An American student gives his impressions of the student struggles in Montreal
I arrived at Cegep Marie-Victorin on Monday at 8AM to find a group of 20 or so red clad college students standing outside the main building cheerfully killing time. The students at Marie-Victorin were going to vote at 10 AM on whether or not to continue their 6 month strike, and student strike supporters were showing up as early as possible to flier and try and talk to Marie-Victorin students about the upcoming vote. It was 8AM on a Sunday morning but everyone was in high spirits. Our numbers soon grew to around 35 and I was amazed that so many people had shown up so early on a Sunday to flier and discuss politics with people. Back in the States no college student would be anywhere except bed at 8AM on a Sunday unless they were convinced that there was some sort of considerable personal gain involved in leaving their room.
By 10AM there were a good 50 of us and the students from Marie-Victorin started arriving en masse. Marie-Victorin has only 4,000 students and the vote was a completely optional affair but thousands were turning out for it and forming lines for ballots that spilled out into the adjacent street. The atmosphere was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. Marie-Victorin is a Cegep, meaning that it is a university for 17 to 20 year olds. Yet, when these young students were approached by people who had been relentlessly defamed and slandered by the local corporate news they seemed to be nothing but friendly. Furthermore, strike supporters were in some places clearly obstructing the sidewalk and were playing loud music to give the scene a festival like atmosphere. Similar activity on my campus would result in serious disciplinary actions and possibly beatings and arrests of those who played music and obstructed the sidewalk without the express consent of the school administration. And all of this for a vote! C’est incredible!
After receiving ballots, students at Marie-Victorin went into a general assembly which lasted for hours. At the assembly, students who spoke up almost all announced their support for the strike, but to the dismay of the strike supporters when it came time to vote the power of the state and corporate media reared its ugly head; the final vote tally was 900 against to 500 in favor. At the other schools the news was just as disheartening; of the six Cegeps that had voted in the past two days on the strike question, just one had voted in favor.
The organizers were disheartened, but I was shocked and inspired. At many of these Cegeps students had been striking for months, missing entire semesters and disrupting the classes of those who tried to scab. Hundreds of students at each of these Cegeps very strongly supported the strike and were so dismayed by the defeat of the strike votes that they were considering dropping out of school. I do not think that the organizers of QPIRG fully grasp just how remarkable this feat is. I came from a High School of 1,500 students and not one of them had the slightest conception of what it means to think in a mature and productive manner about politics. And here were hundreds, no, thousands of 17-20 year old students who thought so much of the strike, despite everything they’d heard, despite all of the lies and vicious propaganda waged against it. I have been to Amsterdam, Tokyo, Beijing, Cairo, Seoul, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. But the level of political consciousness in Montréal was completely unlike anything I’d ever witnessed.
After the day’s defeats a thousand people turned out for the night march. The march included loud chants and a jovial atmosphere. Bank windows were smashed and political posters torn down. And it was all business as usual.