Until recently, the social movements of the United States were used as a model for impassioned political organizing and effective protesting tactics across the world. In the past several months, monumental action in Montreal, Canada has turned this expectation on its head. Now it is time for American students to turn north for inspiration.
The issue? Public education. Since February, tens of thousands of students have taken to the streets every day in protest of a $1,625 tuition hike to be imposed incrementally over five years beginning fall 2012. The Quebec government proposed the 75 percent hike in its most recent budget plan. In response, more than 2,500 people have been arrested since Quebecois students began protesting.
Though tuition in Quebec will remain below the Canadian national average and is much lower than tuition at U.S. universities, Canadian students are recognizing the privatization of public education in its early stages and are demonstrating tirelessly to ensure their government knows that the public demands affordable education.
City on a Hill Press applauds the efforts of student protesters in Montreal. They have faced backlash from the government in the form of arrests and an emergency sanction hastily passed in mid-May. Yet their persistence has garnered international news coverage and more attention has been paid to the issue of affordable education.
At UC Santa Cruz, student protesters regularly shut down campus entrances to protest and raise awareness of fee increases and their effects on the campus community. This year, a few hundred people gathered March 1 to demonstrate in the rain. Roughly 500 students participating in UC Student Association lobbying in Sacramento and other campuses had demonstrations as well.
But Californians as a whole are not taking action in the kinds of numbers Canadian students have been, and certainly not as frequently. Some attribute the low turnout to the rain, others to the desensitized UC student attitude — when faced with fee hike after fee hike, protesting without tangible results can grow tiresome. Whatever the reasons, this showing for a university with tuition more than six times the cost of Quebec universities is pitiful compared to the level of mobilization displayed by Canadian students.
Unless a larger number of UC students commit to consistent political action on campus and off, the UC regents will continue raising fees and Californians will find it increasingly difficult to fund a public university education. Symbolic demonstrations will continue to have little to no impact. Thank you, Canadians, for providing an example of the type of mass protest the UC has been missing.