Canadian solidarity comes to Washington D.C.
|June 12, 2012||Posted by Cale Holmes under News, Print Issues, Stories, Volume 2, Issue 4 (July/August 2012)|
Throughout the province of Quebec, students have been on strike since February, some demanding a tuition freeze and others calling for free education. The movement started on February 13, when Université Laval students launched a boycott of tuition increases. In a pivotal May 22 rally, 300,000 people, ranging from students to middle-aged workers, took to the streets of Montreal in a march that had evolved from a student protest into an anti-capitalist movement critical of Canadian society.
In late May, students pulled out of negotiations with Jean Charest’s government, who had introduced to the National Assembly of Quebec “Law 78,” an anti-protest law. Law 78 made it illegal to picket or demonstrate within 50 meters of the “outer limits” or “grounds” of any educational building. It also made it illegal for over 50 protesters to have demonstrations without submitting the date, time, place, and route of the demonstration in question to the Quebec police for approval. The law has resulted in not less, but more protests in the streets. Despite the fact that the protesters number between 100,000 and 400,000, the United States mainstream media has still been slow to cover the demonstrations.
For over a month, protesters throughout southern Quebec province have been streaming into the streets at 8:00 p.m., pots and pans in hand, banging their dishes during impromptu marches in their own neighborhoods. Les casseroles, as the marches are called, have become symbolic of the movement. On June 1, activists rallied in McPherson Square to march in solidarité with students currently on strike against tuition hikes in Quebec. Members of Occupy DC wanted to make sure it was clear they stood in solidarity with the Canadian student movement, so on a rainy night in June they brought their own pots and pans into the streets of downtown D.C. for a march to the Canadian Embassy.
Once there, chants ranged from, “From Montreal to D.C., education should be free!” to “Par la rue!” – literally, “take the streets.” Protesters thundered in front of a lobby of locked doors, and Canadian receptionists were not able to look at directly at the protesters.
One protester, Eileen, who did not want to give her last name, said, “I think the Canadian students are doing the right thing. I wish U.S. students had done it 15-20 years ago…. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for students without money to get a really good education. It has got to stop.”
The clear class divides education is creating throughout the world is something the U.S. is grappling with as well. American student loans have increased 511% since 1999, due to some of the highest tuition rates in the world.
Valerie Kiebala, a student at American University who attended the solidarité march, said she felt inspired by the Canadian protests. “When I look at the photos and read the stories it’s so inspiring because I can feel like the energy at our school is building up. It’s still not at Quebec levels. But Quebec students had to start somewhere too. They had to start where we are now so we can totally get to where they are.”
Before the march ended, protesters went to another part of the large courtyard of the Canadian Embassy to sing the Canadian national anthem. One protester from Canada remarked that a red patch, an icon of the Canadian student movement, was his symbol of a better Canada. Most protesters knew it was also an icon for a better world.