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The Brutes in Blue: From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 3

The Brutes in Blue: From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 3

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

24 December 2014

Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America

Part 2: Institutional Racism in America

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The protests resulting from events in Ferguson and New York have spurred a nation-wide anti-police brutality and social justice movement. This movement is addressing issues related to the realities of institutional racism in the United States, a colonial legacy born of slavery. Policing itself has a history and institutional function that is relevant to current events. This part in the series, ‘From Ferguson to Freedom’ examines the institution of policing and ‘law enforcement’, designed to protect the powerful from the people, to punish the poor and enforce injustice.

A Primer on Policing

Many social divisions erupt when it comes to discussing the issues of police and policing. Many accept the police and state-propagated view of police as being there ‘to serve and protect’, and that the ‘dangerous’ jobs of ensuring ‘peace’ and ‘safety’ are deserving of respect and admiration. Others view police as oppressors and thugs, violent and abusive, the enforcers of injustice. Here, as with the issue of racism itself, we come to the dichotomy of individual and institutional actions and functions.

As individuals, there are many police who may act admirably, who may ‘serve and protect’, who serve a social function which is beneficial to the community in which they operate. But, as with the issue of racism, individual acts do not erase institutional functions. The reality is that as an institution, policing is fundamentally about control, with cops acting as agents of ‘law and order’. They enforce the law and punish its detractors (primarily among the poor), they ‘serve and protect’ the powerful (and their interests) from the people.

When individuals in poor black neighborhoods are caught with illegal substances, such as drugs, the police are there to arrest them and send them into the criminal justice system for judgment and punishment. When Wall Street banks launder billions in drug money, police are nowhere to be seen, the law is ignored, justice is evaded, and the rich and powerful remain untouched. Crime is subject to class divides. Crimes such as mass murder, crimes against humanity, war crimes, slavery, ethnic cleansing, money laundering, mass corruption, plundering and destruction are typically committed (or decided) by those who hold the power, have the money and own the property. These crimes largely go unpunished, and very often are even rewarded.

Crimes committed by the poor, the oppressed, and especially those which take place in communities of colour are the main focus of the criminal injustice system. It is the poor and exploited who are policed and repressed, punished and sentenced, beaten and executed. The criminal rich and powerful are largely untouchable. The police enforce the law, so far as it applies to the poor, and are primarily there to serve the interests of the powerful. This is not new.

Like with all institutions, to understand their functions, one must turn to their origins and evolution through the years. In the United States, the history of ‘policing’ pre-dates the formation of the country itself, when it was a collection of European colonial possessions. From the late 1600s onward, just as racism was itself becoming institutionalized in the slave system, the social concept of policing increasingly emerged. The European colonial system was dependent upon the exploitation of slave labour, which since the late 1600s had become increasingly defined along racial lines.

In the 1700s, colonial societies began forming “slave patrols” to keep the slaves in line, to capture escapees, and to maintain “law and order” in an inherently unjust and exploitative social system of domination. As black slaves increasingly outnumbered the local white colonists, paranoia increased (especially in the wake of slave rebellions), and so the “slave patrols” and other locally organized ‘vigilante’ groups would be formed to protect the white colonizers against the local indigenous populations and the enslaved black African population.

The slave patrols defined the early formation of the modern “law enforcement” institution in the United States, which extended into the 19th century, up until the Civil War. The slave patrols also had other functions within the communities they operated, but first and foremost, their primary purpose was “to act as the first line of defense against a slave rebellion.”

Following the processes of industrialization and urbanization, cities became crowded, immigrants became plenty, and poverty was rampant as the rich few became ever more powerful. Thus, throughout the 19th century, the slave patrols began evolving into official “police forces,” with their concern for “order” and “control”, largely via the policing of poor communities of colour.

The evolution of policing in America since the 19th century has largely maintained its focus on the policing of the poor, acting as soldiers in the “war against crime” (which J. Edgar Hoover declared in the 1930s), though, of course, this applies almost exclusively to crime committed by the poor, by immigrants and ‘minority’ groups, as the rich and powerful are able to continue plundering and stealing wealth, waging wars and killing great masses of people, engaging in institutional corruption and even participating in war crimes and crimes against humanity, almost always with impunity and beyond the reach of police or justice.

In the past few decades, police forces across America have become increasingly militarized, with the rise of what has been called the “warrior cop.” Police forces get military equipment, tanks, rocket launchers, and even wear military outfits and get military training. Militaries are of course designed to be institutions of force, to kill, to destroy, to occupy and oppress. They are fundamentally, and institutionally, imperial. So as police forces become increasingly militarized, their function becomes increasingly aligned with that of the military. While the military secures the interests of the rich and powerful abroad, the police secure the interests of the rich and powerful at home. The domestic population is treated increasingly like an “enemy population,” with poor communities (especially poor black, Hispanic and indigenous communities) treated like occupied populations.

The origins of the modern police force began as a distinctly colonial structure, to enforce the injustice of slavery, to protect the colonizers as they expanded their territories and committed genocide against the indigenous population. Colonization, ethnic cleansing, slavery and genocide are inherently wrong and unjust. As such, these policies must be protected by force. The legal system has always been far more concerned with the protection of property (belonging to rich white men) than it has been with the protection of the population from the abuses of an inherently unjust social system. In a slave society, human beings become property. The law protects private property, but does so often through the oppression of populations. Property becomes more important than people, even when people are property.

The Global Reality of the Brutes in Blue

Think, for a brief moment, of the images, videos and realities of protests, revolutions, resistance movements and rebellions around the world in the past several years. From the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, to Indigenous movements in Canada and Latin America and Africa, to the peasant and labour unrest across Asia, to the anti-austerity movements across Europe, with social unrest reaching enormous heights in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, from the Indignados to Occupy Wall Street, to the student movements in Quebec, the UK, Chile, Mexico and Hong Kong, to the urban rebellions in Turkey and Brazil, and now to the civil unrest in the US sparked by Ferguson. What do you see, in all of these cases?

In each and every case, there are large or significant segments of populations who are rising up in resistance to oppressive structures, against dictatorships, state violence and repression, against poverty, racism and exploitation. In each case, there are populations struggling for dignity and opportunity, for freedom and democracy, for justice and equality. These populations, those who protest and resist, those who struggle and strive for the realization of democracy and justice, are historically the main reason why society has in any meaningful way ever been able to advance, to civilize itself, for rights and freedoms to be won and realized. Progress for people as a whole has always been accompanied by mass struggle and resistance against the forces of oppression and to upset the ‘stability’ of the status quo.

And, both historically and presently, without exception, the struggle and resistance of populations at home and abroad has always been met with the blunt, brute force of police, there to beat the people back down into subservience and to maintain “law and order.” In the youth-led rebellions from Egypt to Spain to Indonesia, from Brazil to Mexico to Quebec, from Hong Kong to Turkey to Ferguson, Missouri, the police are there with batons, pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, real bullets, beatings and brutality, mass arrests and murder, all in the name of preserving ‘stability’.

This is the true institutional function of the police. It cares not whether there are good or decent individuals within police forces, no more than the institutional reality of militaries cares whether individual soldiers are good or decent. Their job is to protect the powerful, police the poor, and punish those who threaten the stability of this unjust system. This is an institutional function which has been a lived reality for the black community in the United States since the origins of slavery and policing. The protests resulting from Ferguson are a reflection of this reality, regardless of the opinions of white people who have been largely spared the blunt truth of batons and bullets wielded and shot by the Brutes in Blue.

Black and Blue

According to a study published in 2012, every 28 hours in the United States, a black man, woman or child is murdered by a law enforcement official, security guard or “vigilante.” In 2011, murder was listed as the number one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15 and 34. In the month prior to Michael Brown’s murder, three other unarmed black men were killed by police, with data from police forces across the country revealing that black males are far more likely to be shot and killed by police than any other demographic group.

