Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

‘Adapt or die’ is the first law of the human race. It is by adapting to our circumstances that we have survived. But being an adaptable species has its downside. It makes us vulnerable to the myth of inevitability.

There are few better examples of the myth of inevitability that Hitler’s thousand year Reich. Why did otherwise decent people go along with the insanity of the Nazi regime? Because they believed its continued dominance was inevitable. It would carry on for a glorious thousand years under the glowing aryan sun. They could either accept it – adapt to it – or die. Being an adaptable species, many chose the path of least resistance.

Of course there was nothing inevitable about it, and the thousand year reich died cowering in a bunker a scant few years later.

I don’t bring this up to draw any parallels. Little on this earth is comparable to Hitler, but it illustrates the fact that even the most perverse of regimes can seem reasonable, and more importantly, inevitable, from the inside.

That’s where we are today: stuck in a broken political and economic paradigm to which we submit because it seems inevitable.

The great American writer Chris Hedges situates the current social movement in Quebec in the same place I do: on the front line of a global struggle against a broken system. He also posits that the failure of mass movements against this broken system will lead to the rise of the truly violent and extreme.

“If these mass protests fail, opposition will inevitably take a frightening turn. The longer we endure political paralysis, the longer the formal mechanisms of power fail to respond, the more the extremists on the left and the right – those who venerate violence and are intolerant of ideological deviations – will be empowered. Under the steady breakdown of globalization, the political environment has become a mound of tinder waiting for a light.”

I don’t think I really need to explain what’s wrong with our system. You already know. You may justify it, accept it or ignore it, but you know all is not right in our inequitable world.

Over the last fifty years, and particularly during the last decade or two, the rich and powerful have increased their power, wealth and influence exponentially, while life has gotten harder for everyone else. The common good has capsized under the drive to transfer our resources to a small elite.

Increasingly, institutions designed to serve the interests of the many – government, media and police to name a few – have become defenders of a status quo which works only for the minority. The same minority which, not so coincidentally, bankrolls the political campaigns, owns the media and dominates the realm of “public” opinion. We have all the trappings of democracy and free speech, without the substance of either.

In the words of Noam Chomsky, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”

The most dire and existential threat to anyone in the public eye is to appear “unreasonable”. We self censor, to an appalling degree, lest we be judged to have set foot outside of this narrow spectrum.

Many a good person crafts their message to remain “reasonable”, to avoid the fate of Quebec students, who are “naive, unrealistic, stupid, selfish, entitled spoiled brats” as you may have heard.

We know instinctively that something is wrong, deeply wrong, but we agree to limit our opposition to the playing field set out for us. It’s a rigged game, and as soon as we accept to play within these limits, we condemn ourselves to defeat.

Within this narrow spectrum of debate, we are the unreasonable ones. “Greed is good!”, as our state broadcaster Kevin O’Leary is fond of telling us. All power to the shareholders!

Within this spectrum love is a weakness, compassion a debilitating condition. Any measure, however minor, to redress the inequality of our society or provide a social good equally to all is dismissed as communism.

Don’t like it? Move to Cuba. Because the only alternative to the brutality of today’s “modern” capitalism is communism. By relying on a bipolar view of political organization, we become convinced that whatever the ills of our system, the alternative is worse.

Think we should invest in education and hospitals, rather than fighter jets and corporate tax cuts? You are simply too stupid to understand the complexities of our global economy.

Want to talk about the “they” who control power and money in our society? You must be a conspiracy theorist, as if there was some amorphous “they” pulling the strings! It is to laugh!

Because it is ridiculous to identify the 0.4% of the world’s population who control 38.5% of the world’s wealth, and assume that they will use the power they wield to protect a system which benefits them greatly.

Preposterous to assume Rupert Murdoch isn’t the only media mogul influencing the editorial line of the media properties they own to maximize their profits. Even though they have a legal obligation to their shareholders to do just that.

If we suggest that those in power are short sighted to a fault, oblivious to the destruction of our world, and even the future prosperity of our current system, we must be stupid, or crazy, or both. It’s not as if shareholders care more about this year’s profits than long term sustainability, or as if politicians care only about their re-election, and the money that requires, right?

Our world is upside down, and somehow we have been convinced that walking on the ceiling is normal.

But this unsustainable balance of power is a house of cards, a carefully maintained illusion which depends entirely on our subservience to it. If we walk away from our televisions, break the bonds of our isolation and talk to each other about our dreams, our desires, we realize we are neither alone, nor crazy.

This realization is the most remarkable aspect of the social movement unfolding in Quebec, and the sense of community it has brought about.

From Rimouski to Trois Rivières, from Montreal to Laval, the casseroles pot banging protests have broken our isolation, introduced us to neighbors we never knew we had, and gotten us talking about what kind of society we want to see.

They have brought us into the streets, and given us a taste of the incredible power we wield when we work together.

The students are not selfish. On the contrary they have sacrificed their own semesters for the well being of future generations. They have initiated a broad social conversation about our priorities, our goals.

When we have that conversation, we inevitably come to the conclusion that we need change. And the desire for change is an incendiary threat to the powers that be.

This is why we have been so viciously vilified by a media elite who feel their control slipping. What is happening in Quebec is a serious challenge to the status quo, and the pundits who have spent months loosing their most vicious invective at this movement cannot understand how it stands, unbowed, to fight another day.

Last Saturday I spent the day escorting an independent documentary filmmaker and activist from Toronto around to a couple of the protests. We talked for hours about protest, and solidarity and the possibility of a better world. She asked how this movement carried on, and had not yet been beaten into submission or cowed into compliance as so many others are.

We agreed that perhaps it was the joy, the love, the community and the solidarity in our streets which had struck a nerve.

As many reasons as there are to be angry, maybe people need a reason to be hopeful. Perhaps Jack Layton was onto something with his message of “love, hope and optimism”.

We need a movement not of anger, which discourages and demoralizes us in the face of a Sisyphian struggle, but of love, and hope.

Our greatest weapon is our love. A journalist today asked what made people return to the street each night, often for five or six hours at a stretch. What gave people the physical strength to do that?

I don’t believe it’s anger, or rage, although that is certainly part of it. When you walk in our streets, when you see the grey hair and the strollers, when you see your hope, your joy and your love reflected in the brilliant smiles on each face you pass, when you realize that you are not alone, it does something to you.

We are in the street not for ourselves, but for each other. The intoxicating realization that together, we have the power to build the world we want to see is like a drug. The realization that this upside down world is no more inevitable than the thousand year reich is empowering, and floods us with more strength than we ever knew we had.

My filmmaker friend has a tattoo on her arm which reads “love is the movement”. She says it speaks to the fact that we all do what we do out of love. Love for each other, love for the planet, love for the generations to come.

The phrase has stuck with me in the days since, tugging away at my brain. Our love is our strength. We are not so far gone, we are not so lost that we have stopped caring about each other.

Our love is our most potent weapon, and the one our enemies cannot understand, or defeat. Contrary to what we are taught, we are not motivated solely by self-interest. We are in this for each other, we just forget that fact sometimes…

We are at a moment of great possibility, of great promise. But it is also a moment of great danger. This is our chance to clean up the mess we have made, but if we fail, yet again, we risk the spiral of violence Hedges describes.

Far from inevitable, our system is profoundly unsustainable. In its slavish adherence to the mantra of greed, it grows uncontrollably, beyond the limits of what it can control.

This system will come apart at the seams, and we must step in and fix it before it blows up. Not for ourselves, but for each other, and for our children.

Hedges concludes: “There still is time to act. There still are mass movements to join. If the street protests in Quebec, the most important resistance movement in the industrialized world, spread to all of Canada and reach the United States, there remains the possibility of hope.”

In 72 hours, the idea of Casseroles Night in Canada spread to over seventy locations across Canada and internationally. One week later casseroles took place in over 125 locations around the world. From Paris to Montevideo, Brussels to New York.

Call it austerity, call it insanity, but our system is broken. From one corner of the globe to the other, this knowledge unites us.

Quebec is our beachhead, our inspiration. It starts here, but it will not end here. Be brave, be bold, be loving, be joyful. Now is our moment, we may not get another one.

For my brothers and sisters here in Quebec: ne lâche pas! The whole world is watching, and taking strength from your courage. As I write these words I am watching massive police brutality in our streets on CUTV, whose camera crew was attacked, yet again, and forced off air. Stay strong, stay united and keep fighting. Your sacrifices, your injuries, are not in vain.

They beat you, ridicule you, harangue you and mock you because you’re right. And because you’re winning.

We all struggle for a better world in our own way. If we are to succeed we need the realization that our disparate gripes have a common cause. We need a single, unified movement of resistance to out of control greed and inequality. And we need it right now, not a moment later.

It starts with you. Grab a pot, a spoon and step outside. Talk to your neighbors, dance in the street. You have the power, and now is the time, for now is all the time there may ever be.


