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Isabelle Porter & Lisa-Marie Gervais August 25 2012
“The street must have representation”
Photo Caption: “The movement is taking a new direction to prevent the election of the Liberal Party or the one led by François Legault”, says sociologist Jacques Hamel. (photo credit Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir)
Judging by the demonstrators’ enthusiasm August 22, you would think you were back in the peak of the “Printemps Érable”. Just as dedicated as they were in the first days of March, students and sympathizers walked with a renewed fervor during the present election campaign. However, casseroles concerts are becoming a rare sight, only a handful of marchers keep the nightly demonstrations going and the great majority of students chose to return to classes. Is the movement dead?
“A movement is not a strike. It’s not a demonstration. It’s men and women, citizens, who get involved, who express themselves, who oppose a decision that was taken, regardless of the mode of expression they choose. It doesn’t matter if it’s by voting in a general assembly to go out on strike, taking part in a demonstration on the 22nd, writing an open letter in a newspaper or even simply talking about it with family and wearing a red square. That’s a movement”, argues Éliane Laberge, President of the Québec College Student Federation [Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ)]. “There are still plenty of students against the hike. They have simply decided to use another approach, in this case the truce before they go to vote on September 4. We respect that.”
Martine Desjardins, President of the Québec Federation of University Students [Fédération étudiante universitaire (FEUQ)], admits that the mobilization is less “explosive”. “The mobilization has undergone a transformation. It is more underground, less explosive than the nightly demonstrations, but we go door to door every evening in neighbourhoods. Maybe it doesn’t make for good media clips, but it helps get our message out”, says Mrs. Desjardins, noting that her federation like that of the colleges has been very active in conducting a campaign across the province, from Abitibi down to the lower St. Lawrence.
That too is a strategy, she points out. “It’s important to change the mobilization during the electoral campaign and to adapt to the situation”, says Mrs. Desjardins. According to her, that’s because any disturbance or street demonstration diverts the campaign from the real issues and helps the Liberals. The fact that the “street” is quiet removes one of Jean Charest’s hot buttons, says Mrs. Desjardins, ironically picking up one of the Liberal leader’s talking points.
Toward a politicized mobilization
For sociologist Jacques Hamel, professor at Université de Montréal and specialist in youth issues, the movement has undoubtedly become politicized. “I see young people talking about effective and strategic voting, for example, to not split the vote and hurt [PQ leader] Pauline Marois’s chance to win”, he notes. “The movement is taking a new direction to prevent the election of the Liberal Party or the one led by François Legault, and that is to organize by means of social networks. Students get around Bill 78 in many ways. It’s no longer a matter of blocking the entrances, but rather to focus on the vote. It might have a greater reach”, he explains.
There has been a change in those young people who took an active part in the mobilization against the tuition fee hike, and even in those who stood by as spectators. “Students tell me about the debates, they followed them, they comment on them and seem to be familiar with the platforms of the political parties. I feel that for the first time, we are seeing a greater interest in politics. Maybe it’s because they see it’s in their interest and they realize that it’s possible for a government to act against them.”
This should sweep aside the observation, an almost worn out cliché, that young people are apathetic toward politics. “We have the impression that youth was more militant in the Sixties. But over the years, there are always about 10% of youth who are active in political parties, for example in the youth wings”, notes the sociologist.
If the mobilization has left the public scene, it’s because it has moved to the small parties, believes Valérie Guilloteau, candidate in Lévis for Québec Solidaire (QS). “I have them in my campaign office and they are going door to door”, says this philosophy professor at CEGEP de Limoilou and a member of the Profs Against the Hike collective [Profs contre la hausse].
These days, several of her students volunteer their time on her campaign. “There are plenty helping me. Often, this is the first time these young people get involved in a party”. She notes a keen interest not just in QS, but for all the new parties. “People need a renewal, a change. I think that the breakthrough of small political parties is also an outcome of the springtime movement.
After September 4th?
The day after the election, instead of going back to the streets, the mobilization might go elsewhere, thinks Mrs. Guilloteau. She draws a parallel with the Summit of the Americas, “a great mobilizing moment” for her generation. After the Summit, there was no shortage of recruits to many organizations. “We could see them in community groups, environmental groups, community radio programs, literacy groups…”.
For actor Catherine Dorion, actor and young candidate for Option Nationale in the Taschereau riding, the strength of the student movement could be inversely proportional to the importance of small parties and new ideas in the National Assembly. “Imagine the very hypothetical scenario of a Québec Solidaire majority. There would certainly be less interest in marching in the streets”.
Two scenarios are possible after E-day. “Either the streets join the political process and change it from inside, or they see that there’s no change and formulate another strategy outside established channels. […] However the streets must be represented.”
Having seen the strength of the movement at its height in the spring, sociologist Jacques Hamel feels that the struggle is not over. “Count on them to remind politicians of their promises, they will be vigilant”, he says. However the good news according to him is the near certain spectacular jump in the youth vote.
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 email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.