Notes on the revolution… #ggi

For those who have been living under a rock, or in some country other than Canada, there’s kind of a revolution going on in Quebec right now, particularly in Montreal.  Readers’ Digest version: Students are protesting daily, and have been doing so for well over 100 days now.  The trigger was a 75% tuition increase, which inspired a student ‘strike’ (or perhaps more accurately described as a boycott), and has attracted the hashtag #ggi for grève générale illimitée (unlimited general strike).  The protests eventually attracted some violence from grève supporters, which in turn the police responded to with all sorts of violence on the entire movement.  Things continued to get out of hand, and the provincial government passed Loi 78 that severely limited the right to protest in Quebec.  Unsurprisingly, this made more people side with the students, and the movement has grown bigger and is starting to gain some support outside the province as well. The latest incarnation has been borrowed from South American protestors, the banging of pots and pans (“casseroles”) in one’s own neighbourhood, forming into a march organically rather than following organised strategies which are now essentially illegal in Quebec.  Tonight, there will be solidarity gatherings of casseroleux across Canada now dubbed “Casseroles Night in Canada.”  I’ll be attending in Vancouver and encourage others to do the same locally.

One thing has become clear to me, and many others, over the past few weeks of following these stories.  This isn’t just about tuition. This has become so popular because it’s bigger than that.  It’s about the world that the people born in the last three decades are being left with by our elders.  Our elders who, whether they intended to or not, have left us to pay the bill for their excesses.

These are our elders that promised us that if only we’d hand over tens of thousands of dollars of our own money (money that we didn’t have in the first place), we’d be paid back and then some with all that extra earning power we got as a result — but of course no one bothered to mention that the extra earning power would be chewed up by periods of unemployment, and competition from the ever-increasing population of university graduates in the workforce (which includes higher proportions of older people than ever before).

These are the same elders that developed amazing time-saving technologies and had jobs that paid them well to develop them.  These technologies promised that we’d all be able to produce more with less effort and we’d all live happier healthier lives.  Instead these technologies have made many entry-level jobs redundant and have left people of all generations working longer hours than before.  Meanwhile, unemployment rates, while not at their peak, are still unacceptably high – with rates varying drastically from region to region, such that many unemployed persons (including some of my own family members) are forced to travel long distances just to find work.  And now that the generations that benefited massively from the labour movements of the 20th century are close to retirement, union after union after union after union is being denied the ability to engage in meaningful collective bargaining.  We have pretty simply solutions for this, but no one wants to implement them because they cost money to train people – money employers are not willing to spend because it’s cheaper to work existing employees longer hours and more years.

These are also the elders that, faced with energy crises in the 70s and early 80s, had the opportunity to switch to renewable, sustainable, energy and chose not to.  They had many of the same options available to them 30 years ago as we do today, and we’re still not implementing any of them as quickly as is necessary.  This will leave our generations with a planet that is significantly diminished in its ability to produce the necessities of life – food, drinkable water, and safe shelter.  We’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change – and the amount of toxins left in our water and soils grows daily.  Proposals to build pipelines to continue to serve petroleum investors (and the very small handful of people who will get local jobs out of it) while further degrading the environment that our generations will have to use long after our elders are gone only worsen this situation.

Finally, these are the elders that, before any of us were old enough to cast votes (or in many cases, even born), made collective decision after collective decision to indebt our national governments in such a way that our generations will still be paying their financial debts after they’ve lived long healthy lives. And despite all this, our public infrastructure is literally crumbling across the country.  Quebec is one of the worst examples of this – in the last week alone a massive sinkhole appeared in the pavement shortly after a demonstration, and the city has been subject to flash flooding due mainly to an aging stormwater system.  Many of the decisions that led to a country with massive amounts of debt and massive infrastructure problems were at worst selfish or at best ignorant… and they call us entitled.

