This is horrible. A video has been circulating on the internet of a group of masked individuals vandalising the Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM) last night. While my colleague Niall may have written about the upside of demonstrations, there is nothing pretty in this video. This is the other side of things that people don’t get to see that often.

They’re wearing masks, so it’s difficult to identify the perpetrators, but they’re all dressed the same, some serious Black Bloc tactics, there. They were all sporting red squares, too, so you know they’re anti-austerity protesters. They’re an embarrassment to the movement!

Damn ruffians if you ask me. They don’t even know what they’re fighting for. Their peers told them to break something, so they break it. And the worst part is, my tax dollars, all of our tax dollars, are paying for it!

Have a look at this video an tell me that the first word that pops into your head isn’t SHAMEFUL:

* Satire inspired by/lifted from Shayne Gryn’s Facebook feed with permission. Broken window courtesy of the SPVM and Denis Coderre, without permission.

The first rule of reading news articles on the internet: if you don’t want to get angry, stay away from the comments. I broke that rule more than once, both during the lead up to the current student protests against austerity and since they started to bloom. I have lived to regret it, though my shattered piece of mind did lead to one rather interesting observation: the rhetoric of trolls has permeated the mainstream.

Are you familiar with CJAD? While their most prominent opinion show hosts veer right of centre, their overall news coverage is quite balanced. However, their audience, at least those who comment on Facebook, is, for the most part, divided between those who feel everything is about language and separatism and those who spew the sort of bile I would only expect from the most ignorant portions of the Republican base south of the border.

A few weeks ago, I saw one comment that made me do a double-take. The commenter was arguing that the reason a pre-strike protest at UQAM drew only a few hundred people was because the unions didn’t have the money to front the students this year and this was good because students’ brains hadn’t developed enough to comprehend complex political and economic philosophy.

I replied, calling him out on his ageism and he actually tried to respond with a flawed scientific argument. It was then that I realized I was speaking with the drunk at the bar that everyone knew was going to be thrown out by bouncers before the night was over, so I closed the tab on my computer and stopped engaging.

The problem is that his condescending attitude has found its place beyond the space inhabited by trolls. You see it all over the media and the web these days. It’s just a little less blatant and a lot more insidious.

So-Called Austerity

CTV news may not be the most progressive media out there, but they have always maintained at least basic journalistic standards when it comes to their reporting. Their bias has always been apparent in what they choose to present, not their choice of words.

Now, that seems to have changed. In at least three recent posts to their website about Printemps 2015, they refer to the Couillard government’s “so-called” austerity measures. So-called? When did the Quebec government’s plan to cut services and pensions fall into the realm of alleged austerity?

I’m pretty sure if you asked Philippe Couillard if his government was implementing austerity measures, he’d deny it, but he’s a politician. However, if you google austerity and compare the definition to what the premier has been doing, you’d see they match. According to the Financial Times Lexicon, “austerity measures refer to official actions taken by the government, during a period of adverse economic conditions, to reduce its budget deficit using a combination of spending cuts or tax rises.” The media even called it austerity until the students got involved.

You may agree with this definition. You may prefer, as I do, to extrapolate a bit and call austerity the practice of cutting off services and support for the poor or those of moderate to average income because of a perceived crisis and implement corporate welfare, er, business incentives and tax breaks. Either way, austerity is what the Couillard administration is bringing in.

Either way, austerity is what those in the streets are fighting. Instead of actually trying to defend austerity, which is really a tough sell, those against the protests have taken to arguing that it’s not really austerity the students, and now others, are fighting.


Quebec Has it Easy

Leave it to Reddit to explain how a protest clearly against austerity may not be. It all stems from the fact that Couillard’s austerity measures aren’t as severe as those elsewhere. This is true (Greece comes to mind), but it also misses the point completely.

It reminds me of the old right-wing refrain from 2012. You know the old chestnut I’m talking about, the one that points out how Quebec students pay the lowest tuition in North America. While true, it is irrelevant to the discussion.

That fight was for no tuition increase, not even a penny, with the ultimate goal, for some, of university being free. This is a fight for no austerity, not even a little, but a different approach to allocating resources.

Making the argument that students should accept a tuition increase or Quebec should accept its austerity because it’s not that bad compared to other places presupposes that tuition increases and austerity are inevitable and need to be accepted, if only a little bit. Or, just the tip.

Grow Up, Get a Job

I was wondering why these arguments still got any traction and why that random CJAD troll’s statements, which were beyond offensive, weren’t criticised by more than some random lefty who happened to make the mistake of reading the comments. I think it stems from what Winston Churchill said:

“If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at 40 you have no brain.”

