I never expected to say this, but for the first time during Stephen Harper’s reign, I’m happy he has a majority.

You see, last week, while we were all focused on Harper’s undemocratic budget bill, the Conservatives were busy strengthening our democracy.

Conservatives voted unanimously to repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act with no help from the opposition, save one Liberal. The move was celebrated by the right and met with fear and fear-mongering by the left.

The removal of Section 13 is important because it limited the free speech of every Canadian by banning the communication of “hatred or contempt” over the internet or by phone.

Yes, that’s right. Before the Harper government’s bold move, it was against the Human Rights Act to express hate or contempt for people in Canada. If this weren’t absurd enough, the law was upheld by quasi-judicial bodies comprised of people with possibly no legal training.

These organizations have the power to hand out steep fines and ban people from communicating certain ideas. And, regrettably, they have become the stomping ground not of people with legitimate human rights concerns, but of those whose cases would be laughed out of a real court.

For those concerned with what I’m writing about, I highly recommend the book “Shakedown”,  Ezra Levant’s passionately-written and occasionally-offensive testament to the absurdity of our “human rights” legislation.

Levant aside for the moment, I’ll continue with the queer angle of this subject, as is my sworn duty for Forget the Box.

In the same week that section 13 was repealed, a bill aiming to provide protections for trans people under the CHRA and the Criminal Code successfully passed its second reading. Liberals and New Democrats gave speeches in support of affirming the rights of trans people, and were eventually joined by some Conservatives to pass the vote (I don’t mean to make the trans-recognition legislation appear perfect and all-pretty—it’s certainly not—but I won’t get into that in this post).

Human rights laws were originally crafted to deal with rights violations as serious as those currently faced by trans people. If there’s one thing for which they were not intended, it’s preventing people from being offended. Yet that’s exactly what was being done.

Just as an example, in 2002, a Red Deer, Alberta newspaper ran a letter by Pastor Stephen Boissoin in which he condemned all things gay. “Homosexual rights activists and those that defend them,” he said, “are just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.”

Boissoin used the letter as a rallying cry, pleading with readers to “stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn.”

Despite not having committed a crime under the criminal code and never being charged in a court of law, Boissoin was fined $5000 (this, in addition to legal fees) and then banned from speaking out against queers by the Alberta HRC. He was actually forbidden from speaking what he believed to be the truth. In Canada. In the 21st century.

That people actually accept money as remuneration for offense they claim to have felt is insulting to those whose rights have actually been violated; they should be ashamed of themselves.

It might just be this shame that caused the plaintiff in the Alberta case to give the $5,000 to Egale, a leading gay rights legal group, instead of pocketing it himself. Quite tellingly, however, Egale refused the money. They had previously stated in an editorial that “while it is difficult to support Boissoin’s right to spew his misguided and vitriolic thoughts, support his right, we must.”

“If Boissoin was no longer able to share his views, then who might be next in also having their freedom of expression limited?” they asked.

To further Egale’s point, governments should not be in the business of censorship, regardless of how vile their citizens can be. Pushing potentially dangerous ideas—and the people who harbour them—underground does not make for a more tolerant society. It only disenfranchises these “potentially dangerous” people, removing the safety net that is the public gaze—a prospect radically more threatening than the possibility of being offended.

The repeal of section 13, however, is not the end of the road for regaining our free speech. Provincial governments still have their own human rights legislation with their own respective “section 13s” that must be removed.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen any time soon, given the widespread support by Liberals and New Democrats for these antiquated laws. How can we support these politicians who simultaneously tout their support for LGBT people while voting against our right to free speech? This hypocrisy must be brought to light.

For now, though, let’s celebrate our new found rights, afforded to us by a party so often found to be prescribing their limits.

* Images: National Post, Sun Media

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 Rabble.ca 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

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.

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.
Repeat.

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

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

I’ve said for years that if a country tries to put austerity into practice for an extended period of time, an eventual revolution will be the outcome. In Greece and France this past week that is essentially what happened. I have no doubt there is more to follow.

France elected Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party last week, the first left leaning President to hold power in seventeen years. Hollande promised a “new start” for France and vowed to challenge the austerity plan that now dominates Europe. “Austerity can no longer be the only option” he said.

Over in Greece, it’s a little more complicated to be sure. The two parties that have driven the Greek economy into the ground then signed on to a disastrous austerity program (in exchange for dead-end bailouts from the EU and IMF) were widely rejected, receiving only a combined 32% of the vote.

