STUDENT PROTESTS IN QUÉBEC: A NECESSARY ELEMENT OF INSTITUTIONALIZED DISSENT WITHIN DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY.
In a previous article, which I wrote in French as a possible Op-Ed piece for the French-language print media in our province, I essentially spoke out against the student protests in Québec. I’m still against them, but by the same token, I also have grown to have a better appreciation of how and why dissent is necessary in a democracy.
Essentially, the students are wrong, just as they probably were in the 1960s. Tuition HAS to go up. Everything is going up in price, including fuel, food and lodging, so it is inconceivable that the cost of a state-sponsored education shouldn’t go up either. After all, the workers in the publically-funded post-secondary education field are all mostly unionized and expect to get cost-of-living increases, and other salary adjustments indexed to inflation. So somebody has to pay for those things and many of the current crop of students will enter the publically-funded post-secondary field of education themselves as professors and administrators upon graduation, so they will want good salaries too.
They will eventually come to realize that the system needs to be properly financed, because, eventually, some of them will be making a living off of it and will realize that its sustainability impacts them directly in their pocketbook. But for the moment, these young wolves are very much being carried away by youthful ideological enthusiasm and passion, driven, surely by their elders in the universities and colleges themselves, as were their elders back in the 1960s when they were students and got egged on by the profs of their day.
But what’s important to acknowledge is that this generation of young people, whom many observers had written off as being a bunch of apathetic bourgeois milk toast types who didn’t care about anything except maybe their I phones or the latest video on You Tube, are proving to have an element within their ranks who’re more than willing to stand up and fight for their ideas and defend and promote them tooth and nail.
The whole idea of the red-coloured card as a symbol of resistance in this protest was expertly put forth when a young student protester was injured in the eye by a police stun grenade or tear gas canister and had to wear an eye patch. The red-coloured ‘patch’ then became the iconic symbol of the students, based on this one ‘sacrificial lamb’s’ run-in with the authorities. It always helps a protest movement to have a martyr of some sort. Just ask the Catholic Church. The martyrdom of Christians in the early years of the Church acted as an excellent PR tool for the leaders of the Church to build a world wide organization…
It doesn’t matter that the students are, as I mentioned earlier, essentially wrong in their demands that tuition be frozen or even worse, that post-secondary education be completely free, as some suggest, it’s the fact that there is some sort of credible ‘equal and opposite force’ being marshalled to counter the rising tide of neo-conservatively-inspired, and private-sector-driven policy options and outcomes in western society, which the public powers that be have chosen to embrace through their now increasingly formal and sometimes insidious links with private enterprise and their ever-more-omnipresent right wing think tanks.
Since the state no longer deigns to represent the people and its aspirations for justice and equality, then essentially, civil society organizations filled with radical youths and other sundry left-leaning ideologues are essentially the only viable alternative to balancing out the increasingly unequal balance of money, power, property and prestige in today’s post-modern world.
So, essentially, the students are still wrong, but they still have to fight to the end to prevent the worst case scenario from being imposed on our province’s post-secondary education system: A wholesale disengagement by the state and American-style universities with exorbitant tuition fees which will make a college or university education once again inaccessible to most Canadians.
So we’re in for a long haul. We’ll eventually get this thing settled, like most things in Québec, it’ll seem like it’s taking forever. Finally, when everybody is really fed up and it’s cost everybody too much money, both sides will compromise and a deal will be struck that everybody can live with. Until, of course it starts all over again the next time!
Don’t you just love how dissent works in a democracy? It doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong, it’s how you play the game!