According to data from the Department of Justice, between 2003 and 2009, roughly 4,813 people were killed in the process of being arrested or while in the custody of police officers. In 2012 alone, 410 people were killed by police in the United States. Between 1968 and 2011, data from the CDC reveals, black Americans were between two and eight times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans. On average, black Americans were 4.2 times more likely to be murdered by police than whites.

Between the murder of Michael Brown in August and the delivery of the verdict in November of 2014, police in the United States killed roughly 14 other teenagers, at least six of them black. Two days before the Darren Wilson verdict was reached, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police in Cleveland, Ohio, for holding a BB gun.

In late December, however, a mentally ill man in New York shot and killed two NYPD police officers in Brooklyn, after which he shot and killed himself. New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who has attempted to navigate between placating protesters and police, has made himself hated by many in the NYPD, who view anything but absolute and unquestionable loyalty as unforgivable betrayal. The head of the NYPD’s union commented on the two killed cops, saying that many had “blood on their hands”, which “starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the major.”

Attempting to placate the police, mayor de Blasio called for the protests to end until the funerals for the two cops had passed, saying, “It’s time for everyone to put aside political debates, put aside protests, put aside all of the things that we will talk about in due time.” Of course, this and other statements made by de Blasio are designed to keep his own police force under his control; however, the hypocrisy of the statement should not go unnoticed. After all, hundreds of unarmed black Americans are murdered by police every year, and now, people have had enough, have reacted, taking to the streets to protest. Yet, when two cops are killed, the mayor calls for the protests to end out of some misplaced form of ‘respect’ for the police. Clearly, murdered black Americans are not given the same type of respect, even if it is guided by political pandering. That should speak volumes.

The backlash against the protesters and the emerging social justice movement has been palpable, and the police have been (as they often are) on the front lines of social regression. There was even a small protest in New York held in support of the NYPD, attended mostly by white men (and cops), some wearing shirts declaring, “I can breathe,” mocking the final words of Eric Garner as he was choked to death by a NYPD officer, repeating, “I can’t breathe.” At the same time, there was a counter protest on the other side of the street, attended largely by black and Hispanic New Yorkers, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” with the pro-NYPD crowd responding, “Whose jails? Your jails!” When the crowd chanted “hands up, don’t shoot!” the pro-police crowd chanted, “Hands up, don’t loot!” The pro-NYPD protest was largely made up of retired or off-duty police officers and their supporters, which along with the assembled on-duty police, media and counter-protesters, did not amount to more than 200 people.

Following the shooting deaths of the two NYPD officers, the head of an NYPD union declared that, “we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly.” So the NYPD has declared ‘war’, but against who? Well, they place the blame for the two deaths not only on the mayor, but more so on the protesters and the anti-police brutality movement itself. Thus, the largest police force in the United States, made up of 35,000 people, has essentially declared ‘war’ on a significant part of the population. It’s worth remembering that the previous New York mayor, billionaire oligarch Michael Bloomberg, once declared during a press conference, “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”

In light of the two killed cops, many who had previously been pleading for people to respect the police and remember ‘that they are there to protect us’ and have ‘dangerous jobs’ suddenly feel vindicated. However, as the Washington Post reported back in October of 2014, “policing has been getting safer for 20 years,” with 2013 being the safest year for police since the end of World War II. Indeed, as the Post noted, “You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, policing is not even on the list of the top ten most dangerous jobs in America. Some of the jobs which appear on the top ten list include loggers, fishermen, pilots, garbage collectors, truck drivers, farmers and ranchers.

However, it IS dangerous to be an unarmed black man, woman or child in America. And while the NYPD union boss has declared a “war” on the people, the realities of that war have been felt and suffered by black and Hispanic Americans for years and decades.

For over a decade, New York City has implemented a “stop and frisk” policy whereby police are given the illegal ‘authority’ to stop and frisk citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, an obvious violation of constitutional rights. Between 2004 and 2012, New York City cops conducted 4.4 million ‘stops’, with 88% resulting in no further action (arrest or court summons). In roughly 83% of ‘stop and frisk’ cases, those stopped by the police were either black or Hispanic.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014 revealed that young men who were subjected to stop and frisk by police, particularly young black men, “show higher rates of feelings of stress, anxiety and trauma.” In over 5 million stop and frisks that took place during the 12-year tenure of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire oligarch, young black men accounted for a total of 25% of those targeted, yet accounted for 1.9% of the city’s population, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In over 5 million stops, police found a gun in less than 0.02% of the cases.

In late 2014, with a new mayor (de Blasio) and following increased public outrage against the policy as well as legal rulings against it, the ‘stop and frisk’ policy declined in its implementation. However, as the New York Times noted, “police officers today remain ever-present in the projects,” with a “new strategy” for policing the projects slowly forming. Police stand at posts on the perimeters of housing blocks, “officers park their cars on the sidewalk and turn on the flashing roof lights,” and, at night, “the blue beams illuminate the brick of the projects for hours on end, projecting both a sense of emergency and control.”

Black communities remain under ‘military’ occupation by the Brutes in Blue, the modern manifestation of the ‘slave patrols’. The rich and powerful are protected and served, the poor are punished, the descendants of African slaves are slain, their communities under ‘control,’ as the police walk their beat, and beat black lives back down. From Eric Garner and Michael Brown, to the mass protests and civil unrest, the institutional function of the police is, as always, about maintaining stability and order in an inherently unjust social system.

The institutionalization of racism, slavery, and policing predates the formation of the United States itself. And while these things have evolved and changed over the years, decades and centuries, they remain relevant and present. If they are not addressed in a meaningful or substantial way, the America that many imagine or believe in will fade away, leaving only racism, slavery and repression here to stay.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. 

From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America

From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 1: Race, Repression and Resistance in America

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

11 December 2014

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On 9 August 2014, a white cop murdered an unarmed black teen in a predominantly black neighborhood and black city dominated by white police with a history of violence toward poor, black communities, and in a city dominated by white power structures and with a long history of racism and segregation. More than three months later, that white cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing.

The cop, Darren Wilson, was not simply exonerated for the murder, but he was rewarded. The white cop who murdered 18-year-old Michael Brown was rewarded with a crowd-funded amount of more than $400,000 – as racists around the country sought to throw a few dollars in support of murdering unarmed black teens. On October 24, one month to the day before the verdict was announced, as Michael Brown’s family was still coming to terms with his murder, Darren Wilson got married to Barbara Spradling, also a member of the Ferguson Police Department. Since he murdered the unarmed 18-year-old Brown in August, Wilson had been rewarded with being on “paid administrative leave.” After the verdict was delivered, Wilson remained on paid leave. And as Wilson was rewarded for taking the life of an innocent boy, he announced that he and his wife were expecting a child of their own.

On August 10, a candlelight vigil for Michael Brown erupted into an urban rebellion (commonly called “riots”), as people expressed their anger and frustration of the systemic and institutionalized injustice, and were met with overwhelming police force. As the protests continued and further rebellions erupted, the police sent in the SWAT team, already having shot protesters with rubber bullets and engaged in chemical warfare shooting teargas at them. The police were even arresting reporters, from the Huffington Post and Washington Post, and journalists from Al-Jazeera were shot at with rubber bullets and then tear gassed. Protests continued, and police continued to shoot rubber bullets, use excessive amounts of tear gas, flash grenades and smoke bombs against demonstrators, which then had the effect of triggering the rebellions (or ‘riots’). Wearing military fatigues and riot gear, police deployed armored vehicles similar to those in Afghanistan and Iraq, aiming high-powered rifles at American citizens in a town of 20,000 people.

On August 16, a week after Michael Brown was murdered, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew in Ferguson. The top cop in charge of Ferguson at the time, State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, stated that, “We won’t enforce [the curfew] with trucks, we won’t enforce it with tear gar.” The police then used trucks, smoke and tear gas against protesters to enforce the curfew, in what became the fiercest night of violence until that point. Another curfew was announced for the following night. Two hours before the curfew went into effect, police fired tear gas and flash grenades into assembled protesters in order “to disperse the crowd.”