Please check out the Casseroles Night in Canada Facebook page for more information on how you can support Quebec’s social movement, and protest Harper’s budget at the same time! This Wednesday, everywhere in the world!

Follow me on Twitter, good judgement to the contrary, I do sometimes feed the trolls: @EthanCoxMTL

Generation Wise montreal protests

Generation Wise montreal protests

Generation Wise is a short film shot by our friends over at BIS Films. This short documentary features several Montrealers and their opinions regarding the ongoing student strike. It was filmed on the 31st of May and 1st of June during the nightly protests that have now been going on for well over 100 days. Take a look 🙂

Questions and sound by Jonathan Montpetit.
Visuals by Katherine Macnaughton and Emmanuel Hessler.

Thank you to all who participated and to the unknown choir, which performed at Place Émilie-Gamelin 5 minutes to 8pm on the 31st of May, 2012.

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

Québec Solidaire MNA, and co-spokesperson for the party, Amir Khadir was arrested last night in Quebec City. Video from TVA shows him in handcuffs and being led onto a bus with an unknown number of other demonstrators.

A message was posted on the Facebook page of Québec Solidaire, the left wing political party for which Khadir is the only MNA, explaining that Amir left the National Assembly, heard casseroles, and decided to join the completely peaceful march.

The demonstration was declared illegal, some part of it was kettled, arrested and loaded onto a bus. In a statement on Khadir’s arrest, Québec Solidaire says 65 were arrested alongside him.

All, including Khadir, were charged with a violation of article 500.1 of the highway safety code. Something the QS post points out as odd, given that it was an entirely peaceful casseroles march.

The SPVQ (Quebec City police) declared the demonstration illegal because no route was provided. However they proceeded to ticket all those arrested under the highway safety code for obstructing traffic and claimed they were not using Bill 78.

While police in Montreal use a municipal by-law passed concurrently with Bill 78, which replicates many of its provisions, to declare demonstrations illegal which have not submitted a route eight hours in advance, I am unaware of a similar by-law in Quebec City.

Therefore it seems ridiculous for the SPVQ to claim they were not applying Bill 78 when they declared the demonstration illegal. The provision in the Highway Code relating to blocking traffic is meant to be used on people who run around on highways. By definition a protest is “blocking traffic”, so if it can be used on protests then all protests are illegal. Using this law to lay $494 fines on peaceful protestors is an egregious abuse of police authority, and misinterpretation of the law.

The sad and sorry truth of what is happening right now in Quebec is that, insofar as protest is an established pillar of democratic society, our democracy is breaking down.

Kettling has been declared illegal by the G20 inquiry in Toronto, and senior commanders are losing their jobs for employing the technique. Meanwhile in Quebec, it remains the bread and butter of the Montreal and Quebec City police forces.

Bill 78 has been declared unconstitutional by the Quebec Bar Association (representing lawyers and prosecutors) and yet it stands. It is now essentially illegal to protest in this province, and anyone who dares do so risks arrest and a charge or fine.

Democratic society was built by demonstration. It is because of demonstrations that democracy itself exists in our societies. That blacks are treated equally, that women can vote, that we have the weekend. Every good thing about society was fought for, in the streets.

And now Charest, our delusional and demonstrably corrupt Premier, thinks he can eliminate our right to protest? That he can send in the riot squad to arrest peaceful citizens expressing an opinion? That he can arrest a fellow member of the National Assembly for daring to agree with them?

Ya basta! Charest has got to go. Not in a few months, but now. He has taken a broadsword to the fabric of our democracy. He has arrested over 3000 peaceful demonstrators, more than during the October Crisis. He has ignored the will of the people, the very people whose consent he requires to govern.

We have the power my friends. His power comes from our consent. If we withdraw our consent he is powerless, an emperor naked as the day he was born. And I bloody well withdraw my consent!

Forgive my anger, but this latest egregious assault on our most basic liberties has hit me like a final straw across the back. I’ve had enough. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

If you’re in Quebec, you know what to do. Make tomorrow the largest night of casseroles this province has yet seen. Let the very ground quake with the sound of our pots and pans and righteous indignation!

If you’re anywhere else, tomorrow night was already scheduled to be Casseroles Night in Canada. Well over 100 locations around the world have already signed up to hold solidarity casseroles tomorrow at 8PM. Check the list for your town, if it isn’t there start your own casseroles! All you need is an event page, which you should post on the page for the national event. You’ll be amazed at how many people join you!

Let this be the last straw for us all. Nothing is more important than protecting our democracy, and it is most certainly under attack in Quebec.

Some will say the protesters are the undemocratic ones, not respecting decisions of elected representatives. Some will say protest is nothing to do with democracy, that the institution is confined to the ballot box. They should read more, because they are ignorant to the history and meaning of the word democracy.

A democratic government is responsive to the people. Charest is not. A democratic government allows all protests, no matter their cause. Charest does not. A democratic government does not arrest the innocent, does not sweep up large swaths of people on the street. Charest does.

If we lose this struggle, if we allow ourselves to be bowed and beaten yet again, I promise you it will not end here. This is our moment, our line in the sand, our primal scream “This far, no further!”

Wherever you are, whatever you do, join us in the street. To rail against the wicked, but also to celebrate the beauty, the love and the community of our movement.

In the flames of this debacle was born a beautiful thing. Call it civil society, call it community, call it the 99%. In the joy of our casseroles, we came together and shared our love.

An amazing indy filmmaker I met this week has a tattoo on her arm which reads “Love is the movement” For her, we all do what we do out of love. Love for our fellow people, love for our children (born or unborn), love for the earth.

This movement has awakened our communities, and set the fire of love burning in our chests. We are together, we are strong, and we’re done being pushed around.

We’re done being called crackpots and communists for questioning our governments’ slavish obedience to big business. We’re done being arrested, beaten and threatened for exercising our democratic rights. We’re done with greed, with austerity and with unbridled and unhinged capitalism.

You don’t need to be a communist to think our system is out of control. I daresay Adam Smith would agree.

So tomorrow, and every day after, send a message to the world. Our love is greater than your violence. Our community is stronger than your repression. Our dreams of a better world are better than your empty cynicism.

Across the globe, they rally for us Quebec! Because we will win. Because we must win. Because the consequences of losing now are too grave to contemplate.

I know some of you are scared. You have every reason to be. But we cannot let that fear win. If the fear of the police keeps us at home, they have already beaten us. Be peaceful, be joyous, be loving. Stand together and be strong. They cannot arrest us all. There is strength in numbers, and there is strength in each other.

Tonight, my heart is with Amir, and all the others. Tomorrow, I will be in the street. It’s too important not to be.


Follow me on Twitter. The revolution may or may not be televised, but you can bet it will be live tweeted! @EthanCoxMTL

Montreal’s newest festival has already begun. It runs every night, features music, athleticism and is very inclusive. It visits all neighbourhoods and in just its first year, this born-in-Montreal event already has worldwide media attention and spinoffs across Canada and in places like Paris and New York City.

You’d think such an event would make a mayor very happy. But for some reason, Mayor Gérald Tremblay is not. In fact he’s quite worried and upset, and he’s not the only one.

Some of the city’s other festivals have raised the alert level and even cancelled events because of the new kid on the block. Not very neighbourly, if you ask me.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the new festival I’m alluding to is the Maple Spring, student strike, anti-Bill 78 protest, Casseroles, call it what you will. Just don’t call it a threat to Montreal’s culture. It is part of Montreal’s culture – and lately a rather dominant part at that.

It’s not a threat to tourism either. We’re talking about a few hundred, few thousand, sometimes tens or hundreds of thousands of people, vibrantly though peacefully marching in the streets, rain or shine, banging on pots and pans, some of them dressed as giant pandas and such.

Sounds like an attraction to me. And this doesn’t even count those who come here just to witness and be part of an inspirational movement at it’s core. At the very least, these marches aren’t the type that will scare those not interested in activism away.

That is to say, they won’t scare tourists away on their own. Throw in draconian laws like Bill 78 that create tension on the streets where there wasn’t before as well as a corporate media bent on showcasing the few instances of violence causally linked to the protesters that occurred over the past five months (not a bad ratio given the number of people and timeframe) and you get a different picture.

Yes, it’s not the students or the casseroles that may drive tourists away from the city, it’s the actions of those in power, their media associates and their police enforcers. The same people warning of disruptions to festiville are those causing that potential disruption.

What about local business? Well, if you’ve ever marched for hours, you know that at some point you’re gonna need refreshment. I’m sure dépanneurs on the march route do a brisk business in thirst-quenching drinks and even cigarettes and other provisions.

Once the nighttime manifs end, there are tons more people in the streets than would otherwise have been there, and not just protesters but journalists (both mainstream and independent) and other hangers on. Many of them may seek another type of refreshment before heading home, the kind that local bars are very equipped to provide.