When people become as desperate as the people of Greece, they tend to stop thinking rationally, just as the people of Germany did in the 1930s. The Neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” party of Greece received 7% of the vote. Therefore, 21 Neo-Nazis will now have the right of sitting in the Greek Parliament. No Nazi has held a seat in a European nation since the Second World War.

Since no party received more than 19% of the vote, if a coalition government can’t be formed, a new election will be called at the begging of summer. SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left who recently finished in second place for the first time, is now leading in nationwide polling with 25.5%.

Francois Hollande

The radicalized politics in Greece and the election of Hollande in France are the result of austerity measures put in by the IMF and the Euro-zone (led by Germany) to fight spiralling national debt.

The policy of austerity is nothing new; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pushed free market policies and austerity since the 1970s and it has never worked. Every country that has adopted austerity has doomed themselves to high unemployment or the forced liquidation of government assets. South Africa following Apartheid is a great example of both.

It was much the same for South America. Decades of periodic financial crises and imposed austerity measures by the IMF kept their economies from growing. In Argentina’s case, the IMF drove their economy completely into the ground in the late 90s.

Luckily, Hugo Chavez along with leaders of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay eventually rejected the IMF and World Bank and formed their own (Bank of the South). As a result, their economies handled the financial crises and are among the fastest growing in the world.

Back in Europe though, nothing much has changed. Austerity measures in Greece and Spain have led to Great Depression-like unemployment numbers (21% & 24% respectively). Unemployment in the Euro-zone is over 10% and among youths 18-24 it is closer to 50%.

Austerity protests in Greece

Great Britain’s self inflicted austerity programme has led to a double-dip recession. Their economy contracted by more than 7% during the 2008-2009 recession, which lasted fifteen months. Since then, recovery has been slow – the weakest in a century in fact, even slower than the Great Depression.

Pretty soon, the governments of Italy, Ireland and other nations where austerity is taking hold will be forced to answer to the people. If Greece and France are any indication, a left turn away from austerity is what the people will choose.

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When I first heard of the Quebec governments plan to raise tuition fees by $1625 a year over the next five years, I had a fairly indifferent opinion. After all, I had never pursued an education at an institution of higher learning and I had been out of school for close to twenty years.

To be honest I never gave the situation the attention that it deserved. I figured at the time that a small hike in tuition fees was probably warranted, I even thought that any protest stemming from the hikes would likely die down soon after it started. Clearly I should have been more inquisitive; if I had been I wouldn’t have been wrong on both accounts.

The student strike and protest is now entering its fourth month, they have spawned more than 160 protests in 72 days in Montreal alone. The protests have now garnered international attention including coverage on CNN and Al Jazeera. In my (new found) opinion, the actions of the students are completely justified.

This whole state of affairs revolves around the Quebec government’s rising debt, but instead of raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy, Premier Jean Charest prefers to take it out of the pockets of middle class students. It’s no wonder the students have used the 99% movement as motivation for the cause.

An education is probably the single most important gift a society can offer its people outside of healthcare, but even without tuition fees, college and university can be damn expensive. Students still have to pay for lab fees, books, housing, food, etc. even with a part time job it’s next to impossible to leave school without racking up debt.

Jean Charest with Education Minister Line Beauchamp

It was only a generation or two ago when the average student could attend university, hold a part time job at MuckDonalds and be virtually debt free when he entered the work force. Students are aware that those days are disappearing quickly and are trying to reverse the present course.

I believe there are two things driving the youth of Quebec to protest so loudly: principal and fear.

The students believe that the protesting of the government tuition hike is a matter of principal. We live in one of the wealthiest developed nations on earth, why should they be punished for pursuing a higher education? Quebecers are proud of their low cost, high grade education system and would prefer to mirror the Scandinavian model where tuition fees are nonexistent.

The trepidation I referred to is a fear the students have of the Quebec educational system slowing moving in the direction of the United States and the rest of Canada. In the US, total student debt has risen above a trillion dollars, more than the country’s total credit card debt. The average tuition fee for a public university is roughly $8000 (four times more than Quebec), but the average total cost of a four year program is close to $28 000 a year.

I’ve heard critics of the protests calling the students “unfocused,” “deadbeats” and “moochers,” simple responses from people not in the students’ position. If they’re deadbeats they wouldn’t be in school, if they’re unfocused they wouldn’t be protesting 24/7 and they aren’t mooching anything more than the person using his or her Medicare Card.