The Governor then deployed the National Guard in Ferguson on August 18. Obama appealed for “calm.” More reporters were arrested. Three days later, the National Guard was removed from Ferguson. The following few days were relatively calm, though police continued to arrest people. The calm followed the convening of a grand jury to investigate Darren Wilson’s murder of Michael Brown. The US Attorney General Eric Holder even flew to Ferguson, and later commented than an FBI investigation into civil rights violations in Ferguson “will take some time.” Throughout this period, police in Ferguson and St. Louis continued to threaten protesters, aim weapons at them, and even murdered another man. The protests largely calmed down, and thousands attended the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25.

Smaller protests continued into September, and in late September the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson decided to march in civilian clothes with a crowd of people demanding his resignation, hours after he released a “video apology” to the Brown family. In less than 30 seconds of Jackson joining the crowd, agitating many of those assembled, riot cops moved in to ‘protect’ him, prompting a confrontation with the protesters and declaring the protest an “unlawful assembly.” Protests continued for the following few days with police continuing to declare protests as unlawful, threatening to arrest people who stayed in one place for too long or who moved off the sidewalk and onto the street.

However, over a dozen protesters who were assembled on the sidewalk were arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department in early October, after which they were fitted in orange jumpsuits, locked behind bars for several hours with higher bail amounts than usual, some as high as $2700. Their charges included “failure to comply with police, noise ordinance violations and resisting arrest,” when assembled peacefully – and legally – on a sidewalk. Among those arrested was a journalist. Ferguson Police Chief Jackson then handed his responsibility for “managing protests” to the St. Louis County police department. In early October, a St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performance was interrupted by protesters who sang a civil rights song, ‘Which Side Are You On?

On 11 October, hundreds of people took to the streets for a weekend of protests what they called ‘Ferguson October’. Roughly 43 people were arrested for assembling outside the Ferguson Police Department, including professor and author Cornel West. A Missouri State Senator was also arrested during a protest several days later.

On 17 November, one week before the grand jury decision was to be announced, Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and authorized the National Guard to again be deployed in Ferguson. At the same time, the St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar declared that police in Ferguson had not used rubber bullets or force against “peaceful protesters,” but against “criminal activity.” Days prior to the verdict, buildings were being barricaded around Ferguson in anticipation of “unrest.”

The Department of Homeland Security showed up in St. Louis prior to the verdict. As Homeland Security vehicles began to mass near Ferguson, a local Navy veteran was fired from his job and called a ‘terrorist’ after posting pictures of the vehicles on Facebook. Federal officials began arriving in Ferguson and St. Louis a few days before Governor Nixon declared his state of emergency. Despite announcements to “review” the transfer of military equipment to domestic police forces following the earlier social unrest in August, the Pentagon had continued to supply police forces in Missouri with “surplus military gear.”

Police forces in America have been increasingly militarized, starting with the ‘War on Drugs’ (aka: War OF Drugs) and rapidly expanded under the ‘War [on/of] Terror’. Across the country, police forces “have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a ‘soldier’s mentality’ among their ranks,” noted The Atlantic in 2011. Since the 1960s, SWAT teams emerged in cities across the United States, marking the rise of the “warrior cop,” initially prompted by the urban rebellions of the 1960s in predominantly poor black communities. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has handed out over $35 billion in grants to purchase military gear. The Pentagon has distributed more than $4.2 billion of equipment to local law enforcement agencies across the US.

These were the highly militarized police forces originally deployed against protesters in Ferguson in August of 2014, with armored vehicles, sound weapons, shotguns, M4 rifles, rubber bullets and tear gas. At the time, former Army officer and international policing operations analyst, Jason Fritz, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “You see the police are standing in line with bulletproof vests and rifles pointed at people’s chests… That’s not controlling the crowd, that’s intimidating them.” The New York Times referred to Ferguson as “a virtual war zone,” warning that if nothing is done to stop the national militarization of police forces by the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, then “the future of law enforcement everywhere will look a lot like Ferguson.”

The verdict on November 24, giving Wilson the gift of freedom for depriving Michael Brown of his own freedom (and life) prompted quick reactions in the streets. Protests started in Ferguson, and quickly erupted into urban rebellion with cars and buildings torched and destroyed. Governor Nixon then deployed more National Guard troops in Ferguson, with more than 2,200 deployed in the town of 22,000 people. Protests spread the following day to 37 different states in over 130 demonstrations, with significant numbers and acts of social disobedience in New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles. More than 170 U.S. cities experienced protests on the night of November 25, drawing thousands of people to the streets, “blocking bridges, tunnels and major highways.”

Obama declared that he did “not have any sympathy” with “those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence.” As protests spread, more than 400 people were arrested around the US. In Los Angeles, over 150 people were arrested. Reflecting on the lessons he drew from the rebellions on the night of November 24, St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar said, “you can never have too many policemen.”

Protests not only spread across the United States, but internationally. Protests spread across cities in Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal. Protests also spread to London, where thousands assembled outside the U.S. Embassy, drawing parallels to the case of Mark Duggan, a young black man whose murder by police in August of 2011 prompted the largest riots in recent British history.

One week after the grand jury decision on Darren Wilson prompted nation-wide and international protests, another grand jury decision – this time for one based in Staten Island – was reached regarding the choking death of an unarmed black man (Eric Garner) killed by a white cop. The entire murder was caught on film for all to see, and the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, had no charges laid against him. The verdict was in, and the killer cop was exonerated of any wrongdoing. The announcement prompted protests all across New York, with demonstrators repeating Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.”

The protests continued in New York nightly, with several taking place elsewhere across the country, in a continuation from the spark that lit with Ferguson. The day after the New York verdict, an unarmed black man was shot dead by police in Phoenix, Arizona, sparking protests there. In Times Square, several thousand protesters confronted police chanting, ‘Who do you protect?’ Police responded by arresting 200 of those assembled.

The protests in New York were drawing upwards of 10,000 people, and in the first three days alone, the NYPD arrested over 300 demonstrators, with the Police Commissioner declaring that, “the city should be feeling quite proud of itself at this juncture,” because the police were “showing remarkable restraint.”

As with Ferguson, the results in New York sparked protests across the country, with people taking to the streets in Washington, D.C., Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Atlanta and beyond, blocking bridges and traffic, engaging in ‘sit ins’ or ‘die ins’ in public places, transport hubs, universities and elsewhere. Protests that took place in Berkeley, California, quickly turned violent as police used excessive force, tear gas and batons. The police violence in turn sparked ‘riots’ (urban rebellion) in the streets. Clashes between police and protesters also took place in Seattle, with more peaceful demonstrations continuing in New York, Chicago and Miami.

The protests continued daily, with new groups, new cities and states participating, new sparks, new collective actions, civil disobedience, with every new day. Demonstrators took to the streets, department stores, highways and intersections, to Ivy League universities, basketball games, and train stations. In Chicago, protesters continued well into December, with roughly 200 demonstrators gathering outside of Obama’s family home.

President Obama was holding a series of meetings on the social unrest resulting from Ferguson. He was meeting with Cabinet and Congressional officials, law enforcement and civil rights leaders, and an “unusual” meeting was granted to a group of young black activists from around the country. They held a 45-minute meeting with the president in the Oval Office. They spoke honestly about the problems they see and solutions they advocate, with Obama offering encouragement, though he stressed that, “incremental changes were progress.”

One of the youth organizers present at the meeting, Phillip Agnew, wrote about his experience for an article in the Guardian. Agnew described the assembled group as “representatives from a community in active struggle against state sanctioned killing, violence and repression.” They were not “civil rights leaders,” “activists”, “spokespeople” or “respectable negroes,” they were from Missouri, Ohio, New York and Florida. Agnew wrote of the expectations of those assembled: “We all knew that the White House stood to benefit more from this meeting than we did. We knew that our movement families would fear the almighty co-opt and a political press photo-op. We have been underestimated at every juncture… But this was an invitation that you accept – period.”

