and throughout the world, because there are student struggles throughout the world at this moment. It’s not just here that we think this doesn’t make sense. It has really been a struggle to bring back the idea of free education.
The conversation that we held lasted for over an hour and it left me with much food for thought regarding the diversity of paths and experiences articulated through this student movement, the role the strike has played in the process of citizenship formation and, more personally, the complex relationship between students and professors regarding “learning” and “education.” In reality, our conversation marks a beginning of what could be, and should be, a much longer process of reflection and dialogue. In that sense, this posting stands as an implicit invitation to enter into dialogue with Geography students at the Université de Montréal regarding their experiences with the strike.
Post-script: It should be noted that the undergraduate student association in Geography recently voted in favor of two days of strike actions (November 14th and November 22nd) in support of the week of international solidarity for the accessibility of education. The student movement continues.
Patricia M. Martin, with Antoine Findeli, Guillaume Arnoux and Rodolphe Gonzales, Université de Montréal, Département de géographie
Aronowitz, S. and Giroux, H. (2000). The Corporate University and the Politics of Education. The Educational Forum 64 (Summer): 332-339.
Giroux, H. (2003). Public Pedagogy and the Politics of Resistance: Notes on a critical theory of educational struggle. Educational Philosophy and Theory 35(1): 5-16.
Washburn, J. (2006). University, Inc.: the corporate corruption of American higher education. New York: Basic Books.
August 18, 2012 1 Comment
On June 22, 2012, after weeks of waving our red scarves in support of the nightly march of thousands of students banging pots and pans, known as the ‘casserole’, we agreed to our daughter’s plea to participate on the first day of her summer holidays, in what had become an illegal demonstration. Thanks to a hurriedly cobbled together law that has effectively removed the right of students, or anyone else in the province, to publicly protest without the prior consent of the police, any desire to register dissent has now been rendered an illegal act by the Québec government. Undaunted by the cold hard facts – that there would be riot police and that we could be arrested and fined up to $5,000 each, my daughter and her friend remained unwavering in their desire to contribute to preserving the ability of all in the province to attend university in the future. So at one p.m. on a beautiful sunny day, we joined approximately 10, 000 others, in defiance of Bill 78, on a march through the streets of downtown Montreal to protest not only the government’s decision to increase tuition fees, but also the province’s plans to commodify and capitalize upon the environmental resources of the Northern reaches of the province and the Charest Government’s growing austerity agenda.
It was clear on June 22 that the protest was evolving, galvanizing and bringing together multiple issues and multiple generations in a common concern for the relentless intrusion of the market into all aspects of everyday life. This evolution was made clear a month later when the largest of the student associations, the Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale, otherwise known as CLASSE, revealed in a manifesto, their intention to move the protests beyond the issue of the $1,625 tuition-fee hike in order to engage a much broader public conversation about the principles, ideals and values integral to building a society that is founded on the principles of social justice and democracy.
For many of the grey-haired, over-50s in the crowd on June 22, their decision to stand in solidarity with students was intimately linked to their desire to preserve, as one of my neighbour’s explained, one of the fundamental ideals of Québec’s quiet revolution – that access to education should serve as a cornerstone of the nationalist ambition to break down the hierarchies that historically subordinated Québec’s French-speaking population. A sentiment best summarized in the resolve of the 1960 Québec Liberal Party slogan to become “Maîtres chez nous,” or “masters of our own house”. But this nationalist sentiment is not one that has been universally shared by all in the province. For many Anglophones, Québec’s quiet revolution, and in particular, its language restrictions is perceived as a cultural threat that continues to actively erode their identities and the sustainability of their communities. Indeed, Anglophones in the province have been more likely to view the government’s proposal to increase tuition fees from $2,168 to $3,793 by the year 2017 as a reasonable one given the fact that these fees are lower than those of all other provinces in Canada. In fact, as many have noted, participation in the protests by students attending English language Universities and CEGEPS has been far lower than that of students in the French language institutions. But while much public attention has been paid to the clear linguistic divide on the question of the validity of the student strike, less attention has been paid to the differences in levels of public support for the strike across lines of race and ethnicity, as well as class. I believe, however, that these differences are important ones that are worth exploring because they represent crucial challenges that will ultimately determine whether the student protests can truly evolve into a broader and sustainable progressive social movement.
