Quebec’s student protest turned into something much bigger y diversified when Charest’s government adopted bill 78 on May 18, in various ways limiting rights to assemble and protest. A few days later, people of all ages and backgrounds starting hitting kitchen pans to make noise and express their discontent to this tired, corrupted and incompetent government. First on their balcony, later in the streets. Les casseroles also gained regions outside Montreal, traditionally less inclined to protest and take the streets. How this original form of protest came about? Where does it come from?
A cegep political science profesor first proposed the idea on facebook. François-Olivier Chené thought it could represent a good way to protest without disobeying bill 78, since people would stay on their balcony to protest. Protesters quickly got taken away and les casseroles took the streets. He had heard that Chileans had protested against Pinochet’s dictatorship doing cacerolazos. The first protesters to use this technique were indeed Chileans, but were upper class right-wingers protesting the socialist government of Salvador Allende – killed during a military coup led by Pinochet in 1973. Later, the other camp performed cacerolazos to protest Pinochet’s repressing regime. It also spread to other Latin American countries living under dictatorships. Members of my family in law were proud to show me that some of their pans were in bad shaped, due to the bagging received during the last months of the Uruguayan dictatorship (1985), when they would get on their roof during cacerolazos.
Cacerolazos came to be known worldwide following Argentina’s economic and political crisis starting in December 2001. Following the collapse of its financial system and the uncontrollable capital flight, the government imposed a corralito, strict restrictions on banking activity, forbidding people to take their economies. When the pesos devaluated, many lost their life savings. To draw a parallel, imagine Greece had to leave the Euro and went back to the drachma, individual savings would lose most of its value, just as it happened in Argentina. Hopeless and angered by their collective and personal bankruptcies, middle and upper class Argentineans took the streets, armed only with kitchen pans. First in Buenos Aires, los cacerolazos then spread all over the country. It allowed people to show loudly their discontent and probably letting off some steam in a tense moment.
Casually, while Quebec protesters where making noise with casseroles, some Argentineans took part in new cacerolazos in Buenos Aires. While a small movement, they did get some attention. The 2012 cacerolazos are denouncing the government (centre-left) power abuses and corruption. Because they take place only in very wealthy neighbourhoods, many think these new cacerolazos are mainly due to new restrictions imposed on changing American dollars, in an effort to strengthen the Argentinean peso (Argentina has a double currency system, in which houses or cars are bought with dollars and day-to-day spending with pesos).
It is not clear why hitting on a saucepan has become a popular protest technique. It could be because it symbolizes private citizens making direct pleas to government officials – noise coming out of the kitchen to be heard by authorities. That people love being part of something bigger, feeling as they are not alone to feel anger. Or, it could be that people just enjoy bagging shinny objects… In any case, it seems very interesting to me that protesters can appropriate for themselves another culture protesting tradition and that it could spread so quickly. We will see with time if les casseroles become a traditional form of protest, resurfacing occasionally, when people are upsets, as it was the case in Argentina.
Masthead photo courtesy of jazzjava’s photostream on Flickr