The group of youth, as young as 20, with artists, activists, teachers, and organizers, told the president that they were not the “People’s Spokespeople,” and that they “had neither the power, positions, nor desires to stop the eruptions in the streets and that they would continue until a radical change happened in this country,” that they “had no faith in anything, church or state… that the country was on the brink and that nothing short of major capitulations at all levels of the government to the demands of the people could prevent it.” Obama listened, discussed and debated, promoted “gradualism” and “asked for our help.” Agnew commented that, “We did not budge,” walking out of the meeting “unbought and unbowed. We held no punches… no concessions, politicking or posturing. The movement got its meeting. Unrest earned this invite, and we can’t stop. If we don’t get what we came for, we will shut it down. President Obama knows that and we know it. No meeting can stop that.”

History will perhaps view present-day America through the lens of pre-Ferguson and post-Ferguson. The spark which lit the fire was the continuous murder of unarmed black men, women and children by mostly-white police. Police beating, oppressing, and murdering black people in the United States is far from a new phenomenon. It’s a practice which is, in many ways, as old as the country itself (or older, in fact). The fundamental change is this: pre-Ferguson, the murder of unarmed black men, women and children was considered ‘unworthy’ of national attention, it was not news, not an issue, largely continuing unknown and unacknowledged by white America. Post-Ferguson, when black Americans are murdered by police, it starts to make headlines, people start to pay attention, and people increasingly take to the streets in opposition.

Ferguson is not a wake-up call to black America, which has been well aware of the injustices and oppression their communities have faced daily, yearly, and over the course of decades and centuries. Ferguson is a wake-up call for white America, to look and learn from the lived experiences of black America, and to join with their brothers and sisters in active struggle against the system which has made Ferguson the status quo.

Pre-Ferguson, black lives did not matter. At least, they did not matter so far as the national consciousness was concerned. White America could proclaim itself a ‘post-racial society’, feeling good about themselves for voting for a black president, having black friends, and not saying ‘Nigger’. Ferguson has changed the frame through which America views itself, and is viewed by others. White America increasingly looks at the reality of black America and sees great injustice and inequality. The rest of the world looks into America and sees a deeply racist society, repressive and brutal, reflective of the perceptions of America’s actions around the world.

Pre-Ferguson, black America was kept out of sight, black communities were kept under control, and black lives did not matter. Post-Ferguson, black America has taken center stage, black communities are the front-lines of a national struggle for justice and equality, and now, Black Lives Matter.

Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement

Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The student strikes in Quebec, which began in February and have lasted for three months, involving roughly 175,000 students in the mostly French-speaking Canadian province, have been subjected to a massive provincial and national media propaganda campaign to demonize and dismiss the students and their struggle. The following is a list of ten points that everyone should know about the student movement in Quebec to help place their struggle in its proper global context.

1)            The issue is debt, not tuition

2)            Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent

3)            The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims

4)            This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon

5)            Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students

6)            Excessive state violence has been used against the students

7)            The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students

8)            Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students

9)            The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students

10)            The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power

1)            The issue is debt, not tuition: In dismissing the students, who are striking against a 75% increase in the cost of tuition over the next five years, the most common argument used is in pointing out that Quebec students pay the lowest tuition in North America, and therefore, they should not be complaining. Even with the 75% increase, they will still be paying substantially lower than most other provinces. Quebec students pay on average $2,500 per year in tuition, while the rest of Canada’s students pay on average $5,000 per year. With the tuition increase of $1,625 spread out over five years, the total tuition cost for Quebec students would be roughly $4,000. The premise here is that since the rest of Canada has it worse, Quebec students should shut up, sit down, and accept “reality.” THIS IS FALSE. In playing the “numbers game,” commentators and their parroting public repeat the tuition costs but fail to add in the numbers which represent the core issue: DEBT. So, Quebec students pay half the average national tuition. True. But they also graduate with half the average national student debt. With the average tuition at $5,000/year, the average student debt for an undergraduate in Canada is $27,000, while the average debt for an undergraduate in Quebec is $13,000. With interest rates expected to increase, in the midst of a hopeless job situation for Canadian youth, Canada’s youth face a future of debt that “is bankrupting a generation of students.” The notion, therefore, that Quebec students should not struggle against a bankrupt future is a bankrupted argument.

2)            Striking students in Quebec are setting an example for youth across the continent: Nearly 60% of Canadian students graduate with debt, on average at $27,000 for an undergraduate degree. Total student debt now stands at about $20 billion in Canada ($15 billion from Federal Government loans programs, and the rest from provincial and commercial bank loans). In Quebec, the average student debt is $15,000, whereas Nova Scotia and Newfoundland have an average student debt of $35,000, British Columbia at nearly $30,000 and Ontario at nearly $27,000. Roughly 70% of new jobs in Canada require a post-secondary education. Half of students in their 20s live at home with their parents, including 73 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 and nearly a third of 25- to 29-year-olds. On average, a four-year degree for a student living at home in Canada costs $55,000, and those costs are expected to increase in coming years at a rate faster than inflation. It has been estimated that in 18 years, a four-year degree for Canadian students will cost $102,000. Defaults on government student loans are at roughly 14%. The Chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students warned in June of 2011 that, “We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” This immense student debt affects every decision made in the lives of young graduates. With few jobs, enormous housing costs, the cutting of future benefits and social security, students are entering an economy which holds very little for them in opportunities. Women, minorities, and other marginalized groups are in an even more disadvantaged position. Canadian students are increasingly moving back home and relying more and more upon their parents for support. An informal Globe and Mail poll in early May of 2012 (surveying 2,200 students), “shows that students across Canada share a similar anxiety over rising tuition fees” as that felt in Quebec. Roughly 62% of post-secondary students said they would join a similar strike in their own province, while 32% said they would not, and 5.9% were undecided. In Ontario, where tuition is the highest in Canada, 69% said they would support a strike against increasing tuition. A Quebec research institution released a report in late March of 2012 indicating that increasing the cost of tuition for students is creating a “student debt bubble” akin to the housing bubble in the United States, and with interest rates set to increase, “today’s students may well find themselves in the same situation of not being able to pay off their student loans.” The authors of the report from the Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-economique explained that, “Since governments underwrite those loans, if students default it could be catastrophic for public finances,” and that, “If the bubble explodes, it could be just like the mortgage crisis.” In the United States, the situation is even worse. In March of 2012, the Federal Reserve reported that 27 percent of student borrowers whose loans have gone into repayment are now delinquent on their debt.” Student debt in the United States has reached $1 trillion, “passing total credit card debt along the way.” It has become a threat to the entire existence of the middle class in America. Bankruptcy lawyers in the US are “seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble.” A recent survey from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA) indicated, “more than 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years.” The head of the NACBA stated, “This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy.” In 1993, 45% of students who earn a bachelor’s degree had to go into debt; today, it is 94%. The average student debt in the United States in 2011 was $23,300, with 10% owning more than $54,000 and 3% owing more than $100,000. President Obama has addressed the situation by simply providing more loans to students. A recent survey of graduates revealed that 40% of them “had delayed making a major purchase, like a home or car, because of college debt, while slightly more than a quarter had put off continuing their education or had moved in with relatives to save money,” and 50% of those surveyed had full-time jobs. Between 2001 and 2011, “state and local financing per student declined by 24 percent nationally.” In the same period of time, “tuition and fees at state schools increased 72 percent.” It would appear that whether in the United States, Canada, or even beyond, the decisions made by schools, banks, and the government, are geared toward increasing the financial burden on students and families, and increasing profits for themselves. The effect will be to plunge the student and youth population into poverty over the coming years. Thus, the student movement in Quebec, instead of being portrayed as “entitled brats” elsewhere, are actually setting an example for students and youth across the continent and beyond. Since Quebec tuition is the lowest on the continent, it gives all the more reason that other students should follow Quebec’s example, instead of Quebec students being told to follow the rest of the country (and continent) into debt bondage.