The modern local equivalent of this statement is “when these kids grow up and get a job, they’ll understand why they’re being foolish.”

The concept that abandoning social justice and embracing neoliberal economic policies and the global austerity agenda is a sign of maturity is not only wrong and condescending to those who have a different opinion, but it is also an option that is only open to the privileged. As someone who is privileged, has grown up to a certain extent, and has a job, I can tell you that austerity is wrong-headed and harmful.

Another world is, in fact, possible, and it starts with those in the streets. Now if only we can all admit that they do know what they’re talking about.

* photos by Gerry Lauzon

In our second FTB Podcast, we discuss Printemps 2015, Quebec’s new student protest against austerity. Also, the role of the US, the UN and austerity in the coup in Ukraine. Plus, our first Montreal Community Calendar.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau


Katie Nelson: anarchist, student, #manifencours participant

Der Kosmonaut: poet, political philosopher, geopolitical analyst, blogger @

Drew Wolfson Bell: sports Editor at the McGill Daily, third-year Education student

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s all in the headline, really. To be completely honest, I was contemplating just posting that sentence with a picture and a series of arrows pointing up. Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

A few months ago, Montreal police, along with firefighters, transit workers and other government employees protesting cuts to their pensions were all over the news. They weren’t hiding the fact that these cuts were part of Quebec Premier Philippe Couilard’s austerity agenda. I even remember seeing a fire truck blocking traffic with the word “austerity” painted across the part of the vehicle that holds the ladder.

So what happens when another group, striking students, decide to take up the anti-austerity cause? Well, we get rough cops, a bit of tear gas and a handful of arrests. And that was just yesterday, day one of the strike.

Now, while some police in Laval seemed to get that there is a correlation between students striking against austerity and their own cause, SPVM officers are parading around blissfully ignorant of the irony of wearing red squares on the back of their uniforms while crushing a peaceful protest against austerity. I’d laugh if I didn’t want to cry.

Symbol Appropriation

“On n’a rien volé, nous!” Well, you surely appropriated one symbol, whether by intent or accident, from a movement you are now trying to crush. This despite the fact that the movement you are fighting is itself fighting for what you are fighting for.

Yes, all protesting civil servants have a square with their protest’s mantra written on it plastered all over their vehicles and, in some cases, themselves. Whether by accident or some kind of cruel joke, the squares on police cars and now uniforms are red.

Surely someone in the police brotherhood must have realized the irony. Maybe they found it fitting at the time. It is anything but that now.

No No Solidarité

A few months ago, I openly wondered if it was possible to have solidarity with people who had clearly been enemies in the past. Now, it is abundantly clear that the SPVM officers don’t want to change their tune with protestors, despite fighting for the same overall cause.

They clearly don’t care about the broader issue of austerity. They just want their piece of the pie restored and screw everyone else.

While you may say that they’re just following orders, they presumably were a few months ago when a group of firefighters somehow made it into the council chamber at Montreal City Hall on their watch. The hypocrisy is not surprising, it’s just sad and very, very petty.

* Photo by Cem Ertekin

Katie Nelson responds to recent comments by SPVM police chief Marc Parent on last year’s student strike. This post originally appeared on her blog and is republished with permission from the author.

Rage is the ruins in which we find the familiarity of refuge, a place where emotion echoes through chambers of memories. A black out of repetition, a cinematic adventure that we give Oscars to. It is the place that most of us live and a place that most of us die.

What must be worse than being demonstrated against by Anarchists is being lobbied against by Government. To fight for the poor, for the oppressed and the weak and then to be called a terrorist by the machine that perpetuates it. What must definitely be worse than all of that is to be the dog taking scraps to carry out the orders.

I used to pretend that it was all just a nightmare, when you’d blow the horn and the grenades would get thrown. When we were being chased down back alleys, running from whatever you hoped to do. The only thing that keeps your chin up is the belt that keeps your helmet on when someone uses a brick on it; and you stumble home, tears filled in your eyes because another colleague hit the ground from a smoke bomb, and the media rubs your ego because your wife stopped, and we are supposed to feel sorry for you. And we’re supposed to see the orders carried out and the job done as remarkable and impressive.

