I wrote the following paragraphs on the métro from Place-Saint-Henri to Guy-Concordia station on Monday, March 12th, 2012. This was the start of the second week of the Fine Arts Student Alliance’s strike at Concordia University.
It’s been rare for a single Theatre and Development class to go by without the discussion turning to ideas of community. We run the risk of wearing the term out[^1], but in this area of study it can’t be avoided.
When I set out to write my audition piece for Concordia, I wanted to talk about a community that I had helped build from 2007–2010 when I managed a coffee shop in Halifax. It was a rare opportunity to bring together a group of diverse yet like-minded people and many of my co-workers from those days number among my dearest friends. The job was not without frustrations, and these led to my decision to quit in 2010—which, in its own roundabout way, brought me to Montréal and my new life here. In my audition piece I reflected on the challenges of my old job alongside the remarkable community of individuals that grew out of it—a community that, in the long run, has become greater and more enduring than the circumstances which created it.
I’ve found myself in a similar place over the past week of student strikes here at Concordia. I’m an unwavering supporter of accessible education; Québec’s forty-year record of student strikes suggests that the tactic has strength. Nonetheless, I think that even the most stoic among us has found the past week draining and often disheartening as the first English-language university student strike in Québec history struggles to define itself.
Yet in spite of the twelve-hour days, interminable meetings and frayed nerves, something kind of magical has revealed itself—a community where even if we disagree about issues or tactics, we can set aside our differences and work together to make sure that we’re all there for each other over the next few weeks. I can’t help but believe that this community will endure beyond the strike mandate and our undergraduate studies and continue well into the future. I hope so.
As I write this, it’s the evening of May 30th, 2012 and I’m in Wolfville. I just returned home from a small but enthusiastic casserole session that departed from the Town Clock at 8pm.
I’m halfway through a two-month trip home to Nova Scotia. I’ve been spending my time between my parents’ house in Wolfville, accommodating friends’ apartments in Halifax, and my childhood home on Great Island, off the province’s south shore. The house on Great Island is also home to a family of raccoons, who (for the record) do not make the best roommates. They live in the crawlspace above the third floor, and spend their time scrabbling across the ceiling overhead, fighting amongst themselves and growling malevolently at any sound of human intrusion. I am confident that they remain confined to the crawlspace, but sometimes late at night I find it hard to fully convince myself of this.
My current living situation is a strange contrast to the heady atmosphere that I left behind in Montréal. I was quite overwhelmed by the time I left, and ready for some space from the student movement and a break from my role in it, whatever that was. Retreating to a house in the woods on an island in the Atlantic Ocean was the right decision at the time, but now I’m itching to get back.
Re-reading what I wrote in March, I think I was anticipating (or hoping for) what now seems to be happening in Québec. The casseroles—these exuberant nightly gatherings of neighbours that began in my old neighbourhood of Rosemont-La Petite Patrie in Montréal, then spread throughout Québec and are now spreading across Canada[^2]—are the kind of demonstrations that don’t start as part of a coordinated strategy. What’s happening now is grassroots action that speaks to larger issues than the tuition increase.
A recent poll made it very clear that even many of those Québecers who don’t agree with the student movement on tuition still support the students’ right to protest. As Voltaire put it: «Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai pour que vous ayez le droit de le dire.» In the wake of Bill 78, Charest and the punditocracy that stands by him have shown their true colours, and Québec—and Canada—are waking up. And in a funny way, I feel as though I am too.
As for that community I wrote about in March, among my new friends in Montréal and my old friends in Halifax: well, it feels stronger every day.
[^1]: Like so.
[^2]: And onwards to London and New York, apparently!