But wait, you say, weren’t there some problems at bars during the protests a few weeks ago? Wasn’t lower St-Denis a warzone? Sadly, yes. But don’t blame the red squares.

Surveillance camera video and lawsuits brought against the police by very disgruntled bar owners who had their terraces pepper sprayed and establishments raided show that it was, once again, the cops who provoked the problems. Cops having a difficult time differentiating between protester and ordinary patron, because, well, the protesters are ordinary people, the kind that have been keeping the bar economy and other economies including the festival economy going long before wearing a piece of red felt or banging on some pots and pans.

It’s about time festival organizers like Just For Laughs’ Gilbert Rozon realized that and instead of begging the movement to stay away, sought out ways for the two events to co-exist. Maybe instead of cancelling their opening event on Crescent, the Grand Prix organizers should realize that a tourist clientele that wasn’t scared off by constant violence in the streets of Bahrain won’t be scared off by Anarchopanda. Maybe it’s time that bar owners like Peter Sergakis, whose Station de Sports recently barred people holding pots and pans, realized that when your big attraction is a cheap 60-oz pitcher, you’re attracting the type of people who may have issues with austerity measures and economic inequality.

It’s time the stewards of the city’s established culture realized that the real threat is not a festive social movement but rather the likes of Tremblay and Jean Charest who will risk destroying the city’s economy and tourism industry just to maintain a status quo that benefits themselves and their wealthy friends. It’s time for the other festivals and the rest of Montreal’s culture to welcome the city’s newest festival with open arms.

As the gayest week of summer slowly sashays our way, organizers of Montreal’s pride festivities may have more to worry about than how many thousands of condoms to order.

Fierté Montreal is the target of a new Facebook campaign, “No Pride Under Law 78”, organized by queers upset about the organization’s close ties to the Liberal Party, which less than three weeks ago enacted Law 78, legislation that has been called Canada’s most regressive since the War Measures Act of 1970.

Ironically, on the same night that the Liberals unanimously voted the contentious law into effect, Fierté honoured Ministers Jean-Marc Fournier and Kathleen Weil (both in absentia) at the annual Gala Les Bâtisseurs for their efforts in fighting homophobia.

“No Pride” is calling on Fierté Montreal to revoke the awards given to the Liberal ministers, saying, “Members of the National Assembly who supported this draconian legislation have no place of honour in our community.”

They are also demanding that Fierté join in the legal battle against Law 78 and use all funds raised at the gala to fight the law in court. Lastly, and most symbolically, they want Fierté to name les Carrés Rouges—the student strikers—as the leaders of this year’s Parade.

Let’s stop for a moment, first, to think about what exactly Fierté is and what is really being asked of it.

Fierté Montreal is an organization whose biggest partners include the provincial and city governments, a major bank, and a pharmaceutical company. As sad as it is to say, Fierté now exists only to throw a week-long party, hand out some awards, and make a wad of cash for the city—all the while toeing the party line.

Long-gone are the days when the parade was a political act of asserting your right to live as you are, free from discrimination. As mainstream acceptance of gays grew—and with it a larger cash payout—Fierté was able to cut itself off from the very roots on which it was founded.

Sure, political statements can still be made at the parade: for example, the anti-capitalist contingent is allowed to march. Any action, though, that directly threatens Fierté’s current base will not be accepted easily, which is why members of “No Pride” will have to push hard.

Montreal’s Pride Parade is not the only one suffering from this apolitical blight. In 2010, organizers of Toronto Pride banned the overtly political group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, whose members take issue with Israel using its own tolerance of gays to brand itself as a haven of freedom despite its continued occupation of Palestinian territories. QuAIA was eventually allowed back into the parade after extensive backlash from other parade participants.

Just as Toronto Pride was forced to backtrack, Fierté needs to be forced to take a stand against a government that is trampling the rights of others in the name of “democracy and citizenship“. Any organization which claims to represent people historically marginalized by governments and police must not stand idly by while regressive laws are enacted against fellow citizens.

Fierté’s members need to be reminded of their organization’s roots in the bathhouse and gay-party raids of decades past—specifically, the history of the Sex Garage Raid, which directly paved the way for Montreal to become the queer haven it is today. (Click here for an excellent, if not brief, history of the Sex Garage Raid.)

At the very least, Fierté needs to take back les Bâtisseurs—“The Builders”—awards from the Liberals who so clearly have no understanding of what queers have been building all along. That being, a more just and tolerant society, something to which Law 78 is antithetical.

The other demands of “No Pride” might not be so easy for Fierté to heed, though. Firstly, financially supporting those charged under Law 78 with money raised at the Gala, while admirable in principle, might be an impossible task. If the money was raised for a specific purpose, Fierté can’t rightfully spend it on something else. If, however, they can use the money to fight the constitutionality of the law, then they would do well to remember that it’s not just students whose right to protest is being limited—its theirs as well. And protesting, as previously stated, is how the gay rights movement started.

As for “No Pride’s” final demand of inviting Les Carrés Rouges to the front of the parade, it doesn’t seem necessary for Fierté to take a stance on the strike given that they represent all queers, not just those with pro-strike sympathies. Of course, Les Carrés Rouges should be allowed to march in the parade, but “No Pride” fails to make a strong enough case for them to be at the front.

Ultimately, what’s important right now is that organizers of Montreal Pride festivities take action directly against Law 78. By getting in touch with its roots and defending the principles on which it was founded—democracy, freedom, and equality—Fierté will once again have purpose.

If, however, organizers of Pride refuse to speak up and act out, then I suggest the event’s name be changed to Vanity, since that is all that will be left.

Imagine you’re a suburbanite. You live in Laval, Quebec or the West Island.  Turn on your TVs, surf to Google News, read your newspapers, twist that dial to your favourite radio station; what do you hear, what are you reading?

The protesters in Montreal have, again, done something bad.

They broke a window, they woke up an old frail grandma, they threw some smoke bombs, or, maybe (oh the horror) they stopped traffic for an hour. No matter what they did, the optics are the same in the mainstream media; chaos is on the horizon.

The truth is conveniently hidden. No matter how many thousands of people attended a protest, the camera lenses zoom in on the hooded masks. The brave marching high school students, the smiling children waving Quebec flags, the seniors, resolute in the legacy they wish to leave for the next generation, are not part of the picture. It doesn’t make good headlines.

It is time the movement forgets about headlines. It is time the movement forgets about trying to win the streets over from the police with theatrical shows of force. It is futile. The police confront protestors with restraint and a sense of optics. They understand the protesters. They understand if they show a bit of force, if they give the illusion they can be beaten, protesters will feel heroic and empowered.

Look at the images. Black and camo clad vigilantes, mostly students and young sympathizers, grimacing with black flags think they are super heroes when they cause petty damage to corporate property and fight police. It is theatre. Any metropolitan police force in Canada could stop them. They are allowing the protesters to waste their time and energy.

If the police wanted to end a protest, if they actually wanted to engage the crowds, they have lethal weapons: guns. If things get desperate the state will crush resistance. Think of contemporary upheavals such as the Winnipeg General Strike, the October Crisis or Oka. Look at how easily the Occupy movement was dismantled.

Protests are good, but in Quebec and Canada it is becoming more about distractions than resistance. Bill 78 will keep the protesters in the streets; the movement is blinded by pride, and must engage in petty, almost orchestrated street clashes. It is time to move on. This tactic, in its current manifestations, is a failure.

I am calling on the student movement to stop protesting in the streets and start knocking on doors in the suburbs, in the slums and everywhere. Bring a handful of red squares, practice your arguments, memorize your facts and get moving. Organize. Get your friends to come with you. Plan out your routes, write a script so you and your friends can articulate your points and respond to common questions, and explain to your neighbours what this movement is really about.

Print a spread sheet, and once you have convinced someone to take a red square ask them to join you. Take down their emails and phone numbers. Plan a public event before you door knock and invite people. Get out. This is a war over the hearts and minds of the population. We can win. Imagine those 200,000 people from March 22 knocking on doors.

Go forth, ring a door bell and, instead of disrupting traffic, disrupt the news blaring nonsense on the television.

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

It started in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where the first clang rang out. From there it spread through the maritimes, to St. John’s, Halifax, Moncton, and a half dozen other communities. By the time the last pot was dented, during a joyful march of over 1000 people through the rainy streets of Vancouver, over 20 000 Canadians had taken to the street and gotten their casseroles on.

But it didn’t end there. In the wee hours of this morning, Eastern time, demonstrations were ongoing in Brussels, Paris and London. All boasting of crowds close to a thousand strong.

Earlier, a crowd of several thousand had taken to the streets of New York, bringing casseroles to the Big Apple, and Times Square. Smaller marches took place in Washington, D.C., Madison, WI, Little Rock AK and many other locations in the U.S.

