Sunday, May 27, 2012
Reports are the casserole protests continued tonight. Thousands marching up St-Laurent Blvd earlier this fine evening. Good for them. "That's the spirit," as my eight-year-old son likes to say.
this particular student-led movement. It really left a bad taste in my mouth every time I heard about "striking" students thwarting others from attending classes. And like many others I spoke with, "strike" (or its french equivalent, "grève", rhymes with Bev) seemed a misnomer. If anything, these guys were boycotting their classes, or at the very least, "protesting". But calling it a strike seemed disingenuous.
I am however, a tolerant Canadian, so I did not quibble with them throwing bricks on subway tracks to get attention when the hardline Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest refused to even meet with them and hear their grievances. It was not very becoming of Charest, but then again, he is a pompous ass, and when you knowingly elect a pompous ass, you have to expect to live with that devil you knew and know. He was, after all, merely a young pup when learning the tricks of the trade within Mulroney's cabinet.
But once he had had enough of these unwavering protesters, his pomposity grew to such outbound proportions with his Bill 78 that I knew in a heartbeat that rather than making a Swift, Decisive, Strong Leader decision, he had instead impetuously shat the provincial bed.
I look on it now as my Grinch moment. It awakened me.
There I was, hand cocked to ear, sitting atop Mount Crumpet with all the self-righteousness of the many people like me, feeling unlawfully hindered from wending our little ways through the workings of life to get to our woefully underpaid jobs. I was fully (gosh, naively) expecting to hear the mea culpas from CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and the others. And like all those who'd poo-pooed the movement and quietly categorized them as uber-brats, I had expected them to back down and accept that they were about to be firmly screwed again. The way I got screwed. The way we all have been getting screwed by the untenable but nonetheless well-embraced mantra of neo-liberalism that doesn't know anything other than sucking every ounce of life from the 99.9% to feed the self-important point-0-one.
But this generation of students? Nuh-uh. They wouldn't - and won't - have any of it, even though Bill 78 meant these students had just had their whole semesters scuppered.
But just like the Whos in Whoville who had been robbed of all their worldly possessions, the "entitled" young buggers came right back out into the commons anyway. They came out in numbers much greater than what wept for Maurice Richard's passing, and they sang their protest song on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012. Over a hundred thousand people marched in bold defiance of a law that so obviously contravenes our utmost rights (bestowed by the people to those that rule us, remember, not the other way around), even the dimmest of voters could not help but see it.
We all heard them; me from the 8th floor office on de Maisonneuve Blvd where I earn subsistence wages for an American company that constantly insists none of us may take a sick day without later furnishing a Doctor's note, never mind that it's against Quebec law to ask for that for absences of less than three days.
I went down to the street on my break and watched the marchers head down Peel Street. They were joyously defiant. They had all the violence of a John Lennon or Ghandi.
They were on the right side of history, I figured.
For what I had heretofore failed to see was that the tuition increase wasn't all they were protesting. The increase, or "Hausse" was more like the straw that broke the camel's back - the camel that the mass media was always looking beyond because it figured nobody cared so much about camels as about Kardashians. And if it's sad that they are right in that assumption, it's also true that they had a big hand in making it so.
I guess I didn't relate because my own experience in university was that tuition kept going up each year, but my parents (what foresight!) had been saving for me and my sister since we were tots to make sure we had money to get a degree. And they had expected it to be a lot more expensive than it turned out to be.
My first year at Concordia University was also the last year of a long-standing tuition fee freeze (1988), and my contract for a full year's study, including extra administrative costs, was all of $750. After that, there was books and living expenses of course. And I did my bit. I toiled unrewarded as a volunteer student journalist; I paid my way and switched to studying part-time once the $350-a-year increases kicked-in in 1989, working minimum wage at McDonald's - a real Flaherty job if ever there was one.
Since graduation, I have found the market for my writing, my reporting, indeed the sum of my skills learned within the two departments of Journalism and Communications, to be drier than a James Bond martini. The jobs just haven't been there, and when they were, I jumped at them, only to find myself jammed-up with numerous others, like the hammers of an old manual typewriter all struck at once, with none eventually hitting the ribbon, but left with no recourse save full retreat.
I am 43 years old, with two dependants and an ex-wife. I had to start over last year, grateful as hell to find employment that provides good family benefits and a measure of security (not maternity-leave replacement or fixed-term contract work, but permanent, full-time with vacation), despite the fact it pays less than I made twelve years ago as a McDonald's manager.
So if the greater message is that this society is just not providing opportunity for the average Joe and Josephine, yeah, I get it.
And as someone who is squarely in the red, living in a tiny apartment with no money to go on vacations and unable to set aside anything for my kids' education, let alone my own retirement (which I imagine won't come before I am 70, if not 67 - unlike the tsk-tsk-ing well-heeled Boomer generation that is so disgusted by all this protesting), you bet I get it. Even Arcade Fire and Mick Jagger get it.
So I am with you. Sorry I wasn't listening earlier. That's what happens when you're working for the clampdown. I always loved that song. Now I've lived it.
Not the way I'd hoped.
*Photo: thanks, Aly Neumann!