A Great Thunder. An open letter to striking students.
CHRISTIAN NADEAU, May 17, 2012
Christian Nadeau is a professor in the Philosophy Department of Université de Montréal.
This letter was originally published in French here:http://journal.alternatives.ca/fra/journal-alternatives/publications/dossiers/opinions/article/un-grand-tonnerre-lettre-ouverte?lang=fr and distributed in the above video.
Please allow me firstly to address you as a group in its entirety and not solely to your spokespeople, nor to those the media label as your “leaders”, an expression that reflects the moronic servility of our current era. I wish to speak to the student movement’s activists.
I am writing you this letter in order to salute you and to humbly ask that you help us follow through with your endeavor. Your struggle is becoming the rebirth of of the left in Quebec, asleep for years thanks to the privilege of the few and dizzied by its own prefabricated rhetoric. You are liberty’s workers. You have denounced the sugary splendor of our artificial paradise. You have reminded us of what a nation is when it is at its best: a great act of confidence. You spoke to us, you offered us your hand even when we did not answer. But it is not too late. We will first be a few hundred, then thousands who will work alongside you. The question of violence remains, which is the wall between us. But what violence do we speak of precisely?
Violence and contestation
It is comfortable to condemn when we are not faced with it daily. It is convenient to judge without understanding, to judge the striking body as a whole for highlighted actions, ones that were perhaps even cynically hoped for by our elected officials. Of course, some of you would deem the present not suitable for festive events where imagination confronts power. But you also know that might does not equal right.
For my part, I will always be opposed to power that is at gunpoint, no matter who holds the gun. But I have never seen a club in the hands of a student. On the other hand, I have never seen such a display of violence against a social group in Quebec. I have never witnessed such contempt on behalf of the government towards its own citizens. I have never witnessed such an arrogance on behalf of such a vast number of journalists and columnists in the face of those who could even teach them to write and express themselves decently.
The student movement is rising up against the beatings by the bullies who are gripping their clubs, these weapons held as though they were rattles. They spit Cayenne pepper and degrade their entire profession. Maybe I’m a tad naive, but I remain absolutely convinced that the police force remains divided with regards to the impression made by their militaristic repression. The martial charges by rows of armed and armored officers against peaceful protesters are not intended primarily to frighten you. They are actually intended to humiliate you until reason gives into anger, setting off hostilities against which the forces of order will be victorious. This is what you are fighting against: might equalling right, you are opposing the force of reason. By denouncing violence against individuals, you have brought us back to the real meaning of this moral debate. You have done what you’ve been doing for months now: you are providing us with edifying words.
This strike is about learning…
There is a famous passage in Wind, Sand and Stars (Terre des hommes), where the author condemns the will to put an end to what is best in the hearts of men. “What torments me, says Saint-Exupery, the soup kitchen cannot heal. What torments me is not the humps nor hollows nor the ugliness. It is the sight, a little bit in all these men, of Mozart murdered”. This sentence, often tarnished, still resonates within the current context, as it expresses disgust in the face of the dishonorable. The government insists on looking down upon you, in the process looking down on its own reason to be. It was counting on a public humiliation and it did so with its club, but also and perhaps especially with the insults of a guard dog to the well-off, the profiteers, and those who sabotage the common wealth. To the worst sycophants, you respond with dignity. You offer a lesson in public morality to a government that stopped being preoccupied with honor long ago.
But the struggle is for everyone
It is surprising to see commentators being stunned at the political turn taken by this student strike. However, since the beginning, you have clearly expressed why this struggle is concerned with a fundamental issue for our society. Since the beginning, you have refused any form of corporatism. You have proposed options and you have accepted all societal debates, including ones undertaken with those who would rather see you dragged through the mud than being granted the slightest credit. However this plays out, you have already generously shared with us a daily victory since the beginning of this strike.
If a segment of our society has wanted to humiliate you, it’s because it fears the return of a social-democratic tide. If this segment reacts with such violence to your movement, it’s because they are afraid of those who wish to stand up straight and are ready to defend the common good. Why would you wish to cage freedom and destroy the hopes for a more just society? Is it really Mozart who we are murdering by wishing to destroy your movement? Should we not seek to understand why it is that they wish to kill Jaurès?
I will end by thanking you once again and by inviting all those who, like me, feel at their very core this infinite gratitude towards you for having accomplished so much. We will salute your courage and your refusal to abdicate. And together, we shall rebuild a civil society and a state that the corporate eulogists would like to see destroyed.
Dear students, you have shown us the way. It has been said that you are expecting the impossible. On the contrary, you are opening doors to the possible. That is the reason why we will be so numerous in accompanying you at the large demonstration on May 22, walking with you or forming a hedge of honor around you to salute your determination, waving down to you from all the windows. We will create together the greatest thunder, yes, a very great clamor of applause, an ovation the echo of which will be heard again and again, in order to sustain the struggle and the hope.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.