A colleague from the University of the West Indies and I have been conducting interviews with young people of Caribbean Canadian descent in Montreal, to ascertain their experiences within the city, the strategies that they use to negotiate their urban environments and the strategic governance practices that are best able to help them articulate their rights and their vision of what the cities they live in should be. In our conversations that regularly lead to a discussion of the student strike, we have been surprised at our informants’ general lack of support for the strike. Few see the student strike as an effective form of protest and even fewer would consider participating in the marches themselves. The reasons given are varied -like many Anglophones some view the proposed tuition increases as minimal and consequently the protests unwarranted; others see the public protests as a futile exercise given the fact that there has been no resolution despite over 6 months of protest and interrupted study; yet others feel that that they are already the targets of everyday police surveillance and that participation in the protests would simply open them up to detention and possible arrest. Few of the 18-25 year olds that we have interviewed see any relationship between the current student protests and their own struggles to further their education, and to secure employment and to escape factory work, the seeming repository for black working class Anglophones in the province. The disconnect between the student struggles for educational accessibility and the struggles for education among low income black Anglophone Canadians in Québec could not be more striking. Many Anglophone black youth continue to be marginalized by the politics of language that have defined Québec’s quiet revolution, as well as a range of everyday racisms that limit their access to education, employment and social mobility. In our conversations with young people of Caribbean origin, many attribute the difficulties they experience in securing employment in the province to the inaccessibility and ineffectiveness of the system of education itself. Educated mainly within the English Montreal School Board system, some of the young people we have spoken with feel that the education they received, did not prepare them to participate in work environments that require the exclusive use of the French language. Many recount experiences where they felt marginalized and excluded in the classroom and unable to relate to either their teachers or the material in the curriculum that rarely reflected their own lives or experiences. Many also explained how, over time, the requirement to communicate in French came to feel like part of a broader, systematic devaluation of black, Anglophone cultural traditions and practices. The conversations we have had match the findings of the 2010 McGill Black Demographic study where it was reported that among black Montrealers between the ages of 15 and 24, 38% had not completed high school, 19% were unemployed, and of those employed 96% earned incomes of less than $25,000.
Tempting as it might be to view the issue of high school non-completion as somehow different from the student struggles to assure access to tertiary education for all, the fact that similar disparities exist in the proportion of black Montrealers who complete a tertiary degree suggest that the alienation that our interviewees feel may well be a significant obstacle that is present at all levels in the system. As Anthony Morgan, a former McGill University student of Jamaican descent who has been one of the few voices that has questioned the un-reflexive engagement in blackface performances among some protesters intent on reminding white Québecers of their historic characterization as ‘the white niggers of America’, any effort to build an egalitarian school system must prioritize breaking down the institutionalized and everyday forms of racism that routinely alienate and relegate indigenous and other students of colour to the shadows of progressive change.
The CLASSE manifesto highlights four core themes: democracy, feminism, social justice and ecology that will guide their expanded campaign. They have also declared their intention to make the educational system well and truly a space where equality reigns and differences are respected. These are progressive objectives that we should all support. Equally important, however, must be an explicit effort to connect the everyday exclusions that thousands of poor people and people of colour in the province face, and the very issue that set this movement in motion – access to education.
 Torczyner, James L. 2010. Demographic Challenges Facing the Black Community of Montreal in the 21st century. Montreal: McGill Consortium for Human Rights Advocacy Training (MCHRAT), Montreal Black Communities Demographics Project.
 Morgan, Anthony. 2012. “La grève et les minorités. Blog Entry by Anthony Morgan from 03/2012.” in The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/authorarchive/?anthony-morgan/2012/03/
July 6, 2012 2 Comments
Since March 2012, students across Quebec have been on strike against tuition hikes proposed by the provincial government. This strike, now the longest running student strike in Quebec history, has spurred on province wide protests that have been met with continual police action and legislation to curtail the right to public assembly. Below, we offer several commentaries from students and scholars on these events.
“Political activity is whatever shifts a body from the place assigned to it or changes a place’s destination. It makes visible what had no business being seen and makes heard a discourse where once there was only place for noise; it makes understood as discourse that which was only heard as noise” (Jacques Rancière)
Click the link Wake up Westmount for audio file that accompanies text below.
On May 21, 2012, days after the passing of Bill 78 or la loi spéciale, the emergency law passed by the Liberal government in an attempt to thwart the right of students to assemble, protest and otherwise exercise democratic forms of dissent, the now nightly manif took off once again from Parc Émilie-Gamelin, briskly circulating through the Quartier Latin and Centre-Sud before heading west on one of Montreal’s main commercial arteries, Rue Ste.-Catherine. At the western edge of downtown, where a liminal zone of poverty, student housing and the former Montreal Forum rubs shoulders with Westmount, Montreal’s most affluent neighbourhood, the march shied away, turning north and then east back towards downtown. In a sudden shift, the crowd split up and started racing up side streets to turn once again towards Westmount. Pausing briefly at the neighbourhood’s border to regroup, the enormous mass spilled onto the main drag of Westmount, Le Boulevard, towards the home of Premier Jean Charest.
