A short history of cacerolazos

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

Patrick Lacroix – The Community Historian

Who are you?

Identity is a process, no? Quite briefly, then, the process has made of me a happy graduate of Bishop’s University and Brock University, a graduate of history programs in both cases. I am also a product of Cowansville, located an hour’s drive east of Montreal. (I may or may not resent the latter’s accidental proximity to my hometown; to quote Graham Chapman’s King Arthur, “’tis a silly place!”) When I am not making unnecessary references to British film culture, I work as reporter in and around Cowansville for The Record, Quebec’s only non-Montreal-based daily English-language newspaper. Of course, one would expect there to be only one of those. Next fall I will be pursuing doctoral studies in History at the University of New Hampshire.

What do you do for fun?

Through the better part of the last decade I have sought, in my spare time, to address the deficiencies of my formal education. The most glaring omissions are literary: only recently have I become acquainted with Dumas, Faulkner, Maugham, Swift, and Zola. While I cannot minimise the enjoyment of conversations and occasional (er, yes, occasional) mischief with some very close friends, the fun I take away from intellectual pursuits fulfils a deep, visceral need. Some people, in addition, have the luxury of visiting exotic locales all around the world; I immerse myself in philosophy and history and at times I build, quite discreetly, an extremely abstract world that suits only me. Thrust into an exotic setting I would find a way to escape to a plane of pure ideas… I am an odd duck.

What is your favourite community? Why?

I wish I could cite that ancient order of errant scholars who travel far and wide in the process of acquiring and disseminating knowledge – most universities have been and remain model United Nations by the diversity of their teaching corps. But of course, scholarly pettiness and intellectual pride have interceded, a sign perhaps that knowledge and wisdom are of two perfectly distinct species. My favourite community, then? I care deeply for my dear old Cowansville and its familiar faces, and the community I found at Bishop’s University, in Lennoxville, was beyond all expectations. In fact the sense of shared identity and mutual affinity at Bishop’s was unlike any other personal experience I might recall, and it taught me the many definitions of community. Yes, let’s say Bishop’s. ‘Tis a silly place as well as a sophisticated web of blooming individualities. (Perhaps should we consider putting that on the university crest.)

What is your superpower?

I am a committed seeker of knowledge, but my superpower would rather be that of expression. It is one thing to absorb, to amass information, and quite another to make sense of it, so as to ultimately share it without being redundant or reductive. While most superpowers must be used sparingly and with great caution, while literary inclinations are often misused and abused, I relish opportunities to harness language to thought, to put pen to paper, and offer a new vision, a new voice.

How do you use it to build community?

As a reporter for The Record, I use my pen to give expression to public trustees, small businesses, local community organisations, and concerned citizens. As an historian, I use my pen to give expression to ghosts – or so I would hope. I scour old, oft-dismissed documents and I find faint voices, rising, asking only to be carried forth into their future, our present. Readers need not worry; I have no interest in building a community of dead people… though I think I will have an advantage when the zombie apocalypse at long last strikes. Anyway, my point: community, like identity, is not a static fact, or a structure, but a process. Any present-day community exists in the past as much as it does in its acknowledged, tangible manifestations. Let forerunning voices speak, I say, and enlighten – in every sense of the word – the builders of today. Let there be a communion of the living and the dead in the interest of the former, a dialogue made only possible by the historian qua interpreter.

My Three Favourite Things About Patrick Are…

1. His favourite community! In spite of my incredible connection to – and powerful articulation-skills about – Bishop’s University, I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the community described in such a perfect way: “‘Tis a silly place as well as a sophisticated web of blooming individualities.” Amazing.

2. Seeker, Amasser, and Expresser of Knowledge. Patrick seeks, amasses and expresses knowledge as a student of the most noble discipline in the humanities: History. He’s an Historian, too. The metaphor of giving his pen to ghosts is a great one. Patrick, for your noble pursuits of History – and your commitment to scouring the words of ghosts – I salute you.

3. So, He Made a Reference to the Zombie Apocalypse. I think that Patrick’s on to something with his idea of an Historian like himself colluding with ghosts to survive – if not lead – the Zombie Apocalypse. Pretty great. And this is all kinds of forward thinking genius.

- As told by John Horn

Martin Renauld – The Activist Scholar

Who are you?

