Another Protest Movement Loses Its Way

If the now-moribund Occupy Wall Street protest accomplished anything at all, it was to demonstrate the futility of a “movement” lacking clear goals, responsible leaders and reasonable respect for the rights of others.

Now, a different group of protesters to our north is embarking on the same dead-end journey to nowhere.

A little over 100 days ago, a group of university students in Quebec walked out of classes to protest the province’s planned tuition hikes. Since then, more than 150,000 students have participated in strikes, and more than 2,500 have been arrested. On May 22, an estimated 100,000 people joined in a demonstration in Montreal to mark the 100th day of protests. According to Jacques Hamel, a sociologist at the Universite de Montreal, the planned 75 to 80 percent increase in tuition over the next seven years has ceased to be the only issue at stake, as the protests have grown in scale and scope. “The demonstrations now are no longer about the tuition raises,” he told the National Post.

But a growing sense of aimlessness is not the only thing that connects the Quebec demonstrations to Occupy Wall Street. The protesters are also linked by a shared disrespect for the rights of others.

Occupy Wall Street protesters routinely refused to cooperate with police and sanitation efforts at coordination, instead choosing to disrupt local businesses and to prevent others from making use of public space. Student protesters in Quebec, meanwhile, have donned masks and stormed academic buildings, breaking up classes and stopping other students from entering. With some 35 percent of students either boycotting classes or being blocked from attending, the academic year has been temporarily put on hold, to resume in August. Students with summer employment or travel plans have been forced to adjust.

Many of the province’s protests have also exploded into violence. In the large-scale demonstration on May 22, some protesters began throwing bottles and lighting fireworks, according to police, who responded with pepper spray.

The Quebec movement surely includes many considerate, law-abiding individuals, as the Occupy Wall Street did. But, in both cases, those people’s participation simply provided the cover of a crowd to enable the anti-social behavior of others.

In Quebec, the government has stepped in to do what the protesters have not: ensure a balance between the protesters’ rights and the rights of everyone else. On May 18, the province passed an emergency law that, among other things, requires that police be given eight hours notice in advance of any protests involving 50 people or more, prohibits protesting within 50 meters of academic buildings, and imposes fines for noncompliance. Many protesters have refused to follow the law and, on May 23, around 700 were arrested.

Critics of the law claim that it stifles freedom of expression and have filed a legal motion arguing that it is unconstitutional under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the student leaders, has said he sees the emergency law as nothing less than an act of war. “Now we’re fighting for the right to fight,” he said.

But as an editorial in The Globe and Mail cogently pointed out, Canada, like the U.S., guarantees its citizens not the right to assemble under any circumstances and in any manner, but rather the “freedom of peaceful assembly.” (The U.S. version acknowledges the “right of the people peaceably to assemble.”) Peaceful assembly does not include stopping students who wish to attend class from doing so. Nor does it include indefinitely commandeering a public space, preventing a city from maintaining it and preventing others from using it. The Quebec law may interfere with what protesters perceive as their right to put their interests before those of everyone else, but it does not interfere with their real right to make their opinions known in a reasonable manner.

Personally, I think both the Quebec movement and its American predecessor were doomed by objectives that were, in the American case, indeterminate and, in the Canadian case, unrealistic. Occupy Wall Street was a protest that never quite found anything specific to protest. While the Quebecois student movement at least superficially has a target, it’s not exactly clear how or why protesters believe Quebec should be expected to maintain what is currently the lowest tuition rate in Canada. Even after the hikes, the province’s average undergraduate tuition, now $2,519 a year, will be only around $4,297 a year – a price that would be a dream come true for many American students.

Regardless of their aims, however, I am happy to endorse both groups’ right to protest peacefully. Now, if only they would do that.

About Larry M. Elkin 564 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

2 Comments on Another Protest Movement Loses Its Way

  1. Ha, ha!

    What’s most hilarious about this–besides how willfully obtuse (I assume it’s willful, as you seem intelligent enough) you are about the protests the past year and a half have brought–is how a CPA acts as if he is so knowledgeable about protest, in general. I very much doubt your familiarity with the history of protest, the history of civil disobedience, the history of labor rights, and civil rights.

    Oh sure, you have a layman’s understanding, the kind taught to us in high school history textbooks. But you lack an actual understanding, and yet here you are critiquing and criticizing, pretending you actually know what you’re talking about.

    Funny, that. How businessmen and finance gods seem to think they have all of the answers, know all of the things. You’d do well to remember one kind of smart does not make you all kinds of smart.

  2. The occupy movement is about pushing back against the austerity agenda, in all it’s forms. Just like the student movement in Canada and the Indignados movement in Spain. It’s about the fact, that even Mitt Romney acknowledges, that you can’t just push austerity on people. We, the people, are sick of you destroying our lives to improve your bottom line. In the end, greedy people on wall street crashed the economy and we need to re-instate tax rates for those wealthy people who did so back to what they were in the earlier part of the 20th century. 90% tax rates for the wealthy need to be re-instated.

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