The transition from the streets of downtown, where businesses and apartment buildings crowd right onto the edge of the sidewalk, was striking. Along The Boulevard, les manifestants swelled to fill the wide street, standing 15-20 abreast. The joyful and noisy crowd was an enormous and powerful mass, but also felt strangely contained; this, despite the fact that, unusually for that era of the protests, the Sûreté de Québec’s helicopter had backed off from its omnipresent and oppressive droning, and the police presence was largely invisible save at the front and back of the march (concentrated, as we would arrive to discover, on blocking Jean Charest’s street). That sense of containment came in part from the way that the crowd remained disconnected from the space it traversed. Unusually for a neighbourhood in the densely occupied centre of Montreal, swaths of green lawn formed a buffer zone between the street and private homes, and upper Westmount’s location on the side of Mount Royal meant that the homes along The Boulevard tend to slope sharply away from the street. Unlike almost every other neighbourhood the manifs pass through, there were no people leaning out of windows or poking their heads out of doorways in support, annoyance or indifference; houses were dark and curtains shut tight. Apart from the occasional human leashed to a peeing dog, and one befuddled chap taking out his garbage, the crowd marched through a rather barren landscape.
This containment did nothing to dissipate the crowd’s energy, but it did cause it to rebound upon itself and intensify. The non-contagion of this political noise was boisterous, disciplined in the modulating waves of chants that quickly became a more formalized invitation: “Wake up Westmount!” (en anglais, a nod to the historical association of Westmount with English money and power). These were the days right before the ludic contagion of les casseroles or the “pots and pans” protests, and on this night the call and response of the crowd was a one-sided conversation.
As protesters hoofed it through the heart of Westmount, there was a sudden break from the group, as a masked, black-clad marcher took off from the crowd and began darting up a long set of stairs towards a large and silent house. An instant wave of anxiety, disapprobation, excitement and concern raced along in the wake of this single figure, and the crowd began to sonically chase him or her. The fear and potential seemed clear: vandalism, the provocation of the police, to this point barely present, and the threat of police violence once again towards protesters. The black figure raced, ninja-like, up the stairs on a crest of mounting apprehension; reaching the door, they stretched out a finger, rang the bell, and ran away. Instantly, anxiety flipped into laughter and relief; people doubled over and more and more, the edges of the crowd frayed into playful trajectories of doorbell interpellation, as others grabbed hoses off green, well tended lawns and rerouted the water supply to thirsty marchers. This march prefigured the potential of the casseroles to come: when chants failed to penetrate, the action of the street entering the home through the invitation to respond (the doorbell), with all the connotations of childish pranks, was the insistently playful recourse of the protestors. If people wouldn’t hear the message, they would at least be forced to hear the noise as an undeniable becoming-political.
Many have suggested that the sonic promiscuity of les casseroles has been a key component of their wild success, but there is also an element of happy coincidence with the architectural landscapes of the neighbourhoods in which they have taken hold. This is demonstrated in ample contradiction with the lack of sonic purchase in Westmount, which called for the polite and pointed home invasion of the doorbell ring as an invitation to the Maple Spring’s dance. The Plateau, Villeray, Mile End, Rosemont-Petite Patrie (all neighbourhoods where les casseroles really took off) are all home to the exterior staircases so characteristic of Montreal working class architecture. Here, people live in one of the most densely populated geographies in Canada, albeit where density does not come in the form of high rise buildings but rather a more intimate scale of 2-4 story buildings. Les casseroles thus have activated a dual sonic trajectory, both vectorial in the march but also vining up the fronts of buildings, luring people out onto balconies, sidewalks and rooftops to participate (and make no mistake, banging on the balcony or even just coming out to watch is participation). In this case, the sonic invite didn’t need to underline the ambiguous coming-into-politics of message versus noise. In the wake of the spread of discontent and active participation in the student strike after the adoption of la loi spéciale, critics have frequently claimed that the initial message contre la hausse has been diluted to the point of incoherence. But the manifestations have actually demonstrated the coming into discourse of noise, have in fact underlined the ways in which the government has refused to hear the political discourse of negotiation and messages as anything but background noise. Les casseroles and the ‘ring and run away’ share the same message: avec nous, dans la rue!
Alanna Thain, Department of English, McGill University, Montreal.
 Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics And Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004, 30.
 Bill 78 includes a number of anti-democratic provisions designed expressly as a response to the conflict over the proposed tuition increases and the responsive mobilizations by students and their supporters. These responses included massive demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Montreal (as with the demonstrations of March 22 and May 22), as well as other tactical disruptions such as unannounced protests that saw students marching onto bridges, highways and through the streets of downtown Montreal, wreaking havoc with traffic and annoying the government. The bill, also known as la loi matraque (the ‘billy club’ or ‘baton’ law) has recently been criticized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. The Canadian Association of University Teachers, who has condemned Bill 78 as an “act of mass repression”, summarizes its effects: “Bill 78 makes it illegal to engage in peaceful assembly, a fundamental freedom guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law limits assemblies of 50 or more people, allows the government to defund student associations, imposes hefty fines on student demonstrators, and forces employees back to work. The law especially targets leaders of student associations who could be individually fined up to $35,000 for continuing to demonstrate contrary to the law. For participating in a second demonstration, the fine doubles. For a student association supporting a demonstration, the initial fine is up to $125,000 and doubles to $250,000 for a second offense.” See their statement on this matter at http://www.caut.ca/pages.asp?page=1087. The bill is currently being challenged on a number of fronts.