My name is Martin Renauld. Even though I´m only 31 years old, I have been considered old for more than a decade… since I am both extremely wise and have grey hair. I´m Québécois, currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I am pursuing a PHD in social science, studying the Argentinean ecologist movement.  I also teach history at the UADE (Universidad Argentina de la Empresa).

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy playing basketball, drink wine and arguing with people. The last one is my favorite, some would say discuss, but I enjoy discussions when they become passionate and sometimes a little uncomfortable.  I think a little provocation is often useful to challenge others´ opinions and hopefully mine as well.

What is your Favorite Community and why?

My favorite community is Montevideo, Uruguay. Even though the city counts 1 million inhabitants, “barrio” (neighborhood) life is central. Montevideans have managed to make their city quite friendly by knowing their neighbors and fomenting local activities. Every barrio has its own farmer market (blocking a street once a week to sell agricultural goods), sport teams, a candombe group (music and dancing with drums) representing the barrio during carnival, a cultural center and a strong sense of belonging.

What is your superpower?

I would say my analytical and critical sense. It can get on people´s nerves once in a while, but I´m very good at finding what´s wrong (in general and for very specific issues). I am trying to work on the finding solution superpower, not as easy…

How do you use your superpower to build community?

Constructive comments would be my main contribution to humanity, sometimes to specific communities.

My Three Favourite Things About Martin Are…

1. Wool Socks. Whether it’s the middle of winter, middle of summer, during a basketball game, or when he’s not wearing anything else, Martin Renauld wears wool socks. Some have argued that this is a throw-back to his family’s historical roots as a notorious coureurs de bois collective, while others argue that he just really, really likes the way the fabric feels against his skin. Personally, I don’t care – when you look that good in something – anything – it doesn’t matter why you wear it.

2. Adventurous Tri-lingualism. Martin’s grasp – perhaps tenuous grasp – of three and a half languages (native French, Spanish, English, Portuguese) reflects his passion for exploring vibrant cultures around the world. I’ve known Martin since our days together as undergraduate students at Bishop’s University, where I edited many of his essays – I can safely say that, in addition to throwing the word “the” everywhere in his text, Martin’s ideas were/are as brilliant in English as they are in any other language…except, maybe, Portuguese.

3. Love of Debate. Wal-Mart? Hockey? Healthy living? Neo-colonialism? Kurt’s contradictory socio-economic views? Proper pronunciation my name in English? How Steve Nash would be better if he wore wool socks? You name it, Martin will debate it. Correspondent/My Special Lady, Michelle Burtnyk, spent nearly a month with Martin in his Buenos Aires home. Every morning Michelle, Martin and I engaged in (at least) four hour breakfast debates that totally solved all the world’s problems. We probably should’ve written things down. After all, Martin could do it in three languages!

As told by John Horn…

Reflections after a trip back home

I just came back to Argentina, where I live, after a month and a half trip to Quebec, where I’m from. Every time I have to opportunity to go back home, enjoy friends and family, speak my language and feel my culture, all of this fills me with renew energy. Thus, on a personal level, it was a great trip. On the other hand, every visit up north makes me feel uneasy about Quebec and Canada cultural evolution. In Argentina, I pride myself in explaining how Canada and Quebec are different from the US, stretching our collective desire to build a lesser unequal society and protect our cultural distinctiveness. I now feel uneasy defending theses ideas and perceptions about my own country. Obviously, these are merely personal impressions, but I would like to share a few observations/feelings I got while visiting friends and family in Quebec.

First and most striking, politics have made a huge shift on the right. I am not only referring to Harper’s conservative, 19th century governing, but even more so to our collective incapacity to reject and denounce it. I will spare you my list of grievances against his government, let’s only mention his great symbolic gesture of reintroducing the “royal” appellation in the army and Canadian Embassies’ obligation to have a portrait of the Queen. Maybe we should also replace our dollar with the pound and sing God Save the Queen before hockey games… Talking with friends, I was shocked to see how right wing’s arguments/myths have now been integrated and interiorized as to become something banal. A few examples of things I heard/read as if they were simple truths we ought to accept: we pay too many taxes, we are broke, collective transportation is too expensive, we have to create more wealth if one day we want to distribute it (I’m guessing 2075…). The same shift is observable in the Media. Both the Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec have always been populist newspapers, however, together with the other main media controlled by Quebecor, TVA (the most watched television network), they now defend a clearly right wing agenda. All of this gave me the impression that left wing individuals do not even define themselves as such and seem to try to temper right wing politics instead of confronting it. Of course, this shift might seem dramatic to me, while other applause it. However, I think our very moderate social-democrat political culture has played an important role in defining both Quebec and Canadian identities, its actual disintegration might have great political and cultural impacts.

