For the past three months the students of Montreal have been marching daily in the streets. These “manifencours” or manifestations travel throughout the city, with marchers carrying “les casseroles” or pots and pans and drumming on them as they march. The students are protesting the government’s plan to raise university tuition 75% and while their tuition is inexpensive by many standards, a commitment to providing eduction and access to university has been a core aspect of this special community:
If we allow the hike to come into effect, university education will become less accessible. Groups that already tend to have more difficulty paying for university, including women, people of color, and the poor, will be the most affected by the hike. The result is more social inequality, as postsecondary education becomes increasingly reserved for an elite class. Since available financial aid will remain inadequate, students will face surging debt burdens, which act to channel us into high-paid corporate jobs, rather than work we might find more fulfilling.
Education is a right, not a privilege. In fact, Quebec agreed to respect this principle when it signed a 1976 UN declaration holding that “higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”
In response to the initial demonstrations, the usually liberal Quebecois government passed Law 78 aka the Truncheon Law or “law of the baton” virtually outlawing all demonstrations and imposing astonishing levels of fines on any organization that did not obey. The largest independent student organization, Classe, vowed to continue the strike and demonstrations even so.
And so they have. On the night of May 23rd for example 518 were arrested after the march was kettled by police and after the crew from CUTV were attacked, beaten and arrested themselves for a time. This video from CUTV records the attack on them and also shows their immense courage in response. (We can all wish we had journalists like this!) CUTV is a small TV station run by Concordia University and they have been broadcasting the marches each night live. You can view them here each evening – the interviews and comments along the way are fascinating and the spirit is inspiring.
On Thursday, the students were back with a daytime demonstration by pirates and ninjas:
A small but colourful anti-tuition protest snarled downtown and west end traffic Thursday afternoon as about 100 protesters dressed as pirates and ninjas made their way from Place du Canada to Victoria Ave. in Westmount in an unsuccessful bid to picket the home of Premier Jean Charest.
The protesters, many of them wearing masks in defiance of a Montreal bylaw banning face coverings during public demonstrations, were escorted by police along the route of their march.
Followed by an evening march avec casseroles:
“I’m here in solidarity with the students,” said Henri Fernand, 65, who took part in the protest in his wheelchair. “The youth is our future and I’m proud of them,” he added.
The march, one of several on Thursday night, included a few thousand people. It was loud, even deafening at times, with people clanging pots, bowls, woks and frying pans as they marched in the warm night.
Onlookers showed their support by banging pots on balconies and outside restaurants.
What began as a movement directly aimed at stopping the tuition hike has expanded as citizens join the students after seeing the behavior of the police and reject the EU style austerity moves behind this tuition hike. Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy’s are holding casserole actions in support of the activists in Montreal as well.
The Indypendent, produced a wonderful short video tracing the history of the revolt – it’s very worth watching as we have a lot to learn from the activism of these students. RIghtNow I/O also has a wonderful collection of photos from the movement – you can view them here.