 For more than a month, people all over Quebec, but especially in Montreal, have taken to their balconies, front porches, rooftops and above all to the streets to participate in les casseroles, or the pots and pan protests. In the immediate aftermath of Bill 78’s attempt to quash public displays of dissent, people came out at 8pm, tentatively at first and then in great waves, armed with pots and wooden spoons to bang out their opposition to the student hikes. This “noise” has served as a great attractor for all sorts of citizens to make their dissent felt. Here’s a great video of casseroles in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX79_6eXJU0&feature=youtu.be
“I don’t care. This is the only place I can afford to go to school. I just want to finish my degree and get out of here. The rest is their problem.”
That can’t be exactly what he said. I am certain there was cursing. He was being civil this time, but in the past when our paths had crossed– generally myself standing between him and the entrance to our classroom– he shook with anger and shouted insults. My colleague and I were both undergraduate students in the geography department at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to which we both came from other provinces as anglophones. On the last day of February of this year, our student association voted in an unlimited strike mandate to oppose the new provincial budget for post-secondary education. Along with other departments from our university, we were the first anglophone student associations to do so in the last 50 years. Since 1968, there had been nine previous general student strikes in Quebec, but no anglophone institution had ever joined the movement until this year.
It was our first time on strike, and there was a significant learning curve. We had no ‘strike culture’, like the French schools were rumored to have. We tried to borrow from their experiences and strategies, but at the same time we were still collectively defining what a picket line was or should be. Not only were we learning on the fly, we were facing significant opposition from our peers. Though we voted to renew our strike each week, many people disregarded this collective decision on their own terms. There seemed to be no taboo about crossing pickets; being considered a ‘scab’ did not seem to concern many students.
Our strike was an expression of much debate, more energy, and as much struggle and endurance as we could muster. Our department gained notoriety for being the most organized at our institution and successfully blocked the majority of classes for the six weeks that remained in the semester, but we fell short of many of our objectives. All the while the refrain was, “How do the French schools do it?”
How did the francophone schools do it? We share the island of Montreal with some of the most militant of them. How were students with whom we are in such close geographic proximity so willing and so able to disrupt the status quo, while at my own school we had to struggle to cut through capitalist ideology, individualist protectionism and indifference before we could even hope to become motivated to take action and take risks? The history of the francophone student movement is wrapped up in their national identity, which cannot be explained without reference to the Quiet Revolution, social Catholicism and union activism, to the legacy of class struggle along the French-English divide, to the rise of secularism; all things about which I had been largely ignorant until the conflict began.
Seen from the perspective of generations of activism, the success of the francophone schools is less mysterious. Jean Charest, the provincial political leader and primary adversary of the current student movement was himself an active strike organizer in his student years. But it is interesting to me now to consider why anglophone schools joined the movement.
Most of the student mobilization campaigns rallied around the tuition user-fee increase. As the basic tuition fee for a Quebec resident was the lowest in Canada, the proposed increase of 75% over 5 years would still only amount to $1625, to a grand total of $3,793 per year in 2016-17. Anglophone schools have many students from outside the province, and even after the increase it would still be more affordable to study here than back home. The tuition here is affordable, and we count ourselves lucky although perhaps a bit puzzled. How can this be? Why here? Who knows? Then the government says it is time to pay more. The dream is over, time to wake up. When the francophones refuse to pay, we think how ungrateful they are. Don’t they know that everyone else pays more, everywhere else? Isn’t it better to pay ‘our fair share’ to ensure a better quality education? Anyway, we are upstanding citizens, not freeloaders. We pay our dues.
But the francophone students point to the wasted spending. To the severance packages for dismissed presidents (at Concordia we have had two in 5 years), and the bulging budgets for the salaries senior administration. They point to the provincial tax cuts for the wealthy and on investments. To the commodification of research, the dubious indicators that would evaluate the ‘quality of education’. This is a political decision, they said, and we reject it.
It was as though some veil had been pushed back. Tuition is low because francophone students defended it! Slowly the universe seemed to invert, and the obligation to pay became an obligation to dissent. All those generations of Quebecois students who had protested in the past, to them we owed an unquantifiable debt. The amount unpaid in tuition that had not been raised was a result of their actions. They may have done it thinking of their brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, but even anglophones had benefited from their sacrifice. Now some of us were ready to join with them.
Every respectable anglophone personality, our media, our parents, our politicians, had let us believe this was a foolish endeavor. Too idealistic, too unrealistic. Better to be happy with what we are given, which is not that bad, after all. But the successes of the francophone schools also gave us some daring. The francophones had ideals. Then they mobilized, they fought and they won. They made it reality. Who could tell us it could not be done, when it already had been?