3)            The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims: The decision to strike was made through student associations and organizations that uniquely operate through direct-democracy. While most student associations at schools across Canada hold elections where students choose the members of the associations, the democratic accountability ends there (just like with government). Among the Francophone schools in Quebec, the leaders are not only elected by the students, but decisions are made through general assemblies, debate and discussion, and through the votes of the actual constituents, the members of the student associations, not just the leaders. This means that the student associations that voted to strike are more democratically accountable and participatory than most other student associations, and certainly the government. It represents a more profound and meaningful working definition of democracy that is lacking across the rest of the country. The Anglophone student associations that went on strike – from Concordia and McGill – did so because, for the first time ever, they began to operate through direct-democracy. This of course, has resulted in insults and derision from the media. The national media in Canada – most especially the National Post – complain that the student “tactics are anything but democratic,” and that the students aren’t acting in a democratic way, but that “it’s really mob rule.” Obviously, it is naïve to assume that the National Post has any sort of understanding of democracy.

4)            This is not an exclusively Quebecois phenomenon: I am an Anglophone, I don’t even speak French, I have only lived in Montreal for under two years, but the strikers are struggling as much for me as for any other student, Francophone or Anglophone. Typically, when others across Canada see what is taking place here, they frame it along the lines of, “Oh those Quebecois, always yelling about something.” But I’m yelling too… in English. Many people here are yelling… in English. It is true that the majority of the students protesting are Francophone, and the majority of the schools on strike are Francophone, but it is not exclusionary. In fact, the participation in the strike from the Anglophone schools (while a minority within the schools) is unprecedented in Quebec history. This was undertaken because students began mobilizing at the grassroots and emulating the French student groups in how they make decisions (i.e., through direct-democracy). The participation of Anglophone students in the open-ended strike is unprecedented in Quebec history.

5)            Government officials and the media have been openly calling for violence and “fascist” tactics to be used against the students: With all the focus on student violence at protests, breaking bank windows, throwing rocks at riot police, and other acts of vandalism, student leaders have never called for violence against the government or vandalism against property, and have, in fact, denounced it and spoken out for calm, stating: “The student movement wants to fight alongside the populace and not against it.” On the other hand, it has been government officials and the national media which have been openly calling for violence to be used against students. On May 11, Michael Den Tandt, writing for the National Post, stated that, “It’s time for tough treatment of Quebec student strikers,” and recommended to Quebec Premier Jean Charest that, “He must bring down the hammer.” Tandt claimed that there was “a better way” to deal with student protesters: “Dispersal with massive use of tear gas; then arrest, public humiliation, and some pain.” He even went on to suggest that, “caning is more merciful than incarceration,” or perhaps even re-imagining the medieval punishment in which “miscreants and ne’er-do-wells were placed in the stockade, in the public square, and pelted with rotten cabbages. That might not be a bad idea, either.” This, Tandt claimed, would be the only way to preserve “peace, order, and good government.” Kelly McParland, writing the for National Post on May 11, suggested that it was now time for Charest to “empower the police to use the full extent of the law against those who condone or pursue further disruption,” and that the government must make a “show of strength” against the students. If this was not bad enough, get ready for this: A member of the Quebec Liberal Party, head of the tax office in the Municipal Affairs Department, Bernard Guay, wrote an article for a French-language newspaper in Quebec in mid-April advocating a strategy to “end the student strikes.” In the article, the government official recommended using the fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s as an example in how to deal with “leftists” in giving them “their own medicine.” He suggested organizing a political “cabal” to handle the “wasteful and anti-social” situation, which would mobilize students to not only cross picket lines, but to confront and assault students who wear the little red square (the symbol of the student strike). This, Guay suggested, would help society “overcome the tyranny of Leftist agitators,” no doubt by emulating fascist tyranny. The article was eventually pulled and an apology was issued, while a government superior supposedly reprimanded Guay, though the government refused to elaborate on what that consisted of. Just contemplate this for a moment: A Quebec Liberal government official recommended using “inspiration” from fascist movements to attack the striking students. Imagine if one of the student associations had openly called for violence, let alone for the emulation of fascism. It would be national news, and likely lead to arrests and charges. But since it was a government official, barely a peep was heard.

6)            Excessive state violence has been used against the students: Throughout the three months of protests from students in Quebec, the violence has almost exclusively been blamed on the students. Images of protesters throwing rocks and breaking bank windows inundate the media and ‘inform’ the discourse, demonizing the students as violent, vandals, and destructive. Meanwhile, the reality of state violence being used against the students far exceeds any of the violent reactions from protesters, but receives far less coverage. Riot police meet students with pepper spray, tear gas, concussion grenades, smoke bombs, beating them with batons, shoot them with rubber bullets, and have even been driving police cars and trucks into groups of students. On May 4, on the 42nd anniversary of the Kent State massacre in which the U.S. National Guard murdered four protesting students, Quebec almost experienced its own Kent State, when several students were critically injured by police, shot with rubber bullets in the face. One student lost an eye, and another remains in the hospital with serious head injuries, including a skull fracture and brain contusion. The Quebec provincial police – the SQ – have not only been involved in violent repression of student protests in Quebec, but have also (along with the RCMP) been involved in training foreign police forces how to violently repress their own populations, such as in Haiti. Roughly 12,000 people in Quebec have signed a petition against the police reaction to student protests, stipulating that the police actions have been far too violent.  In late April, even before the Quebec police almost killed a couple students, Amnesty International “asked the government to call for a toning down of police measures that… are unduly aggressive and might potentially smother students’ right to free expression.” The Quebec government, of course, defends police violence against students and youths. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) – Canada’s spy agency – has recently announced its interest in “gathering intelligence” on Quebec student protesters and related groups as “possible threats to national security.” Coincidentally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismantled the government agency responsible for oversight of CSIS, making the agency essentially unaccountable. In reaction to student protests, the City of Montreal is considering banning masks being worn at protests in a new bylaw which is being voted on without public consultation. Thus, apparently it is fine for police to wear gas masks as they shoot chemical agents at Quebec’s youth, but students cannot attempt to even meagerly protect themselves by covering their faces. The federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper is attempting to pass a law that bans masks at protests, which includes a ten-year sentence for “rioters who wear masks.” Quebec has even established a secretive police unit called the GAMMA squad to monitor political groups in the province, which has already targeted and arrested members of the leading student organization behind the strike. The police unit is designed to monitor “anarchists” and “marginal political groups.” Some political groups have acknowledged this as “a declaration of war” by the government against such groups. Spokesperson for the largest student group, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, stated that, “This squad is really a new kind of political police to fight against social movements.” The situation of police repression has become so prevalent that even the U.S. State Department has warned Americans to stay away from student protests in the city, “as bystanders can quickly be caught up in unforeseen violence and in some cases, detained by the local police.”

