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Lisa-Marie Gervais August 23, 2012
In the midst of the electoral campaign, the demonstration this “22nd” was about more than education.
Feeling like they hadn’t been a key subject of the electoral campaign, they took to the streets to be heard. Thousands of protesters marched in Montreal’s downtown yesterday, as students and anti-capitalists alike collectively uttered an unequivocal message: “Cha-rest! Get-Out!”
The calm and joyful tone of the demonstration offered a striking contrast to the vehemence of the protesters’ message. Most were sympathetic to the “red square” movement. Alicia, who is not a student but who was quickly won over by the movement, said point-blank “the theme of this demonstration is to get Charest out. I had to be here.” “Quebecers are in the streets, as we speak, and it’s very clear whose side they are on!” she added.
Once more, the march of the 22nd, a tradition the student movement has established since March, had a broader reach. Citizens of all ages and civil society organizations took this opportunity to condemn the government’s neoliberal policies, privatization and, of course, the tuition hike. “I am fed up with the government and I am against its neoliberalism,” explained Maritza Hernandez, a resident of the Saint-Léonard district.
“We hope this will be a major blow. This is our last chance to gain mass visibility and show the Liberals, and the rest of the province, that we haven’t given up, despite the expected calm during the summer months,” affirmed Pascale André, mother and student at UQAM.
Véronique Laflamme, spokesperson of the Coalition Against User Fees and Privatization of Public Services [Coalition opposée à la tarification et la privatisation des services publics], wishes political bodies would propose new fiscal alternatives in order to move away from the “neoliberal policies which stealthily took root […] over the past 20 years.” “We have the means,” but “we must make fiscal choices,” said Mrs. Laflamme, whose organization co-organized the demonstration with the Broad Coalition of the Association for Student Union Solidarity [Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale] (CLASSE).
The itinerary had not been given to the police and at 3 pm the march set in motion, ending two hours later at the Place Jacque-Cartier in Montreal’s Old Port. The police proceeded with one arrest, but no scuffles with protesters occurred. Ten colleges and several university student associations had voted to suspend classes that day in order to take part in the demonstration, a decision that was not overruled by the institutions’ administration.
Wearing the colors of the Parti Québecois (PQ), but mostly of Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale, the protesters took a stance against the Liberal Parti (PLQ) and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). A handful of individuals were seen taking down campaign posters of these two parties at the beginning of the march.
During a press conference early in the afternoon, the student leaders called on citizens not to vote for either of these two parties. “We’d like to remind the Liberal Party, but also the CAQ because they have [expressed] a similar contempt towards us, that the “street” is in fact the people of Quebec,” stated Martine Desjardins, President of the Quebec Federation of University Students, [Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec] (FEUQ). “In the debates these last few days, not many parties demonstrated a vision of education and a real consideration of our needs. It’s appalling to witness such a lack of leadership, especially from the government but even more from the CAQ, who say they want change, but who are reproducing exactly the same platform the Liberals had in 2003.”
Is it a call to vote for the PQ? “Not necessarily,” answered Éliane Laberge, President of the Quebec Federation of CEGEP Students. “But we invite citizens, and especially the youth, to be critical and to understand that some are for access to education while others are certainly not.” Volunteers are currently running a campaign to incite youth to vote.
The outcome of the election is uncertain, but students have already announced that conferences and general assemblies will convene in the days following the results. “Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, we will have to continue our mobilization and to collectively ask ourselves questions. And to continue to talk about education because, even if this hike is cancelled, the marketization of education is a real threat,” declared Jeanne Reynolds, co-spokesperson of CLASSE. “September 4th is less important than September 5th. And on September 5th, we will continue to wage our struggle as we have for the past six months, as we will every night until victory.”
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.