Here in Canada, the largest march by far was held in Toronto. Estimates ranged between 5000 and 10 000 people, across around seven distinct marches, the largest of which drew over 2500 people.

In over 70 locations, across Canada and throughout the world, people took to the streets with their metal pots and wooden spoons to voice their solidarity with Quebec’s social movement, and their opposition to Bill 78. All organized, except Toronto, in a scant 72 hours, by way of a humble Facebook event.

On twitter, the hashtag #CasserolesNightinCanada became a trending topic in Canada, and my feed was full of expressions of solidarity from every part of the country, and grateful thanks from Quebeckers.

Last night Canadians, and their international allies, sent a message. A message that we will not be divided against each other. That language and location will not keep us apart. A message that we are all in this together.

As the wonderful Judy Rebick noted:

There are two solitudes but it is mostly because the governments and the media don’t want the people of Canada and Quebec to really know what we have in common. Language is a barrier too and not enough of us are bilingual, especially in the rest of Canada.  But now we have the language of video and pots and pans.

For me last night was a bridge, a love letter from the rest of Canada to Quebec. People here didn’t know you cared. They didn’t understand that you were following our struggle, and standing in solidarity with our cause. Some still may not, but many learned last night. It was a message received here in Quebec with shock, but also great happiness.

At the regular night march last night, which has departed from Place Emilie-Gamelin at 8:30 for 37 straight nights, much of the buzz was about what was happening in other parts of the country. People would look up from their phone to exclaim “There’s even one in Kingston!” or pass a photo around of demonstrations in Toronto, or New York.

You gave us a boost, a shot of energy when we needed it most. This was only a beginning, and there is much work left to be done, but what a glorious beginning it was!

So after the success of Wednesday night, the question becomes, what next? The beauty of Wednesday night was its truly decentralized, and grassroots, nature. An idea was put out into the ether, and people from all over the world ran with it, and made it their own.

It was a truly organic outpouring of solidarity, which empowered people to create something beautiful in their community, and be the change they wish to see.

So what next is not up to me, or the other organizers. It’s up to you. This is your movement, in your community. Never forget that.

So what I have for you today is a proposal, developed in collaboration with those who helped organize the national element of last night. I hope you like it! But if you don’t, if going in a different direction makes sense for your community, if you want to modify it or change it, then by all means do so. You have the power.

We propose to continue Casseroles Night in Canada, and endeavour to make it a weekly occurrence. We have suggested the next one take place next Wednesday, June 6 at 8 pm.

Some have suggested doing them more frequently, and if that makes sense for your community, go for it! Our feeling is that to maintain interest and energy, and to allow these casseroles to grow bigger with every outing, we should focus our energy on one day a week. This will give activists and organizers a week between actions to promote their local event, and expand its reach.

We would love to see the number of communities increase, and larger and larger crowds in each location. We can start small and build slowly until our casseroles are a roaring thunder across this land which cannot be ignored. Our challenge to you, if you choose to accept it, is to build on what you started Wednesday night, and bring even more people into the streets next week.

In Quebec, the largest demonstrations have been on the 22nd of each month. May 22 saw 400 000 to 500 000 take to the streets of Montreal. June 22 will likely be bigger still. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take these 22 days to build towards a massive Casseroles Night in Canada to support the protest in Montreal on June 22?

We also propose that we add opposition to Harper’s ominous omnibus budget bill to the existing message of solidarity with Quebec’s social movement, and opposition to Bill 78. We think the budget is a critical concern for Canadians across the country, the most urgent and pressing threat facing us collectively, and at risk, if we can build loud and sustained opposition to it.

While the budget is an issue which unites us across the country, there are also more local issues which you may want to incorporate. If there is an important issue in your community, one which people are passionate about where you live, add it to the demands of your local action.

Casseroles are a tactic, they can be used to push for the change you want to see. In the country at large, but also in your community.

Together, we can bring the love, solidarity and community of our casseroles to every town, village and city in Canada. We have the power!

What happens next is up to us…


To facilitate organizing a sustained movement, we have created a Facebook group, a fan page in addition to an event page for next Wednesday. Please join the group, like the page and RSVP to the event.

These pages can serve as the organizing hub where we can share our experiences and ideas and build this movement. But they only work if everyone is part of the discussion. Please share both of these as widely as you possibly can. Make it a point to share each of them on Twitter and Facebook at least once a day.

Facebook sadly no longer allows recurring events, which is why we need the fan page/group (To keep everyone together long term) and the event (to spread the word about next Wednesday). There is a group and a page to see which one works better at bringing people together and allowing communication.

Oh, and follow me on Twitter. I say stuff. A lot of stuff. @EthanCoxMTL

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first Plateau casserole march. I marched with a few small groups up and down St. Denis, the sound of about a hundred or so collective casseroles clanging in my ears, satisfying my thirst for noise-making. But right when I was about to head back home, I came upon the biggest march I’d encountered yet. It was a steady stream that engulfed at least ten full blocks of Mont-Royal. The energy was positively electric – young marching with old, French marching with English, a sea of red squares and passionate people proudly standing up for what they believe in. I watched, first in utter amazement at the power of the people… and then I started to feel quite turned on.

There’s just something about revolution that’s so damn sexy, and I’m not the only one that thinks so. Earlier this month, Kenza Chaouia started the @Manifdating account on Twitter as a forum for “protest buddies” who met on the streets of Montreal to reconnect. Since then, the account has grown to over 500 followers looking for love in all the red places.

“This isn’t only for people looking for love,” she explained. “It’s also helpful for people looking for friendship.”

While it’s easy to get swept up in the romantic fervor of a protest, hooking up with your “manifcrush” requires a certain degree of tact and etiquette. Manifdating offers the following dating tips for protestors:

– Lend your manifcrush your phone so they can tweet at the SPVM. Everyone likes a hero.

– Nothing says love like giving your significant other your vinegar-soaked bandana when the tear-gas comes

– If a fellow protestor drops their spoon, lock eyes and pick it up. Everyone loves a good Samaritan.

– If you don’t have an umbrella, make sure to bring a big enough casserole so both you and your crush can hide under it.

– This is the only moment you will ever be allowed to wear matching red outfits. Make the most of it.

– When you like what you see, keep it classy. Respect is everything.

– Impress your protester crush with high-quality cookware.

– Blow kisses together at the riot cops.

– Pin your twitter handle to the back of your square and offer it to your manifcrush.

So you’ve figured out what to do, but what about the right things to say? The streets are alive with chants like “SO SO SO, Solidarité, SO SO SO, So Do My”, but that may be a bit forward for a first-time encounter. Here are some pick-up lines and conversation starters to use next time you’re out on the streets:

“Baby, let’s smash the state and fornicate”

“This pot isn’t the only thing I’m good at banging!”

“You don’t have to protest to get through to my heart.”

“Baby, if you play your cards right I’ll let you hold more than just my placard.”

“I’d wear plastic handcuffs and spend the night at the back of the bus for you.”

“Baby, let me put the “man” in your manifestation”

“I wish I was your casserole so you’d tap me.”

Finally, casseroles aren’t the only way to make noise. Once you’ve wooed your manifcrush and successfully lured them back to your bedroom, I recommend engaging in the loudest sex you can at 8:00 pm in solidarity with the pot-bangers. Fuck la loi speciale, literally. I proudly support orgasms for social change and making love, not war. Perhaps you’ll even inspire your neighbors to do the same!

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for where this post originally appeared.

In the roughly 100 days that Quebec’s students had been on an unlimited general strike, prior to Monday, the government of Jean Charest had deigned to sit at the table and negotiate for three or four days in total. So it was with a great deal of optimism that students returned to the negotiating table with Education Minister Michelle Courchesne this past Monday.

Both sides waxed poetic about their cordial relations, and desire to see a deal made that could end the longest student strike in Canadian history. Both sides promised to make compromises and bend, but not break, in their pursuit of a resolution.

Things got off to a rocky start on Monday however, when Quebec City police decided to start arresting the peaceful protesters who had gathered outside the negotiations. Over 100 were arrested, loaded into buses, and dropped off in the middle of nowhere at 3 am with a hefty fine. When a negotiator for the CLASSE came outside to try to negotiate with police, and dissuade them from yet another mass arrest of peaceful protesters, he was promptly arrested. He too was fined.

Not a tremendous sign of good faith when you arrest the other side’s negotiator, and 100 supporters, on the first day. Many suggested the students pull out at that point, but they stayed on and continued to try to negotiate a deal.

All week both sides made, for the most part, encouraging noises until tonight, when the government announced that it was unilaterally withdrawing from negotiations.

At a press conference to explain the government’s decision, Premier Charest said that there was a “big gap” between the two sides, and although he was disappointed, he didn’t see a point to further negotiations.

