After the anti police brutality protest and the blocking of the bridge by students the day before their big march I was determined to see for myself with my own eyes day 2 of this student protest against the increases in tuitions scheduled for Quebec. For a pleasant change their was no swaggering by the police and no taunting by the students and their supporters. These students had their stuff together and were definitely being guided by people on the ground. There was security of their own on the ground, people directing traffic for both marchers and traffic, allowing traffic to flow rather than block it which was both thoughtful and respectful that other people did have other things to do and places they needed to be. I did not see many visible police on site, but it was hard to see 2 feet in front of you, if you were on the ground in the mix of things and for the most part that was where Archemdis was.
I would just like to say “Bravo to all of the students and their supporters for keeping this protest march free of violence, looting and vandalism. Great job, the powers that be can not ignore you, or skirt the issues. Well done” The police could have panicked, but I think they are to be credited for remaining calm and doing all in their power to see that this protest did not get out of control. The police assisted the efforts to keep the protest safe and free from incident, by controlling traffic flow and helping to allow both the protesting traffic and the regular traffic to move smoothly from spot to spot. Take a bow police and city officials of Montreal, you handled yourselves and the protest perfectly and did not allow yourself to give in to the overwhelming numbers and an intimidating display, which often leads authority figures feeling threatened, driving them to quiet their fear with unnecessary actions; the end result being aggression by all, as everyone reacts to what they perceive and will recall as aggression by the other. This was truly democracy at work and a wonderful site to behold. Others wishing to stage a protest could do well to follow this groups example.
I have been to many protests in my 56 years on this planet, but this one was something to behold. From the time I arrived in Parc Emile Gamelin where the protest march was supposed to begin, I could sense that for the 1st time in a long time the police had no idea of where and what time the events of the protest would unravel themselves; it was indeed a chess game and at the end of the day I would say the students won the day and in more ways than one so did the people of this city. The students kept the police guessing by sending changes to plans over text messages to key personnel who forwarded them on to the masses and as I stood there I realised that I was indeed in the wrong spot and the protest would be starting from somewhere else and so I walked behind the exiting students and followed them down St Catherine St. to Blury, down Blury and across Rene Levesque to where more than 100, 000 students, teachers and supporters had gathered; but let us start at the beginning of my day in Parc Emile Gamelin.
I arrive at the park approximately 11 am and all that is there is police, street people sitting on benches 4 students practicing what looks to be a cheer of some sort, or steppe dancing and a few students lazing around on the grass talking quietly, not looking like protesters at all. The police kept going to their cars and then coming back to the park. Every now and then up to six cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing arrive and after a few moments quietly leave as though they have been duped into responding and now are at odds to why they were sent to this park.
Within 30 minutes the 2 girls are now 20 girls, their numbers increasing with the passing of minutes and now they are following the instructions of a leader and he seems to be putting them through a routine and they are chanting. I decide it is time to take some pictures as the police begin to circle the park exits and prepare to contain should things get out of hand, but it does not and the tension is plainly visible in the police’s actions, like having ones finger on the red button too long waiting for the decision to engage or disengage. As I watched and waited for the main group of student protesters to arrive the group of step dancers had swollen to over 50 students and I realised what was written on their red T-shirts, danse te greve, (dance of strike). I took pictures and shot some video footage after which I decided to find lunch while I could.
I ate and was back in the park within 15 minutes and it was at this time that I noticed that the students were drifting away from the park heading quietly towards the west and I knew that I would be following them, because they were setting out to meet the rest of the protesters. They had been playing hide and seek with the police all morning pretending to come and then walking away from the park, but this time as the last of the danse te greve troop left the park I would leave with them and get my story. The troop headed west down St. Catherine meeting with others dressed in red t-shirts coming out of metros and side streets and they all were heading west. The mood was festive and full of good will that comes when a group of people feel they are part of something really big and important. I took pictures of the protesters on the move.
It was just past Place Des Arts, when the protesters now about 200 strong turned south then west again along Rene Levesque and the further we walked the louder the sounds of chanting, horns blowing became, until all at once there were literally thousands of protesters right in front of me spanning the space of La Gauchetiere Street to St. Catherine and Mansfield Street to Peel Street. The crowd was so dense that it became next to impossible to walk, or take still pictures, but fortunately it was easier to take videos and so that is what I did from several locations on top of a church’s steps, from the base of a statue in the park and from the ground holding my camera over head, but I knew that I would never be able to capture the true density of the crowd unless I was in a helicopter like the police were that day, or on top of a van like the news people were.
