Every evening this week at 8pm, we’ve taken saucepans and kitchen utensils onto the balcony and made a racket. Odd behaviour, I know, but we’re not alone. For twenty minutes each night, residents of Montreal make as much noise as possible. Those at home rattle their pans, motorists sound their horns, pedestrians cheer and shout and whistle. The symphony is heard across the city and everyone knows what it means.
Things are getting exciting here. As I type this, the apartment is filled with the sound of revolution: joyous pan-rattling from rooftops and balconies, shouting in the streets; urgent sirens and helicopters. Thousands take to the streets each night, waving red flags and chanting en Français.
It all started with campus-based student demonstrations opposing a $1,625 increase in tuition fees. But when the Quebec National Assembly attempted to quash the protests by initiating an emergency law called Bill 78 on May 18th, it somewhat fanned the flames.
It’s not just students anymore. The protest crowds and the saucepan-bangers are from all walks of life. People won’t tolerate such brutal top-down interference in what we’re allowed to do. Whether or not you disapprove of the fee increase, you probably feel that citizens have the right to peaceful protest.
On the street, people register their approval of the protests by wearing red squares of cloth pinned to their clothes. As the protests continue and the issues mature, more and more of these red patches appear. What was originally a student meme is now a mainstream gesture of mass objection. Statistics suggest that the majority of the public are not yet behind the protest (irritated as they are by the resulting traffic jams and metro closures) but the racket of the pans each night suggests that a large number of people support it.
A single street protest last weekend was apparently largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Tuition fees were the initial thrust of the protests, and residential disapproval of Bill 78 is a catalyst, but banners carried by the crowds suggest a wider dissatisfaction with the current government and capitalism at large. Many see the hiked tuition fees as symptomatic of the political corruption and gross financial mismanagement of the last few years. Since the 1960s, people have worked hard to guarantee a certain standard of public service and accessible education to help ensure a decent quality of life for all. It is a shame to let all of that disappear now.
Hundreds of thousands of street protesters marched past our Park Avenue apartment building last night, proudly flouting the demands of the emergency law. Hundreds will have been arrested.
Montreal’s mayor, says “we need to reclaim our streets” as if the protesters were a pesky minority and that he somehow stands with “us” against “them”. But the divide is not between miscreant protesters and right-thinking citizens. The divide is between residents and government.