So what is the solution? The students are not about to pack it up and call it a semester. The question I have to ask is who, aside from the students, benefit the most from their education? The answer is simple; the people that hire them afterward. No one profits more from an educated populace than the companies who hire them.

An educated man can lead a good life with a good job, but chances are he’ll never be wealthy; he will be far too busy making the company or corporation wealthy. It seems only logical to me that the people profiting off of this man’s education should be the ones helping to pay his fees.

Don’t give in boys and girls.

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Some of my habitual readers will recall that I’ve mentioned ALEC in some of my past articles. Now that the shroud of darkness is starting to fall around them, I feel it is necessary to continue the onslaught, it is just that important.

If anything good has come out of the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin, it has to be the unwanted exposure of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The non-profit conservative organization that wrote Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law.

The Council is made up of a who’s who of right wing conservatism, including: John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Tom DeLay, Donald Rumsfeld, Scott Walker and more. The corporate board includes Koch Industries, AT &T, Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, UPS, etc.

Like I’ve mentioned before, ALEC is not a lobby, nor is it a front group, it is a council made up of 2000 legislators and 300 corporations. The corporations sit on nine different task forces and vote with these legislators to approve “model” bills.

These bills are then brought back home by the legislators and introduced in statehouses across the country. The politicians set up these bills as if it is their own creation and the public remains unaware that corporate interests help to mold it.

Let me give you a couple of examples on how ALEC works:

Prison privatization bills remain ALEC “models” thanks to Corrections Corporation of America’s work on ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force. Of course, private prisons rely on prisoners to make a profit, so the Corrections Corporation (ALEC member until 2010) along with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (another ALEC member) introduced in Arizona and other states a law that requires the expanded incarceration of immigrants.

ALEC adopted model legislation to address the public disclosure of chemicals in the drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through fracking. The ALEC legislation was promoted as a triumph for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants. However, there are loopholes in the bill that allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents because they are “trade secrets”. The bill was sponsored within ALEC by Exxon Mobil (a fracking company)!

Following the outcry over tragic death of Trayvon Martin, Florida Governor Rick Scott promised to form a task force to investigate the effects of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law. This “investigative party” was revealed last week and it just so happens that more than half of the task force is comprised of ALEC members

The price for admission into the American Legislative Exchange Council for legislators is a mere $50 a year. Corporate dues range from $7000 to $25000, but companies such as AT&T and Pfizer have given up to $398000, all tax deductable, ALEC is a “charity” after all.

The council announced last week that it would shut down its “Public Safety and Elections task force,” the ALEC task force responsible for writing the “Stand your Ground” law as well as voter suppression laws across the United States.

The decision to shut down the task force was no doubt a response to a dozen corporations leaving ALEC citing the voter suppression laws as their reason. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Yum Foods, McDonalds and Wendys among others have left. Some ALEC legislators (Senator Chuck Grassley) are actually calling for a boycott of the companies that quit.

Voter suppression aside, ALEC still remains committed through its other eight task forces to a regressive economic agenda that includes union-busting, repealing the minimum wage and of course cutting taxes on the very rich.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is further evidence that the United States has but a few elected officials that govern on behalf of the people that elect them. Instead, what remains are politicians who use corporate money to buy elections and afterwards sit down with them to figure out how best to serve their corporate masters.

People talk about the US becoming a corporate oligarchy or “corporatocracy.” I’d say it looks like they’re already there, thanks in part to colorofchange and ALEC exposed, people are at least starting to wake up, I implore you once again to do the same.

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Hemispheric leaders gathered in Cartagena, Colombia this past weekend for the Summit of the Americas. From the onset, it seems one thing was made perfectly clear; the flock no longer fears the wolf.

The “wolf” helped in the deposing of democratically elected leaders in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Grenada, Nicaragua, Panama and El-Salvador through a coup or CIA/military intervention.

Decades of influence and meddling on the part of the United States left many Latin American countries as poor, failed states; a consequence of propping up puppet dictators across a continent.

The failed coup attempt in Venezuela back in 2002 to overthrow President Hugo Chavez marked the last known attempt by the United States to undermine the will of a foreign populace. Consequently, it also signalled a decade of growth for the country and the whole of South America, especially Brazil.

Latin America is emerging as a respectable and viable destination for foreign investment. Brazil is now the world’s 6th largest economy. Argentina, Columbia, Peru and Venezuela have all weathered the global economic downturn with relative ease and are growing at a significant rate.