According to Education Minister Courchesne, the government made two offers to the students. Both amounted to a reduction of less than $100 on the original increase of almost $1625. In other words, they offered to reduce the hike from 75% to 71%. The government would also have reduced the tax credit students receive on tuition to compensate. Not much of a compromise really.

The government refused to even discuss Loi 78, the repeal of which students had made clear was a top priority. When asked at the press conference why the government refused to even discuss the special law, Charest tersely responded “It’s for their own security”.

Charest went on to get into a testy exchange with a journalist who asked why the government had walked away, when students still wanted to talk. When the journo suggested mediation, and Charest blew him off, he responded with “That’s how it works in the real world!” prompting an angry “Excuuuse me?” from the Premier.

But if even journalists are becoming frustrated by Charest’s obstinancy, they’re hardly to blame. While Courchesne claimed students refused to consider anything other than a tuition freeze, they came out telling a different story.

The student leaders explained that they had made four counter offers, none of which were seriously considered by the government. All had respected the government’s demand to be revenue neutral (in other words, put the amount of the hike into the treasury by one means or another).

In fact, the proposals students made, to cut the Education Tax Credit and Education Savings Plan programs in order to keep tuition down, were proposals I have made in several policy documents. Both these programs are inherently regressive, and primarily benefit the upper, and upper-middle class.

Charest bristled at the suggestion the RESP program be cut, insisting that it was there to help the middle class and he represents the middle class.

I long since gave up trying to figure out Charest’s motivations, but this latest move seems almost as foolhardy as the introduction of Bill 78. With the pressure of impending festival season, not to mention a widespread rebellion on the streets, you’d think he would have been willing to meet the students half way, at least.Especially when polls show around 70% of the province want a negotiated settlement.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, argued that the government was unable to negotiate in good faith because they were more concerned with their image than with resolving the situation.

“Such a gesture would be interpreted as a retreat, and [Courchesne] cited the front pages of the newspapers,” Nadeau-Dubois said. “What we were told inside was that a tuition hike was a goal. Madame Courchesne said her goal was to raise tuition, because if she didn’t, then the government would lose face.”

Heaven forbid, a democratic government would compromise in the face of massive public opposition, because if they did they might “lose face”. So despite the fact the student’s proposals would put just as much money into the treasury as the hikes, they were dismissed out of hand.

I’ve often said this has nothing to do with money and Charest has now clearly demonstrated that he is more interested in “winning”, and by extension breaking the social movement, than in finding a resolution, even if it provides the cost savings he claims this is all about.

The students, despite clearly having the stronger negotiating position at this point, came to the table ready to compromise, and ready to explore alternatives. The government came with an insulting offer, and flounced when it was rejected. It will be interesting to see if that’s what comes out in the media, or if some of the pro-government pundits will find a way to spin this as the students being obstinate and inflexible.

At this point it is looking less and less likely that Charest will call an early election this summer. Unless he does, or something else changes, it’ll be a long, hot summer of casseroles and protests. Not that I’m complaining, I love casseroles!

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

A massive protest has been called by the student groups for this Saturday, June 2, at 2 pm. Set to start in Jeanne Mance park, the protest is billed as a family event, and people are encouraged to bring their children. Student reps hope to see a huge crowd in order to send a message to Charest that he must compromise.

I used to hate twitter, now I’m an addict. Feed my addiction: @EthanCoxMTL

 * Photos by Chris Zacchia

The clanging of pots and pans rang through Toronto’s west end Wednesday night as an estimated 2000 people of all ages came out to march in support of Quebec’s student movement and against the province’s Bill 78.

“We were both inspired by what was happening in Quebec and we’d both spent some time there in the last couple of weeks,” said Leila Pourtavaf, one of the event’s organizers. “Coming back to Toronto we wanted to both show solidarity, but also recognize that austerity is not affecting only Quebec.”

Wearing red t-shirts, hats, jackets, accessories and the now famous red squares of the Quebec protest movement, people gathered at Dufferin Grove, a west end park, and began the percussive protest at the appointed 8 p.m.

From the outset, the protest had the makings of a family affair. Claudio, a native Chilean, attended with his wife and four-month old daughter. He noted that pots and pans protests were originally used against the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s, and were later renewed during resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship.

“In Chile there’s a very strong student movement protesting things similar to what’s happening in Quebec,” he said. “So for me to be here with my wife and child, it’s to express our solidarity with the students in Quebec, especially with this oppressive legislation that’s being put forth by the Charest government.”

Vast numbers of Quebecers have turned against the Charest government in reaction to strict limits put on freedom of assembly and of expression by Bill 78, broadening the protest movement beyond simply the issue of a tuition fee increase, which first sent Quebec’s students into the street en masse.

After half-an-hour of noisemaking that seemed only to attract more people to the park, the crowd started its march through the surrounding neighbourhood, bringing their sonic message to locals, mirroring demonstrations in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec that began May 19.

A contingent of seven Toronto police officers on bikes watched the crowd grow and followed the march, calling in support from squad cars to block streets along the route. Over the course of the evening, police repeated that the protest remained peaceful.

Along the route, some neighbours seemed puzzled, some snapped photos while others brought out their own cookware to beat along with the marchers.  Resident Jason Albuquerque said, although he was not aware of what the protest was about, he found it enjoyable and wouldn’t mind if happened again nightly, as long as it wasn’t too late.

As the stainless steel parade snaked through the streets and up towards Bloor Street, all appeared amused to watch, red squares materializing on their shirts in the procession’s wake.

“I was surprised that there is a movement going on here in Ontario, and hopefully it won’t be negative in terms of violence or destruction,” said Lorraine Heimrath a resident of Hepbourne Street, sporting her new fabric red square, husband Jean-Marie standing by.

“It’s in defiance of these new laws,” he said, referring to Bill 78. “I think people finally got up off their asses and started to say something because they’re not going to put up with it anymore, and I’m glad.”

On Bloor, the march seemed to reach a crescendo, attracting attention and support from bars, restaurants, cafes and residents along the main thoroughfare. The steady stream of people would turn south towards College Street before heading back towards its starting point and making a second round, though far fewer remained as the march headed east on Bloor at 10:45 p.m.

The march was the largest of several gatherings planned in Toronto and was part of a Canada-wide rallying call dubbed “casserole night in Canada,” after the Quebec “casserole” demonstrations that have broken out nightly in neighbourhoods across Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec.

The wave of arrests and clashes with police have made headlines internationally, with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, weighing in on the crisis on Wednesday. “It is regrettable that the authorities have resorted to a restrictive approach, rather than seeking dialogue and mediation to resolve the current situation,” said Kiai in a public statement.

Responding to mounting pressure, both student groups and the Quebec government are in the midst of negotiations that are now stretching into a fourth day, and have seen concessions made by the government on the tuition fee increase. Offers and counter-offers continue to be debated in what Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, spokesperson for the student organization CLASSE, called “a bit of a ping-pong match” on Wednesday night.

Photos by Malika Pannek and Tomas Urbina

If you’re reading this website, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re a supporter of the student movement.There’s also a pretty good chance that you encounter, in one way or another, people who aren’t.

It can be really frustrating to read the comments of, and worse, to talk to people who call the movement whiny, entitled, destructive etc.

Really frustrating…

But it’s important to remember that most of the people who are virulently, or oven mildly against the protests don’t have a complete understanding of the issues or how the students and supporters feel about them.

How could they?

Coverage is often biased, and almost never gets to the heart of the issue. The why of it all.

Positive blog posts, press releases and even news stories (as few as they are!) don’t serve to correct the misimpressions that people have, or deal with the reasons they have them. And the negative ones tend to rely on generalization and empty rhetoric.

Minds aren’t changed, generally, by mass media anyway. They are changed by conversations.

One person leaving a comment on a news article won’t likely make a difference in the way someone else thinks.

One person having an open and honest discussion with another, however, can.

So if you have people in your life, siblings, parents, in-laws, relatives, friends etc. who are against this movement, I urge you to talk to them.

And when I say talk, I don’t mean shout your ideas and them while they shout theirs at you. I mean really talk. Really listen.
Really try to understand and give understanding.

Get deep into the why, and find a place between you where solutions can be created.
Here’s one way how…

Do Your Homework:

First things first, it’s important to have an idea of who you’re going to be talking to, and where their information is coming from.

An uncle in Calgary who watches and reads local reports is going to have a different understanding then an Ontario in-law who occasionally tunes into CUTV. Try to get an idea of where their biases might be, so that you can address them.

Second, it’s important to be aware of your own biases, and be absolutely dead set on why you support the movement. This is not the time for wishy-washiness, or one-off statements about tuition, democracy or police brutality. All are important issues, but you have to be ready to soundly back up your reasoning.