Mr. Parent and anyone like you, the only thing I find impressive is that you managed to survive an entire year of civil unrest without a single death. Because if I were the kid who had his eye come out of his socket because of your cops “keeping their cool” I would stop at nothing to see you suffer for the loss that you created and the innocence you stole.

protest shot

I remember every night, and I relive it every night. I remember watching vans screaming down empty roads, hitting people with their doors open and I remember seeing cops laughing after they beat her to the ground, motionless. And I remember the feeling of a gun being pointed at me three days out of the week, and I remember the way my gut would drop when I was cornered by a dumpster off St. Catherines by four hungry men carrying badges.

I remember these things because these things made me hate the reality I was in, it made me hate myself and anyone who tried to empathize with me; because there was a way to stop this, and that way was with you – and instead of acknowledging the fucked up shit happening on your watch nightly, you instead glorified the work of these police as admirable and courageous; we must all bruise our knees as we bow to the men who prevented the death of a student during the strike!

The only thing that prevented death was the kids who had to leave their books behind and pick up rocks instead, the ones who stood on the front line taking blow after blow to try and stop an intervention into a contingent of children in strollers and their parents, the ones who came out every night to fight for the basic rights of survival. The only thing that prevented death was the beasts of our hope, and the determination to fight.

Mr. Parent, until you afford yourself the opportunity to pick up a fucking book and learn what we stand and fight for, what we are willing to risk our lives for, you will never understand what it is like to be forced into submission. Your statements are the trigger to the gun that cultivates the terror for thousands of kids, walking around a world of post-traumatic stress disorder and shell shock, questioning themselves and the society that failed them when a baton to their face gave them the political science degree they were fighting for.

So take your guilt down to the library and see if it pays for the card, because we will never forget what happened in Montreal.

* photos by Phyllis Papoulias

“The social crisis is behind us.”

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois made that statement yesterday, concluding her party’s Summit on Higher Education at the Arsenal in Griffintown. Later that same afternoon, as teargass reigned down on peaceful protesters at St-Denis near des Pins, it looked more like the social crisis was a few blocks north and a number of blocks east of where she was speaking.

Did Marois really not see this coming? Did she think she could raise tuition and no one would hit the streets?

Well, protesters did take to the streets of Montreal. Estimates had the crowd anywhere between five and twenty thousand.

montreal march feb 26 arial shotThe red squares were back. Anarchopanda was back. This was a festive protest boasting the kind of numbers seen late May 2012 as the Maple Spring was really starting to heat up, only it was a few months earlier and there was snow on the ground. The perfect kind of snow for snowballs.

Turns out snowballs and riot cops aren’t a good mix. When a few protesters, whether intentionally or not, threw their soggy projectiles in the direction of the police, things turned ugly: teargass, noise cannons, billyclubs, arrests and claims that the protest was illegal from the get-go because protesters didn’t provide a route. Now, another well-known element of last year’s Maple Spring was back as well: police repression.

But wait, wasn’t Marois personally offended by Bill 78? Didn’t she promise to repeal it? Well, yes, Bill 78 is no longer on the books, but then again, technically, it was never even enforced. All those arrests last year in Montreal for being at an illegal protest because no route was provided, well, they were officially made under a municipal bylaw that mirrored some of the more egregious elements of 78, not the infamous bill itself (in Quebec City, arrests were made under the highway code).

So Marois was offended by Bill 78 but has no problem using a bylaw that does exactly the same offensive things? Makes sense. After all, she repealed Charest’s tuition hikes on her first day in office as she had promised, then brought in her own tuition hikes a few months later.

But wait, these increases only amount to $70 a year or at least that’s what right-wing media outlets keep reminding us. Really, who cares how much it is, it’s an increase and that’s the point. While the much larger amount Charest wanted to impose all in one shot may have made it easier to mobilize such a massive student base in the early stages, the Maple Spring was, at it’s core, a protest against the very idea of a tuition increase and by extension, austerity.

To put it bluntly, for a politician to give the student protesters what they want, they would have to lower tuition with the ultimate goal being free education. To merely avoid more protests, they would have to, at the very least, maintain the freeze. Just one penny in the wrong direction and people will take to the streets.

That much is clear to me and most casual observers and it should have been clear to Pauline Marois, too. I think it was. I think she knew all too well that people didn’t vote for her so she could pay lip service to what students and their allies were demanding; in fact, they didn’t vote for her at all, but rather against Jean Charest and it looked like the PQ had the best chance of replacing the Liberals.