Fidel & Raul Castro of Cuba

This year’s Summit of the Americas reflected those changes on the ground and focused more on the increasing isolated policies of Canada and the United States; the ongoing exclusion of Cuba from the Summit and the failed war on drugs.

Cuba’s membership in the Organization of American States (OAS) was suspended fifty years ago. Canada and the United States are the only counties in the OAS who don’t support Cuba having a seat at the table.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, the looking the other way, don’t work,” Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President said. “This path is no longer acceptable in today’s world. It’s an anachronism that keeps us anchored in a Cold-War era that was overcome decades ago.”

The war on drugs is a huge deal to Latin American countries. The US policy of prohibition has brought enormous suffering to the people of those countries and has cost the lives of tens of thousands; it has done nothing to stem the flow of drugs.

The U.S. is the biggest importer of Latin American drugs and is not only the biggest exporter of their own prohibition policy, but the United States is also the biggest exporter of armaments the gangs and police use to fight the war.

A growing number of OAS countries are now in favour of decriminalizing or legalizing illicit drugs in order to curtail the violence that comes with the illegal drug trade. Stephen Harper and Barack Obama have both shown no interest is reviewing their drug policies. In fact, Harper refuses to discus the matter altogether.

Win McNamee , Getty Images
Harper & Obama: Odd Men Out

Two years ago, members of the OAS created the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and it is essentially the OAS without the membership of Canada or the United States. While some member countries differ on its overall purpose, it is a further indication that the influence of the United States is weakening.

If Canada and the U.S. wish to participate in the affairs of South and Central American countries in the future and share in their economic success, it looks as if they’ll finally have learn how to speak their language, and I don’t mean Spanish.

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Back in 1803, the Supreme Court of the United States gave itself the power of judicial review. This ruling gives the Supreme Court the right to review the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress and declare it void if the judges feel the law violates the constitution.

Judicial review is both celebrated and denounced by both Republicans and Democrats depending on which side of the fence the ruling finally lands. The Supreme Court has to interpret a document written over two hundred years ago and is subject to much interpretation.

The nine justices of the court have a tendency to interpret the constitution differently based on party or ideological lines. These days it’s rare not to see a 5-4 decision given that there are 4 conservatives, 4 liberals and a moderate (5 were nominated by Republicans, 4 by Democrats) on the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court holds power over the federal government and therefore holds power over the people that elect it. I find it astonishing the amount of power the Supreme Court actually has as an un-elected body in a democracy. It’s also ironic that the job of the court is to protect the constitution even though judicial review is not in the constitution in the first place.

A couple weeks ago the Supreme Court started its judicial review of the “affordable care act” or “Obamacare.” While the law in its entirety is under review, the individual mandate that requires everyone to purchase health insurance from a private insurance company is what’s really under scrutiny. I don’t agree with the individual mandate, but what is the alternative at this point, tens of millions without healthcare?

In this case, the justices have to decide between freedom of choice and the freedom to have equal access to healthcare. Both sides are equally important. Regardless of the way this case is ruled, my question is; should the fate of fifty million people be left in the hands of just nine?

The American Supreme Court has a shaky history when it comes to protecting the rights of citizens as it is, yet Americans still seem content on letting the court make the big decisions that affect everyone for them. Just as an example; the Supreme Court upheld the legality of slavery in 1857, upheld segregation in 1896 and upheld Japanese internment in 1944.

It can be said that the Court has also overstepped its bounds on multiple occasions in the past. It ruled over a century ago that corporations have the same rights as citizens and recently ruled that corporate money is equal to free speech. It has gotten involved in bankruptcy proceedings, re-districting and in 2000 it even decided a general election (Bush v. Gore).

Last week the justices ruled that it is constitutional to strip-search anyone arrested of any crime, regardless if the person arrested is suspected of hiding anything. Get ready to put on your birthday suit if you’re caught smoking a joint or have an unpaid parking ticket.

Judges or Dictators?

The only way to overturn a decision by the Supreme Court is with a constitutional amendment which requires two thirds of the House and two thirds of the senate to pass. In other words, fat chance; it comes as no surprise then that nothing has improved since 1803.

Canada went over a hundred years without judicial review, Great Britain still does, which begs the question; why is it necessary in the first place? I don’t believe it is. The people should have the first and last say when it comes to the laws of the land. Politicians can be voted out if they implement a law that the masses disagree with, that is what democracy is supposed to be about; the people, not the nine dictators dressed in black.

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As much of the world knows by now, a young black teenager by the name of Trayvon Martin was killed last month by a volunteer Neighborhood Watch captain named George Zimmerman.

