10 Lessons American Protesters Can Learn from Quebec’s Students


By Kevin Mathews
Care 2, September 29, 2012

10 Lessons American Protesters Can Learn from Quebec  s Students

While U.S. police continues to aggressively and unconstitutionally dissuade citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights, protests are still an effective method for bringing about change. For example, after nine tireless months, Quebec’s student movement has finally declared victory. When the government threatened to raise tuition on college students by 87 percent, they came out in mass to protect affordable education. As author Naomi Klein stated, “This is why radical movements are mercilessly mocked. They can win.”

The students’ diligent approach and subsequent success is not something to be overlooked, notes The Guardian. Here are 10 lessons American protesters can learn from Canada’s student movement:

1. Vote

Ultimately, the students won their plight by voting out the former premier, Jean Charest, and giving Pauline Marois, a candidate sympathetic to the students’ cause, the job instead. Marois, in turn, immediately cancelled the planned tuition hikes and ended the newly passed anti-protesting laws. While many American activists are justifiably disenchanted with the democratic process and are attempting to find alternative solutions, they can still vote in the meantime. Voting doesn’t need to mean choosing between two candidates who don’t represent their views, but backing someone who participates in their struggle, like frequent Occupy arrestee and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein.

2. Expose Injustice

To put an end to the student movement, Quebec’s government passed Bill 78, which put massive, targeted restrictions on the students’ right to protest. Because this law blatantly contradicted Canada’s constitution, it enraged an even larger segment of the population. Suddenly, Canadians who were not particularly moved by the student struggle joined the efforts to protect their country’s freedom of speech. American protesters must showcase the police brutality and unlawful arrests intended to discourage demonstrations to prove how the rights Americans take for granted are actively being taken away, hopefully enlivening them to take action and build support.

3. Popular Movements Require a Populace

One of the biggest successes of the student movement is that it actually attracted up to half a million people simultaneously. While protests of a few hundred people are not meaningless, they do not carry the same clout as those with hundreds of thousands in attendance. The majority of the country can be sympathetic to the plight, but until they participate in some manner, the government will consider them too apathetic to worry about. Find ways to encourage people out of their homes and places of work and into the streets so that their numbers cannot be ignored.

4. Persistence Is Key

The students of Quebec stuck with the movement since the beginning of the year. Even when tens of thousands flooded the streets, protesters did not take for granted that their voices were heard, continuing to go out and bang on pots and pans each night. A constant presence was essential in reminding authorities that they were not going anywhere and that their concerns were not to be taken lightly. Protests every six months are nice, but protests every evening show you mean business.

5. Find Common Ground and Align

Two of the largest student organizations in Quebec, CLASSE and FEUQ, employed different tactics and different end goals. At the same time, however, they had a significant amount of overlap in their desires and chose to focus on the similarities to work together and bring about change. Besides, a diversity in tactics can even be helpful and the variety in approaches helped to win over more supporters and bring more attention to the cause.

6. Stand By Your Allies

Don’t cut off those who are united in your cause. Hoping for compromise, Quebec’s government agreed to hold talks with the more temperate student groups, but would not allow representatives from CLASSE to participate in these discussions. Instead of taking the opportunity to put their own interests first, these student groups walked out on the talks altogether. Too often, American protesters bicker amongst their peers rather than uniting in their shared struggle.

7. Reach Out to Unions

When mobilizing a movement, one of the quickest ways to grow your numbers is to connect with large groups of people who are already politically active, namely unions. While the student unions themselves were the most crucial, their networking with labor unions was also important. Students met with miners and public sector workers who were also facing massive problem to build coalitions. Although worker strikes never occurred, it was discussed at length, and the persistent threat definitely gave credence to the students’ sway.

8. Pick a Cause

The Canadian students adopted a single cause to rally around, which proved effective in achieving change. One of the criticisms most commonly aimed at Occupy is that it is not clear what it stands for. As many Occupiers will tell you, however, the biggest problem is that the amount of problems with the United States cannot be limited to a short list. Nonetheless, activists could benefit from building groups that target specific, tangible goals, be it instituting campaign finance reform, fighting foreclosures or lowering college tuition. That does not mean abandoning reform on all fronts, but rather dividing to focus on specific issues, while still coming together to support peers’ efforts on days of action.

9. Champion Education Specifically

If you’re looking for one particular cause to rally people behind, education is a great place to start. Not only does offering affordable education to everyone give opportunities to people who would otherwise be impoverished, but it also encourages people to think critically and question the status quo. Furthermore, in the spectrum of causes, education is one of the least controversial subjects. Theoretically anyway, people want the country’s youth to be smart and skilled. While citizens as a whole may be oblivious to the extent education is legitimately under attack (with slashed budgets, the demonization of teachers and undue emphasis on standardized tests), when you can show that the elite do not care about providing quality education, you’ll gain a lot of support.

10. Do Not Become Complacent with Your Victories

If the government has tried to screw you over before, chances are they’ll do it again. CLASSE understands that it is better to remain vigilant and continue their efforts rather to rest on their laurels and assume the problem is fixed. Sure, the recent election seems promising, but a consistent, diligent presence by the student unions will help to dissuade the government from trying to backtrack a couple of years down the road.

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Read more:college studentsconstitutioneducationfirst amendmentoccupyprotesters,quebecstudent movementstudentstuition

Photo Credit: David Vilder