At the basis of the Quebec City protests at the 3rd Summit of the America’s is a power struggle between the disparate classes that fails to get any real exposure in the media’s exploration of the event. As seen in my previous post about media representations, much is said about the interactions between the anti-globalist protesters and the state police, but little information is given on the protesters reasoning for this act of dissent. The anti-globalist protesters at the event were protesting a free-trade agreement between the America’s that would result in a unified economy for those in power and a complete disregard for employment and lifestyles for the large numbers of people that make up the lower classes. The government sees these protesters as a threat to their capitalist goals and ideals, creating a need for the preservation of the ideal of national security. Ultimately, the following post will use Michel Foucault’s theory on governmentality, as well as the Hall and Colleagues’s article “Crime, Law and the State”, in order to explain that the Quebec City protests at the 3rd Summit of the America’s display a criminal struggle for power that has been created by the government to distinguish and protect its hegemonic ideals.
Foucault’s ideas of governmentality are best explained by Nikolas Rose as strategies the government puts in place in order to govern, monitor and shape the conduct of its people in an effort to promote security and order (Rose 2000: 322). Feeling threatened by the anti-globalist protesters the government uses its disciplinary power to employ extensive measures to criminalize the protesters while delegitimizing their attempts to raise awareness about this important issue. This act of criminalization supports Hall and colleague’s notion that “for acts to be ‘deviant’ they must be recognized, labelled and responded to as crimes” (Hall et. al. 1978: 185). Therefore, as seen in the previous posts, the protesters were criminalized and labeled as deviants with aims to threaten the hegemonic discourse of capitalism, and were treated by the police as criminals even though the protesters had no such intent and only wanted to protect their rights to employment and free speech.
The above mentioned act of criminalization directly reflects the issues of class separation in society, as Hall and his colleagues explain that “based on the needs of capital, the poor and propertyless are always in some sense on ‘the wrong side of the law'” (Hall et. al. 1978: 190). While using the protest to create a threat to national security, the state is using its power to force the lower class citizen protesters under the umbrella of criminalization in order to take the public’s attention off the issue at hand. The RCMP were watching over the security at the Summit due to the perceived potential threat of protesters at the event, employing high security tactics to ensure a display of surveillance. When the protests started, the RCMP was issued to use unnecessarily violent tactics to dispel the protesters from the meeting zones, such as the use of tear gas in large crowds. The protesters (consisting mainly of lower class citizens) were not taking part in violent activities, yet they were attacked by the police in order to dramatize the severity of the protests. The state is seen here to use its power to criminalize the lower class protesters that threaten the capitalist hegemonic discourse with its use of coercive police measures, while using the power of the media to manipulate the truths of the event and contributing to greater moral panics.
Unfortunately, these portrayals have shaped the public’s opinion on the situation, often justifying the irrational actions of the police at the event. This is an important strategy, as it links directly with Hall and colleagues’s theory that the most problematic issue is not the crime itself but the reaction to the crime (Hall et. al. 1978: 182). As we can see above and in the previous articles, the RCMP reacted to the protests in a way that criminalized the event and the dissenters by creating the perceived threat of counter-hegemonic revolt, as well as displaying the protesters as violently disturbing the peace, rather than highlighting the unnecessary coercive measures brought forth by the RCMP. Thus, the government creates this moral panic in order to create and manipulate the public’s reaction, ensuring that the public’s perspective on these issues is biased and distorted with the capitalist hegemonic view. In short, the government is shaping the public’s ideologies to conform to theirs by shifting and placing labels; a true display of power against those who fall under its umbrella (Hall et. al. 1978: 190). As mentioned by Hall and his colleagues, the governing class (government) uses criminal labeling and moral panics in order to resolve ambiguities in public feeling about crime issues, assuring people that the government has power and control over these potential criminal threats (Hall et. al. 1978: 189).
In conclusion, the Quebec City protests at the 3rd Summit of the America’s help us understand dissent by highlighting aspects of Foucault’s theory of governmentality, as well as Hall’s investigation on policing in order to show how the disproportionate distribution of power within the state results in a criminalization of dissenters who offer and introduce counter-hegemonic ideologies to our society. The few in power always want to protect their position at the top, but the voices of the many at the bottom cannot be silenced forever.
Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John N. Clarke, and Brian Roberts. 1978. “Crime, Law and the State.” Pp. 181-217 in Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order. London: Macmillan.
Rose, Nikolas. 2000. “Government and Control.” British Journal of Criminology 40:321-39.