Playing to the Suburbs: The Failure of the Quebec Student Movement

May 22, 2012 Student Demonstration - Photos by Chris Zacchia

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

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