I could hardly walk the crowd was so closely packed together and the signs held up high could hardly be seen if you were standing amongst the students, but the noise of the chants and singing were deafening and they were all protesting the hardship and the suffering that the new increases in tuition would add to their lives. They were all asking the government to rethink this bad decision that could see many of them not able to afford to go to school and others to graduate. Their signs spoke of already only being able to afford to eat Kraft dinner for the most part, so that the money saved on food could be put towards their tuition, books and other related cost they already endured. In they end they demanded that the government see that this was truly the end of higher learning for some and how that this made higher education a thing only for the rich and this was discrimination against the poor and a throw back to a time that did not work. If I were a politician especially Premier Jean Charest and Stephen Harper I think that with over 100,000 potential voters mad enough to come together and protest against something I was responsible for doing, I would be concerned at the political fallout and do something to change things for them.
I was impressed by the students great behaviour and the skill with which they organised this massive protest and kept it incident free at least while I was there up to 3pm. The only way out of the protest once in it was to head towards St. Catherine and so that is what I did. It never ceases to amaze me how people knowing the streets are blocked in a certain area drive into the problem although the solution is to go another way and is available to them and then get angry because they are stuck in traffic, but this is what I witnessed time and time again, but thankfully the students had people at every corner stopping the protest march and directing foolish drivers through. As I arrived at the corner of Metcalfe and St. Catherine the protest started to move away from the parks and up Metcalfe Street turning west on St. Catherine Street and away from me and out came the camera again and I stood there spell-bound watching 100,000 students move orderly up the street chanting, tooting horns, waving signs and making a point in a peaceful law-abiding way.
Now I did hear different opinions on this protest and some people felt that even with this $300.00 tuition increase that Quebec tuitions will still be among the lowest in Canada so that the protest should not be happening. My thought is, does it matter that we have some of the lowest tuitions still if what was already consider low tuitions before these hikes was already putting the majority of university students in financial stress and hardship? Is it enough to have one of the lowest tuition rates in the country when it does nothing to encourage and help all students who want a higher education to get one, or is this truly another case of being one of the best is not good enough? Should the government be saying in other words, “Although we have one of the best tuition rates in the country we realize that it is just not good enough and in doing so we will try to make it even better by not increasing tuitions, lessening the interest rates on student loans and bursaries and work with the students that are finding it hard to repay these loans and bursaries, because of a failing economy and a lack of jobs in the fields for which they have been educated. I urge them to consider these things:
$300.00 and more to a student who is already juggling eating, books and other expenses like rent could be the difference between getting the degree and not getting it.
- Students are already leaving our places of higher learning with massive debts to the government and unable to find a job to pay the student loans back and they know that the government is merciless, unrelenting and tenacious when it comes to the business of squeezing that unpaid monies out of students who default on loan payments.
- As the federal, provincial and civic governments raise our taxes, they all boast about free education and how accessible to all it is and all brag about their institutions of higher learning.
Maybe if the federal government stopped buying things to kill people with, like fighter jets, there would be money for higher learning? Maybe if the provincial government of Quebec stopped wasting money fighting about which language children and young people should be educated in they would have more money to spend on education itself and be in a position to keep tuitions down? Perhaps if cities like Montreal had mayors who actually spent their budgets keeping the city’s infrastructure up to date they would not have to be draining the other two levels of government trying to fix in a couple of years that which had been neglected for over thirty years by mayors with a vision. Giving millions of dollars to keep a bike company in business while it city streets destroyed cars bouncing in and out of the pot holes and allowing this city’s sewage and drainage system to get so bad that it must be replaced instead of repaired.
The Quebec government seems determined to ape France in all that it does, even when it comes to taking the rights and freedoms away from its minority population, but they should remember France’s history and the price it paid for not heeding the cries for justice and equality from its lower classes, its most fragile and suffering of people. The French Revolution was not pretty, but it sure was effective. A monarchy was toppled and the power taken from the rich along with their property and wealth and in some case their lives. All of the same symptoms are manifesting themselves in Quebec right now and the students are just one small part of this not so quiet revolution.
- Thousands pile into Montreal’s downtown to protest tuition hikes (windsorstar.com)
- Student protests start early, targeting Port of Montreal (vancouversun.com)
- Students face $494 fine for Montreal bridge demonstration (canada.com)