Martin was walking back to his father’s house with a bag of skittles and talking to a friend on his cell phone. As he was walking, he noticed Zimmerman looking at him from his car and promptly lifted the hood of his hoodie over his head in an attempt to go unnoticed.

Zimmerman saw Martin walking down the street, thinking he looked suspicious he called 911 and said that Martin was “just walking around looking about.” Zimmerman ignored a plea from the 911 dispatcher not to go after him and moments later Trayvon Martin lay dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest. To this day Zimmerman is a free man.

After a tragedy like this occurs there is always a predilection to lay blame. In this case there is enough liability to go around. The first and foremost is Zimmerman himself who decided to be judge, jury and executioner to an unarmed teenager.

George Zimmerman as a Neighborhood Watch captain had called 911 a total of forty-six times in the past year, an extremely high number for a gated community. Most of the calls were purportedly made to report suspicious activity of young black people.

Whether Zimmerman is racist at heart is still open to debate, but he definitely racially profiled his suspects. If Martin had been Caucasian, I believe he not only would still be alive, but might not have been bothered in the first place.

Aside from the man carrying the gun, we must also look at the law that allowed him to use it. Signed into law by Jeb Bush in 2005, Florida was the first state to pass the so-called “Stand your Ground” law. The law allows a civilian to respond with deadly force if he is in a place he has a right to be and feels reasonably threatened with serious harm.

The problem is “reasonably threatened” is not defined. Thanks to the way African Americans are portrayed in American society and media, it’s easy to see why people might acquire a disposition that blacks are dangerous, therefore anyone who watches “Cops” might feel reasonably threatened when seeing a black man walking down the street.

States that have a adopted "Stand Your Ground"

The Stand Your Ground law also allows ordinary people to use disproportionate force like the police have a tendency to do. If someone threw a punch at me, I can legally shoot them to death… In a country where anyone can have a gun, it’s no wonder why I won’t visit my mother in Florida.

Unfortunately, following Florida’s adaptation of this law, 23 other states have followed suit. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been pursuing this law across the United States for years and with the help of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) their campaign has been quite successful.

ALEC is not a lobby or a front group; it is much more directly influential. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators the changes to laws they desire that directly benefits their profits, and they do so in secret. The organization is a who’s who of the extreme conservative right, out of 104 legislators in leadership positions only one is a Democrat.

PR Watch‘s Brendan Fischer summed it up best: “This bill was brought to ALEC by the National Rifle Association and fits into a pattern of ALEC bills that disproportionately impact communities of colour.”

George Zimmerman is ultimately responsible for pulling the trigger that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and hopefully he won’t go unpunished; however Martin was not the first victim of this ridiculous law and he will not be the last.

Once again it boils down to the corporatocracy we find ourselves living under where profit trumps public safety. Few people have heard of ALEC and the roles they play, if you are one of them, I implore you to learn more about them.

Learn about ALEC

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Conservatives in the United States have a habit of declaring war on anything, so long as the object of their aggression is in contrast with their moral or religious values. The social warfare they declare often goes against public opinion and in every instance the victory itself is unattainable.

Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, George Bush Jr. declared war on terrorism (and the English language!) and if Rick Santorum somehow gets elected, we’ll have a new war on pornography.

Oddly enough, conservatives only declare war on social causes, rarely is it used when referring to places or people. There was no formal declaration of war on Afghanistan or Iraq, and of course they dare not declare war on women, but that is exactly what has been taking place the past couple of years.

In the first few months of 2011 alone, legislators in 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues. This took place three months after the midterm elections where Republicans were elected on the promise of turning the economy around. Instead, more than thirty States enacted 67 anti-abortion measures.

In this election year we continue to see much of the same, but with a new twist. Republicans have been setting their sights on birth control, the single most effective way to avoid abortion in the first place.

Sandra Fluke

After Barack Obama tried to pass a bill requiring all insurance companies to cover contraception, conservatives claimed they had a problem with insurance companies of religious institutions being forced to cover birth control. Obama caved and revised the bill to exclude these institutions, but Republicans did not stop there.

They introduced bills that would allow insurance companies to reject any claims that go against their religious or moral values, in other words; anything, despite the fact that it’s much cheaper for insurance companies to provide birth control rather than covering the cost of a pregnancy.