7)            The government supports organized crime and opposes organized students: The government claims that it must increase the cost of tuition in order to balance the budget and to increase the “competitiveness” of schools. The government has ignored, belittled, undermined, attempted to divide, and outright oppress the student movement. The Liberal Government of Quebec, in short, has declared organized students to be enemies of the state. Meanwhile, that same government has no problem of working with and supporting organized crime, namely, the Montreal Mafia. In 2010, Quebec, under Premier Jean Charest, was declared to be “the most corrupt province” in Canada. A former opposition leader in the Montreal city hall reported that, “the Italian mafia controls about 80 per cent of city hall.” The mafia is a “big player” in the Quebec economy, and “is deeply entrenched in city affairs” of Montreal, as “more than 600 businesses pay Mafia protection money in Montreal alone, handing organized crime leaders an unprecedented degree of control of Quebec’s economy.” The construction industry, especially, is heavily linked to the mafia. The Montreal Mafia is as influential as their Sicilian counterparts, where “all of the major infrastructure work in Sicily is under Mafia control.” In 2009, a government official stated that, “It’s Montreal’s Italian Mafia that controls what is going on in road construction. They control, from what we can tell, 80 per cent of the contracts.” In the fall of 2011, an internal report written by the former Montreal police chief for the government was leaked, stating, “We have discovered a firmly rooted, clandestine universe on an unexpected scale, harmful to our society on the level of safety and economics and of justice and democracy.” The report added, “Suspicions are persistent that an evil empire is taking form in the highway construction domain,” and that, “If there were to be an intensification of influence-peddling in the political sphere, we would no longer simply be talking about marginal, or even parallel criminal activities: we could suspect an infiltration or even a takeover of certain functions of the state.” Quebec Premier Jean Charest, for several years, rejected calls for a public inquiry into corruption in the construction industry, even as the head of Quebec’s anti-collusion squad called for such an inquiry. An opposition party in Quebec stated that Jean Charest “is protecting the (Quebec) Liberal party – and in protecting the Liberal party, Mr. Charest is protecting the Mafia, organized crime.” After the leaked report revealed “cost overruns totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, kickbacks and illegal donations to political parties,” Charest had to – after two years of refusing – open a public inquiry into corruption. The Quebec mafia have not only “run gambling and prostitution and imported stupefying amounts of illegal drugs into Canada, but they have extended their influence to elected civic and provincial governments, and to Liberal and Conservative federal governments through bribery and other ‘illustrious relations’.” The Federal Conservative Party of Canada, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as its leader, received dozens of donations from Mafia-connected construction and engineering firm employees. The Mafia-industry has also donated to the Federal Liberal Party, but less so than the Conservatives, who hold power. In Quebec, government officials have helped the Mafia charge far more for public-works contracts than they were worth. These Mafia companies would then use a lot of that extra money to fund political parties, most notably, the Liberals, who have been in power for nine years. A former Montreal police officer who worked in the intelligence unit with access to the police’s confidential list of informants was suspected of selling information to the mafia. In January of 2012, he was found dead, reportedly of a suicide. In April of 2012, fifteen arrests were made in Montreal by the police in relation to corruption charges linked to the Mafia. Among them were one of the biggest names in the construction industry, with 14 individual facing conspiracy charges “involving municipal contracts associated with the Mascouche water-treatment plants [that] are connected to big construction, engineering and law firms that have been involved in municipal contracts and politics across the Montreal region for decades. And the individuals have been around the municipal world for years.” One Quebec mayor has even been charged. The Montreal police force has “not been very interested, and it should be,” in helping the anti-corruption investigation. Two of those who were arrested included Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers, one of whom Charest personally delivered an award to in 2010 for his “years of service as an organizer.” All three of Quebec’s main political parties were connected to individuals arrested in the raids. Canada’s federal police force, the RCMP, have refused to cooperate with the Mafia-corruption inquiry in handing over their massive amounts of information to the judge leading the inquiry. Quebec Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who has been leading the government assault against the students, attended a political fundraiser for herself which was attended by a notorious Mafia figure who personally “donated generously to the minister’s Liberal riding association.” As these revelations emerged, Beauchamp stated, “I don’t know the individual in question and even today I wouldn’t be able to recognize him.” At the time, Beauchamp was the Environment Minister, and was responsible for granting the Mafia figure’s company a favourable certificate to expand its business. Beauchamp claimed she did not know about the deal, but as head of the Ministry which handled it, either she is utterly incompetent or a liar. Either way, she is clearly not fit for “public service” if it amounts to nothing more than “service to the Mafia.” The fact that she is now responsible for increasing tuition and leading the attack on students speaks volumes.  Line Beauchamp, when questioned about taking political contributions from the Mafia, stated, “Now that the information is public and the links well established, I would not put myself in that position again.” Well isn’t that reassuring? Now that it’s public, she wouldn’t do it again. That’s sort of like saying, “I wouldn’t have committed the crime if I knew I was going to be caught.” The notion that Beauchamp didn’t know whom this Mafia figure was who was giving her money is absurd. It’s even more absurd when you note that one of Beauchamp’s political attaches was a 30-year veteran of the Montreal police force. As one Quebec political figure commented about the Liberal Government’s Mafia links: “They refuse to sit down with a student leader but they have breakfast with a mafioso … where is the logic in that?” Indeed. It’s clear that the Quebec government has no problem working with, handing out contracts to, and taking money from the Mafia and organized crime. In fact, they are so integrated that the government itself is a form of organized crime. But for that government, and for the media boot-lickers who follow the government line, organized students are the true threat to Quebec. National newspapers declare Quebec students following “mob rule” when it’s actually the government that is closely connected to “mob rule.” The students are challenging and being repressed by a Mafioso-government alliance of industrialists, politicians, financiers and police… yet it is the students who are blamed for everything. The government gives the Mafia public contracts double or triple their actual value, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars (if not more), while students are being asked to pay nearly double their current tuition. There’s money for the mob, but scraps for the students.

