Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

U.S. protesters can learn lessons from Quebec student protesters

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I covered the NATO protests in Chicago with an eye to what was going on in Montréal. The MSM has its way of delegitimizing protesters, whether they be against the Iraq War or NATO or the Afghanistan War or any other action that has fallen into the status quo. The local coverage in Chicago was particular nauseating since journalists went out of their way to critique their signs and how they didn’t conform to the same message.

The fact that the signs were against action taken by NATO, current and future, and that taxpayer money going to war could be better spent on domestic problems — all that escaped the mindset on the TV screen.

Such trivial nonsense wasn’t found in the ongoing coverage of the student protesters in Montréal. The coverage, in English, at least was mostly shallow and worried more about how the protesters upset tourists and summer highlights, including the Canadian Grand Prix, the Montréal Comedy Festival, and the Montréal Jazz Festival.

As for the French coverage, from what I have been told, the slant depended on which source you read. But they didn’t belittle the protesters for “inconsistencies.”

Can American protesters learn lessons from the student protesters in Montréal? Absolutely. Even if American protesters follow every lesson, will the MSM give their cries the same legitimacy as it treated the teabaggers? No. But the coverage of U.S. protesters will improve because much of the ammunition against them will be detonated.

Uniformity of message: The student protesters were chanting the same thing. The rhythm of wooden spoons hitting pots snd pans was catchy and I heard it long after they weren’t around. Not that the teabaggers had consistency, but the MSM usually loves consistency in a message.

Age diversification: When the protesters were mostly students, the cries were that they were young, or spoiled, or didn’t understand the world. When the Quebec government passed Bill 78, making it more difficult for students (or anyone) to protest, people outside the student realm started marching along with the students. Having people of different ages march together shouldn’t give a protest more legitimacy, but the media coverage did soften.

Keep the protest going: NATO had a limited shelf life of 4 days, counting the G8 summit that was supposed to be in Chicago. When you have a limited amount of time, you have to cram in more than you should. And Chicago pressured businesses to keep their employees out of the Loop on Friday and Monday. The student protesters in Montréal have been going longer than 100 days with a consistent message.

Incorporate symbolism in your protest gestures: I heard the terms “le casserole” and the banging of the pots and pans, but didn’t understand the symbolism. Fortunately, I had bilingual people explain this to me during my stay in Montréal, so hopefully this won’t get lost in translation.

Loi is French for law; l’oie is French for goose. The pots and pans are to cook the special goose — the special law. Le casserole is French for saucepan, though that might have been obvious.

Give people a chance to support you without protesting: Too often, we hear the MSM cries implying that only those people out in a protest care about the issue. In Montréal, people wore the carre rouge — red square — to support the protesters. Often, those who were protesting at night wore them during the day. But the streets were filled with people wearing the carre rouge who weren’t visibly protesting.

I saw a tall guy with a Army buzzcut in a 3-piece suit riding one of the rented bikes you see throughout Montréal through a street in the Little Italy neighborhood, and he was wearing a red square of support. I couldn’t react fast enough to take a picture nor to ask him about it.

I was told some people wore green squares (against the protesters) and white squares (neutral in the debate). For what it was worth, I didn’t see a green square or a white square in my 6 days in Quebec’s largest city. But when you can get people against you and for you to wear a symbol of support, you have passion in a movement that has been missing on the American side of the border.

The good news for the students is that government was willing to listen and make change. Early on, the Jean Charest government (province of Quebec) changed its stance to spread out the tuition increase from 5 years to 7 years. The students have had enough power to get more done, but negotiations haven’t gone well. The problem, and this isn’t the students’ fault, is that the fight is about the tuition hikes AND Bill 78. The special law is only temporary, and hasn’t been fully implemented (in part because the police weren’t sure how to do so, and it became virtually impossible to enforce).

At some point to any protest, both sides need a conclusion they can live with. Bill 78 could easily die if the students stop protesting, but the students won’t stop protesting until Bill 78 is removed. As for the tuition hikes, the hikes might go through with a lot more concessions from the Charest government. When protests go on for too long, public support can easily slip. The parties involved don’t always know when is the best time. In this case, thanks to the students’ consistency and passion, they have more power than those who have protested on the American side of the border. The question is how will the students use that power to get concessions. That is a lesson we are still learning.

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