Some women are speaking out like Sandra Fluke, some are fighting back such as ordinary Virginia citizens who were able to remove an intrusive vaginal probe from an abortion bill. But then some are taking it to extremes; an ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ bill was introduced in Oklahoma to keep men from masturbating and a law was introduced in Georgia that would outlaw vasectomies. Both these laws were introduced by female democrats, hopefully just to send a message.

Conservatives are hell bent on turning back the clock on the rights of women, or Feminazis as Limbaugh likes to call them. It has taken centuries for women to gain the semblance of equality, but even in the 21st century there are those who believe a woman’s place is still in the kitchen or that they should still take a back seat to the man.

I look at a woman from Iran that is stoned to death for cheating on her husband, a girl from Morocco who commits suicide to avoid being forced to marry her rapist, a place like Saudi Arabia where women aren’t even allowed to drive a car. It’s hard to believe that this is where we used to be.

I’m proud of the advances the West has made in the last hundred years in regards to women’s rights. Women of the 20th century fought hard to acquire the rights they have, but are now being forced to fight again just to keep them. Why would anyone living in a free country want to go back to the way things were? Leave them alone!

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For much of the past thirty years conservative leaders have been driving the nation uncompromisingly and unapologetically rightward. In the 21st century, that right curve has revolved so much that it is now going completely backwards.

Woman’s rights, union rights, the poor and even the middle class have been under constant attack for years, but as of late conservatives have been going to extremes with their policies. Today, even Ronald Reagan would be considered too liberal by Republican standards.

In the past, conservatives have led without having to give an inch; it was their way or no way, whereas liberals were always willing to give an inch to get an inch (Obama and Clinton did this repetitively). Not much has changed in regards to the White House, the Senate or House of Representatives. The progressive common folk on the other hand are tired of lying down.

Thanks in part to social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the public is waking up and refusing to take it. In a way, it has led to a mini revolution in the progressive movement, a movement that still has little political power, but is now putting their foot down.

Last Week, Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed a law that requires women to have an ultrasound before an abortion, but was forced to give up on a requirement for a more invasive vaginal probe. This might not be seen as a victory to some as the law should not have passed at all. The real victory here lies with the protest itself. Twenty other states have passed similar abortion laws in the past and they were able to pass them in virtual silence.

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh has gotten away with spreading his sexist, racist, hate filled message for over twenty years. All of a sudden a tasteless and baseless attack on a law student results in 98% of his advertisers leaving him, why? A progressive movement tired of his bullshit; they reposted his words on every website and news media outlet they could find in order to open the eyes of the public… and it worked. The same thing happened to Glenn Beck a year earlier.

Progressives have also been flexing their muscle when it comes to union workers with the best example being in Wisconsin. This past weekend, 35,000 protesters marked the one year anniversary of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill that deprives unionized public sector workers of the right to collectively bargain. Since the law was passed, over a million people have signed a petition to begin the recall election process for Walker and other GOP state senators.

For decades, Fox News, talk radio and countless newspapers have been a force for conservative propaganda, but in the last couple of years the tide has been changing. Progressives embraced the advent of social media and in a lot of ways now control it. It helped to elect Obama, it helped to build the Occupy Wall Street movement and it’s now keeping conservatives in closer check.

Of course social media only helped the cause, it didn’t start it. I can’t be certain of when or how this progressive movement began to take shape. Whether it was with the election of a liberal black president, the 99% or possibly the people in general are just fed up with going in reverse. Perhaps it’s all of the above combined.

Nevertheless, I suspect if these progressive voices continue to grow louder and louder, Fox News and politically motivated business owners like the Koch Brothers will not have the political influence they desire leading into the election in November. Making a progressive victory that much easier.

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“No matter how hard your rock bottom is, you can rise above it and you can come back.” – Demi Lovato

Self-injury is defined as intentional harm caused to oneself (usually in the form of cutting, burning or hitting, but also to the point of ingesting poisons) without the desire to commit suicide. To be technical, it refers to “behaviors in which an individual intentionally inflicts harm to his or her body for purposes not socially recognized or sanctioned and without suicidal intent (Favazza, 1996)”. In a study of college students, over 16 forms of self-harm, including cutting, were documented (Whitlock, Eckenrode, & Silverman, 2006).

While some of you reading this are shaking your heads confused, statistics in the US and Canada indicate that 17% of you know all too well what I’m talking about, and have had at least one episode of self-harming. Three quarters of those people are women; 40% of them have done it repeatedly.

Still, I think for some people there is the follow-up question: “No really, isn’t there something wrong with these people?” The answer is conveniently two-fold: yes and no.