There are, of course, dozens of reasons to support the movement, and the intricacies of each are more different still. Be prepared with statistics, excellent logic and a willingness to hear some frustrating, even insulting things.

Don’t Do This: “It’s important for students to strike because the tuition hike is totally unacceptable, and the government is fascist!”

Do This: “I feel obligated to make my voice heard on the issue of tuition hikes because I believe the provincial government circumvented the proper channels and debate that should come before raising tuition. I also feel that paying more upfront for my education instead of paying it forward later through taxation places an unnecessary and unfair burden on me when I’m trying to make a start in life.”

Got it? Practice this.

Some wonderful sources for talking points are the Ten Points Everyone Should Know About The Quebec Student Movement by Andrew Gavin Marshall and An Open Letter to English Canadians by Daniel Weinstock. These are also good places to direct people to after you’ve opened the dialogue, if they want to learn more.

Time for the next step.

protests Casseroles-061

Opening the Conversation

Start things off on neutral territory. Don’t just ring up your Uncle Milton and say: “I want to talk about the student movement.”
Ease into it. Talk about non-controversial things first. How are you doing? Been fishing lately? Did you catch that local sports game? Will I be seeing you at Jenny’s wedding?

Have a nice, pleasant conversation for a few minutes, taking care to talk about things that your conversation partner likes and feels positively about, and, if possible, emphasizing the relationship that you have with each other. After a few minutes, it’s time to swing the conversation around to the student movement.

Finding a Place of Mutual Agreement

People like to agree on things. It makes us feel happy and connected.

Even in the cases of the most diametrically opposed viewpoints about the student movement, there will almost always be things you and your conversation partner can both agree on.

Ask them to start first. “So, Uncle Milton, what do you think about all of the craziness happening in Quebec right now?” Generally, this is all it will take to start them going.

Be prepared to hear some unpleasant things. Things that are insulting, or that you find stupid and pigheaded. Be calm. Do not engage with counterarguments right away.

Instead, listen carefully to what they say, and find something you can agree with, however small.
Some examples might be:

  • Property damage is terrible.
  • It’s important to stand up for what you believe in.
  • It’s a shame that people’s studies and lives are being disrupted.
  • Politicians can be dishonest.
  • Education is important.
  • Taxes are too high and improperly used.

Tell them: “I agree with you that [point of agreement], but, I can see another way of looking at it too. May I tell you what I think?” Get verbal agreement that they are willing to listen to you.

Asking them for permission to express your view, and phrasing it in terms of your opinion will make it harder for them to interrupt or dismiss you later on. Then go on to address a point related to the thing you both agree on. Keep it short, simple and to the point.

Some examples might be:

  • It’s not about tuition, as much as it’s about debt. Students in Quebec are refusing to accept a higher debt load early in their lives, and that’s a position I respect.
  • I feel that education is an excellent use of tax money, and if revenues from taxes were used more appropriately by our governments, we would all benefit from lower prices.
  • Quebec Students do pay the least in tuition. I ask myself why students in other provinces don’t agitate for the same – graduating university with a lot of debt makes starting a life much more difficult.
  • Saying that all protesters are violent is very much like saying all men feel superior to women. Sure a couple might, but I don’t think it’s fair to make generalizations of that sort.
  • It is unfortunate that the lives of people in Quebec are being disrupted by the student movement, but I feel that when a citizen feels something is wrong with their government, it’s their responsibility to make that view known.
  • I don’t think every tactic employed by the student movement has been the best, but I believe that, at the root of it, they are right in what they are doing.

These are openers, there’s probably room for another sentence or two explaining what you mean and think at this point, but don’t go on too long. Keep it to one central idea, and be sure to use “I” statements. I feel. I think. I believe.

There are tons and tons of different ways you can do this. The important thing is to acknowledge where they are coming from, and then bring forth your idea on the subject in a way that is difficult to disagree with.

protests Casseroles

Continuing the Dialogue

Then, ask them what they think about what you said. This will lead to, probably, another difference of opinion, that you can again respond to. Always be polite. Always listen carefully, and acknowledge what they tell you. Never say things like: “That’s wrong! That’s ridiculous! I can’t believe you think that!” even if that’s what they say to you.

If they tell you you’re being naive, or ridiculous, ask them why they think so.  Then explain why you feel you’re not.

Every time you make a point, ask the person you’re talking with to respond to it directly. Listen to what they say, and answer accordingly.

It’s important for both of you to be talking the same amount of time, and very important for you to always acknowledge what they say, and try to understand why they’re saying it.  Remember that you have things to learn here as well.

Exit Strategy

Continue this process until a) you come to a second place of mutual agreement (hopefully a new one!) or until you or they can’t take it anymore. Don’t let things degenerate to empty rhetoric, yelling, or platitudes.

If you reached a new place of agreement, for example if you’ve gotten your conversation partner to agree with you that Loi 78 is unreasonable, when before they didn’t, say something along the lines of: “Thank you so much for talking to me about this. It means a lot to me that we can have this kind of conversation.” Then change the subject to something neutral.

If you feel things have gone on long enough, or you feel that the person you’re talking to is ready to smack you, say something along the lines of: “Thank you for talking to me about this. I appreciate hearing your viewpoint. We can agree to disagree, but I feel like I understand more where you’re coming from.”  Hopefully they’ll say something along the same lines. Then change the subject back to something on neutral ground.

protests CasserolesIf at all possible, you want to end on a positive note, leaving the door open for more discussion in the future.

Are you going to completely change anyone’s mind? Not likely. And that’s okay. It’s important for us to have different viewpoints, and for those viewpoints to be respected.

The goal of this kind of conversation is to keep open lines of communication between people with very different viewpoints, and try to ensure that there is at least some level of understanding going both ways.

It’s much harder to generalize an entire movement as “entitled brats” when one of those brats has taken the time to carefully explain the reasons and logic behind their actions and viewpoints.  It’s also much harder to write people against the moment off as “unthinking morons” when you’ve taken the time to learn why they think what they do.

Two ideas at opposite ends of a spectrum can rarely find peaceful middle ground. But a wide range of ideas, informed by empathy and dialogue, can find ways to work together.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all really want?

Photos by Chris Zacchia

A week into the application of Bill 78, which criminalizes public demonstrations and imposes fines for student organizers and any protesters, there have already been over 1000 arrests by the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). This is more arrests by far than were carried out during the generation-defining 1970 October Crisis in Québec. With over 2500 arrests of protesters since the beginning of the student strike on February 13, the police crack-down represents the largest number of demonstration-related arrests in Québec history over such a short period.

And with the arrests have come an increase in complaints against the SPVM’s ethics commission (Commissaire à la déontologie), which currently has a stack of 84 complaints to investigate. One of them will surely be the the reviled Constable 728, who was caught on video the night of Sunday, May 20 pepper-spraying protesters at the corner of St-Hubert and Ste-Catherine.

In the video, subtitled “A Star is Born” a demonstrator is seen briefly taunting the police officer, and without further provocation, she pepper sprays him and his female friend directly in the eyes. The fact that the verbal altercation so quickly turned to the use of pepper-spray was shocking to many of the video’s 100 000+ viewers, and resulted in the officer being “pulled” from working future protests by the SPVM brass.

In addition to other instances of police unnecessarily using truncheons against peaceful protesters, there has been a rash of police attacks on media, as documented by Concordia University TV. SPVM spokesman Ian Lafrenière claims nonetheless that many of the complaints are simply based on form letters circulating on the internet and have been submitted to the ethics commission in order to “overload the system.”

If the system – both of police resources and ethics complaints – was already overloaded, Bill 78’s repressive measures have ensured that it goes into overdrive. The law makes virtually any pro-strike demonstration illegal, either due to its location or because the requirement to reveal the itinerary is not being observed. As such, many protesters become essentially “criminal” by virtue of being near the action, as was the case for sports writer Dave Kaufman who was chased down and beaten by police while calmly walking away from a demo on the night of May 22.

While many will recall the SPVM’s “hands off” approach to the equally illegal massive daytime demonstration which gathered over 250 000 people circling the entirety of downtown Montréal, the night march was treated less leniently. Culminating in an unprecedented 518 arrests on the night of Wednesday, May 23, the SPVM appears to be taking a more cautious approach since, either as the result of horrendously bad domestic and foreign press, or because of the unexpected decentralization of the night marches.

The protests have now sprouted into dozens of casseroles marches (follow them on Twitter at #casserolesencours), in areas other than the usual route on Ste Catherine. Thousands of people in less central neighbourhoods have joined in the nightly pot-banging to protest 78, inspired by a civil disobedience tradition popular in Chile and Argentina. In a subtle nuance to his initial call for civil disobedience against Bill 78, Québec Solidaire MLA Amir Khadir called on citizens to engage in “civil obedience” during a night demo: “we must obey the principles of democracy rather than arbitrary undemocratic rules,” he told journalists from CUTV.

