Québec’s student revolt goes viral

| September 10, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mark Engler

It is rarely remembered that Occupy Wall Street was a virtual non-story through its first week, even in most of the alternative press. It was only around day nine or 10 of the occupation in New York City, after some startling video of police abuse1 started circulating online, that journalists decided that this was something they should be paying attention to. The movement snowballed from there.

I think we are now witnessing the same sense of escalating momentum with regard to the Québec students. The details of the protests2 against rising tuition fees and mounting student debt, which began in February, have long been available. Yet, as of late April, one of the few stories on the subject in the US accurately dubbed the protests ‘The biggest student uprising you’ve never heard of ’.3

Large numbers met with police violence The lack of attention wasn’t due to a lack of numbers. Hundreds of thousands4 in Québec had rallied on 22 March. That’s more than either the Tea Party or Occupy ever turned out for their protests – and the Québécois were drawing from a much smaller population.

Nor was the neglect a product of insufficient confrontation. As the Chronicle of Higher Education had reported:

The strike has been supported by near-daily protest actions ranging from family-oriented rallies to building occupations and bridge blockades, and, more recently, by a campaign of political and economic disruption directed against government ministries, crown corporations, and private industry. Although generally peaceful, these actions have met with increasingly brutal acts of police violence: Student protesters are routinely beaten, pepper-sprayed, and tear-gassed by riot police, and one, Francis Grenier, lost an eye after being hit by a flash bang grenade at close range. Meanwhile, college and university administrators have deployed a spate of court injunctions and other legal measures in an unsuccessful attempt to break the strike, and Québec’s premier, Jean Charest, remains intransigent in spite of growing calls for his government to negotiate with student leaders.5

In part, the protesters didn’t need the US press. Students at French-speaking universities in Québec have a stronger history of activism than their Anglophone counterparts, and Frenchlanguage media gave the story serious coverage in its early months. But that’s no excuse for the English-speaking media’s slow response.

World media wakes up In the wake of the strike’s 100th day, I was pleased to see stories about the Québec students start popping up like spring tulips, with viral videos6 sprouting widely through Facebook feeds. Welcoming the newfound attention, one well-put ‘Open letter to the mainstream English media’ had this to say to reporters joining the fray:

Here is what I have not seen you publish yet: stories about joy; about togetherness; about collaboration; about solidarity. You write about our anger, and yes, we are angry. We are angry at our government, at our police and at you. But none of you are succeeding in conveying what it feels like when you walk down the streets of Montreal right now, which is, for me at least, an overwhelming sense of joy and togetherness.7

References:

1. See, for example, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ05rWx1pig &feature=youtu.be.

2. See, for example, http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/05/thecontentious- Quebecois-province-wide-student-strike-enters-fourthmonth/.

3. See http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/the-biggest-student-uprisingyouve- never-heard-of/46100.

4. See, for example, http://s15.postimage.org/ons5kwrbf/devoir.jpg.

5. See http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/the-biggest-student-uprisingyouve- never-heard-of/46100.

6. See http://www.salon.com/2012/05/23/dissent_a_la_Quebecoise/.

7. See http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/25/ontario-students-poisedto- join-Quebec-in-tuition-protests/.

Category: Spring 2012

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