She might have figured that it would be easy to distract people later on, make them think the PQ came to power because of sovereignty, language or some other issue that Quebec politicians have used to distract the discourse for decades. The problem is that with a game changer protest like the Maple Spring, people aren’t as easily fooled or silenced. To paraphrase one of the signs held up yesterday, people didn’t stay the course and stay in the streets for six months just to accept another hike.

marois charestSure, not all student groups were at the protest yesterday, just ASSE (the largest and most radical group which formed the CLASSE last year). The other groups were at the conference itself, fighting for a freeze. Now that they were denied, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them don their red squares again, despite former colleague Leo Bureau Blouin now sitting as a PQ MNA.

Even if they don’t, the student protesters have the support of unions, teachers and others. Who knows how many more will join?

Hell, maybe even anglo rights activists will realize that the goal of free post-secondary education is a better place to put money than the Office Quebecois de la Langue Francais, wash out the pots they just used to cook pasta and start banging on them in the streets. It probably won’t happen, but hey, a progressive anglo boy can dream.

Now that the old tricks don’t seem to work anymore and the new boss is protested just as quickly as the old boss was, the future possibilities are wide open. Maybe Marois was right and the social crisis is indeed almost behind us, but the social revolution is right ahead.

* Top photo by Iana Kazakova, other images courtesy


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.

Quebec students and allies outraged over the repressive and anti-democratic nature of Bill 78, its municipal companion Bylaw P-6, and other extreme police tactics, including political profiling and preventative arrests, are about to get some very heavy duty backup.

One might even say vindication?

In an opening address to be delivered today to the 47 member UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will express her “alarm” at ongoing attempts to restrict freedom of assembly in Quebec.

Her speech, a draft copy of which was obtained by UN Watch, will also express “concern” over similar restrictions in Russia (Russia’s law limiting protest was passed shortly after Bill 78, prompting some to speculate it was modeled on Quebec’s legislation) and “deep concern” over such restrictions in Eritrea.

In diplomatic terms alarm is a far more severe word than concern, making Canada’s restrictions on protest the most troubling to the UN agency.

In a speech running to several pages in length, and highlighting human rights issues in dozens of countries, the situation in Quebec warrants a single, albeit explosive, paragraph.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests”.

This expression of alarm will likely lead to Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist of countries which the agency believes are not upholding their international obligations with respect to human rights, a list which includes Syria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

UN Watch, an organization best known for attacking any criticism of Israel by the UN as anti-Semitic or disproportionate, dedicated most of their release announcing the leaked speech to attacking Pillay’s criticism of Canada in similar terms.

It criticized Pillay for mentioning Canada, but not the situation in China or Cuba, and concluded that “…the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system – if indeed the Quebec law is a blot – are even worse than countries where the blot is the system”.

But of course she is sending no such message, and the inference that she is is a convenient fiction. It does not follow that anyone who has the temerity to mention the situation in Canada, or Palestine, is in some way delegitimizing the serious human rights threats faced in any other country.

The speech’s focus on Canada, Russia and Eritrea is in response to recent developments in these countries. It seems more than logical to focus on developing threats to human rights, rather than rehashing criticisms of countries like China, which the UN agency has severely criticized on many occasions in the past.

It is a particularly rich criticism of a speech where attention is paid to human rights situations in over a dozen countries, and Canada occupies only one paragraph.

UN Watch are correct that Canada has a much better reputation on human rights than many other countries, which makes it all the more alarming, and demanding of international attention, that we are now taking such a significant step backwards in our dedication to these rights.

The truth is that many in this country have done their best to bury their head in the sand as the situation in Quebec has descended into what can only be described as repression. Ask anyone if they approve of preventative arrest, profiling people for detention on the basis of a political symbol, mass arrests of peaceful protesters or indiscriminate use of force by police and their answer will be an emphatic no.

But our concern for fellow human beings in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia seems to end at our shores. Call it denial, perhaps we simply can’t accept that such things are happening here in Canada, but the silence in the media and among the population at large has been deafening.

It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Quebec is the most serious threat to our fundamental rights, as articulated in the Quebec and Canadian Charter, and the International Declaration of Human Rights, that we have seen in decades.

That is why the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, has taken the unprecedented step of condemning Bill 78. It’s why over six hundred lawyers in full robes took to the streets of Montreal to protest the situation, a first in Quebec history.

It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and give them a stiff shake. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing”, and right now there are an awful lot of good men and women doing nothing.

Our rights are not ironclad, they depend on our vigilance against even seemingly minor assaults. In this case we should be able to find common cause across partisan or ideological lines. This is not a left-right issue, but an assault on freedoms we all hold dear.

With her criticism, and Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist, Ms. Pillay has shone a light on our situation. What’s happening in Quebec is now the talk of the international community, Jean Charest our international embarrassment.

