Tell me you don’t romanticize 1960s and ‘70s protest culture—Paris 1968, Woodstock, sexual revolution, daisies in military gun shafts, Students for a Democratic Society, fuck the man, I’m going to burn my bra (that never happened, by the way). Tell me you haven’t had a conversation bemoaning our immaterial, apathetic, overmediated era. Something is happening in North America right now. Real north, up in Montreal and Quebec, what started as a faction student strike has developed into a province-wide protest with nightly noise making and marches of up to the hundreds of thousands. The movement is gaining momentum outside the province, too. Two weeks ago, solidarity protests were held across Canada and in New York, and more are scheduled for the future. Visibility is up. Members of the band The Arcade Fire showed their allegiance on stage with Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live, donning the red square patches that have been adopted as a symbol of the protest. Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan wore one on his tux at the Cannes Film Festival.
So what’s all the noise about? The origins of the unrest lie in a relatively small proposed tuition hike for university students. To Americans and the rest of Canada, the hike might sound insignificant (it amounts to about $250 every year for seven years but, as tuition is so low in Quebec, that’s something like a 75% increase) and it represent much more—a long-held cultural ideology, born from the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, that higher education is a right, as well as frustration at broad institutional and governmental corruption. As it does, the original complaint has spawned into much more, with violent striker subsects causing a mini moral panic in mainstream media, and violent police responses and incitements causing more friction on the ground. There have been heated generational debates about entitlement across news media. And, most significantly, the passing of a bullshit, reactionary law (Bill 78) by the province of Quebec, which fundamentally challenges democratic freedom and changed the protest from school-kid stuff to This Is What Democracy Looks Like. Bill 78 is now being challenged in court. People from all walks of life are joining the cause; last week, a group of lawyers and notaries marched the streets of Montreal in silence in protest of the law.
It’s a complicated issue made much more complicated by the language divide in Quebec. A large portion of Quebec speaks French and only French. In the cosmopolis of Montreal, there are Francophones and Anglophones (there are two major French-speaking universities and two major English-speaking ones). Most Montrealers are bilingual, but many are not. In the early weeks especially, there was a serious discrepancy between the English and French media coverage of the movement; the French media being generally more diverse and on the ground, while the mainstream English was something of a gawking, confused onlooker.
That’s where Translating the printemps érable comes in. Using Tumblr, a group of activists have been translating and sharing French news media into English. These aren’t professional translators but thoughtful, bilingual volunteers who wanted Anglophone Quebecers and the rest of Canada and the world to better understand what was going on. Since the site launched, and very well because of it, English coverage has gotten better. The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Globe and Mail are reporting regularly on the events. People across the world are at attention.
Prohibitive tuition rates and fiscal mismanagement aren’t problems exclusive to Quebec. If anything, the state of higher education should be much more contentious in the United States. The Quebec “printemps érable” may well snowball south of the border. Or maybe it won’t; we’re still debating healthcare as a right. Either way, the Quebec case is fascinating and worth reading up on. In addition to its long Tumblr roll of translated articles (the site posts several times a day), Translating the printemps érable has compiled a list of essential reading for newcomers interested in all sides of the issue. Translating the printemps érable makes great use of Tumblr and the resources of the web. From the site, it’s easy for administrators to reach out to media outlets and potential translators, and for readers to reblog, Tweet and share posts on Facebook. Social media as a tool for revolution? We’ve seen this before.
A big thanks goes out to Anna at Translating the printemps érable for fact checking this article.
Photo Credit: Monica Eileen Patterson