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Denis Saint-Martin – Professor, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal
June 8, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/351949/la-politique-contestataire
Caption: MNA Amir Khadir comments on his daughter’s arrest by Montreal Police.
The arrests of MNA Amir Khadir and his daughter cogently illustrate a new brand of political activism that is more oppositional and led by social movements in connection with Québec Solidaire (QS); Khadir acts as a spokesperson for the party at the level of State institutions.
Khadir is not just the Plateau’s MNA. He is the chief lobbyist of the civil society organized at the National Assembly. QS is a federation of social movements born out of unions, the third sector, feminism, the environment, and the fight against poverty. At the National Assembly, the social movement initiated by students last spring unexpectedly found in Khadir an ally working within the political system.
This brand of oppositional institutionalization is not likely to pose a threat to the authorities or social stability. It does, however, make itself known. It also makes a difference, politically. With a deputy from QS in Parliament, students are represented by one of their own in the institutions.
As far as politics and power relationships go, Khadir negotiates just as much, if not more than student representatives who visited the ministers’ offices over the past few weeks. All in all, the party system that made it possible for the QS representative to get elected gives civil society social movements a louder and more unified political voice at the institutional level.
The advent of a more radical brand of political activism disrupts the established institutional order. Oppositional social movements expand the boundaries of what is known in democracy as legitimate political actions accepted by society. So when does a political action based on a rights issue become violent?
This is the challenging question that the student movement has been inviting us to reflect upon over the last few months. A democratic society shouldn’t leave the task of defining the legitimacy of political opposition up to its police force.
As part of this definition exercise, it is useless to oppose the legitimacy of political street action against parliamentary democracy, as Premier Jean Charest too often does in his remarks about the student strike.
Students who take to the streets in protest are also exercising democracy. Citizens should not be forced to choose between institutional democracy and the street. In practice, these two forms of democratic expression complement each other much more than they contradict each other theoretically.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
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