We need to take a stand, and send a message to the authoritarian-minded among our leaders that any erosion of our rights will be met with stiff resistance.

Pundits on the right love to invoke the sacrifices of our soldiers. Well, our soldiers died in two world wars for the rights and freedoms we enjoy, and which we have chosen to codify in our Constitution. Many also died defending these rights at other times in our history, such as during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, or the red scare of the 1950s.

Our rights were not granted, they were taken. Fought for over generations. They come to us drenched in the blood of our forebears who laid down their lives for them. A moments inattention and decades of blood, sweat and tears can be taken from us, without our noticing our neck is slit until we turn our head.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” goes the famous line from In Flanders Fields. Will we be the generation which allows that torch to fall? Our brave youth are in the streets of Quebec every night, paying the price to stand against an unjust law. They need our help.

If there was any doubt in our minds that what is going on in Quebec is a grave threat to our most basic liberties, the attention of the UN should serve as a wake up call.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?


You can also follow me on Twitter: @EthanCoxMTL

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

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

Free Society

Free Society
Free Society: Art work by Taymaz Valley

The liberals in Quebec have passed the Bill 78 to stop the student protests against tuition hikes. Students, who have been wearing red squares on their clothes to demonstrate their objection, are now under threat of fines and imprisonment if they participate or encourage protests deemed illegal by the state.

The bill effects all citizens, thus taking away one of the most fundamental rights of the people in a democratic society. The red square is no longer worn by students alone; people of all background and persuasions now show their solidarity by wearing red squares.

The band Arcade Fire backing Mick Jagger on this week’s Saturday Night Live in US, wore red squares in support of the Quebec students. As well, Xavier Dolan brought the red square with him to the Cannes film festival in France.  Artists from all over the world have spoken up against the violence and unprompted, unjustifiable use of force exercised by police in cities like Montreal.

Art work by Taymaz Valley
Art work by Taymaz Valley

Facebook and Twitter profiles are full of red squares, and I cannot help being reminded of Kazimir Malevich and his square series. The Russian painter who profoundly and fundamentally influenced the Abstract artists, and still influences many, set about to change history of painting using an avant-garde approach and eliminating the bourgeois take on art. His Black Square began the idea that art should be felt emotionally, and seeing figures or scenes were just too conformist.

The newly appointed Communist Party at first embraced such revolutionary ideas, because it was a fresh look at art, matching their notion of a new approach to life; however soon, with Stalin coming to power, they saw it as a threat and started banning the avant-garde, favouring instead a Socialist Realism version, where heroes of the revolution were depicted as god-like figures set to inspire the masses.

Kazimir Malevich spent a lifetime being suppressed, but it comforts me to know his Black Square outlasted Stalin’s reign. At Malevich’s funeral, the mourners wore black squares on their clothes in solidarity with freedom in art and now an allegory for freedom in society.

Malevich wrote in 1926: “When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field. The critics and, along with them, the public sighed, ‘Everything which we loved was lost. We are in a desert…Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!’”

“The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art.” This tiny black square revolutionised art, and perception of art, inspiring a whole generation of artists, writers, poets and musicians.

It came at a time of change in its birthplace, when people were rising against discrimination and suppression in Tsarist Russia. It had predicted and predated the Russian Revolution of 1917 by two years, however life soon caught up with art and we had one of the most significant uprising of people against inequality in the history of 20th century.

People of Russia were tired of being poor, not having the necessities required for living whilst a few fat cats on top of the food chain basked in the splendour of their riches, adorned by silk and diamonds. So, a revolution was born, and although it turned sour in the end, it managed to awaken a taste for equality in people. A revolution in Art manages the same.

You see, changes in Art start by the artist standing his ground, not scared anymore. The critic bellows a cry to put fear in the artist’s heart, yet he is not afraid anymore. The point of no return has passed. The critics charge forward pen at hand with derogatory words, yet this time the artists are charging toward them with firm steps.

The fear is gnawing at the hearts of the critics now and they have no other option but to use force, so maybe the artists become scared again. However this tactic is in vain. You see, we are social animals, and if anything, evolution has taught us that we managed to survive by being social, by protecting one another in our pack; and here it comes alive within us. Because when we see mighty, corrupt forces mistreating one of our fellow pack members, we become enraged as a society and we seek revenge.

With that first raised fist, a significance change has occurred. A quiet shift so important and vast, it goes undetected by the leaders and critics so engulfed in their self-satisfactory, rickety, smug state of oblivion. But, now it is too late, the leaders once again have lost touch, and people are again on the rise for freedom, and Art is right there with them.