While people who self-harm tend to have underlying anxiety, depression or eating disorders, there are those who are fully functioning, healthy folk with no diagnosis to the contrary. But yes, something is wrong, or they wouldn’t be hurting themselves.

The Bristol Crisis Service for Women explains that:

“Often women say that self-injury helps them to release unbearable tension, which may be caused by anxiety, grief or anger. It puts their pain ‘outside’, where it feels easier to cope with. For others it relieves feelings of guilt or shame. Sometimes a woman’s self-injury is a ‘cry for help’; a way of showing (even to herself) that she has suffered and is in pain. Perhaps hurting herself is a way of feeling ‘real’ and alive, or having control over something in her life.”

More often than not, harming behavior is cyclical, which is to say, people will harm for a time, then stop, probably doing it again somewhere down the road. It’s a coping technique, albeit a poor one. Think of it as a parallel to someone going through a rough patch, binge drinking and gambling their savings away. It’s a destructive symptom of underlying pain. The difference is, it carries a taboo and vulnerability so heavy, that it’s nearly as hard to hear about as it is to admit to, and it makes for uncomfortable coffee talk.

Given that it’s not the sexiest of causes, I hardly expected that there would ever be a spokesperson who could really bring the subject to the spotlight. Then, in the fall of 2010, then 18 year old Demi Lovato entered rehab. Maybe you don’t know her: starting her career on Barney & Friends at seven years old, moving on to Sonny With A Chance, and dropping a catchy tune, she was a veritable Disney channel darling.

Behind the scenes, she’d started self-harming at 11. Coming out of treatment last year, she showed the world her dark spots, talking publicly about her bipolar diagnosis, her bulimia and her harming. That’s some courage, and her, bravely talking those steps, brought the subject to the spotlight more than I’d ever seen. People were learning and talking, and that, after all, is what awareness is all about.

While self-injury is often casually tossed out as a teenager’s problem, that’s not the case. It’s a secretive practice, which means the stats are most likely considerably higher than we can prove. One study estimated between 0.4 and 1.4% of adults self-harmed each year (Favazza and Rosenthal, 1993), but considering the other stats, that still seems like an underestimation. In teens, it’s tricky, but comparitively easier to catch; doctors, teachers, friends and parents, are likely to speak up if they see something fishy. As an adult, no one would’ve caught it had I not asked for help.

I discovered Self-Injury Awareness Day two years ago, when I Googled self-harm from a particularly dark place. I was all too familiar with the behavior, but, not realizing its cyclical nature, I honestly thought I’d never have to think of it again. I found myself needing a refresher on the updated facts in a hurry. It happened to be March 1st. I fought back tears at my desk as I watched the Twitter feed for the hashtag keep going and going; people told secrets and offered hope. Some days, Google is the hand fate offers.

Last year SIAD was a reminder for me of how far I’ve come. This time around, I am proud to be in a place where I can say I haven’t harmed in over a year, and a position where I can be part of spreading awareness. Just like there are dry alcoholics, not cured ones, I am a self-harmer who’s practicing self-love instead, but it will always make sense to me.

To the 17% (or so?) of you who this really speaks to all to clearly, please know that while only some scars will heal, the pain that caused the scars can definitely heal when you have the tools to cope healthfully.

The taboos surrounding the subject make it all the harder to reach out, so today, let’s be brave: let’s admit, let’s listen, let’s breach the darkness and begin the healing.

Speak out, whether it’s from a place of having overcome, admitting that you need help, or asking someone if they need to talk. Because awareness can’t begin until the conversation does.

If you think you may need to talk to someone, please contact your local CLSC. Some are wonderful bastions of caring, all are treasure troves of helpful resources.

Please stay safe.

#SIAD #SHAD

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Image: weakandlonely.tumblr.com

Something smells in our democracies. We the people control our government, we all own our public land, but the resources found on that land get sold to whomever the government decides to offer contracts to (without our permission). The end result is that multi-national oil conglomerates rake in hundreds of billions of dollars while the average North American family winds up paying an average $4200 a year on gasoline.

Living in Canada as I do, I am amazed that as a country we have the third largest proven oil reserves in the world, but our government refuses to subsidize gas prices like in most oil rich nations. In fact, out of the top 15 oil rich countries on earth, no one pays more for gas than we do.

Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among others all have large oil reserves. However unlike Canada, they refuse to look at their citizens as customers, after all, the resources should belong to the people. The cost of a litre of gas in Venezuela is $0.023 and $0.13 in Saudi Arabia.

