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By Diane Kalen-Sukra.
Months after the student protests against tuition hikes began in Quebec, many folks in English Canada continue to scratch their heads at how resistance from a group of disparate student unions over a dozen campuses could spark the largest and most sustained citizen's revolt in Canadian history, a veritable “red square” revolution with the potential to topple the provincial government.
The English-corporate media outside of Quebec hasn't helped. They've characterized the students as spoiled, selfish and prone to violence as well as out of touch with “fiscal realities”.
But the students' core messages are getting out via social media and resonating with a political awakening taking place among people everywhere – namely, the rejection of a broken system that enslaves its population, even its youth, with debt; abandons them into a jobless economy; then uses all means, including state violence to enforce public subservience to corporate and banker interests over the public interest.
DEBT SLAVES OF THE WORLD UNITE! B.Y.O.P. (Bring Your Own Pot/Pan)
Overcoming any remnants of historical prejudices and divisions between Quebec and English Canada, Canadians are responding to the call, “building links of love and solidarity with pots and pans”.
A solidarity protest hastily organized on Facebook by Casseroles Canada for May 30 th turned out thousands of pot-banging supporters in dozens of cities across the country (video) including spirited rallies in New York and UK with more protests planned for next week.
It seems to be finally sinking in, that we've all been had. No matter where you look, no matter how rich your nation's resources or how vast its land, most people, municipalities, regions, states/provinces, and nations are in debt.
No matter how many jobs you hold, no matter how hard you work, no matter what your education level or that of your parents, so long as you are part of the 99%, you're destined to a life of debt slavery and the associated shame and subservience that comes with it.
Your parents can pay taxes for their entire lives, yet it's not enough to cover your “unproductive years” pursuing “higher education”. You can hustle from job to job and pay taxes, yet it will still not be enough to sustain basic public infrastructure and services vital for the well-being of your family and community, let alone pay off your student loan.
It's no accident that bankruptcy laws have been systematically tightened everywhere – not for the banks, we bail them out; not for the corporations, they walk away; but for ordinary folks.
But what about personal responsibility, you say? Absolutely. We have failed in our personal responsibility to counter the business-propaganda that promotes consumerism as a form of patriotism or worse, self-healing.
We have failed in our responsibility to counter the banker-propaganda that inculcates us early on that debt is an investment, or a manageable life-style, something you “learn to live with”, that there is good-debt versus bad-debt.
Our churches have failed to warn their congregations, happy to see well-dressed families nicely snuggled in highly mortgaged homes, when the Bible unequivocal states: Just as the rich rule the poor, so the borrower is servant to the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)
Our trade unions and community organizations as well as left-leaning electoral parties have similarly failed to educate the people on the dangers of debt, buying into the argument that best-maintained the status-quo for too long -- that a certain amount of debt is healthy, even good for the economy, that all 'conservative' concerns with debt are nothing but a ploy to limit personal freedom or cut public services. Keep raising that debt-ceiling as long as the money keeps rolling.
And everywhere our politicians have ignored the lessons of history, such as the warning of Canada's 10th Prime Minster Mackenzie King not to privatize our banks because: “Once a nation parts with the control of its credit, it matters not who makes the laws.” Or the warning of U.S. founding father Thomas Jefferson that “banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies...[if allowed to control the currency] the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent.”
Today's politicians honour these bankers and put them in charge of our economies. Our largest province, Ontario, this year appointed banker Don Drummond to head up a commission to reform “the way government works”, decide how many billions in public services ought to be cut and which services the people can do without.
The Canadian government and mainstream media worship at the altar of Goldman Sachs-man and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney, apparently learning nothing from our idolatrous following of the great Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan who puppeteered the world economy into collapse, only to shrug off his “boo-boo” as a simple underestimation of the nature of human greed.
When are we going to see that inviting bankers to run our economies is like welcoming the folks who plundered your town to come in and ‘restore order’ while still collecting the booty?
U.S. state governors are being granted powers to hire “emergency financial managers” to take over communities, fire democratically-elected councils, school and park boards and turn those communities over to corporations to “efficiently” operate and/or sell off for private profit – ignoring the real problem of chronic unemployment and the inhumane placement of the collection of odious debt over human suffering.
Even the birthplace of democracy, Greece, before the recent elections had an EU banker put in charge of its highest office to ram through the economy-crashing, suicide-causing austerity measures that now threaten to bankrupt the country, while their public assets, utilities, coastal and tourist areas are being sold off to colluding corporations. Whatever happened to government of, for and by the people?
What kind of a nation enslaves its young? Our nations. On top of “their share” of the national debt, Canadian students owe $20 billion in student loans and U.S. students owe over $1 trillion – debt owed at interest rates well above prime, apparently due to their “high-risk” status (since everybody knows there aren't enough jobs for these students to graduate into).
Further enforcing this slavery, the Canadian conservative federal government has introduced legislation to make it obligatory that job-seekers take “any job”, regardless of skill level, pay- level and location or risk being cut-off of the measly benefits the unemployed receive for their mostly blameless suffering. Simultaneously they’re radically speeding up the assembly line that carts temporary foreign workers into the country, adding to Canada’s half-a-million strong pool of cheap foreign labour.
And what of banker responsibility? Why are they allowed to lend money that they don’t have and charge compounded interest for it? In Canada, this interest amounts to $60 billion a year – enough to pay for free education for all as well needed water and waste water infrastructure upgrades for the next century.
Who is holding the bankers accountable? No one. Quebec students and supporters are locked up, Occupy protesters everywhere are herded and jailed and not a single bankster in North America has been held to account. The bill for the extra-policing is, of course, borne by all of us.
DRAWING A LINE IN THE SAND: EDUCATION FOR ALL
There are several things the student unions did right. Most significantly, they finally made real the old labour promise of “drawing a line in the sand”.
For the past quarter century that line has been more fluid than shifting sands. Take away our pay and the line moves back. Take away our pensions and the line moves further back. Take away our jobs and it disappears altogether as it did for the Caterpillar (EMD) workers in London, Ontario this year that despite running a profitable plant were given the ultimatum to slash their wages in half or lose their jobs. Needless to say, they lost their jobs.
These young Quebecois students and their unions have responded differently. Their example is a gold mine of lessons for the labour movement that has for years held uninspiring workshops and brainstorming sessions on how to counter member-apathy and build a social movement.
Rather than seeking to consolidate power, these many small student unions through direct democracy distribute it widely, calling for solidarity and unleashing the creativity, diversity and power of their membership.
Rather than fear mobilization and civil disobedience, they embrace it, winning public support through public protest.
Rather than waiting for the dominant social democratic electoral party (NDP) to support them, the students bang-on regardless of the party's unbelievable silence.
Rather than do ‘everything-but’ confront power, Quebec's “red square” revolutionaries went right for it – the government, the banks and the corporations – holding protests against the very system that enslaves them and all of us.
Quebec's students have set an example of the kind of mobilization it will take to defend our public services, our civil liberties and democracy. Now let's do our part.
Let's grab our pots and pans, acknowledge we are all Quebecois, and bang until we are sure that our children will not “wake-up homeless on the continent.”
Diane Kalen-Sukra is a veteran communications professional, community and labour activist. Over the past 20 years, she has coordinated and led countless successful campaigns, most recently, the Water Watch Mission-Abbotsford campaign which defeated the largest proposed water privatization scheme in Canada's water sector.
Join Diane on Facebook. Follow her @dianekalensukra