In case you’ve been out of the loop, there’s a lot of shit going down in Montreal right now. The gist of it is this:
The Quebecois students have the lowest tuition rates in all of North America. Their government is proposing raising tuition by 80% over the next five years. Though the hike will only amount to a couple hundred dollars each year, the students resoundingly say that they don’t want to be like the United States, where students here are crippled with $1 trillion in student loan debt.
The Canadian government responded to nightly demonstrations by passing draconian anti-protest Bill 78, banning unplanned groups of 50 or more from marching in the streets. The people rebelled.
While aggressive student protests continue, neighborhood communities march nightly in the streets with casseroles, the French word for saucepans.
One Quebecois writer said this: “When you throw stones, it reassures them, they say, look, we have to pass special laws. But when you play the pots and pans, they are afraid.”
Global Solidarity Marches
And so between 300-400 people met in Washington Square Park last night wearing red squares and banging pots and pans. Beforehand, one woman named Andrea mic-checked the crowd. “I’m from Montreal,” she said. “Our struggles are connected. The red square is a play on the words in the French that translate to mean being squarely in the red. It really does represent the issue of student debt.”
“I’m standing in solidarity with those in Montreal.” said Cecilia Gingerich, 23, a graduate student at NYU.
Alexander, 40, said he was “about go back to school and get student loans. I’m marching because I have friends in Montreal who have been protesting for years.
But here’s where it gets interesting. The global economic crisis was a tipping point for the realization of a global political crisis.
Our Grievances Are Connected: Global Political Crisis
“We want to break down the nationalist viewpoint and move to a more communal one. It’s not about nations, it’s about people suffering,” said George Machado, 21, who has been involved in OWS since the beginning. “It’s not Canada and the United States, it’s about Montreal and NYC, two cities that share a goal.”
Casseroles marches have quickly sprung up in over fifty cities globally, including London, Santiago, Madrid, Mexico City and Paris. This is the same thing that happened when Occupy Wall street started; within three weeks there were hundreds of encampments.
In fact, recent statistics show that young people care less about elections and party lines and more about ideas.
What this signifies: the global economic collapse was the tipping point for movements such as Occupy Wall Street because people feel powerless. Occupy was the opportunity for conversation, and Liberty Square was a place where the powers-that-be had no power. Similarly, while corporations hold transnational power, people are connected and united in their grievances in an unprecedented way.
Simon Critchley wrote about this issue of power and politics in the latest Occupied Wall Street Journal:
“Power is the ability to get things done. Politics is the means to get those things done. The location of power and politics was once understood to be the nation-state… Our belief was that if we worked politically for a certain group, on the right or the left, then we could win an election, form a government, and have the power to change things. The fact is that today politics and power have fallen apart in liberal democracy. They are separated, maybe even divorced. We know this. We feel this viscerally. Democracy at this time in history, even representative liberal democracy, risks being no more than a word, a kind of ideological birdsong. Power has evaporated into supranational spaces.”
Is Occupy Dead?
But unless you’re looking for it, you won’t find a lot of Occupy coverage. Occupy is something that happened, not happening. So what do these protestors feel about this idea? Why are they still “there”?
Most didn’t really care if people thought Occupy was dead.
“I don’t think it matters,” said George Machado. “A bunch of tight networks were created with people who didn’t know each other and didn’t know that others cared. So under any name, it’s the same. I don’t care what it is called. It’ll take many different forms.” He agreed that perhaps the expectations for things to change faster is unreasonable. “We haven’t learned how to get out of our cycle of instant gratification.”
Hilariously, some can’t help but show up. “I made a bunch of friends here and now I need to fucking keep coming,” said Jesse Cooper Levy, 25.
“I guess I’m still here because I feel like there’s still work to be done and this movement has the potential to make it happen,” said Melanie Butler, who was also involved in pre-OWS meetings in summer 2011. “It hasn’t even been a year and in the grand scheme of things that’s not that long. Change happens at a glacial pace. It’s still pretty early. None of the other big social movements happened quickly. In fact, it took decades to make lasting change.”
Another protestor cited the fact that long term change has historically taken decades. “If you look at the past, civil disobedience is where it starts and not where it ends. It starts in the streets but it doesn’t end there,” said Henry Rushmore, 27. “All of the the movements in history have never been as globally united over one idea as this one.”
Perhaps Liberty Square was just the beginning. Perhaps it just gave people courage.
(Photo: Libor Von Schonau/Twitpic)
The Never-Ending March
We marched south through Washington Square Park, left on Bleecker, and then against traffic, making a north on Broadway. When we passed NYU housing, many people waved and cheered from their windows.
I thought the march would circle Washington Square Park, when the numbers peaked at three or four hundred people, but we zig-zagged north, always against traffic.
Then I thought we would end at Union Square. Someone mic-checked that we were headed toward Madison Square Park. But from there, the march kept going.
At Times Square, the police were growing in numbers and put on their black gloves. They threw one girl to the ground, seemingly arbitrarily, and arrested her.
Still the march kept going, by now on sidewalks because it had dwindled to perhaps 50 people. At one point marchers spotted an undercover agent and yelled at him “undercover go away, we don’t need you anyway.” He walked to the police, who ignored him, then walked away while the crowd cheered.
Demonstrators, still banging casseroles and wearing red squares, eventually made their way up to the Canadian Consulate on 50th St and 6th Ave and mic-checked a statement of solidarity with the Quebecois students.
Perhaps the curse and the blessing of Occupy is its inability to end.
(Photo: Occupy Town Square/Twitpic)
Video from last night.