Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
“For many today (including me til recently), canvassing and protesting are subordinate to kid activities.”

“Can you attend a rally this weekend?”  I ask.

“No, my kid’s got travel soccer,” is the frequent response.

For many today (including me til recently), canvassing and protesting are subordinate to kid activities.  

Life is busy and always will be. But the urgency of today’s challenges mandate greater dedication to creating a just, sustainable society.  Having kids occasionally pack sandwiches for the hungry in church is no longer enough. We must teach them to stop the world from creating the homeless, poor and suffering.

Political activism must become the new travel soccer.

Sure, children’s sports contribute to their health and camaraderie. But those benefits – and stimulation, the lessons of triumphs and failures, and the power of teamwork – can also be found squarely in civic participation. Some parents and kids get it, like the Mom whose presence with her 6-year-old son at Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” Sunday event was another typical climate-related outing for the two, or the mother whose move to Occupy DC gave her young teenage daughter “the best possible education”. But for many, saving the world comes second to scoring a goal.

A small redirection of resources could save our planet.= 

Travel soccer players put 8 hours to 14 hours a week, or 400 to 700 hours each year, into their sport. It would be great if they channeled all that time into political activism, but even devoting 1/10 of it would yield 40 hours annually.

Another popular kid activity is watching TV. Adolescents watch about 20 hours a week (or 1000 hours a year). Redirecting just 5 percent would result in 50 hours with high-achieving role models and cool parents and kids.

Many kids get tutored for five hours a week (some of this of the don’t-get-a -B-variety), or 250 hours a year. In 25 hours, they could learn ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.”

 

Occupy is now a year old.  A year is an almost ridiculous measure of time for much of what matters: at one year old, Georgia O’Keeffe was not a great painter, and Bessie Smith wasn’t much of a singer. One year into the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was still in progress, catalyzed by the unknown secretary of the local NAACP chapter and a preacher from Atlanta -- by, that is, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Occupy, our bouncing baby, was born with such struggle and joy a year ago, and here we are, 12 long months later.

Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. But its most remarkable aspect turned out to be its staying power: it didn’t declare victory or defeat and go home. It decided it was home and settled in for two catalytic months.

Tents and general assemblies and the acts, tools, and ideas of Occupy exploded across the nation and the western world from Alaska to New Zealand, and some parts of the eastern world -- Occupy Hong Kong was going strong until last week. For a while, it was easy to see that this baby was something big, but then most, though not all, of the urban encampments were busted, and the movement became something subtler. But don’t let them tell you it went away.

The most startling question anyone asked me last year was, “What is Occupy’s 10-year plan?”

Who takes the long view? Americans have a tendency to think of activism like a slot machine, and if it doesn’t come up three jailed bankers or three clear ...

Published: Friday 24 August 2012
In scientific reviews in Nature Genetics and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns and his colleagues set out to demonstrate that natural selection operates on contemporary humans.

 

 

A recent symposium on evolution in Montreal posed to high-school students and university professors the following question: “Do you think that humans are still evolving?” Approximately 80% of the audience answered “no.” Indeed, there is an almost universal belief that, with multifaceted cultures and intricate technology, humans have freed themselves from the pressures of natural selection.

Recent findings, however, show otherwise. Far from providing immunity against evolutionary pressures, culture often creates new ones. For example, the genes associated with digestion of lactose are more prevalent in populations that have traditionally bred cattle and consumed milk.

 

In scientific reviews in Nature Genetics and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Stearns and his colleagues set out to demonstrate that natural selection operates on contemporary humans. Supported by extensive genealogies, including centuries of church and national health registries, their argument is convincing.

 

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Denis Reale, click here.

 

Indeed, contrary to the widely held assumption that evolution takes millennia to manifest itself, recent evidence ...

Published: Friday 3 August 2012
“The situation is critical: without fast action to limit their growth, HFCs could annually contribute up to 20 percent as much to global warming as carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a recent press release by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.”

 

The Montreal Protocol, a climate treaty that gathers all U.N. member countries behind the goal of protecting the ozone layer, may not be the “most successful international agreement” anymore, as former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan used to put it.