8)            Canada’s elites punish the people and oppose the students: It’s not simply the government of Quebec which has set itself against the students, sought to increase their tuition and repress their resistance, often with violent means, but a wide sector of elite society in Quebec and Canada propose tuition increases and blind faith to the state in managing its repression of a growing social movement. As such, the student movement should recognize that not simply are Jean Charest and his Liberal-Mafia government the antagonists of social justice, but the whole elite society itself. As early as 2007, TD Bank, one of Canada’s big five banks, outlined a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, and directly recommended Quebec to raise tuition costs for students. Naturally, the Quebec government is more likely to listen to a bank than the youth of the province. Banks of course, have an interest in increasing tuition costs for students, as they provide student loans and lines of credit which they charge interest on and make profits. The Royal Bank of Canada acknowledged that student lines of credit are “very popular products.” Elites of all sorts support the tuition increases. In February of 2010, a group of “prominent” (i.e., elitist) Quebecers signed a letter proposing to increase Quebec’s tuition costs. Among the signatories were the former Premier of Quebec for the Parti Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard.  In early May, a letter was published in the Montreal Gazette which stated that students need to pay more for their education in Quebec, signed by the same elitists who proposed the tuition increase back in February of 2010. Initially, this group of elitists had proposed an increase of $1,000 every year for three years. The letter then calls for the application of state power to be employed against the student movement: “It is time that we react. We must reinstate order; the students have to return to class… This is a situation when, regardless of political allegiances, the population must support the state, which is ultimately responsible for public order, the safety of individuals and the integrity of our institutions.” The “integrity” of institutions which cooperate with the Mafia, I might add. What incredible integrity! The letter was signed by Lucien Bouchard, former Premier of Quebec; Michel Audet, an economist and former Finance Minister in the first Charest government in Quebec; Françoise Bertrand, the President and chief executive officer of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (The Quebec Federation of Chambers of Commerce), where she sits alongside the presidents and executives of major Canadian corporations, banks, and business interests. She also sits on the board of directors of Quebecor Inc., a major media conglomerate, with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on its board. Another signatory was Yves-Thomas Dorval, President of the Quebec Employers’ Council, who formerly worked for British American Tobacco Group, former Vice President at Edelman Canada, an international public relations firm, was a director at a pharmaceutical corporation, head of strategic planning at an insurance company, and previously worked for the Government of Quebec and Hydro-Quebec. Joseph Facal, another signatory to the letter demanding higher tuition and state repression of students, is former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, and was a cabinet minister in the Quebec government of Lucien Bouchard. Other signatories include Pierre Fortin, a professor emeritus at the Université du Québec à Montréal; Michel Gervais, the former rector of Université Laval; Monique Jérôme-Forget, former finance minister of Quebec and former president of the Quebec Treasury Board, member of the Quebec Liberal Party between 1998 and 2009, was responsible for introducing public-private partnerships in Quebec’s infrastructure development (which saw enormous cooperation with the Mafia), and is on the board of directors of Astral Media. Robert Lacroix, another co-signer, was former rector of the Université de Montréal is also a fellow at CIRANO, a Montreal-based think tank which is governed by a collection of university heads, business executives, and bankers, including representatives from Power Corporation (owned by the Desmarais family). Another signatory is Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, a prominent business organization in Montreal, of which the board of directors includes a number of corporate executives, mining company representatives, university board members, bankers and Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family. Another signatory is Claude Montmarquette, professor emeritus at the Université de Montréal, who is also a member of the elitist CIRANO think tank, which as a “research institution” (for elites) has recommended increasing Quebec’s tuition costs for several years. Another signatory was Marcel Boyer, a Bell Canada Professor of industrial economics at the Université de Montréal, Vice-president and chief economist at the Montreal Economic Institute, is the C.D. Howe Scholar in Economic Policy at the C.D. Howe Institute, Member of the Board of the Agency for Public-Private Partnerships of Québec, and Visiting Senior Research Advisor for industrial economics at Industry Canada. At the Montreal Economic Institute, Boyer sits alongside notable elitists, bankers, and corporate executives, including Hélène Desmarais, who married into the Desmarais family (the most powerful family in Canada). At the C.D. Howe Institute, Boyer works for even more elitists, as the board of directors is made up of some of Canada’s top bankers, corporate executives, and again includes Hélène Desmarais. The Desmarais family, who own Power Corporation and its many subsidiaries, as well as a number of foreign corporations in Europe and China, are Canada’s most powerful family. The patriarch, Paul Desmarais Sr., has had extremely close business and even family ties to every Canadian Prime Minister since Pierre Trudeau, and all Quebec premiers (save two) in the past several decades. The Desmarais’ have strong links to the Parti Quebecois, the Liberals, Conservatives, and even the NDP, and socialize with presidents and prime ministers around the world, as well as the Rothschilds, Rockefellers, and even Spanish royalty. Paul Desmarais Sr. has “a disproportionate influence on politics and the economy in Quebec and Canada,” and he especially “has a lot of influence on Premier Jean Charest.” When former French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave Desmarais the French Legion of Honour, Desmarais brought Jean Charest with him. Quebec author Robin Philpot commented that Desmarais “took him along like a poodle,” referring to Charest. The Desmarais family has extensive ties to Canadian and especially Quebec politicians, have extensive interests in Canadian and international corporations and banks, are closely tied to major national and international think tanks (including the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderberg Group), and even host an annual international think tank conference in Montreal, the Conference of Montreal. The Desmarais family have had very close ties to Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien, Paul Martin, and even Stephen Harper, and to Quebec premiers, including Lucien Bouchard, who co-authored the article in the Gazette advocating increased tuition. The Desmarais empire also includes ownership of seven of the ten French newspapers in Quebec, including La Presse. The Desmarais family stand atop a parasitic Canadian oligarchy, which has bankers and corporate executives controlling the entire economy, political parties, the media, think tanks which set policy, and even our educational institutions, with the chancellors of both Concordia and McGill universities serving on the boards of the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada, respectively, as well as both schools having extensive leadership ties to Power Corporation and the Desmarais family. It is this very oligarchy which demands the people pay more, go further into debt, suffer and descend into poverty, while they make record profits. In March of 2012, Power Corporation reported fourth quarter profits of $314 million, with yearly earnings at over $1.1 billion. Canada’s banks last year made record profits, and then decided to increase bank fees. At the end of April, it was reported that Canada’s banks had received a “secret bailout” back in 2008/09, from both the Bank of Canada and the U.S. Federal Reserve, amounting to roughly $114 billion, or $3,400 for every Canadian man, woman, and child (more than the cost of yearly tuition in Quebec). And yet Quebec youth are told we suffer from “entitlement.” And now banks are expected to be making even more profits, as reported in early May. As banks make more record profits, Canadians are going deeper into debt. The big Canadian banks, along with the federal government, have colluded to create a massive housing bubble in Canada, most especially in Toronto and Vancouver, and with average Canadian household debt at $103,000, most of which is held in mortgages, and with the Bank of Canada announcing its intent to raise interest rates, Canada is set for a housing crisis like that seen in the United States in 2008, forcing the people to suffer while the banks make a profit. The head of the Bank of Canada (a former Goldman Sachs executive) said that Canadian household debt is the biggest threat to the Canadian economy, but don’t worry, Canada’s Finance Minister said he is working in close cooperation with the big banks to intervene in the housing market if necessary, which would likely mean another bailout for the big banks, and of course, hand the check to you! So, Canada has its priorities: every single Canadian man, woman, and child owes $3,400 for a secret bank bailout to banks that are now making record profits and increasing their fees, while simultaneously explaining that there is no money for education, so we will have to pay more for that, too, which is something those same banks demand our governments do to us. When the students stand up, they are said to be “brats” and whining about “entitlements.” But then, what does that make the banks? This is why I argue that Canada’s elites are parasitic in their very nature, slowly draining the host (that’s us!) of its life until there is nothing left the extract.