Was it not our duty to defend it? I become more and more troubled by my colleague’s words, quoted above, that he would take what he could without any responsibility to those who made it possible. He owed his degree to student strikes, but when a strike came to him he made every attempt to destroy it.
After fifty years of geographic proximity, we have learnt a strange and revolutionary lesson. Not only did we realize that we have a choice, but together we have power. The anglo-Quebec student movement is still in its infancy, and growing with our experiences, the successes, the failures and the regrets. Even as we fumble for our footing in this movement, students in our home provinces are asking, How did they do that? Why can’t we do it too?
Kiley Goyette is an undergraduate student in the Department of Geography, Concordia University, Montreal.
Note: In response to the Concordia students’ mobilization, faculty at that institution drafted a letter to the Quebec government that can be found here.
As is the case for all social movements, the current mobilisation of college and university students in Québec is contextualised. It bears the signature of a local culture, with its own history. Interpreting this mobilisation without knowledge of this specificity is bound to yield distorted conclusions. So here are some core facts that I believe have to be acknowledged and which underscore the logic of current events.
Free access to public education in Québec timidly started after WW2 when the Québec state realised it would be beneficial for the nation if its largely rural and uneducated population could learn to read, write, and count properly. Primary education was made public, mandatory, and free.
After the long reign of the conservative, clerical, and anti-intellectual Premier Maurice Duplessis (1944-1959), a period that was later labelled ‘the Great Darkness’, in 1960 Québec entered what became its ‘Quiet Revolution’. Under the impetus of Liberal Premier Jean Lesage (1960-1966), the state decided it was time to remove public education from the hands of the Catholic clergy and to create a Ministry of Education (1964). The Ministry’s mandate was to help Québec enter modernity by handling public education – a fundamental tool of personal and collective emancipation – more appropriately. Much at the same time, to form a workforce less and less tied to subsistence agriculture and unskilled labour, high school was also made universally accessible, mandatory, and free.
It is highly significant to note that during these years of change, the Ministry of Culture was created (1961), electricity was collectivised (creation of Hydro-Québec in 1963), the public sector’s pension fund was taken from bankers to be administered by the state (la Caisse de Dépôt et de Placement, in 1965), and public health services were made universally accessible and free of charge (creation of Régie de l’Assurance-Maladie in 1969). In terms of targeted taxation to help pay for all this, the provincial lottery system was set up (Loto-Québec, in 1969), and a state monopoly on the sale and taxation of alcohol was enacted (Société des Alcools, in 1971). All became, and still are, pillars of today’s Québec welfare and economic health.
One of the driving forces of this wind of change after decades of social near-stagnation was the Royal Commission of Inquiry on Teaching in Québec set up by Premier Lesage’s government to reflect on every aspect of the education system in the province. In 1964, that Commission famously produced its five volume Rapport Parent (The Parent Report; named after Alphonse-Marie Parent, priest and former principal of Laval University). In a nutshell, this highly influential document proposed that intellectually formed citizens were a collective asset, that access to higher education had to be democratized, and that lower college education (CEGEP; Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel) be made free.
And here is the twist. The Royal Commission also proposed that as soon as possible, university education should also be made free and accessible to all. This, the commissioners declared, constituted a logical and inevitable evolution to make higher education a central part of Québec’s long term development. But the government wasn’t sure Québec could afford this step, so in 1968 it compromised by freezing sine die university tuition fees. This basically meant, considering regular inflation, that these fees would decrease annually until they died out. That was the acceptable, viable, and explicit plan and it remained so for 40 years, having never been seriously questioned by successive governments — until this one unilaterally decided to trash it.
This brief history of the logic behind low tuition fees for higher education in Québec helps to realise that: 1) universal access to tertiary education in Québec is not a new fad germinating in the unripe brains of young leftist agitators, and that: 2) it was the state’s very own idea on the recommendation of a Royal Commission, a choice that was respected and prized for four decades.
The REALLY new idea in the current debate regarding the rise of tuition fees is a bold attempt to rewrite history by chipping away at sound principles of collective intellectual and economic enrichment. This uncanny plan has been germinating in the – no doubt highly educated – minds behind the Liberal government of Jean Charest (himself former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada from 1993 to 1998). The memory of that other provincial Liberal leader, Jean Lesage, and of the visionaries of the 1960s clearly means little to the current Liberals. Higher education, it appears, is merely a commodity with a price tag. With this approach, the Charest government blindly applies the neo-liberal gospel bankers, lobbyists, and large investors whisper to its ear, failing to recall what has come over time to distinguish Québec from English Canada or the US.
