10 Lessons American Protesters Can Learn from Quebec’s Students

While U.S. police continues to aggressively and unconstitutionally dissuade citizens from exercising their First Amendment rights, protests are still an effective method for bringing about change. For example, after nine tireless months, Quebec’s student movement has finally declared victory. When the government threatened to raise tuition on college students by 87 percent, they came out in mass to protect affordable education. As author Naomi Klein stated,  “This is why radical movements are mercilessly mocked. They can win.”

The students’ diligent approach and subsequent success is not something to be overlooked, notes The Guardian. Here are 10 lessons American protesters can learn from Canada’s student movement:

1. Vote

Ultimately, the students won their plight by voting out the former premier, Jean Charest, and giving Pauline Marois, a candidate sympathetic to the students’ cause, the job instead. Marois, in turn, immediately cancelled the planned tuition hikes and ended the newly passed anti-protesting laws. While many American activists are justifiably disenchanted with the democratic process and are attempting to find alternative solutions, they can still vote in the meantime. Voting doesn’t need to mean choosing between two candidates who don’t represent their views, but backing someone who participates in their struggle, like frequent Occupy arrestee and Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein.

2. Expose Injustice

To put an end to the student movement, Quebec’s government passed Bill 78, which put massive, targeted restrictions on the students’ right to protest. Because this law blatantly contradicted Canada’s constitution, it enraged an even larger segment of the population. Suddenly, Canadians who were not particularly moved by the student struggle joined the efforts to protect their country’s freedom of speech. American protesters must showcase the police brutality and unlawful arrests intended to discourage demonstrations to prove how the rights Americans take for granted are actively being taken away, hopefully enlivening them to take action and build support.

3. Popular Movements Require a Populace

One of the biggest successes of the student movement is that it actually attracted up to half a million people simultaneously. While protests of a few hundred people are not meaningless, they do not carry the same clout as those with hundreds of thousands in attendance. The majority of the country can be sympathetic to the plight, but until they participate in some manner, the government will consider them too apathetic to worry about. Find ways to encourage people out of their homes and places of work and into the streets so that their numbers cannot be ignored.

4. Persistence Is Key

The students of Quebec stuck with the movement since the beginning of the year. Even when tens of thousands flooded the streets, protesters did not take for granted that their voices were heard, continuing to go out and bang on pots and pans each night. A constant presence was essential in reminding authorities that they were not going anywhere and that their concerns were not to be taken lightly. Protests every six months are nice, but protests every evening show you mean business.

5. Find Common Ground and Align

Two of the largest student organizations in Quebec, CLASSE and FEUQ, employed different tactics and different end goals. At the same time, however, they had a significant amount of overlap in their desires and chose to focus on the similarities to work together and bring about change. Besides, a diversity in tactics can even be helpful and the variety in approaches helped to win over more supporters and bring more attention to the cause.

6. Stand By Your Allies

Don’t cut off those who are united in your cause. Hoping for compromise, Quebec’s government agreed to hold talks with the more temperate student groups, but would not allow representatives from CLASSE to participate in these discussions. Instead of taking the opportunity to put their own interests first, these student groups walked out on the talks altogether. Too often, American protesters bicker amongst their peers rather than uniting in their shared struggle.

7. Reach Out to Unions

When mobilizing a movement, one of the quickest ways to grow your numbers is to connect with large groups of people who are already politically active, namely unions. While the student unions themselves were the most crucial, their networking with labor unions was also important. Students met with miners and public sector workers who were also facing massive problem to build coalitions. Although worker strikes never occurred, it was discussed at length, and the persistent threat definitely gave credence to the students’ sway.

8. Pick a Cause

The Canadian students adopted a single cause to rally around, which proved effective in achieving change. One of the criticisms most commonly aimed at Occupy is that it is not clear what it stands for. As many Occupiers will tell you, however, the biggest problem is that the amount of problems with the United States cannot be limited to a short list. Nonetheless, activists could benefit from building groups that target specific, tangible goals, be it instituting campaign finance reform, fighting foreclosures or lowering college tuition. That does not mean abandoning reform on all fronts, but rather dividing to focus on specific issues, while still coming together to support peers’ efforts on days of action.

9. Champion Education Specifically

If you’re looking for one particular cause to rally people behind, education is a great place to start. Not only does offering affordable education to everyone give opportunities to people who would otherwise be impoverished, but it also encourages people to think critically and question the status quo. Furthermore, in the spectrum of causes, education is one of the least controversial subjects. Theoretically anyway, people want the country’s youth to be smart and skilled. While citizens as a whole may be oblivious to the extent education is legitimately under attack (with slashed budgets, the demonization of teachers and undue emphasis on standardized tests), when you can show that the elite do not care about providing quality education, you’ll gain a lot of support.

10. Do Not Become Complacent with Your Victories

If the government has tried to screw you over before, chances are they’ll do it again. CLASSE understands that it is better to remain vigilant and continue their efforts rather to rest on their laurels and assume the problem is fixed. Sure, the recent election seems promising, but a consistent, diligent presence by the student unions will help to dissuade the government from trying to backtrack a couple of years down the road.


Related Stories:

Quebec Attempts to Quash Students’ Free Speech with New Law

Occupy Wall Street Celebrates 1st Anniversary with 181 Arrests

Police Violently Attack Residents, Try to Buy Footage


Photo Credit: David Vilder


Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.3 years ago


The cost-savings in scrapping this vital program pale in comparison to the benefits it provides. We believe the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that these trees are protected. Ending the program is an affront to rural families and small-scale farmers, who have treasured these trees not only for their use, but for their natural beauty for over a century. Rest assured my New Democrat colleagues and I will continue to fight for the conservation of this important program.


Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.3 years ago

Further to Harper trashing everything benefiting humans and the environment, I had a response from a REAL Canadian party regarding the following:

The Shelterbelt Program is a modestly-funded program that has given out more than 600 million free seedlings to B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba rural landowners since 1901. The program is an important agroforestry tool which provides farmers with trees to help conserve water and soil, manage snow and wind, improve air quality, help to protect livestock and yards, stabilize crops and enhance habitats for surrounding wildlife. Sadly, the Conservative government has announced the 110-year-old program, run by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, will come to an end next spring. When the decision was announced in April, the Official Opposition urgently asked the Minister to reconsider (http://malcolmallen.ndp.ca/post/conservatives-turn-their-backs-on-farmers-closure-of-agroforestry-development-centre-shortsighted-says-ndp).

While the government argues that shelterbelts are well established and it’s time for them to step aside, we argue that the program is crucial for new and small-scale family farms. New Democrats are worried that as farm sizes grow, existing shelterbelts will be removed, which will be devastating to surrounding areas.

The cost-savings in scrapping this vital program pale in comparison to the benefits it provides. We believe the federal government has a responsibility to ensure that these trees are pr

rene davis
irene davis3 years ago


Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.3 years ago


Dear friend,

Prime Minister Harper gets back to Canada this weekend after a trip to India. Top of his agenda is likely to be deciding what to do next about the Canada-China FIPA, the investment deal that would give multinational corporations unprecedented powers to stop the Canadian government from protecting our environment and natural resources, and allow foreign corporations to sue Canadian governments for huge amounts of money if our government did anything to limit their profits (like, you know, try to protect the environment).

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is running a public consultation process on the environmental impacts of FIPA with a deadline of this Sunday. After the setback we dealt it last week, the Harper government is hoping to be able to point to this public consultation as proof the process has been transparent -- and argue that no one is worried about environmental impacts of FIPA. But we can foil him by flooding the process with comments tens from thousands of Canadians in the next 48 hours.

I just submitted an email to the Canada Trade Agreements Secretariat. Will you join me?



Jan W.
Jan W.3 years ago

I love the Canadians.

Even if Dominique D. is correct that "alot of info left out", these are some good strategies for protest. Americans often 'want it all' their way and don't always work together as well as they could. That is why we have a non-profit for about everything that overlaps with others.

I hate getting membership requests from six to twenty different worthy organizations that all work in the same area. I can't decide who is the 'best' so I don't donate to any of them. It makes me donation-weary.

Cheryl I.
Past Member 3 years ago

Noted, thank you.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago



Incredibly, if BC tries to regulate or block Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, Sinopec, another Chinese state-owned oil company with investments in Canada’s natural resource infrastructure, could sue the BC government for damages, and we may never even hear about it the case or its results.5,6

Other countries like India, South Africa and Australia are moving away from this kind of trade deal. Last year Australia rejected investor-state arbitration due to concerns that it would “constrain the ability of Australian governments to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters”.7,8

Why is Canada moving backwards?

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago



Any Canadian law or government decision – even ones that protect Canadian jobs, our environment, our economy and our families – could be fought in secret tribunals outside of our legal system. Arbitrators unaccountable to the Canadian public would have the power to award billions in damages to foreign corporations if we do anything that hurts corporate profits, like improve environmental standards or slow down the export of cheap, unprocessed resources.1,5,6

Time is running out. We have two weeks before FIPA is set to pass into law, and the Nexen takeover could be approved at any time. Canadians, including many Conservative MPs, oppose the Nexen takeover, and Prime Minister Harper has just asked for a 30 day extension to regroup. We need a massive public outcry now.
Additional Information

The ability for corporations to sue foreign governments in private courts, called “investor-state arbitration,” is a controversial practice built into many trade deals like NAFTA that has cost Canada millions and over-ruled democratic decisions, but none impose the level of secrecy in the Canada-China FIPA.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago



The Canada-China FIPA is set for automatic approval on October 31st unless we get the word out now that the Harper Conservatives are trying bypass Parliament and sneak this deal by Canadians. That’s why we partnered with SumOfUs.org on this campaign – if enough of us raise our voices now, we can create a massive public outcry to stop this devastating deal in its tracks.

Send a message to Prime Minister Harper and your MP: Canada is not for sale, stop the Canada-China FIPA and the Nexen takeover. When 30,000 sign, we will deliver your messages to Ottawa.

Alongside this deal, the Harper government is trying to speed through the sale of Nexen, a major Canadian oil and gas company, to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), one of China’s massive state-owned oil companies.4 The $15 billion-dollar Nexen takeover will open the floodgates to a wave of foreign buyouts of Canada's natural resources.

If FIPA passes, a Chinese company can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments – provincial or federal – in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company’s profits.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N.4 years ago

PLEASE sign - we have to stop HARPER literally selling our democracy NOW!

Among other things - ... Incredibly, if BC tries to regulate or block Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, Sinopec, another Chinese state-owned oil company with investments in Canada’s natural resource infrastructure, could sue the BC government for damages, and we may never even hear about it the case or its results. ...


In two weeks, Prime Minister Harper could pass the most secretive and sweeping trade deal of a generation.

This deal would pave the way for a massive natural resource buyout and allow foreign corporations to sue the Canadian government in secret tribunals, restricting Canadians from making democratic decisions about our economy, environment and energy.1

Most Canadians have never heard of FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement, because Prime Minister Harper is trying to sneak it through without a single vote or debate in Parliament.2,3

Canadians have a right to determine our future, but this agreement will undermine our democratic rights and lock us into an inescapable path of foreign-ownership and resource extraction until at least 2040.