Canada’s Music of Protest

All over Canada protests in solidarity with the students of Quebec are making noise with their pots, pans, and conversations about the society they want.
sisters vuvuzela by scottmontreal

Sisters of St. Sacrament vuvuzela in support of the protests in Montreal.

Photo by scottmontreal

Have you heard of the Maple Spring? If you're like most people living outside of French Canada, probably not. That's because the mainstream media has been mostly uninterested in what is likely the largest people's uprising in Quebec's history (possibly even Canada's history).

It all started with Jean Charest's government plan to raise post-secondary tuition by 75 percent over 5 years. Even though Quebecer students pay the lowest tuition in the country (as critics are eager to point out), it was enough to spark a massive outcry. Hundreds of thousands of students across the province took to the streets to make their voices heard.

Rather than address the issue, the Charest government decided to pass Bill-78 – effectively attempting to squash the dissent. In response, thousands more moderates poured into the streets, calling the bill an unprecedented attack on freedom of assembly.

And still, the rest of Canada and world heard very little. But suddenly, the tide turned with “An Open Letter to English Media”—a plea from Quebecer's to understand the seismic shift occurring on the streets.

If you do not live here, I wish I could properly convey to you what it feels like. It is magic. It starts quietly, a suggestion here and there, and it builds. Everybody on the street begins to smile. I get there, and we all—young and old, children and students and couples and retirees and workers and weird misfits and dogs and, well, neighbours—we all grin the widest grins you have ever seen while dancing around and making as much noise as possible. We are almost ecstatic with the joy of letting loose like this, of voicing our resistance to a government that seeks to silence us, and of being together like this.

On the heels came Quebec filmmaker Jeremie Battaglia’s gorgeous black and white piece on the “Casseroles” evolution of the strike – whereby the marchers brought pots and pans out to make music together in the streets. The film went viral, inspiring solidarity marches across Canada and the world.

In Vancouver, we danced and banged in the rain. What struck me was the simple joy on our faces. And most of all wonder.

There is a beauty that emerges when we learn and inspire each other, just as Quebec has done for the rest of Canada; when we speak to each other instead of through governments or the mainstream media. Here in Vancouver, we discovered what it means to make music together in the streets, in the rain, and you can see it on our faces.

Ethan Cox, also writing on the revolution, speaks clearly that this movement is about much more than tuition:

As this movement goes on, and grows by leaps and bounds, it is increasingly clear that it is not a movement of anger, of rage or of hate. It is a movement of love, of community and of hope. People who would be alone in their houses watching TV take to the streets and march with neighbors they never knew they had. Back when we had real communities, they were driven by the coming together of neighbors each night. Instead of watching TV, we met in the street, we exchanged details of our day and we made plans for our future. Just as the “casseroles” cause us to do now.

Perhaps the most lasting effect of this movement will be to build stronger, more connected communities. Every day that it goes on, more of us meet in the street, build relationships and talk about what kind of a society we want.

For me, there is a clear relationship between the Quebec Spring, the Occupy Movements, and all the social uprisings around the globe. They arise from the same source—the deep knowing that we have lost our way. We have forgotten how to live. And most importantly, we are starting to remember.



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