The treaty has achieved a great deal in the more than two decades it has been in force, with a 97-percent reduction in the consumption of ozone-depleting substances.  However, it is now being widely criticized for worsening climate change by replacing those harmful chemicals with climate-threatening substitutes.

The total phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used as refrigerants and had a high ozone depletion potential, has led to a climate protection bonus equivalent to 11 billion tons of CO2 reductions each year, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

To put it in simpler terms, the Protocol had the annual environmental impact of one billion homes being completely off the electrical grid.

But this remarkable achievement is now being undermined by the chemicals that were used to replace CFCs: hydro fluorocarbons, known as HFCs, a group of “super” greenhouse gases.  HFCs, which can be found in many products such as refrigerators and aerosols, are the fastest growing class of greenhouse gas and have extremely high global warming potential, scientists say.

The situation is critical: without fast action to limit their growth, HFCs could annually contribute up to 20 percent as much to global warming as carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a recent press release by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

The U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Micronesia have taken a firm stance, proposing an amendment to the Montreal Protocol during the last meeting of state parties in Bangkok last month, which addresses HFCs.

“Phasing down HFCs is essential to… limit the adverse environmental ...

Published: Friday 8 June 2012
“In Montreal, every act of police or legislative oppression is met with new neighborhood nodes emerging, from the suburbs of Saint Hubert to the island communities of Verdun and LaSalle.”

 

Compared to its current clamor, the Quebec student protests began last year with a whimper. In March of 2011, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand announced that Quebec student tuition would increase by $325 every year for five years. By August, student organizations were debating the possibility of an unlimited student strike. In February 2012, student organizations from several colleges and universities endorsed the action and blockaded Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge, a major artery in the city. Over the next few months, numerous violent clashes with Montreal police led to mass arrests. But on May 18, 2012, Quebec’s Premier Charest raised the stakes by instituting “special” Bill 78. This law prohibited protests within 50 meters of any university, effectively making all of downtown Montreal a protest-free zone. May 22 marked the 100th day of the strike, and nearly 400,000 people marched through downtown joyously defying the law.

As the state repression of the student movement heightened, so has the creativity of the students’ tactical repertoire, which has expanded to include marching nude, community assemblies and, especially important in Quebec’s bilingual society, the tactical use of translation though music and words.

J.B. Staniforth, a McGill graduate and writer, explains that there is a Francophone cultural memory that differs from its Anglophone counterpart. “People who don’t speak French have no idea how different Francophone culture and values are from Anglophone culture,” he says, “particularly given the history of Franco culture rooted in protest and rebellion. The Québécois owe much of their present identity to rebelling against the authoritarian rule of Dupléssis in the fifties.” Maurice Dupléssis, Quebec’s Premier from 1936 to 1939 and 1944 to 1959 is ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“There still is time to act. There still are mass movements to join.”


 

 

 

I gave a talk last week at Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Many in the audience had pinned small red squares of felt to their clothing. The carre rouge, or red square, has become the Canadian symbol of revolt. It comes from the French phrase carrement dans le rouge, or “squarely in the red,” referring to those crushed by debt.

The streets of Montreal are clogged nightly with as many as 100,000 protesters banging pots and pans and demanding that the old systems of power be replaced. The mass student strike in Quebec, the longest and largest student protest in Canadian history, began over the announcement of tuition hikes and has metamorphosed into what must swiftly build in the United States—a broad popular uprising. The debt obligation of Canadian university students, even with Quebec’s proposed 82 percent tuition hike over several years, is dwarfed by the huge university fees and the $1 trillion of debt faced by U.S. college students. The Canadian students have gathered widespread support because they linked their tuition protests to Quebec’s call for higher fees for health care, the firing of public sector employees, the closure of factories, the corporate exploitation of natural resources, new restrictions on union organizing, and an announced increase in the retirement age. Crowds in Montreal, now counting 110 days of protests, chant “On ne lâche pas”—“We’re not backing down.”

The Quebec government, which like the United ...

Published: Monday 4 June 2012
Given this long-standing neglect of Canada, maybe it’s no shock that it took some 100 days of massive, concerted protest before the student strike in Québec finally started getting traction in the U.S. media.

