A Change of Tactics

The very definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result.

It’s high-time the student leaders of Québec recognized this fundamental truth.

We’re almost into the third month of 2012’s Maple Spring and nothing has changed, other than public sentiment towards the striking student protesters. To say nothing of the rest of Canada, where the vitriol often reaches into the depths of anti-Francophone racism and hysteria. But one thing at a time, we’ll deal with our federal PR ratings later on.

The talks have broken off because the largest, or at least most visible, most provocative organization CLASSE, was not recognized by the education minister. Bad move on her part. It’s not just that the protest is now a 24-hour kind of affair, but it happens in multiple locations too. It is all-encompassing, and includes a general population of the disenchanted and disenfranchised.

But the violence which has characterized almost every major demonstration, largely as a result of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the SPVM, in addition to the disruptions to traffic and transit, the lost revenues and the bad morale, bad blood, is all starting to pile up like so much unwanted garbage. Because neither the apparent ‘leaders’ in government, nor the legitimate student protest movement, can accomplish anything as long as both sides dig in their heels, the city as a whole suffers. As Charest fails to act, opposition to him will manifest itself in multiple ways. Already, fringe extremist elements have indeed infiltrated the student movement, inasmuch as those generally displeased with the current provincial government, or separatists, or trade-unionists. I sometimes wonder how politically savvy Charest really is, as his inattention and ill-advised stance seems to making a bad problem worse.

Yet, when it comes to the inevitable provincial election, it will not be the students playing king-maker – students don’t generally pull themselves together to get out the vote (and by that I mean actively engage themselves in making sure others vote, and not just exercising their own limited franchise individually). Thus, the decision will be made by a small majority of primarily middle-class and middle-aged Québecois, as it is and seems always to have been. And they support Charest. Some of them are ‘happy’ the police are ‘kicking ass’.

And it’s the police which ultimately wins out. The estimated $3 million in extra costs associated with the student demos will be paid – I can guarantee it – by the tax-payers. These are primarily the same people who will determine who wins the next election. They want well paid cops, and they see police in riot gear as money well spent. There’s every reason for the SPVM to encourage additional violence, additional rioting – it makes sure they get paid, and that’s the bottom line.

So the student movement is going to have to consider some alternative actions if they have any hope of reaching out to this key demographic and effecting a change. But what could they do?

For one, they could exercise far stricter control of rallies, marches and the like. And I mean Malcolm X, early-1960s Nation of Islam in Harlem styled discipline. Perfect manners, a ‘uniform’ of individuals’ Sunday best, rank and file marching etc. It will shock and awe if only for its sheer novelty, and will convey a crucial message: we mean business. Imagine if the striking students wore business attire or their closest approximation – it would be very hard to distinguish ‘dirty hippies’ from ‘respectable citizens’ and it would win hearts and minds too.

For two, information. The most crucial part of any mass public protest is communications, and this student movement sucks at broadcasting the message. The argument is that the mainstream media won’t listen or will manipulate the message is a lazy cop-out, frankly. What’s ironic is that the movement has excellently employed the use of modern mass communications tools to organize their demos, but hasn’t done much to actually reach the public, present a clear and concise case, and win-over public sentiment. I suggest going old-school, really old-school. Hand out pamphlets, newsletters, flyers. Post bills. Build websites and centralize the voice of the movement around it’s most eloquent spokespeople. Again, exercise strict discipline in how and who disseminates the message, but do everything you can to ensure the progressive point of view is ubiquitous and understood by any interested citizen (and remember as well – the majority does not have a university or college education, and the establishment went to school so long ago we have almost nothing in common with them). Yes, this will cost a small amount of money – the leaders, many of who are paid union members, can use their salaries to pay the printing and hosting costs, or else a collection should go around.

And be consistent. Is this not the iPhone generation? A generation of tech-savvy communications specialists hooked up (in most cases since birth) to the greatest self-expression machine of all time? So why is it so hard to get a consistent, clear and concise message across to the general public?

Stop fucking up the transit and traffic system – it’s bad enough as it is. Either get a full police escort for the march and inform people of the route, or don’t do it at all, because it’s pissing people off unnecessarily. I don’t think the smoke-bombers are anything more than wannabe anarchist poseurs, perhaps mere vandals, but either way, attacking the public transit system is just idiotic. We want people using the Métro – remember we still need to save the planet on top of figuring a way out of the tuition increase, right?

It’s time to change the tactics. It’s time the student movement takes a close look at the popular revolutions which have actually succeeded long-term and forget about the populist, and fundamentally lazy and self-destructive methods used up until this point.

If it’s not working today, why expect it to work tomorrow?

It’s time to build a student society – real connection through hard-work, altruism and cooperation. Let our generation turn the tide by doing things differently, and forget the methods which have failed so broadly.

Ultimately, ask not what the movement, our government or our society can do for you, but what you can do for your society – today but most importantly, for tomorrow as well.