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up in smoke

i used to hit the streets in protest fairly often as a teen and young adult. i remember going out in freezing, soggy weather and yelling slogans that even at the time struck me as incredibly trite and devoid of meaning, because that was the way that you got attention. now, of course, i've let that trail off, because there are often more effective ways to get to the point across, but also out of fear that over-zealous cops are going to crack my skull on the pavement. age has made me a little more reluctant to take my chances, particularly since i'm now living in a city where police aren't always known for their good judgment. a journalist friend of ours who was apparently endangering public safety by carrying cameras to document the night's protest march recently ended up in an emergency ward courtesy of the city's men in blue.

but really, i think i might be more willing to risk a blast of tear gas or a crack from a baton for something i passionately believed in but for one thing: i do not want to be associated with the contingent of assholes.

i credit the organisers of quebec's student protests for diligently distinguishing themselves from marauding thugs who have attached themselves like parasites to their marches, distracting public and government attention from their cause by treating each demonstration as an opportunity to indulge a profound urge to break stuff. seriously, someone needs to give these guys some nutritional supplements and a gym membership and recruit them to the nfl, where they can follow their dreams in a forum that still allows the rest of us to go for a walk in our city at night.

this perennial part of the protest crowd is described as "anarchist", although i'd be surprised if either they themselves or the media who perpetuate the description have the faintest idea of what the term actually means. being an anarchist in any realistic sense means taking personal responsibility for one's action and one's community rather than appointing or electing proxies [known as governments] to do it for you. and nothing screams "lack of responsibility" like the actions of our presumptive "radicals" this week.

for those of you who might not have heard, commuters in montreal's subway system thursday morning were treated to a trio of smoke-bombs detonated in key stations as a protest measure. the action shut down the entire network- all four lines- for over two hours at the height of morning rush hour.

although the transit authority scrambled to get buses on the street to ferry people from a to b, it's pretty obvious that such a mobilisation would never work. even assuming that there were plenty of buses available at that time to pick up the same number of commuters, you'd still need to actually call in people to drive them. people who weren't dead tired from working overnight. people who didn't have responsibilities like getting kids to school or daycare at that hour. people who didn't actually depend on the transit system to get to work. then, of course, you'd have to move thousands of buses from their base stations to metro stations through the city's roads during rush hour, which would be heavier than usual owing to the fact that more people would be taking cars.

logistically, it's a no-win situation and, indeed, morning commuters were left lining up for hours. you're welcome, montrealers, love the protestors.

what galls me is the absolute stupidity of this sort of thing. what on earth does it do to advance the cause of students in quebec or of liberty and fairness in general? does the government suffer as a result? no. a government-affiliated agency, the société de transport de montréal, is forced to spend money, our money, coming up with a solution that's doomed from conception. that takes money away from other things they could be doing. good things. important things.

the police come to investigate and a few cops are able to tell themselves that this is what they're fighting the next time they drag a fine arts student a block and a half on her face for objecting to rising tuition costs. and good cops- of which montreal has plenty, by the way- are called away from other duties like robberies, assaults, and stuff we want them to be stopping, because smoke pouring out of three metro stations looks pretty damn urgent.

these are things that we pay for, things that we need to some extent in order to keep ourselves safe and to allow our cities to function. government are nothing but middlemen we put there because we don't have the time to manage all this stuff. if things aren't working properly, it actually entrenches the need for middlemen to make sure everything is smoothed out. no, self-described anarchists, government officials are not losing sleep over these sorts of tricks.

nor are large corporations losing anything. the lost revenue to a bank or credit card company when a third of their customer service department gets in two hours late is nothing. they slap an announcement on their incoming phone line and wait. the loss of income to someone working an hourly wage in a customer service centre for a bank or credit card company can be debilitating. someone working a waitressing job at a chain restaurant is going to notice the hit on her paycheque and in her tips when she loses a shift. the restaurant group might have a soft sales result for that week, in that particular region.

way to stick it to the little guy.

in fact, there's something almost diabolical about targeting a city's public transit system to begin with. after all, it's favoured by people who are poorer and more vulnerable. it's favoured by people who might not be able to drive owing to disabilities- deafness, visual impairment, advanced forms of arthritis, usually not the sort of things that establish one as public enemy number one. and it's favoured by children. kids who can't drive are going to school at the same time their parents are going to work. trust me, every time a metro train arrives at the station across the street from me at that hour, the doors explode with kilted kinder like one of those trick cans filled with fake snakes. there are lots and lots and lots of kids of all races, religions and social backgrounds packed into subway cars during rush hour.

i'm glad to hear that the apparent perpetrators were quickly found and arrested, largely based on the fact that commuters managed to get pictures and video of them on cell phones when they were fleeing the scene on the metro. incidentally, noticing that sort of activity, recording it and reporting it to people charged with doing something about it is, in essence, way truer to the spirit of the anarchist collective than attacking wage-earners and kids.

adding to the sadness of this whole affair is the wound it's inflicted on rational student protestors. a group that had worked steadily to make the public aware that they were not being unreasonable and even forced the previously intransigent provincial government to the bargaining table are now being derided as terrorists. [incidentally, the descriptor is accurate- politically motivated actions designed to bring fear and confusion are the very heart of terrorism.] and that's really not fair, because, as people were coming to understand, there are very different groups with very different aims at work here. the victorious group have created a divisive, us-versus-them culture and public havoc merely for the purpose of generating fear and mistrust. the other have had their legitimately progressive work quite literally blown up in their faces.

bravo, guys. bravo.

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