And then there’s decision-making.  On CBC’s At Issue Panel a couple weeks ago, Chantal Hébert commented: “What I find most troubling, frankly, has little to do with the debate over tuition fees, but rather this notion that has become apparent that for a sizable portion of these young people, change should come from the street and not the ballot box.”  This inspired me to ask on Twitter/facebook: “does democracy still work when entire generations are outnumbered?”

She goes on to reference the Arab spring and Occupy as sources of this notion. I’m troubled by this too, but not in the same way she is. Given the demographics of Canada at this point in history, our generations have very little ability to affect change at the ballot box. And when the most significant issues are ones that affect younger people, this compounds the problem. Our generations paid or are paying more in tuition, in both absolute and inflation-adjusted dollars, than our predecessors, and have lower relative employment rates. We’re being left with a planet that is unlikely to sustain our grandchildren. Things are getting worse, not better, and since the generations with the majority of the votes are the ones who benefitted and/or continue to benefit from this, there really is very little change that can be affected at the ballot box. Not to mention that our electoral system is flawed in such a way that parties younger people are more likely to vote for are routinely underrepresented in parliament.

I’m a firm believer in democracy and voting, and continue to exercise that right. But I can totally see where people are coming from if they don’t trust the ballot box to affect any change, or to listen to their concerns. I worry, like Chantal, that this erodes our democracy. Will the current system continue to work?

To expand on this – we’re simply outnumbered.  Voting-age people under 30 represent about 19% of the population.  Collectively, we have fewer votes across the entire country than people older than us have in the Greater Toronto Area alone.  And because we’re spread out, the various failures in our voting system that allow people to get elected with far less than 50% of the vote in a constituency mean our votes consistently don’t matter – at all.  While I don’t think the answer is not to vote, I sympathise with those who choose not to.  They wonder, as do I, what the point is.  We’re not only outvoted, but out-dollared (in many cases due precisely to education costs), and out-armed (not that I’d ever resort to violence).  These systems have left entire generations voiceless, and powerless.  Causing havoc in downtown Montreal is, for many, a last resort to make people listen to our generations’ cry for help.

The thing is… we’re all in this together.  If you watch video of the demonstrations in Quebec, while the groups are predominantly young, there are significant numbers of people of all generations in the crowd.  I chose my words carefully off the top – the older generations did this whether they intended to or not.  It will do older generations no good to be in retirement while younger generations struggle to pay debts and to keep the planet producing.  But bigger than that, my hope is that they start to realise what kind of world they’re leaving us.  It’s really my only hope, having recognised the out-powered problem.  Given that columnists in even the more right-wing media seem to be starting to acknowledge that many of these problems do exist, I’m hopeful that the message is getting through.  I truly believe that deep down most people are good, kind, and caring people.  That most people, whether they are parents or not, want the generations that follow them to be more successful than they were, and to live happier, healthier lives.

We have solutions to many of the problems facing our generations. We just need people to pay attention to the fact that these problems do exist, and for them to actually have some resolve to do something about it.  We can’t keep having giveaways of tax dollars to people who already have plenty, and we can’t keep pretending that we can have a successful society without a government that is properly funded with tax dollars.  We can’t keep acting as if we have an infinite amount of planet Earths – we only have one and need to start using it in a way that future generations will have some of it left.  We need an economy that will progress and meet the needs of all the country’s inhabitants – current and future.

So tonight – bang a pot. Join in with your fellow countrypersons and speak loud and clear.  Tell everyone around you that you support progressive taxes.  Tell them that you want the same things your parents had, and you want your children to have the same.  Speak up about what future you want for this country, and for this planet.

The last thing I would want is for my generation to leave this place to people being born today in a state that is even worse than it was when we got it.  They wouldn’t stand a chance.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by gold account on 2012/09/17 at 8:14 am

    Think about it: One trillion dollars in loans — loans that look increasingly risky with every month that passes. A generation that was tricked into borrowing for their educations — in many cases for an overpriced or useless diploma, and in many other cases at costs that were driven sky-high by the selfishness and false economy of their elders.


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