Fighting austerity in Quebec is tied to systems of colonialism

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Graphic by École de la Montagne Rouge

Cracks in the facade of austerity are quickly spreading outward on the streets in Montréal. Thousands upon thousands are actively joining a growing grassroots protest movement that is bold, broad and powerful.

Thursday's massive demonstration was the public illustration of a grassroots movement in motion, one that is not taking place at random, but that has been built over years. Important and intense debates are taking place about the nature, direction and tactics of this anti-austerity movement.

Compared to the student strike of 2012 which was led by student unions, the current movement involves more political layers -- community organizations, anarchist networks, unions and grassroots anti-austerity coalitions, like the Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services, are all actively mobilizing.

Today, l'Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) is key to the movement, but at moments has occupied a more mainstream place within the organizational dynamic. Active debates are taking place within ASSÉ, an organization representing tens of thousands of students, on pushing for an open-ended strike this upcoming fall. But on the streets, the energy is clearly pointing toward taking action right now. These debates illustrate the political diversity of the movement while also highlighting the real challenges and tensions between institutionalization and action.

Despite this discussion, things are moving day after day, night after night in the grassroots and it feels like a real momentum is developing. There is broad consensus that this movement is not only about the Québec Liberal government's assault on public institutions like health care and education, articulated painfully in the recent 2015/16 budget, but aims to question the broader structures of neoliberalism and the social violence of free market economics, in Québec and beyond.

Struggles for climate justice are present within the process -- as in the 2012 strike, environmental issues are important to the movement's rejection of austerity. In 2012, the intense action against the neocolonial Plan Nord "development" project in Québec, modelled in many ways on the tar sands in Alberta, was a defining action.

In an open call for action against hydrocarbons, the Printemps 2015 campaign against austerity writes:

"A wave of oil transportation and extraction projects are spreading across Québec, which is now the hub of the Canadian petro-economy. The route from the river to the ocean has been turned over to drilling and the transit of tankers, pipelines, and trains.

These violent projects are being presented as magic bullets for the economic problems of Québec. In fact, they only serve to enrich an economic elite which is dispossessing peoples while destroying the environment. The earth is treated as a commodity, as the private property of multinational corporations, to whom everything is being turned over without consulting us."

There has also been a major feminist night protest, denouncing the ways that austerity heightens gender violence, while also specifically denouncing police violence against women.

A powerful energy is present night after night during the autonomous evening protests, which without permission or permit, beautifully occupy the city streets. In the first days, police repression and intentional violence against these actions was clear and scary, with police shields smashing students' teeth out, major deployment of tear-gas canisters, often fired at close range, and endless numbers of riot police intentionally using physical violence.

Despite police repression, people are still taking to the streets each night. In the face of the movement's persistence and determination, some political space has been won on the streets, as police have relatively held back over recent nights.

As this movement builds over the upcoming week, it's critically important for people in the rest of Canada to support those on the streets in Québec. Austerity in Québec is part of the broader wave of austerity being directed across Canada by the Conservative government.

Although major political differences remain between Québec and Canada and this is important to consider, the essence of the battle is the same: our common fight is against a neoliberal austerity attack that is rooted in a colonially oriented economic system and relation to the land.

Across these Indigenous territories called Québec and Canada, the battle at the roots is about overcoming systems of colonial violence that are at the absolute core of all austerity policies.

Stefan Christoff is a musician, community organizer and media maker living in Montreal. Find Stefan on Twitter @spirodon.

Graphic by École de la Montagne Rouge

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