The demonstrations, first against tuition prices and now against anti-assembly limits, have more in common with other protest movements than you might think.
When the Quebec student protests began in February over a
proposed tuition hike, it didn’t look much like, say, Occupy Wall Street, or
especially not like the Arab Spring. It still mostly doesn’t — no one thinks
Canadian tanks will be flooding the streets anytime soon — but it has taken an
unusual turn since the Quebec National Assembly passed an emergency law in May
to limit public assembly. Bill 78 sparked more
and much larger protests, with the issues now bigger than just the price of
education. So, put aside for a moment the myriad and important differences
between Quebec’s protest movement and Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring,
and consider these thematic similarities in the events:
- The government oversteps
with an abusive action or announcement of an offensive policy.
- Young people begin
protesting to decry the injustice and start a larger
debate about the legitimacy of the government, and its habit of doing
favors for the rich and established at the expense of the young and poor.
- The government cracks down
on protestors, spurring criticisms of illegally crushing free speech.
- Instead of quelling the
dissent, the attempts to shut down protests helps expand
them, contributing to a nationwide conversation about people’s shared
distrust of failing institutions.
This is Le Printemps Erable, or the Maple
Spring as some call it, one of the largest social movements to hit Quebec in
decades. But, in the most general terms, this pattern could describe many popular
movements of the past three years: the Green Revolution of Iran, the Arab
Spring, Occupy Wall Street. (Though on wildly different scales — Canada, of
course, enjoys a stable democracy rather than a military dictatorship or a
theocracy, and its relatively modest finance sector has suffered no
Lehman-style disasters.) Every time we think a protest movement has dissipated,
something like it reappears in another section of the world, spurred by similar
themes and resulting in a similar dance