Student Protests in Quebec
It seems to me that the current Quebec student’s strike– in response to the government’s plan to raise tuition– is a matter upon which reasonable people might disagree. However, increasingly I hear more and more unreasonable people chiming in on the matter, patronizingly referring to the student action as baseless, self-indulgent, deluded or childish. Typically, these dismissals and accusations, coming from columnists like Rex Murphy and Margaret Wente, have a sneering, I-Know-The-Real-World tone to them, that reflects a particularly middle-brow, middle-aged, entitled sensibility. It’s been driving me fucking crazy.
In March, over 200, 000 students marched in the streets of Montreal. That’s an awful lot of people, and it warrants some respectful consideration. Personally, when students protest I pay attention. I’m middle-aged now, and I like to know what they think, how they experience the rapidly evolving world, to which we (those generations that came of age before the Internet) are cultural migrants. Because of this, I try to move toward them when it comes to understanding an issue, I want to see it through their eyes rather than try to get them to see it through the eyes of my peers. I want to understand where they’re coming from rather than tell them where they’re going, and I do this for all sorts of reasons, but primarily because I think it will make me a better, more empathetic person.
In the last 15 years the world has changed more than it has in all the centuries it was built upon. The Internet is a more important invention than the wheel, and it’s entirely reasonable to assume that the model by which we’ve successfully lived for 100 years, might not be the model by which we’ll successfully live for the next 100 years. The seeds of a movement like Occupy, that seems so disorganized, loud and dirty to many, will very likely bear revolutionary fruit, and I think that this seismic shift in the way we think about our society, is a wave that’s breaking right over the heads of those who dismiss it as aimless, bongo-playing dilettantism. As Fran Liebowitz said, “ In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country capitalism triumphed over democracy.”
We need to think about that, and perhaps respond to it.
My cousins are students in Montreal and they’re brilliant and so well informed that they’ll make your head spin. And what they are doing in striking and taking to the streets is a purely democratic act. A lot of their money is invested by the government in a way that they don’t agree with and they’re asking the government to redirect that money toward something that they agree with—education. I want to live in a country where post-secondary education is affordable to people. They think of that as a core value. What is wrong with that?
As Dave Eggers said, “The truth is not two-sided, it’s round.”
The mocking tone of certainty issuing forth from elders on this issue lacks grace, empathy and hope, and perhaps even worse, it lacks imagination. I think that we should see what happens, how the students proceed and what goals they might achieve, before jumping in and telling them that they’re wrong and that when we went to school we had to walk 15 miles in the snow.