The Quebec Student Movement: Tactics & Violence
Students and supporters in Quebec continue to fight for the right to accessible education after three months of striking. The Liberal government in Quebec wishes to raise tuition by over 75 per cent over the next five years. Students and supporters have been fighting Premier Jean Charest's austerity measures, as they will decrease the accessibility of education in Quebec by making it more expensive. Just after Quebec's Liberal government announced on Wednesday, May 16 that it will be introducing a 'special law' in an attempt to end pickets – essentially dissolving students' right to strike – students and supporters took to the streets, some of whom were arrested after smashing windows.
Charest says that the student movement had gone too far, even saying that the special law is needed because the strike is 'illegitimate'. All across the nation, the media have been condemning acts of 'student violence'. First of all, let's get the terms straight. Smashing windows and writing graffiti on walls is not violence, that's vandalism. Throwing back canisters of tear gas is also not violence, that's self-defence. Violence, however, is when the police shoot rubber bullets and stun grenades at students' heads, causing one student to lose an eye, one student's jaw to be shattered, and another to spend the night in a coma, all of which occurred during a protest in Sherbrooke. Violence is directed against people. Violence cannot be directed at inanimate objects.
Vandalism should not be met with outright violence by the police. It should also be clear that vandalism is adopted as a tactic by protesters, and is not (typically) mayhem for the sake of mayhem. The fact that the destruction of inanimate objects is met with such brutality just goes to show the extent of the perversity of Western values, that is: private property over individual safety; capital over life. Instead of questioning the tactics of protesters, we should instead be questioning the tactics of the police – the ones using the weapons.
David Graeber, one of the minds behind Occupy Wall Street, wrote this in an article on the topic of black bloc tactics: 'I remember my surprise and amusement, the first time I met activists from the April 6 Youth Movement from Egypt, when the issue of non-violence came up. "Of course we were non-violent," said one of the original organizers, a young man of liberal politics who actually worked at a bank. "No one ever used firearms, or anything like that. We never did anything more militant than throwing rocks!"'
The media have pitted themselves against student protesters by calling them 'radical' and 'violent'. As students continue their struggle in Quebec, and as their actions become more and more 'radical', we can expect the media to continue their campaign of confusing the issues. It is important that we recognize how these issues are being confused, and before we criticize the tactics of students we must first take an honest look at the violence enacted by the police, and perpetrated by a government and media which discourage dialogue by labeling non-violent protesters as violent radicals. Movements have enough trouble fighting governments and police forces without dividing themselves over the tactics their peers are using.
*Photo by Stephanie Paquet