Conservatives and Libertarians might have you believe that one reason we pay so much at the pump is government taxes. While we do pay our fair share (only a quarter compared to most of Europe), our taxes are relatively low. According to Petro Canada, we pay $0.30 to $0.35 a litre in various taxes. If we did away with these levies it would bring down the price to about $1.10, still higher than the biggest 15 oil countries.

In the United States, gasoline production has been at an all-time high while demand for the fuel is at a five year low, yet gas prices continue to increase. There is such an over-abundance of gasoline and other fuels in the U.S. that this year, gasoline has overtaken aircraft as the top manufactured American export.

Americans are starting to place blame for the increase in gas prices on President Barack Obama, a man who is all but powerless to do anything about it, short of giving into big oil. Obama has recently declared a stop to oil company subsidies, something that should have been done decades ago given their high profits.

He also turned down the KXL pipelinea couple months back after being forced to make a quick decision. Contrary to what Republicans are saying, if that decision was reversed and the pipeline was built, according to industry experts it would result in gas prices falling about a nickel… ten years from now.

Almost reality to some

Oil Company execs have stated publicly that Obama will pay politically for his actions and that might be exactly what we are seeing. Corporations and their psychopathic tendencies will always place profit before people. In this case it is more profitable for the oil companies to sell their gasoline overseas than it is to sell it domestically even if they are drowning in it. Obama and the American people are left to pay the price.

In a global free-market economy, gasoline is susceptible to the price of oil, speculation, natural disasters, wars and other various factors. As peek oil approaches and our governments continue to subject us to the unpredictability of the market; we the people will continue to go broke, while the fat cats running the oil industry will continue to grow even richer and dominate our lives further, capitalizing on our own natural resources.

Although I’d like to see our national resources actually nationalized, one only needs to look at Hydro Quebec as an example as to why. I’m not completely close minded on finding other solutions as long as they serve the public good. Investing heavily in green energy would be a hell of a good start. We should also have fixed gas prices; an energy rich nation should be passing the savings to its people, not passing the profits to foreign owned corporations.

Of course nothing will change as long as the people who own it, don’t demand it…

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The locked-out Electro-Motive plant in London, Ontario has decided to close the plant permanently. The announcement comes just over a month after Progress Rail decided to lockout its workers citing operating costs as its main motivation.

Progress Rail Services Corp., a subsidiary of U.S. construction equipment conglomerate Caterpillar that owns the Electro-Motive plant had locked out its unionized workers on New Year’s Day. The company demanded that workers take a 52% pay cut along with fewer benefits despite the fact Caterpillar earned record profits last year of over five billion dollars.

The 450 locked out employees naturally protested in anger and found plenty of outside support. The lockout brought upon the biggest protest in London’s history; company personnel alongside the people of London, other union chapters and politicians all voiced their opinion denouncing the lockout, all but the most important voice that is, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper used Electro-Motive as a backdrop in 2008 to promote big tax breaks and incentives for industrial capital investments, he even gave the company a five million dollar tax cut before Caterpillar took over. A clear blow to the Conservative myth that corporate tax cuts create jobs and that free trade will attract job-creating foreign investment.

Harper still refused to get involved in the labour dispute right up until the announced closing and impending move to Indiana, predictable given Harper’s staunch anti-union history. CAW President Ken Lewenza called the decision a “callous move,” and was extremely critical of Ottawa for failing to require that companies commit to Canadian jobs when making corporate takeovers.

Something is clearly wrong when a foreign corporation can swoop in and buy up Canadian companies, lay off their work force and move them at will, especially when the government has given them incentive to stay. “There were particular incentives and advantages offered to this company and the net result is that 450 jobs have been lost,” Liberal MP Ralph Goodale suggested.

No one in their right mind would consent to such a decrease in a person’s standard of living. It was clear Caterpillar wanted Electro-Motive to pack up and leave from the get go. Whether it is by coincidence or design, the move comes as Electro-Motive was set to host a job fair in Muncie, Indiana this past weekend.

Additionally, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill into law last week that effectively bans mandatory union membership. The starting wage for Indiana labourers is expected to be around $13/HR and thanks to the “Right to Work” bill, they’ll have far less bargaining power.

With all the talk throughout the 99% movement about the declining middle class in the last six months, I hope this blatant example of corporate greed continues to garner the attention of the press, politicians and everyday folk. The best thing we can do to honor the 450 people whose lives have been turned upside down and careers flushed down the toilet is to make sure it does not happen again.

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