For five months now, Quebec students have been taking empty pots, pans, potlids, and cutlery in hand, and demonstrating by filling the streets with noise. Why? A valid question. Tuition fees were increased again in the beginning of these demonstrations, but the minimum wage remains so low, one is barely able to get by on it. And because the academic requisites for higher paying jobs is increasing over time, that means that there are a lot of undergraduate students — like myself — carrying around a fancy piece of paper that means nothing except to the university transfer program from whence it came. And to accomplish the task of earning this fancy piece of paper that means almost nothing on paper? Well, I personally had to take $50,000 in student loans over the course of my academic career, because I’ve never been able to earn enough money to start my own savings (never mind the part about how my parents literally stole my savings and all my extra earnings from me for years before I left home — that detail is anomalous in my case). But there are tons of PhD graduates carrying around a quarter million dollars or more of student-loan-related debt, reduced to minimum wage earnings while they serve fancy coffees to people of their parents’ generation, who hold all their higher paying job prospects hostage. That means a lifetime of debt with no way out, before we’ve even begun to account for the addition of interest to student loans.
And about that interest: the fact that it is applied at all, compounding every month, unless you earn so little money at your job, that you are deemed unable to pay even the interest alone. And that’s been part of my story. Such as when I had a job working for a doctor who pulled in more than my entire year’s earnings every month. Though she was paying me a salary based on $12 per hour (the highest amount I’ve ever been paid at a steady job), it was calculated on 30.5 hours per week. And because I often wound up staying an extra 15 to 30 minutes at least 4 times a week, no matter how I micro-managed her schedule from my desk, that meant I wound up being paid less than the minimum wage for the actual hours I was working. But she had an answer for that too. Benefits instead of a raise. And guess what? Every reason why I actually needed medical benefits was an explicit exemption in the terms of this benefits plan. And she insisted that I can’t forfeit these completely meaningless benefits, because it was “office policy” (she and I were her only two employees). It took me three months of tearing my hair out over the phone to convince student loans to put me on interest relief status, while I literally had to starve myself in order to save enough cash to get a tooth extraction I desperately needed. And if I needed a day off to go get my surgery? Well I had to pay my replacement out of my own pocket, or the doctor would arbitrarily determine their rate of pay and dock it from my cheque for me.
Is it any wonder I went back to school in the beginning of the very next Fall semester, in an attempt to earn the credentials for a career that would actually pay me enough money to live on? And how wonderfully that worked out for me.
But There’s Still More To These Demonstrations
Recently, the premier of the province of Quebec, named Jean Charest, became so threatened by these student demonstrations, which are calling for tuition to be abolished all together across the country, in order to dismantle a major classist structure within our society, that he passed laws that quite literally criminalize freedom of dissent and freedom of assembly. Students who can barely afford to live, let alone afford to eat while they pursue a higher education, are now risking being subject to tens of thousands of dollars in fines for demonstrating in the name of free education. Fines are double for “repeat offenders”, and prison time is a very immediate possibility for anyone who is put in handcuffs and thrown into a bus (some of whom aren’t even demonstrators, so much as in the wrong place at the right time). And migrant citizens face a maximum reprimand of being fucking deported from the country of which they are a legal citizen. While no one has yet been sentenced to be deported, the very possibility of it is a slap in the face to anyone who fought to gain citizenship here, as it is now transparently the case that citizenship is contingent upon being as complacent as a Hindu cow. Offences can be declared at the whim of police officers at any moment during the gathering of a demonstration or during the proceedings of the demonstration itself, and demonstrators can be fined on the spot for failing to disperse immediately once they have been told.
I found a way to get involved on the other side of the country, as soon as I understood everything I’ve written on the matter up to this point. Solidarity demonstrations are taking place all across the country, and have even spread worldwide.
I suggest to anyone reading this, that you report to your Facebook right now, and look for a way to take part in your democracy before it’s illegal to do so where you are too. That’s how I found out about local Casserole Nights, of which I have marched in two until I had a headache from yelling to demand from passersby that they stop and think about the dissolution of our democracy (and I am soon attending my third). The evening of the first one, I met a group of Quebecers who were unaware that solidarity demonstrations were taking place at all — the point of these demonstrations is to gain the support of so many demonstrators, that we reach critical mass and can no longer be ignored by mass media or the government. These demonstrations are peaceful, but by no means quiet. Very fortunately, someone from CBC came running into our crowd the night we banged pots at the front door of City Hall before taking over a major bridge that delivers traffic from downtown to those very steps. And for the record? We were locked out and bulldozed out of City Hall by police, even though there was a public hearing taking place three floors up, and there is no valid reason why those doors should have been bolted shut right in front of us. It is clear that the authorities know what is going on and why we were there. Where is the rest of the nation’s attention?