9)            The student strike is being subjected to a massive and highly successful propaganda campaign to discredit, dismiss, and demonize the students: In the vast majority of coverage on the student strike and protests in Quebec, the media and its many talking heads have undertaken a major propaganda campaign against the students. The students have been consistently ignored, dismissed, derided, insulted and attacked. One Canadian newspaper said it was “hard to feel sorry” for Quebec students, who were “whining and crying” and “kicking up a fuss,” treating Canada’s young generation like ungrateful children throwing a collective tantrum. In almost every article about the student strike, the main point brought up to dismiss the students is that Quebec has the lowest tuition costs in North America. The National Post published a column written by a third-year political science student at McGill University in Montreal stating that, “Quebec students must pay their share,” and advised people to “ignore the overheated rhetoric from student strikers,” and that, “Jean Charest must go full steam ahead.” The student author, Brendan Steven, is co-founder of McGill’s Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC), which is an organizing mobilizing McGill students in opposition to the strike. Steven’s organization attacked striking student associations as “illegitimate, unconstitutional shams” and attacked the democratic functioning of other student associations holding general assemblies. Steven complained that the democratic general assemblies “are being invented on a whim.” Brendan Steven not only gets to write columns for the National Post, but gets interviewed on CBC. Steven’s anti-strike group sent a letter to the McGill administration complaining about pro-strike students on the campus, writing, “This group violates our democratic right to access an education without fear of harm,” and added: “We are demanding the McGill administration take action against this minority group before the current conflicts escalate into disasters. They have proven they will not remain peaceful.” As a lap-dog boot-licking power worshipper, Brendan Steven has a future for himself in politics, that’s for sure! Back in January, Steven wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he explained that the reason why CEOs get paid so much is because “they’re worth it.” He referred to Milton Friedman – the father of neoliberalism – as a “great economic thinker.” Back in November of 2011, Steven wrote an article for the McGill Daily entitled, “Do not demonize authorities,” and then went on to justify police violence against protesting students engaged in an occupation of a school building, which he characterized as “an inherently hostile act.” Steven later got an opportunity to appear on CBC’s The Current. Margaret Wente, writing for the Globe and Mail, wrote that, “It’s a little hard for the rest of us to muster sympathy for Quebec’s downtrodden students, who pay the lowest tuition fees in all of North America.” She then referred to the striking students as “the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it.” Wente then attempted to explain the Quebec students by writing: “Now I get it: The kids are on another planet.” Interesting how she used the word “kids” to just add a little extra condescension. But it seems clear that Wente “gets” very little. In an August 2011 column, Wente tried to explain why poor black communities in Britain and America were experiencing riots and gang activity, placing blame on “single-mothers” and “family breakdown,” and explained that, “Rootless, unmoored young men with no stake in society are a major threat to social order.” Explaining this demographic in economic terms, Wente wrote: “They are, quite simply, surplus to requirements.” In another column, Wente argued that helping deliver much-needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza would “enable terrorists.” Wente also wrote an article entitled, “The poor are doing better than you think,” suggesting that it’s not so bad for poor people because they have air conditioning, DVD players, and cable TV. Wente has been consistently critical of the Occupy movement, and suggested in another article that, “the biggest economic challenge we face today is not income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth among the top 1 per cent. It’s the increasing failure of young men with high-school degrees or less to latch on to the world of work.” Of course, in Wente’s world, the inability of young men to get a job has nothing to do with income inequality, greedy corporations, Wall Street corruption or the concentration of wealth. In another article criticizing the Occupy movement, Wente managed to argue that it was not Wall Street and bankers that have destroyed the economy and left people without jobs, but rather what she refers to as the “virtueocracy,” blaming unions, single mothers who gets masters degrees in social sciences, and people who want to work at NGOs and non-profits, doing “transformational, world-saving work.” So it’s Wente’s “insightful” voice which is “informing” Canadians about the student movement in Quebec. Other Canadian publications writing about the Quebec student strike have headlines like, “Reality check for the entitled,” repeating the idiotic argument that because Quebec students pay less than the rest of Canada, they shouldn’t be “complaining” about the hikes. Andrew Coyne wrote a syndicated column in which he claimed that, “Quebec students know violence works,” framing the protest at which police almost killed two students as an action “of general rage the students had promised.” With no mention of the student who lost an eye, or the other student who ended up in the hospital with critical head injuries, Coyne talked about a cop who “was beaten savagely” and “lay helpless on the ground.” No mention, of course, of the police truck that drove into a group of students moments later, or the fact that the cop who was “beaten savagely” got away with minor injuries, unlike the students who were shot in the face with rubber bullets. By simply omitting police brutality and violence, Coyne presented the student movement as itself inherently violent, instead of at times erupting in violent reactions to state violence, which is far more extreme in every case. The Toronto Sun even had an article which claimed that the students have employed tactics of “thuggery” and “violent criminal behaviour.” Publications regularly ask their readers if Quebec students have “legitimate” grievances, if they are fighting for “social justice,” or if they are just “spoiled brats.” A syndicated column from the Vancouver Sun by Licia Corbella was titled, “How rioting students help make me grateful.” She discussed her latest visit to church where the pastor advised: “Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them,” and mentioned how parents anger their children by “belittling them, underestimating them and not treating them as individuals.” Corbella then took particular note of how parents provoke and enrage children “when we give them a sense of entitlement.” With the word “entitlement,” Corbella naturally then began thinking about Quebec students, as according to Corbella’s pastor, “entitlement leads to rage.” Corbella wrote that rioting “is, in essence, what a spoiled two-year-old would do if they had the ability.” She further wrote: “In Quebec, these entitled youth, who believe the rest of society MUST provide them with an almost free education or else, have blocked other students from accessing the educations they paid for, burned vehicles, smashed shop windows, looted property and severely beaten up a police officer who got separated from the rest of his colleagues.” Again, no mention of the two students who were almost killed by police at the same event. Corbella quoted someone interviewed on TV, endorsing the claim that the student protests are “starting to resemble terrorism,” though she took issue with the word “starting.” This is the result of creating, according to Corbell, “an entitlement society.” Apparently, the pastor’s lesson about not “belittling” the young did not sink in with Corbella. An article in the Chronicle Herald asked, “What planet are these kids on?” The author then wrote that, “the irony is that these students now want the system to accommodate their desires and for someone else to pay the bill,” and that, “students should stop making foolish demands.” Other articles claim that students “need a lesson in economics.” After all, the fact that the majority of economists, fully armed with “lessons in economics,” were unable to predict the massive global economic crisis in 2008, should obviously not lead to any questioning of the ideology of modern economic theory. No, it would be better for students to learn about the ocean from those who couldn’t see a tsunami as it approached the beach. Another article, written by a former speechwriter to the Prime Minister of Canada, wrote that the student arguments were vacuous and that the youth were in a “state of complete denial.” Rex Murphy, a commentator with the National Post and CBC, referred to the student strike as “short-sighted” and that student actions were “crude attempts at precipitating a crisis.” Student actions, he claimed, were the “actions of a mob” and were “simply wrong,” and thus, should be “condemned.” The CBC has been particularly terrible in their coverage of the student movement. With few exceptions, the Canadian media have established a consensus in opposition to the student protests, and use techniques of omission, distortion, or outright condemnation in order to promote a distinctly anti-student stance.

10)            The student movement is part of a much larger emerging global movement of resistance against austerity, neoliberalism, and corrupt power: In the coverage and discourse about the student movement, very little context is given in placing this student movement in a wider global context. The British newspaper, The Guardian, acknowledged this context, commenting on the red squares worn by striking students (a symbol of going squarely into the red, into debt), explaining that they have “become a symbol of the most powerful challenge to neoliberalism on the continent.” The article also adopted the term promoted by the student movement itself to describe the wider social context of the protests, calling it the “Maple Spring.” The author placed the fight against tuition increases in the context of a struggle against austerity measures worldwide, writing: “Forcing students to pay more for education is part of a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich – as with privatization and the state’s withdrawal from service-provision, tax breaks for corporations and deep cuts to social programs.” The article noted how the student movement has linked up with civic groups against a Quebec government plan to subsidize mining companies in exploiting the natural resources of Northern Quebec (Plan Nord), taking land from indigenous peoples to give to multibillion dollar corporations. As one of the student leaders stated, the protest was about more than tuition and was aimed at the elite class itself, “Those people are a single elite, a greedy elite, a corrupt elite, a vulgar elite, an elite that only sees education as an investment in human capital, that only sees a tree as a piece of paper and only sees a child as a future employee.” The student strike has thus become a social movement. The protests aim at economic disruption through civil disobedience, and have garnered the support of thousands of protesters, and 200,000 protesters on March 22, and close to 300,000 on April 22. Protests have blocked entrances to banks, disrupted a conference for the Plan Nord exploitation, linking the movement with indigenous and environmental groups. It was only when the movement began to align with other social movements and issues that the government even accepted the possibility of speaking to students. Unions have also increasingly been supporting the student strike, including with large financial contributions. Though, the large union support for the student movement was also involved in attempted co-optation and undermining of the students. At the negotiations between the government and the students, the union leaders convinced the student leaders to accept the deal, which met none of the student demands and kept the tuition increases intact. There was a risk that the major unions were essentially aiming to undermine the student movement. But the student groups, which had to submit the agreement to democratic votes, rejected the horrible government offer. Thus the Maple Spring continues. Quebec is not the only location with student protests taking place. In Chile, a massive student movement has emerged and developed over the past year, changing the politics of the country and challenging the elites and the society they have built for their own benefit. One of the leaders of the Chilean student movement is a 23-year old young woman, Camila Vallejo, who has attained celebrity status. In Quebec’s student movement, the most visible and vocal leader is 21-year old Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who has also achieved something of celebrity status within the province. Just as in Quebec, student protests in Chile are met with state violence, though in the Latin American country, the apparatus of state violence is the remnants of a U.S.-supported military dictatorship. Still, this does not stop tens of thousands of students going out into the streets in Santiago, as recently as late April. Protests by students have also been emerging elsewhere, often in cooperation and solidarity with the Occupy movement and other anti-austerity protests. Silent protests are emerging at American universities where students are protesting their massive debts. California students have been increasingly protesting increased tuition costs. Student protests at UC Berkeley ended with 12 citations for trespassing. Some students in California have even begun a hunger strike against tuition increases. In Brooklyn, New York, students protesting against tuition increases, many of them wearing the Quebec “red square” symbol, were assaulted by police officers. Even high school students in New York have been protesting. Israeli social activists are back on the streets protesting against austerity measures. An Occupy group has resumed protests in London. The Spanish indignado movement, which began in May of 2011, saw a resurgence on the one year anniversary, with another round of anti-austerity protests in Spain, bringing tens of thousands of protesters, mostly youths, out into the streets of Madrid, and more than 100,000 across the country. Their protest was met with police repression. Increasingly, students, the Occupy movement, and other social groups are uniting in protests against the costs of higher education and the debts of students. This is indeed the context in which the ‘Maple Spring’ – the Quebec student movement – should be placed, as part of a much broader global anti-austerity movement.

So march on, students. Show Quebec, Canada, and the world what it takes to oppose parasitic elites, mafia-connected politicians, billionaire bankers, and seek to change a social, political, and economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.

Solidarity, brothers and sisters!

For a comprehensive analysis of the Quebec student strike, see: “The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?”

For up to date news and information of student movements around the world, join this Facebook page: We Are the Youth Revolution.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.