Over the past few weeks, Occupy Wall Street activists have organized marches and other symbols of unity for ongoing status quo–shattering movements in Quebec and Mexico. As a result, the protest communities in North America have expressed unprecedented levels of solidarity between activists, who often share nothing but a common language of struggle and solidarity.
It’s easy for, say, an NYU student buried in debt to inherently understand obstacles facing a Quebec student (whopping 82 percent tuition hikes over the next five years), or for a Quebecer to discern why the Yo Soy 132 movement in Mexico doesn’t want a monopolistic party that ruled for seven decades to once again return to power, or glean why students aren’t crazy about the idea of Televisa and TV Azteca controlling 95 percent of Mexico’s TV market.
Corporate and political monopolies and the consequences of austerity are realities all too familiar to young people, whether they live in Quebec or the United States or Mexico.
NYC March in solidarity with the Quebec student strike (May 22, 2012)
To hear the motivations for the 100 days of protest launched by the “red square” revolutionaries—the symbol chosen because they are “in the red” because of student debt—is to hear echoes of student movements within the US.
Student activists from CUNY explained why they choose to protest at Alternet:
For the majority of us seeking degrees, higher education is indeed dying a slow and painful death. Too little considered, however, is the role we as students are playing in its demise. The combination of tuition hikes, a lack of democratic governance in our schools, ballooning student debt, and the intimate relationship between our financial institutions and our academic ones are certainly killing higher education—but what is killing the student movement is our own complacency with these policies. While here in America, students on many campuses have limited themselves to mourning, elsewhere in the world they have taken to the streets—and there is much we can learn from their activism, in order to better our own.
That “take to the streets” mantra appears to be gaining momentum.
Last night, OWS groups marched to show support for university students in Quebec. Around 200 demonstrators in New York City gathered at Union Square and proceeded on a route through the city, ending in Times Square. (photo by @Jeff5mith)
There were some reports of aggressive behavior from police. Independent journalist Jesse Myerson tweeted, “Officer St. Jacques. Badge 2433. Keeps hitting me with his club. Told him I’m press. ‘I don’t really care.’ #again”
The Village Voice’s Nick Pinto interviewed protesters who identify strongly with the red square movement.
Gregory Rosenthal, a doctoral candidate at Stonybrook who teaches in the SUNY system, said it’s a message he can identify with. His students are facing their own five-year “rational tuition increase.”
“A lot of my students are the first in their family to go to college,” Rosenthal said. “All these kids are working their way through college, working two or three jobs. You might say ‘SUNY’s only $7,000 a year,’ but for a lot of students, especially students who are mothers or fathers, that’s a lot.”
Intra-country expressons of solidarity are also plentiful. Between seventy and 100 people from Occupy Winnipeg gathered at the legislature, banging loudly on pots and pans, a strategy of disruption first adopted by the Quebecers. Another hundred members of Occupy Edmonton demonstrated in Churchill Square Sunday, and hundreds more marched in an Occupy Toronto protest.
“I’m hoping with the momentum and the energy in Quebec it will inspire people not just in Alberta but Canada-wide to stand up and fight for the values of socialism,” said David Laing, one of the organizers of the event.
“Education is a right. And we will not give up the fight.”
“Solidarity with Montreal!” a headline in the Occupied Oakland Tribune exclaims.
It is now time for us to extend our solidarity to our comrades in Montreal and work to inspire the same solidarity and desire to disrupt business as usual in our friends, families and neighbors.
Keep striking and don’t ever stop!
Infinite solidarity with the infinite social strike!
An article titled “Solidarity With the Mexican Spring” is posted at the official website for OWS, and organizers from Occupy Boston constructed a flyer for a solidarity event that reads, “Solidarity Rally: For Quebec & Mexican Students. Come show support for North American students in their struggles for education!”
The spirit of solidarity between Mexican and US protesters has actually existed since Occupy’s first days. Back in November of last year, Mexican students sent a statement of support to Occupy Oakland:
Here we drew one of the first lines of struggle against global capitalism in our laboratory of resistance. With humility in front of you, our comrades, we would like to tell of our experience. Encampments and occupations are common in Mexico and comrades joke about the lack of space to put up more encampments. But this isn’t by chance and was won through struggle. One recent example: in 2006, in the state of Oaxaca, the local teachers union setup an encampment in the center of Oaxaca City during their annual collective bargaining. One morning, on the 14th of june, the state police tried to take down the camp of the teachers and the city rose up, they not only retook the plaza but kicked the police out of the city. The Commune of Oaxaca was born on this day and the following 6 months transformed Oaxaca and the participants in the uprising. Like you, they also had problems of repression and representation. Against the repression they put up thousands of barricades each night to protect the population from the murderous paramilitaries of Governor Ulises Ruiz, who they struggled to kick out. Against the lying representation of the media, they took over their television and radio studios, collectivized the resources and began to have conversations that had never been had by those means.
We are following closely everything that is happening in Oakland. The police kill youth like Oscar Grant and gravely injure anti-war veterans such as Scott Olsen. The media lies about the popular participation in the movement and they propagate superficial divisions. The self-defense and sefl-representation [sic] of our movements are essential to our collective struggle. We invite you to learn from our experiences and we hope to learn from yours. Together and in concert we are toppling this miserable system.
The statement closes, “In our stories you will see your story.”
In times of great economic disparity, governments have a habit of becoming much more fascist in behavior, and those who suffer under the subsequent approval of right-wing policies are usually immigrants and minorities.
But in this case, the opposite is true (at least, in part, among activists). Rather than slipping into nationalistic tribes, anti-austerity protesters have extended their hands across their country’s borders in the spirit of solidarity. These students refuse to believe, for example, the narrative that Mexican immigrants are the cause of all their woes, and instead they see these southern students as being part of their class, the 99 percent, and together they face a showdown with their 1 percent overlords, who continue to chop away at their already meager means.