With the current offer to jack up tuition fees by 82% over seven years, the Charest administration tries to drill into our heads that this is the only way to improve the financial situation of Québec’s universities. The student movement passionately agrees with better funding for tertiary education. What it disagrees on is who should foot the bill. But contrary to government propaganda, students are not asking for someone else to pay for their education; indeed, they show proof of their social accountability on a daily basis. They and the growing number of non-students supporting their demands, want a firm public investment in the collective future of the next generations. They believe this government has a lot of slack to play with if it seriously wants to put its money where its mouth is. Examples abound. Certain Québec universities have been notorious of late for poor speculative real estate investments that threatened to swamp their entire budgets. With the judicial system turning a blind eye, the mob consistently lines its pockets with every possible public contract in the construction business. The petrol and mining industry coming at Charest’s invitation to dig into Québec’s vast and mind-bogglingly rich territory are awarded lavish tax breaks and under-cost access to electricity produced with tax-payers’ money. In fact, a disturbing proportion of extremely wealthy companies operating in Québec get away with paying just about no taxes at all. In other words, it is also good governance and accountability that protesters ask for, and the cornered Liberals of Jean Charest’s government resist tooth and nail. Mind you, it is true that the Liberals have a lot to lose, having been part and parcel of this sad state of economic affairs for decades.
In sum, what started in February 2012 as a fairly focused reaction by Québec’s youth to being forced to pay more for what two generations of their forbearers had enjoyed for cheap, has reconnected a whole people to its own history and became a movement by which vast numbers (the largest public demonstrations in the 400 years history of Québec) have crystallized their hopes for better governance and a sound vision for the future.
The Liberal government has here a fantastic opportunity to seize the day and possibly lead a new Quiet Revolution. Or it can stick to promoting its last-century, business-as-usual agenda and shove its head in the sand. This poor show looking more and more like a bad rerun of the Great Darkness.
Jean Michaud, Département d’anthropologie, Université Laval, Québec.
March 22, 2012 was the largest popular demonstration in the history of Montreal, part of a mass protest across the province of Quebec. Saturday the 7th of April 2012, the Monument-National Theatre Montreal was packed for the event Nous? ‘From noon to midnight,’ as Louis Guertin notes, ‘70 Quebec personalities joined the event to talk about solidarity and a collective sense of liberty.’ What follows is an English transcript of the speech given by a spokesperson of the CLASSE (Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante), Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. A French transcript is posted online by Louis Guertin here, and the speech can be found here.
Thanks to Susan Ruddick (Department of Geography, University of Toronto) for the translation.
Staying Power (Le souffle le plus long)
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the CLASSE, April 7, 2012.
Today I am on strike. For 54 days I have been on strike. 54 days of struggle, 54 days of beatings, of teargas, of pepper spray. I, my friends, my comrades, the students of Quebec. 54 days against the Liberals, against the boss, against the police, against duplicitous commentators. 54 days and already, already we have won. We have already won against cyncism. We have already won against powerlessness, against those who say that all this is is a few weeks of trouble, the people of Quebec are dead, the youth aren’t worth much. This is why I believe I will take advantage of the platform I have been offered today — to offer my heartfelt thanks to the Premier Ministre of Quebec, Mr. Jean Charest. Thank you Mr. Charest, you have given us an unwavering confidence in ourselves. Thank you Mr. Charest for showing us what we can accomplish against you.
But now you are adjourned. You declared war against an entire generation. We have made an indelible mark on history. From this day on, the history of Quebec cannot be read without pausing at this point. You have demonstrated the violence of your world, which has enabled us perhaps to better imagine our world. Because it is our hope, that it is your world that comes to an end. We do not long for your commercialized education, your laboratory schools, and your society of “Me, Inc.” We now have confidence in ourselves. We now have confidence in history. We now have confidence in our comrades. We have confidence in our people and we will not stop there. Our anger, the anger of students is already echoing in the four corners of the province. And it fills the ears of our children, our nieces, our cousins.
The strike has become our school, and for us this spring  already one of the best educations. It was free, and much more than that. We learned a lot this spring and we really learned. We learned what injustice is; we learned what violence is; we learned what the violence of the system is. We learned the taste of pepper spray and we learned the smell of teargas. But above all we learned resistance. We learned by hundreds of thousands what it is like to fight like we have never fought before in our lives, as has never been fought in the history of Quebec. Our strike is not a question of “a generation.” It is not a matter of “a springtime,” it is a question of a people, of a world. Our strike is not an isolated event. Our strike is just a step, a stopping point along a path that is much, much longer. Our strike is already victorious because it enables us to see that path, the path of resistance. That is the real meaning of our strike. 250,000 people do not turn to the streets just because they don’t want to pay $1625 more for tuition. The meaning of our strike lies in the durée, in the revolt that follows tomorrow. This spring of 2012 we planted the seeds of a revolt that may not germinate for several years. But already we can say that the people of Quebec are not asleep, nor are their youth.
