Sarkar: Are the Quebec riots a manifestation of the global Occupy movement?

By: /
4 June, 2012
By: Rana Sarkar
Senior Fellow and Co-Chair of the Advisory Board, Munk School of Global Affairs

Well, it sure isn’t just about tuition fees. Nor is it the Seinfeld protest led by spoiled, narcissistic fantasists as some claim (though no shortage of these guys around). The most under covered story of the last months might have been the quarter million who turned out for Earth Day, which points at something bigger. The spirit of Occupy (“entirely constructive” pace Mark Carney) is very much play including a broad sense of middle class pessimism (see Nanos) simmering rage against institutional failure (the guys who having privatized gain, socialized losses, still in charge and immune to shame or consequences).

Without doubt, big debts, bad jobs, dim prospects and inter-generational unfairness fit into a perceived broader narrative of failure and channel a crankiness felt in cities across the West and beyond. Add local colour of historical patterns of protests, lingering corruption probes and democratic institutions mugged by shady politics – you can apparently get a few folks onto the streets on fairly thin pretext. Is Montreal 2012 sui generis or fashion forward? The retreat of the thugs and the hockey riot crowd (admittedly as small crew) and emergence of #manifcasserole, is a promising development and points to the most interesting and potentially lasting legacy of these protests – their style. Enabled by new social media and building on a decade of global experimentation, “aesthetic protests” are shifting the meme of politics, introducing humour, p2p immediacy, style and fun back into political engagement that trad parties ignore at their peril. The fact that they’re inchoate and largely spontaneous is part of genre. The subversive Pandas were a deft touch.

As summer fades to fall, politics, however unfashionable and boring, will ultimately be the way forward. As a clever friend said recently, “There’s this thing called an election coming up…” I fully expect celebrity winner of #manif Garbriel Nadeau-Dubois (born, incidentally, in the Oka summer of 1990 at the death of Meech, and first Bloc win in Laurier St Marie) to put his beau visage on a campaign poster somewhere. Something’s changed. Old guys everywhere are looking older. Even Tom (nee Thomas) Mulcair might want to get some guitar lessons…

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