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Réjean Bergeron, Philosophy Professor July 11 2012
Original French text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/354280/carre-rouge-maintenant-on-fait-quoi
A protester is given a tattoo of a red square, the symbol of the student mobilization.
The Charest government will probably call an election in Quebec this August. This has everything to do with distracting people from the province’s pitiful state of affairs and disguising the smell of scandal, and Charest would certainly like to spend a good part of the electoral campaign talking about the student conflict and the red square, which he has set about associating with law-breaking, violence, disorder, mob rule, Pauline Marois, and the Parti Quebecois.
His political calculations are giving him reason to consider a spring election. In spite of the casserole protests and massive protests attended by many tens of thousands of people, the government has not budged and has even won sympathy from a subset of the population, according to surveys.
So, what strategy will the student associations adopt when classes resume in mid-August? Will they repeat the same tactics of blocking entry to CEGEPs and universities, and head back out into the streets with law 78 still in place? This is, in my opinion, a risky strategy that would let the Charest government score points in public opinion and boost its changes of being re-elected.
The protest movement must think strategically and show itself to be smarter than its adversary. Red squares, indignation, casseroles and demonstrations are marvellous symbols, but in real life they are not enough.
I know many protesters dislike politics, preferring to remain distant, draped in the flag of virtue and principles. But principles don’t change the world if they are not translated into action via existing institutions, even if the goal is to change those institutions. This is why the protest movement must ride the political animal. It must come onto the political scene like a Trojan horse, to change things from within.
Thus, if student associations don’t want to be left behind, they need to assure themselves, and fast, that every student is on the voter list and will go to vote. This could be systematically done in educational establishments, following the list of electors. This is especially important for young people having their first experiences as voters.
Next, before the election, voters must pragmatically and strategically analyse the strength of each candidate in a riding so as to make sure that vote-splitting does not let the unwanted candidate slip back into first place.
Students and student associations also have to do what they know how to do very well: they have to use social media to communicate, inform, and mobilise, and they have to do this in smart and innovative ways. By maximizing their networks, I am convinced that students can greatly increase their effectiveness.
And, do you know what? Students could concretely get involved with the political associations in their ridings, contributing to the task at hand, donating their time, to get a candidate elected who will represent their values. In the end, this would doubtless have the effect of bringing fresh blood, new ideas and new ways of doing business to these too-often stagnant electoral machines.
Many people have spoken highly of how the student movement has educated and informed people about the issues during the last few months. By mobilising and agitating in support of a social cause, thousands of students came together to debate and defend their civic values. This is far from the popular image of egotistical, spoiled, self-centered children that has been fed to us for a decade.
Don’t kid yourself: far beyond the issue of tuition fees — that all young people oppose — is the issue of what kind of society we want, what we want to be, and how we want to think. This is why it would be sad if this movement, which is bringing in the future, were to be squashed. It’s just that, to get results, I firmly believe that students must now play the game that is played in our political and democratic institutions if they want to change the world that, after all, is going to be their tomorrow.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.