They might have the hardest clubs, the thickest flack jackets, the biggest newspapers, the largest wallets. But we have the longest breath, the best staying power. We have the courage of the oppressed, the force of the multitude. And above all quite simply, we have reason on our side. We have reason to get up, to shout out. We have reason to demonstrate, to go on strike. We have reason to block the entrance to our CGEP, to our universities. We have reason not to be intimidated by the injunctions made by a little idiot who lost the vote in the general assembly, whose parents are rich enough to pay for his lawyer. We have reason to fight against this. Against a world that wants to clip our wings; to burden us with debt; and grind us down with the worst work.
But this struggle is not simply a student struggle. Actually it cannot be only a student struggle. Because the people who want to raise fees for education, who may in fact raise the fees for education, the people who decided to impose a health tax, the people who developed the Plan Nord, the people who are laying off the workers at Aveos, the people who are trying to lay off the workers at Rio Tinto Alcan in Alma, the people who are trying to keep the workers at Couche-Tard from unionizing, these people are all the same people. These are the same people with the same interests in the same groups, in the same political parties, in the same economic institutions. These people are a single elite. A gluttonous elite, a vulgar and corrupt elite, an elite who only sees education in terms of investment in human capital, who only sees a tree as a piece of paper, and a child as a future employee. These people have a converging project and they have converging political interests. And it is against these people that we must fight, not just against a Liberal government. And I have hope today, I believe in the best of students who are actually on strike today in Quebec. And it acts as a springboard; this strike is a springboard for a much larger struggle, much deeper, more radical, than the direction that Quebec has taken during the last few years. If there is a Quebec tradition to conserve, it is not poutine, it is not xenophobia, it is the one that the students of Quebec are promoting. A tradition of struggle: a tradition of union struggle, student struggle, popular struggle. And to speak of this struggle I cannot leave you today without turning to the words of Gaston Miron.
We push on, we push on, the front of a delta
We will return, history at our backs,
And through our efforts, our hatred of all forms of servitude,
We will have become ferocious beasts of hope.
Over the past six months, from the dining room tables of Westmount to the streets of St. Denis, in Montreal, and across the province of Quebec from Hull, to Sherbrooke, to Quebec City, the longest running student strike in the history of Quebec has been a source of intense debate and discussion. As the numbers swell on the streets (with somewhere between 200,000 to 250,000 people taking to the streets across Quebec in March), supporters and critics have emerged in unlikely quarters. There have been expressions of incredulity (even among progressives) about its objectives in the face of apparently small tuition increases. Detractors argue that Quebec students have the lowest fees in the country, that $1,625 seems hardly a motivation to take to the streets when compared to student debt in Ontario, in the UK, in other parts of the world. Explanations for the fervor of the movement range from generational critiques (these students are lazy, they have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, they are a spoiled generation) to regional exceptionalism (Quebec as a distinct society). Detractors argue that students should learn to see education for the investment that it is, and accept higher fees in the anticipation of higher earnings. But, particularly after the passage of Bill 78 restricting demonstrations, in Quebec support for the students has grown.
Moreover, if we were to follow the money the contours of a different story, a story much larger than the fee hike, would emerge. It is true that Quebec has the lowest student fees for post-secondary education in the country. But it also has the highest personal income tax rates in Canada, and some of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America. What does it matter, then, that students (and an increasing number of supporters) should make a stand against front loaded costs for education but not against high rates of taxation? It matters because poorer students often opt to work to defray costs, rather than graduating with debt — a situation, as any educator knows — that creates a two-tiered education system in the interior of the classroom: those with more hours to study and to recuperate have a better chance of doing well. It matters because — even as businesses call out, in the uncertainty of markets, for well rounded flexible thinkers (T shaped individuals according to the current jargon) — increased fees corral students into simply second guessing employment opportunities — with the predictable gluts in technologically oriented disciplines and deficits in the arts and humanities.
It matters because the trend towards privatized funding forces universities to turn increasingly to endowments, and forces students to turn increasingly to private career colleges of variable quality. In fact, the coordinates of the funding crisis in post-secondary education facing developed countries in 2012 have an eerie resonance with the crisis facing African post-secondary education in the 1980s. Although the echoes are only faint at the moment we might do well to turn to review that history and its impacts.[i] At that time, the World Bank declared that public funding of African universities was building an overqualified elite at the neglect of education of its youngest school children, and with its Structural Adjustment Programs, that increased privatization and cutting of public funds would be the cure. Quite apart from creating a false conflict between generations of students, the ensuing disintegration of these publically funded institutions had vast implications for economic, political and cultural life. It halted the growth of a progressive (and politically independent) middle class and cut off opportunities for intellectual development for generations of African young people, streaming them to manual labor in resource extractive industries. Clearly the implications had a reach much vaster than the refashioning of educational institutions, or even the limited opportunities it afforded in that sector for what has now come to be called accumulation by dispossession. More recently, as undergraduate and even masters degrees become a basic requirement for decent employment in the developed world — and exactly at a time when employment options are uncertain — the World Bank has turned its attention to developed nations, and families are increasingly encouraged to see payment for education as a necessary investment in their offspring. So it matters — the strike has far reaching implications beyond the limited issue of “how much” students should pay. Increased fees or a robust taxation system? It matters in terms of the long-term vision we have of society, the overall purpose of education and whether we build a social, intellectual and civic base for that society according to the dictates of fast capital or something more enduring and far-sighted.
