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What's Louder Than a Formula One Engine? Quebec Protesters

Posted: 06/08/2012 7:39 am

That deafening noise that Formula One fans in Montreal and viewers around the world hear this weekend might not be just the supercharged cars screaming past the grandstands in quest of the checkered flag. It will likely also be the banging of pots and pans by the tens of thousands of protesters filling the streets around the Grand Prix of Canada in order to publicize their fight with the Quebec government.

Racing enthusiasts may have a front row seat on the latest manifestation of youthful alienation that is
metastasizing around the world.

Many Western business and government leaders hoped that young protestors had calmed down since last year and accepted the status quo. With the wind out of the sails of the Occupy movement they wondered what's next, if anything? But the Montreal protests are more evidence that we are in the early days of a global youth radicalization and an era of massive social upheaval. Quebec is the harbinger of things to come.

Downplayed by the international media, the Quebec student nightly protests are the largest demonstrations in Canadian history. Young people used social media to generate a massive march of 200,000 people with 48 hours' notice and for the first time in Canadian history they have received support from youth protests in the rest of Canada. Rather than a replay of the Occupy movement, the Quebec youth have taken protest to an entirely new level, dwarfing the relatively small collections of Occupy campers.

With respect to this coming weekend, one student leader noted, "We're not going to stop protesting because Montreal's having a car race." And race organizers have already cancelled the traditional free open house the Thursday before the race out of fear of interference by protesters.

Initially the students were protesting against a hike in tuition fees. But as the banner at the front of the march last weekend said: "This isn't a student strike, it's a society waking up."

"The reason so many people have come out into the streets is that there's a growing frustration with
inequality in society," says Harold Chorney, a professor at Montreal's Concordia University. "This is really about social justice versus the neo-Liberal, or business-oriented, philosophy."

This is the common thread that runs through the Montreal protest and the similar demonstrations in the U.S. and Europe. But what's new is the massive scale of such actions now coming to North America.

These protests occurred in the wake of the meltdown of the financial services sector and the collapse of the global economy. During the financial services sector crisis, no expense was spared to resuscitate the health of Wall Street. Most of the financial services industry was able to bounce back, with billions of dollars in bonuses being subsequently showered on investment and banking executives.

What followed was the so-called "jobless recovery," leaving millions of Americans and Europeans without jobs. But the politicians say the government can't afford to spend money on job creation programs, let alone fix the underlying economic problems that cause unemployment.

My research shows that the new generation has strong values and they care. But surprisingly, throughout the western world youth voting is declining. Governments face a crisis of legitimacy as increasingly a generation senses that the way to achieve change and build a better world is not through our democratic institutions.

We have the irony of watching massive protests in the Middle East and North Africa as citizens want to be rid of dictators and strive for the sweet taste of democracy. Yet in so-called democratic countries, protesters are saying the system is rigged and doesn't work, regardless of how citizens vote.

The students say that today's democratic countries are failing to deliver on their promise to young people.

The "establishment" said that if young people worked hard, stayed out of trouble, and attended school, they would have a prosperous and fulfilling life. It turns out the establishment was inaccurate, if not dishonest.

Youth unemployment in the U.S. is double the rate of the general population, and ranges from 20 to 50 per cent in Europe.

Young people having no jobs or hope is symptomatic of a deeper set of problems. The world being dumped in their laps is seriously damaged. It is unequal, unstable and unsustainable. Most of the institutions that have served society well for decades -- even centuries -- seem frozen and unable to move forward. The global economy, our financial services industry, governments, healthcare, newspapers, the media and our institutions for solving global problems like the UN, the World Bank and the EU are all struggling.

The sixties baby boomer radicalization was based on youthful hope and ideology. Protesters championed the opposition to war, a celebration of youth culture, and the possibilities for a new kind of social order. Today's unfolding youth radicalization is much different. It is rooted not only in unemployment, but personal broken hopes, mistreatment, and injustice. Young people are alienated.

They are turning their backs on the system.

And unlike the 1960 they are gaining broader support in the population as the Quebec upsurge illustrates.

Today, this deeply frustrated generation has at its fingertips the Internet, the most powerful tool ever for finding out what's going on, informing others and organizing collective responses. Just as the Internet drops collaboration costs for businesses it radically drops the costs of dissent, rebellion and even insurrection.

The youth of Quebec learned from the Occupy movement. Small gatherings of people sleeping in parks and engaging in civil disobedience are inadequate to bring about change. But the combination of social media and mass mobilizations can galvanize and change the relationship of power between a people and the institutions that rule them.

We need to solve the problem of unemployment, fix the schools, enable affordable housing and education, make government relevant again and eliminate the growing impediments to having a good life that face a generation.

If we don't, Quebec provides more evidence that we will see the rise of a global social explosion that
makes the 1960s look like kids' play.

Don Tapscott's new book is Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet.

 

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