Internationally, a barrage of criticism has been levelled against the Charest government for enacting Bill 78. Editorials in the New York Times, The Guardian, and even the National Post have come out against it, with the particularly ironic addition of Russian Human Rights Minister Konstantin Golgov, who accused police of using “disproportionate measures.”

Domestically, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois scolded Charest by saying “that’s where the Québec Liberal party has taken us: mass arrests, more often than not arbitrary ones, to silence opposition,” and RG/2B publisher André Gagnon has created the Facebook group “GLBT contre la hausse des frais de scolarité” to raise awareness about the student cause’s importance to the queer community.

* photos by Chris Zacchia

Noam Chomsky once said “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.” For Jean Charest, the embattled Quebec Premier, the English Media in Canada must seem like a wet dream come true.

Every news broadcast/newspaper I’ve seen in the last month has labelled the students protesting tuition fees and bill 78 as “rioters” “criminals” or “entitled students” at one time or another. Adding insult to injury, the nights the protests have been peaceful have gone unnoticed and underreported. If there are no broken windows, there is no breaking news.

The Canadian Media at times has given the impression that the tuition hike was a mere $325 a year; they fail to mention that the amount is cumulative over five years. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into regarding the amount alone. That’s what happens when we are subjected to infotainment instead of information, a trivialization of the news.

Speaking of information, they have yet to mention the real reason behind the strikes; debt. Last year, the Quebec Liberals tabled a budget that would tackle the province’s growing debt. One of the methods they decided on was to raise college tuition by $1625 over the next five years.

The students justifiably got upset about the provincial government trying to hand down its own debt onto them; those who can least afford it, rather than the corporations who profit the most from their education. Galvanized by the 99% movement and the Arab spring, they decided to act.

The root of the problem concerning the Canadian media can be traced back to the United States. Although we are a sovereign nation, our government, institutions and corporations have a bad habit of emulating the goings on south of the border.

Back in the “me” decade, also known as the nineteen-eighties, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolished the “fairness doctrine.” A move supported by Ronald Reagan who vetoed its opposition.

The fairness doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in “a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced.”

In order to insure that the fairness doctrine was followed, broadcast companies used the proceeds from other shows to pay for their news programs. The news was more balanced and fact driven rather than money driven with very little conflict of interest.

Just to add fuel to the fire, Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the media industry. The bill was supposed to foster competition, instead the media shrank from more than fifty national media outlets in the 80s to the six that remain today.

Since these two acts, journalists, reporters, even news anchors have been at the mercy of their corporate overlords. Take the case of Steve Wilson & Jane Akre who were legally fired for not falsifying the news for Fox or news anchor Dan Rather being fired for airing a piece on George Bush’s desertion in the National Guard.

Because a corporation is a person under the law and a person has a right to free speech, it is perfectly legal for a corporate owned news firm to knowingly lie to the public.

What we get as a result of all this, is infotainment, sensationalism and opinion as a substitute for the news that actually matters. Investigative and fact based journalism is a thing of the past; instead we are subjected to this:

In Canada, it is still illegal to knowingly lie to the public (the main reason why there is no Fox News Canada). However, nothing prevents Sun Media (Rogers), Bell Media or Shaw Communications from fluffing the truth or the entire story itself.

Canadian Media Corporations are now following the same wealth driven example as their American counterparts. These companies are not going to pursue an important story at the risk of losing a sponsor. The stories they do cover, now have their own interests in mind instead of the people who tune in. Corporate interests in general are geared against regulations, they are anti-tax and anti-labour. It’s no surprise then to see the Canadian media come down so hard on the students and not Bill 78.

The only media company in Canada that doesn’t have to answer to anyone (the CBC) is being defunded by the Conservative Government which shouldn’t have financial power over a public broadcasting company. The Government can’t tell the CBC what to report, but they can take away their funds if they don’t like what they see.

For those of you who think the internet is a safe alternative, think again. The internet is as profit driven as any media company. Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.) look at your browsing history, E-mails and other preferences to better guide you to places they feel you’ll be interested in and of course the advertising that comes with it.

In effect, people with conservative tendencies get exposed to conservative sites and those with more progressive tendencies get exposed to progressive sites. No one ever sees what the other side is thinking.

If you took a political activist and a man who likes to travel and told them both to Google Montreal, the activist would get all sorts of news articles on the student strike and Bill 78, the traveler would book a vacation to Montreal never knowing the protests were taking place.

One final example of how low the media has gone, the self identified “most trusted name in news” Fox News was the subject of a non-biased nationwide study. The results released last week revealed that people who watched Fox News regularly were less informed than those who watched no news at all. Is this what you want Canada?  Cause this is where we are heading.

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In almost every report on the social movement now sweeping Quebec, including my own, words like conflict, crisis and stand-off figure prominently. Anger is omnipresent. The anger of protesters, the anger of government, the anger of those supposedly inconvenienced. Pundits scream about mob rule, anarchy in the streets and the dissolution of society as we know it.

Don’t get me wrong, there is anger, present of course. But that is not what you see if you take to the streets, or watch CUTV’s live stream. Pundits can’t stop bemoaning the inconvenience to “ordinary” Montrealers posed by these protests. But I wonder, are there any “ordinary” Montrealers left to inconvenience?

As I write these words there are demonstrations going on in every neighborhood of Montreal. “Casseroles,” where people leave their houses to bang pots in the street every night at 8:00 p.m., have led to marches everywhere. The police cannot keep up. Far flung suburbs like Vaudreuil and Île Perrot, the anglophone West Island and NDG, South Shore suburbs, Québec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Rimouski, Trois Rivières and the list goes on. Some of these places have never seen a demonstration, certainly not since the days of the quiet revolution. Now their streets swell with hundreds, thousands.

The prevailing question in the media is, how do we end this? Supporters and opponents alike seek a “solution” to put an end to the “crisis”. And we need one, those on the streets need to be heard. Actions need to be taken to address the demands of the masses. But what exactly is so bad about what is happening? Why do we need it to end so urgently?

As this movement goes on, and grows by leaps and bounds, it is increasingly clear that it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope. People who would be alone in their houses watching TV take to the streets and march with neighbours they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbours each night. Instead of watching TV, we met in the street, we exchanged details of our day and we made plans for our future. Just as the “casseroles” cause us to do now.

Perhaps the most lasting effect of this movement will be to build stronger, more connected communities. Every day that it goes on, more of us meet in the street, build relationships and talk about what kind of a society we want.

This is what Charest is afraid of. This is what keeps the powerful awake at night. If we talk, if we exchange ideas and debate the future of our society, we will want to change it. And nothing terrifies the powerful more than a change to the system which gives them their power.

The most honest reason which can be given for why people are in the street is the simplest. We do not see ourselves reflected in our government. But we see ourselves, our concerns, our hope, our love and our aspirations, reflected in every smiling face we see on the street. For the first time in a long time we are having a real conversation about what kind of society we want. We’re having it with each other, every night when we meet in the streets. And slowly, but surely, we are realizing that we have the power to make our dreams a reality.

Over at Translating the Printemps Erable, a superb volunteer collective dedicated to translating French articles about the movement into English, the administrator recently posted an Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media. It is perhaps the best description of this incredible phenomenon I have yet seen. In it they bemoaned the coverage which focuses on anger, when what we see in the streets is love. They describe the nightly “casseroles” like this:

If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like . . . It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all — young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours –we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this. I have lived in my neighbourhoods for five years now, and this is the most I have ever felt a part of the community; the lasting impact that these protests will have on how people relate to each other in the city is deep and incredible.

The video below is a simple, black and white video of one night in the life of nos casseroles, but it has gone viral, encapsulating as it does the joy and togetherness of our movement:

We walk past each other every day, but we do not smile. We do not stop to talk, we do not connect. In these protests, in the breast of this movement, we are remembering what it is to work together to make our world a better place. We used to know, in some far distant past, but we have forgotten.

Many in this movement are mad at the media. But in many ways it is not the fault of the journalists, or the pundits who cling to the status quo like a drowning man grasps a life raft.

If you try to understand this movement through the lens of politics as usual, you are doomed to failure. This is a spontaneous, joyful uprising. It is not Astro Turfed, it does not depend on the media or the political parties, or even the unions or student groups for oxygen. It is a fire which has slumbered in our bellies for so long, silent and nearly forgotten.

What the critics and the pundits do not understand is that they are no longer in control. People will no longer nod and agree with their paper or their TV. They can diminish it, can under-report our numbers and exaggerate our violence, but it doesn’t matter. Their words and their barbs cannot defeat the solidarity and love which flows through our streets each night.

People don’t need the media to tell them what is happening outside their door. They can hear it. They can feel it. The genie cannot go back in the bottle. We are awake, truly awake for the first time in a long time. We will not go back to sleep.