 

It’s always interesting to watch a social movement become a mass media phenomenon, as the Québec student strikes have started to become in the last week. It is rarely remembered that Occupy Wall Street was a virtual non-story through its first week, even in most of the alternative press. Many of the stories that did run sentenced that movement to irrelevance. It was only around day nine or ten of the occupation in New York City, after some startling video of police abuse started circulating online, that journalists decided that this was something they should be paying attention to. The movement snowballed from there.

I think we are now witnessing the same sense of escalating momentum with regard to the Québec students. The details of the protests against rising tuition fees and mounting student debt, which began in February, have long been available. Yet, as of late April, one of the few stories on the subject in the United States accurately dubbed the protests “The Biggest Student Uprising You’ve Never Heard Of.”

The lack of attention wasn’t due to a lack of numbers. Hundreds of thousands in Québec had rallied on March 22. That’s more than either the Tea Party or Occupy ever turned out for their protests—and the Québécois were drawing from a much smaller population.

Nor was the neglect a product of insufficient confrontation. As the Chronicle of Higher Education hadreported:

The strike has been supported by near-daily protest actions ranging from family-oriented rallies to building occupations and bridge blockades, and, more recently, by a campaign of political and economic disruption directed against government ministries, crown corporations, and private industry. Although generally peaceful, these actions have met with increasingly brutal acts of police violence: Student protesters are routinely beaten, ...

Published: Sunday 3 June 2012
“Only when the government switched to borrowing privately did it acquire a crippling national debt.”

The youtube video of 12 year old Victoria Grant speaking at the Public Banking in America conference last month has gone viral, topping a million views on various websites.

Monetary reform—the contention that governments, not banks, should create and lend a nation’s money—has rarely even made the news, so this is a first.  Either the times they are a-changin’, or Victoria managed to frame the message in a way that was so simple and clear that even a child could understand it.

Basically, her message was that banks create money “out of thin air” and lend it to people and governments at interest.  If governments borrowed from their own banks, they could keep the interest and save a lot of money for the taxpayers.

She said her own country of Canada actually did this, from 1939 to 1974.  During that time, the government’s debt was low and sustainable, and it funded all sorts of remarkable things.  Only when the government switched to borrowing privately did it acquire a crippling national debt.

Borrowing privately means selling bonds at market rates of interest (which in Canada quickly shot up to 22%), and the money for these bonds is ultimately created by private banks.  For the latter point, Victoria quoted Graham Towers, head of the Bank of Canada ...

Published: Saturday 2 June 2012
“As protesters have in Argentina, in Chile, in Spain and now in Canada, they banged pots and pans as they marched — a practice called casseroles or cacerolazo.”

 

Occupy Wall Street activists took to the streets of New York to march for affordable education and against police repression, in solidarity with the massive, ongoing student uprising taking place in Quebec and now spreading across the world. As protesters have in Argentina, in Chile, in Spain and now in Canada, they banged pots and pans as they marched — a practice called casseroles or   cacerolazo. Manissa McCleave Maharawal and Zoltán Glück, who recently wrote for WNV about their experience among the students in Montreal, discuss the aims and meaning of this kind of protest.

Over the course of the night, the march made its way from Washington Square Park up to Times Square, often stopping traffic in the middle of the street, and then ended at the Quebec government’s office at Rockefeller Center. For more details on the march see this collection of tweets and photos by WNV editor Nathan Schneider.

Published: Friday 1 June 2012
The idea of a free education which has deep philosophical and political roots in France and Québec? OK … but does it run deep enough to pull thousands of young Québecois into the streets week after week?

What are we to make of 100 days of mayhem in Montreal? Étudiants en grève—students on strike.

 

Coddled kids with a mistaken sense of entitlement? Yes there’s some of that. But if it were just that, the strike would have fizzled out long before now.

 

The idea of a free education which has deep philosophical and political roots in France and Québec? OK … but does it run deep enough to pull thousands of young Québecois into the streets week after week?

 

Ah-ha! The unions have hijacked the demonstrations. The Québec unions are there alright, and they’re a lot bolder than their English cousins. But the people on the streets were … and are … students.