The other thing that has upset me while in Quebec concerns the quality of the French language. My parents’ generation has fought to defend and preserve it. Politically, by implementing controversial laws such as Bill 101, but also in their day to day lives. For example, they have “franciser” English words and resist the temptation to incorporate more and more words from the language spoken by 300 millions in North America. Every time I visit, this collective will seems to weaken. I got the impression that we are back to my grand-parents’ time when English words were used to qualify new things or as is happening in France, anything that is cool. For example, since I left “week-end” has replaced “fin de semaine” or “fucking” has appeared in French sentences to design something extreme. The biggest symbolic and linguistic aberration for me resides in the movement created to bring back an NHL team to Quebec City. They call themselves “Nordiques Nation”, nation being pronounced in English… A French name should be something like “la nation Nordiques”. This is breathtaking to me since the Nordiques used to take advantage of all of Quebec nationalist heritage to sell hockey: blue colors, fleur de lys etc. Basically, I feel that Quebec culture shows signs of falling apart, not because of foreign oppression, as it was the case under British rule, but for our incapacity to preserve our own language and culture. Injustices can always be fought and denounced, but what can you do against apathy and insouciance?

One might think I am being overreacting here. It might be the case that these impressions of fast Americanization of my culture say more about my own transformation living abroad or about my idealization of my collective “home”. Anyhow, just as it is depressing to observe a growing cultural uniformity all over the world, it makes me uneasy to see my own little culture getting slowly swept away from within.


Harvard: The Bishop’s of America

The Principal's Residence at Bishop's has seen better days. This tends to be the case with Public English Universities en la belle province.

No, I didn’t flinch or stutter as I wrote the title of this article. It should be noted and emphasized that Harvard is behaving a little like Bishop’s University. Let me explain.

Last week, up-and-coming “newspaper” the The Globe and Mail published a story about the new Dean of the Harvard School of Business. This man, Nitin Nohria, made headlines because he did something that no other Dean of HSB has done in over 40 years. Mr. Nohria moved into a house on campus. “It was the only decision I made that my predecessors recommended against,” said Nohria.

Amazing. I know.

The reasons for Mr. Nohria decision to live on campus are pretty darn sound, whether you evaluate them with educational, business or community-development principles in mind. The Globe argues that Nohria argues that this marks his intention to throw-back the school to its academic and community roots. Here’s a quote of a quote from the article:

“There was a deliberate intent in which (HBS) was founded and the dean’s house was part of that. There was a feeling that this was a campus to which people would come to study and be part of a community,” says Prof. Nohria, 48, Harvard Business School’s 10th dean and the first to be born outside the US. “I always had the magical sense of this place.”

Let me tell you about a magical place. It’s called Bishop’s University and the school’s Principal – not President – is one of many faculty members and senior administration who live on campus. Today, Michael Goldbloom is the gentleman who occupies the Principal’s House these days – in my day it was the outstanding Janyne Hodder. Principals come and go, but the traditions don’t.

Principal Michael Goldbloom congratulates graduating students at his home - on campus - in Lennoxville, Quebec

During every Orientation Week first-year students visit the Faculty residences – located in the heart of campus – and seranade the Principal with the Bishop’s University school song. The Principal also invites the graduating students, by Division, to a champagne reception at his home on campus at the end of the semester – it’s a chance to congratulation them and wish them well for the journey ahead…the school’s modest goal is to host every student at a function at the house before they graduate. The home isn’t just a home, it’s a hub of scholarly community building.

And these are just two examples from what is perhaps the most vibrant campus communities in Canada.

Should Harvard Business Students seranade Dean Nohria now that he lives on campus? Yes, absolutely (it would make a great Organizational Behaviour case study). But, more importantly, people setting our to sculpt and shape and mould and impact certain communities should really live there while they do it.

Congratulations, Harvard. You just got a little bit closer to Bishop’s today.

La Communauté & Infiltrating Quebec

As I sit in my warm, cozy Vancouver apartment I am followed by the thought of the bitter cold that awaits me.  I’m not talking only about the physical chill that will shiver down my spine in a few weeks, but the breathy peering in from the frozen streets as an outsider.

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