I started to notice after the passage of Bill 78, and the mass demonstration of May 22, a change. Not only in the streets, but online. As the “casseroles” spread, so did their footprint on the social networks through which we express ourselves. Friends who had always hated protests, right wingers, misanthropes, apolitical types and everyone in between began to post pictures of themselves with pots and pans outside their house.

My Facebook feed, which is normally full of cute pictures and a hodge podge of random posts, unified. It coalesced in a way I had never seen before. I now notice, and am surprised, if I see a single post unrelated to this movement.

Twitter, which had largely been ignored by Francophone Quebeckers, is now swollen with tweets about the protests. The way we come together in the streets has spread to our online presence. We share and comment and talk. We come together as citizens of a community, galvanized by a common cause.

This movement may yet fail. It may be co-opted, or lose track of its goals. It may fizzle or be beaten, as so many other movements have been. But there can be no denying that something extraordinary is happening in Quebec.

If we, as a society, as a people, are to make a stand against the governments which cut taxes on the rich and corporations and then plead poverty as they dismantle our society, our communities, it will be here.

If a line in the sand will be drawn, it is here, in the streets of Quebec. The battle for a better world starts in this city, this glorious, madcap city whose joie de vivre flows through the veins of each and every one of us like a river.

Join us, speak your solidarity from the rooftops, call out our name. Because here in these streets, a revolution has started. A fire which burns for a better world.

Call me an idealist, call me a dreamer, call me anything you like. But this is a moment in time we will tell our children about. Together, we can start something here that spreads like wildfire across this continent. What happens next is up to us.

To paraphrase Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in the woods, and we — we took the one less traveled on, and that has made all the difference.

Top photo by Chris Zacchia


Wednesday night a huge “casseroles” demonstration has been called for people across Canada to show solidarity with the Quebec movement. At 8:00 p.m., wherever you are, go outside with a pot and a metal implement and make some noise. Bonus points for meeting up with neighbours while doing it.

I’m calling it Casseroles Night in Canada, we’ll see if that sticks . . .

Twitter hashtag: #CasserolesNightinCanada

National Facebook event (details of meet ups, submit yours!)

Oh, and follow me on twitter for regualr updates: @EthanCoxMTL

Montreal student protesters send police a map of their march

It’s been over 100 days now since the student strike started and the pressure seems to finally be weighing on some of the stakeholders who were hoping they could just legislate it away. Charest just had to replace his chief of staff in hopes of finding a resolution before protestors run amok of festival season and the tourist dollars it brings in, and what other choice did he have?

Since enacting la loi spéciale, things have only gotten worse: there are choppers in the wire constantly, pedestrians have been pepper sprayed, there’s been over 1500 arrests (maybe more by the time this publishes), and flash mobs of pot-banging malcontents now roam the streets nightly.

It makes you wonder whether this city is slipping slowly into anarchy.

Rethinking Anarchy

When most people think of anarchy, they picture a post-apocalyptic dystopia where roaming bands of armed steam punks rape, pillage and plunder their way through radioactive wastelands. When a lot of Montrealers picture an anarchist, they think of unemployed artists and activists who belong to co-ops and show up at anti-police-brutality demonstrations to put-on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the truth of the matter is all that an anarchist really is, is someone who weighs the merits (moral and otherwise) of a law for themselves before deciding whether to obey it. For the most part, in fact, most anarchists obey most laws most of the time. They just tend to stand up and speak out against laws that they deem immoral and/or unlikely to yield their intended outcome.

In short: anarchists don’t necessarily want to abolish the state or the rule of law (some, admittedly, do); they just don’t accept a law as legal just because some government said so.

How Loi 78 Backfired

Okay, so there’s been plenty written and said about how la loi spéciale runs amok of justice and our democratic rights. But where it really backfired was in how it’s not only proven useless at preventing public uprisings, but also helped the student movement win some popular support that it was previously lacking.

Supporters of la loi spéciale contend that these are special measures, after all, intended to be applied in specific circumstances — such as when a groups of young rowdies with red squares start throwing rocks at the cops. But aside from how that’s not exactly how it’s been applied, it’s also been a reminder to many people just how stubborn a corrupt government with mafia ties can be when it wants a quick fix to a public problem of mass opposition.

For instance, la loi makes it illegal to wear a ski mask but not a niqab, or a little red square but not gang colours, and that kind of arbitrariness makes people nervous. It reminds us just how easily governments can legislate away our basic democratic freedoms (and democracy in the process) when it’s too lazy or stubborn to address them.

So while a lot of people don’t agree with the students (and are fed up with how far some have gone), many of them are starting to offer their support to students (by wearing the red square or banging on pots and pans). In other words, it caused a lot of people to reassess the legitimacy of the law based on both its moral merits and actual outcomes, and that kind of individual free-thinking is bringing Montreal (and Quebec) masses that much closer to anarchism than many of them probably realize or would like to admit.

After a couple of nights of pavement pounding, I decided to settle in for a bit of armchair activism. I fired up CUTV and Twitter and watched what was happening in the streets of Montreal.

“Oh, man,” I thought, “this one looks fun!”

The mood seemed so festive. All the protesters looked like they were having a great time. It wasn’t just the main march, there were impromptu marches and people banging on pots and pans all over the city.

While I caught some reports of police repression in Quebec City, what was happening in Montreal was the very definition of a peaceful protest. I went  into the kitchen to make a snack.

When I came back, the mood had changed…significantly. Hundreds of people were now being kettled by the SPVM on St-Denis just north of Sherbrooke. They were still peaceful, but the cops seemed anything but.

From my vantage point, the same one that roughly 6000 live viewers had, one cop was telling journalists that they had to turn off the camera and mic if they wanted to get out of the kettle:

Nevermind the fact that anyone, not just media, have the right (and some feel the duty) to observe and document police actions with any electronic means at their disposal. Nevermind the fact that this officer was just being an all-out jerk and probably only stopped because the Twitterverse got word of what was happening to his superiors. The message was loud and clear, the SPVM didn’t want the world seeing what they were doing.

And why would they? For the first time in this 100+ days conflict they were arresting a large group of people without the usual megaphone dispersal warning and without a pretext that they could later use as justification.

There were rumors of rocks being thrown, rumors later repeated in the mainstream media because the source of the allegations was a police spokesperson. Throwing stuff really didn’t jive with the festive feeling on the streets that night. If you factor in that Public Security Minister Jean-Marc Fournier wanted mass arrests and the SPVM’s almost baiting approach both on the streets and Twitter, you start to get a clearer picture.

They were, for the first time, enforcing Bill 78 (in this case, technically a municipal bylaw that mirrored one of the bill’s parts and carried a slightly smaller fine, but the argument remains). They were arresting peaceful protesters whose only crime was being in a group larger than 50 people without having provided an itinerary eight hours prior.

While my heart and sympathies go out to all the people who got scooped up for happening to be there when the state decided to rear its ugly head, my pity goes to the cops, tasked with being on the wrong side of history. As Quebec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir reminded the press after trying to negotiate with the authorities on the scene, “we have to remember that the police are an instrument…they are also victims of this absurd law.”

It is, after all, politics that brought in Bill 78 and inspired these arrests. Therefore, everyone arrested Wednesday night and those who will be arrested for doing nothing more than exercising their charter rights in a way the government disapproves of are political prisoners. Yes, Jean Charest has taken political prisoners.

I’ll give you a minute to let the absolute absurdity of the situation sink in. A premier with a razor-thin majority government is detaining free citizens at will. Now I’ll give you another minute to let the outrage grow. There were more arrests Wednesday night alone than during the entire October Crisis. For those who don’t remember, the October Crisis involved kidnapping, bombs and murder. The Maple Spring involves people walking around wearing red felt squares and banging on pots and pans.

Fortunately, those pots and pans and the generally festive nature the protests have taken lately are the light at the end of the tunnel and the path towards winning the war. If you have political prisoners, you usually have a full blown social uprising to go along with them. Now, in Quebec, we have just that.

As word spread of the kettled protesters Wednesday, people started showing up and staged an impromptu sit-in on the other side of the barricade, pots and pans in hand. A truly beautiful moment of resistance and one that is now being repeated nightly all around the city.

At 8pm, ordinary people start banging on pots and pans from their balconies, in parks, on the street, you name it. When they see others doing the same, they congregate and sometimes they march, regardless of whether the group is 20 or 200 people. This is spontaneous and peaceful disobedience at its finest.

It is a thing of beauty and it inspired this now viral video, also a thing of beauty:

Now it’s spreading beyond Montreal, to other parts of Quebec and just today to Toronto. The red square itself has already spread further, including the states and Europe.

Quebec is now the focal point for peaceful social uprising and civil disobedience. Charest’s political prisoners were not taken in vain.

* Images: Canadian Press, Globe & Mail