Susan Ruddick, Department of Geography, University of Toronto.
[i] See Caffentzis, G. A Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles against Structural Adjustment in African Universities African World Press.
June 10, 2012 2 Comments
Queer theorizing has made a lot of room for time lately as several recent major works have spurred on a temporal turn within the field (eg. Edelman 2004, Freeman 2010, Halberstam 2005, Munoz 2009 and Puar 2007). This diverse literature hangs together in its common concern to reinvigorate the queer political and intellectual project in the face of the unprecedented mainstreaming of gay and lesbian life that is occurring in a number of contexts. Arguing that the normalization of gayness demands not celebration but scrutiny, work on queer time diagnoses emergent homonormativities and attendant queer liberalisms. It seeks to move us away from the increasingly narrow single-issue focus of too much queer scholarship and activism to resituate queerness as a radical social critique. It envisions a renewed criticism that attends to the simultaneously sexualized, raced, gendered, classed and nationalized ways in which hegemonic structures continue to render certain subjects ‘normal’ through the production of ‘perverse’ others.
In consonance with these powerful and important claims, this virtual theme issue assembles queer theoretical work from the Society and Space archives to explicitly spread the spotlight from time to space (of course the queer time literature does not ignore space, but its treatment is limited). None of the pieces here engage in any depth with the queer time literature; indeed, most of them predate queer theory’s temporal turn. Yet they evidence the vitality that a spatial analytic brings to the sort of radical critique that queer time scholarship advances. The earliest pieces highlighted here were among the first to put geography into conversation with queer theory. They put the lives of ‘sexual dissidents’ on the map and took mainstream geographical thought to task as disembodied. This challenge to the ‘straightness’ of the discipline has persisted in the queer work within our pages, even as that work has moved out from the single-issue to situate sexuality within a wide social field. Also persistent has been an insistence that the best queer theorizing is geographically sensitive. Across a diverse range of topics, these papers demonstrate the need to understand sexuality as sited and scaled. They take space, place, distance, proximity, movement and flow seriously as constitutive elements of sexual lives, norms, and politics.
‘Queer space’, these papers show, is a productive notion. That is not to say that these authors essentially define or claim literal sites for some sort of essential queerness. Just as the ‘queer time’ literature deploys that term epistemologically rather than asserting it ontologically, so is ‘queer space’ used in these pages. It is thus offered as a notion to think with as we imagine radical queer futures.
These papers will be available open access through August 2012. Readers may also wish to check out the already open access editorial introductions to two relevant special issues on the themes ‘Sexuality and space: queering geographies of globalization’ (2003) and ‘Governing intimacy’ (2010). We look forward to receiving more provocative submissions on many queer spaces and times.
Sexuality and the spatial dynamics of capitalism
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1992 10 651 – 669
Ironies of distance: an ongoing critique of the geographies of AIDS
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1995 13 159 – 183
Genderbashing: sexuality, gender, and the regulation of public space
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1996 14 221 – 240
Coming out of Geography: towards a queer epistemology?
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1997 15 223 – 237
Retrenchment from a queer ideal: class privilege and the failure of identity politics in AIDS activism
G Derrick Hodge
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2000 18 355 – 376
Breeders on a golf ball: normalizing sex at Ellis Island
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2003 21 441-460
Pleasure and propriety: teen girls and the practice of straight space
Mary E Thomas
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2004 22 773 – 789
You could truly be yourself if you just weren’t you: sexuality, disabled body space, and the (neo)liberal politics of self-help
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2007 25 144 – 159
The queer intimacy of global vision: documentary practice and the AIDS pandemic
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010 28 112-127
Bestiality and the queering of the human animal
Michael Brown and Claire Rasmussen
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2010 28 158-177
Queer ecology: nature, sexuality and urban heterotopias
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space advance online publication
Thanks to Mary Thomas, Deb Cowen and Stuart Elden for their help in shaping the content of this virtual theme issue and for logistical support. Thanks also to Jan Schubert and Rory Clarke at Pion for facilitating open access to the articles.
Edelman L, 2004 No future: Queer theory and the death drive (Duke University Press, Durham, NC)
Freeman E, 2010 Time binds: Queer temporalities, queer histories (Duke University Press, Durham, NC)
Halberstam J, 2005 In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives (New York University Press, New York)
Munoz J, 2009 Cruising utopia: the then and there of queer futurity (New York University Press, New York)
Puar J, 2007 Terrorist assemblages: Homonationalism in queer times (Duke University Press, Durham, NC)