 

Dial down the diatribes for a bit and what do the streets of Montreal look like? They look like Toronto or Seattle during a G20 meeting. They look like Occupy Wall Street. We say we want the young engaged in the political process. But they’re young. Why are we surprised they engage in a way we don’t approve of?

 

Listen. Our sons and daughters, in Québec this time, are trying to tell us something. Their leaders are articulating it even if we, in English Canada, can’t hear them. No jobs in the future. No money in the money bank. No food in the food bank. Dishonest business leaders. Dishonourable political leaders. The house is burning down and the pumps don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles … to quote an old Bob Dylan tune from the sixties … except the real vandals are not the black-masked kids we see on TV.

 

Mais c’est la vie, hein? (shrug) That’s way it is, eh? What can you do? But then, maybe that’s the problem. 

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“Then we looked at each other and marveled how, just a mere week ago, there were four lone pots beating out a tune of solidarity & disobedience & freedom in his neighborhood, and now, so few days later, young children are teaching themselves rebellion, and as another friend said to me on the street, we anarchists are struggling to catch up to what the tens of thousands of people are doing here in Montreal.”

A week ago last Sunday night, I was sitting around a table at a friend’s house with two other friends in the Plateau East neighborhood of Montreal, having a quiet & delicious dinner after the Anarchist Bookfair weekend, when at 8 pm, we heard the singular noise of someone banging on a pot in the nearby distance, then two, and maybe three or four. My friend got up to peak around the corner, to see which of his neighbors was making the noise, telling us that there was a Facebook call to bang pots & pans in solidarity with the student strike (as it turns out, it was a professor’s idea, and he did indeed post a FB page for it).

Last night, May 27, that same friend and I met up with other friends at the “usual” corner on Mont-Royal near St-Denis on the Plateau West side of this Montreal neighborhood. At first a handful came, right at 8 pm, like us, and then dozens, growing quickly to hundreds. It was my second night at this intersection, near to the home of another friend, and already I recognized most of the faces, and people nodded at each other, and more of them talked to each other (and my two friends and others are busily organizing toward their first neighborhood popular assembly this coming Saturday).

As we moved from crossing with the light, to crossing at the traffic light, to finally taking the intersection, a group of young children–barely teens–among the many young children on the streets with us, decided to lead a breakaway march, skirting past the police car that had now arrived to “help” us manage the traffic. We adults quickly ran after them, laughing, as our ...

Published: Saturday 26 May 2012
“By midnight, after peacefully and joyfully marching through the city for hours, the police charged our march of about 4,000 people with batons and pepper spray.”

On Wednesday night in Montreal, we shared a long dinner with student organizers, discussing everything from police tactics in Montreal and New York to the necessity of an anti-racist and anti-colonial framework for our movements. Our hosts noticed that, around the time that the nightly 8:30 p.m. march was supposed to begin, we were getting nervous about missing it. They laughed and said, “Don’t worry, it will go on until 2 a.m.” Or at least they normally do.

By midnight, after peacefully and joyfully marching through the city for hours, the police charged our march of about 4,000 people with batons and pepper spray. In a moment the scene became one of chaos and confusion. Many in the crowd turned around and ran, but there were police behind us, too, coming straight at us with their batons out as people were pepper sprayed and thrown to the ground. Eventually, we found our way out of the melée and asked our Canadian comrade what had happened to provoke the police. “Nothing,” she answered. “They just got tired of us.”

We had been lucky. Moments after the police charged us, they surrounded a group of 506 protesters and arrested everyone in what became the largest single mass arrest since the indefinite student strike began here in Quebec 103 days ago.

The student movement in Quebec is growing. On Tuesday, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 students, workers and supporters took to the streets to protest tuition hikes and the passing of the new, draconian anti-protest law — Law 78 — as well as to celebrate the 100th day of the student strike. But state repression is also growing. Last night’s mass arrest and other forms of police violence bear witness to the new climate of fear and repression that the Charest government is trying to create in order to break the student movement.

The passing of Law 78 is a direct attack on the freedom of assembly and the right to protest. It not only ...

Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Published: Tuesday 31 January 2012
“Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries.”

What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

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