In the spring of 2012, the struggle of Québec’s carrés rouges made the tour of the world, drawing excited praise and encouragement from friends far and wide: from Chile, where a historic student uprising for free and democratic universities had been raging since 2011, academics and student leaders boomed “¡Todos somos quebecenses!” — “We are all Quebecers,” they wrote, and “the struggle of students, academics, and workers in Québec is also our struggle.” It was picked up and translated by Occupy Wall Street and sent out over Twitter.
From Greece, a high-powered roster of nearly 150 academics sent a “message of solidarity” to Québec’s students, as they waged “the longest and largest student strike in the history of North America.” The movement was “one of the most powerful anti-austerity campaigns in the world,” they wrote, and “we are watching in hope.”
To a significant extent, both of the above communities are today in power, in the Socialist government of Michelle Bachelet in Santiago (supported by former student leader Camila Vallejo, now a legislator) and in the new anti-austerity Syriza government in Athens. An allowance for a Québécois to dream, perhaps, but I digress…
The Greek professors signed off with a declaration of force. “In this struggle we are many,” they wrote. “Our mobilization has become too strong to contain. From Quebec to London and Rome, from Santiago to Vienna and Athens, the academic community gives the same fight.”
Their words are even more prescient today.
In Amsterdam, students and staff have been occupying the Senate House of the University of Amsterdam for six weeks running, igniting a nationwide student movement against the neoliberalization of higher education and in favour of free and democratic universities.
And now in London, where massive protests erupted in 2010 against the tripling of tuition fees by the British Conservative government, a group of students at the London School of Economics have occupied a central administration room to protest the “marketisation of education.” They are calling themselves the “Free University of London.”
From many voices, one.
The market society of the élites has gone global, but the worldwide counter-movement, piloted by the social media generation, is growing. The political and economic establishments across the world may well see worth only in that which is buyable and sellable, as they increasingly seek to transform everything and everyone under the sun into a commodity good.
But there is a globalized and networked generation that doesn’t see things the same way and is no longer afraid to say so, and loudly.
In attacking education, our élites have attacked the very heart and soul of our societies. They have also attacked a future that will outlive them and a generation that will inherit the destruction.
And that is not their right.