DISCLAIMER: I need to go over this post to reorder some events, and fix a few dates, and details. It was written entirely from memory several months (almost a year) after the events, so there are some mistakes.
Here I am, between 2 protests on a fateful day, trying to retell what were maybe the most important events of my life. This is not always things I have seen myself. When I say I, or We, or You, it’s a bit at random. It’s things I’ve heard tell many times, it’s things I’ve seen, it’s things I’ve read, watched, listened to.
In March of 2010, I believe (or maybe it was February, who knows, who cares), the Liberal Government announced that they would hike tuition fees 75% from 2012 to 2017, right after the last hike (30% from 2007 to 2012) would finish.
I was at Cégep, walking around quietly on break, in this school where I had no friends and knew no one, and a girl stopped me to give me a flyer about this. I read it in the bathroom and got back to her:
“So are we doing anything about that?”
“There’s a protest Downtown later. Me and these guys are going, want to come?”
It had been months since I had been active in the student movement, in a political sense at least. It was exhilarating. Carrying desks and chairs from my old cégep to the ministry of education. I crossed paths with people I knew from back in the days. Made new friends. We shouted our usual chants. It was cold, cold outside.
Then I left Cégep and entered university sort of forgot about it all. For a whole year and a half I would do nothing political except voting once, for a party I sort of hate. I thought maybe I had matured, maybe I had changed.
On November 10th 2011 I went to the first big protest of the campaign. Days later, unions would start voting eventual strike mandates (that if 20 000 students had a strike mandate, we would all go on strike simultaneously). That one protest was monstrous, to me, the biggest one I had been to that was Education related (at that point the biggest one in the province ever was against war in Iraq, with around 300 000 people showing up then.) We were around 30 000, marching for four long hours under the pouring, ice-cold November rain. I went with my campus union, who made snide remarks about the more left-wing unions that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I was with my little sister. She had asked me to come. I was impressed.
On January 10th, my student union voted the strike “floor system”. We were the first at the University of Montreal to do so, earning us a sudden reputation for being radicals and helping kickstart something, at least a little.
I got involved in the union. They were okay people. The first unions fell on strike on February 10th (Arts, University of Quebec). Most of us fell on the 20th, when we reached the fated 20 000 student on strike miracle number.
We had a protest at school that day. The Universitary Assembly was “holding court” (lol) that day. We wanted them to cancel it. Hundreds of us sat in front of the assembly. We made so much noise, it was unbearable for us. Obviously they couldn’t be holding any sort of meeting. The music students had brought countless percussion and brass instruments. They finally asked us if we wanted to send spokespeople in to talk with them. We held assembly, right there, in the hallway to the Claire McNicholl building and settled on two spokespeople. In the end, they decided not to let them speak. We stayed. And stayed.
They cancelled the assembly.
We sort-of-hijacked the metro and ran downtown to another protest. This is a pattern that would keep up for a long while. Mornings at school holding picket lines, and protests in the afternoon. Professors brought us coffee and chocolate on the pickets lines. Some tried to pass them. Some were violent even. We argued a lot.
With each weekly assembly we feared the strike would stop. With each weekly assembly more students entered the strike. We were hovering around 200 000 students on strike. The big day was coming up: the national protest on march 22nd. We remembered how the last strike in 2005 had went. Similarly. Numbers raising, big protest, the government offering some half-assed solution, people being sick of being on strike stopping and the most radical keeping it up for 2 more weeks. We wanted to avoid that, but thought it impossible.
Then came that dreaded day. People were occupying the offices of Loto-Québec, which is the provincial agency responsible for all gambling and lottery. The got thrown out, eventually. They sat in front. People were singing songs, playing music, making peace signs. The police was getting angrier and angrier. Pepper spray flew everywhere. Tear Gas, illegal for use in the city. And finally the flash grenades. In that mêlée this guy, this guy we now all know by name, who was sitting there playing harmonica and tried to run off, got a fragment of a bursting flash bang in his eye.
He would eventually lose the eye. That night, we held a vigil for him at the park. The police showed up and it was the same thing all over again. Riot cops, batons, shield, flash grenades, pepper spray, fear, shouts, terror, people running everywhere.
He was 18 years and I guess to us he is the next best thing to a war hero. He’s 18 years old (maybe 19 now, who knows) and for him the 2012 strike will never end.
Each year we have a protest against police brutality. This year it counted 10 000 people, in comparison to the usual 800. When I arrived there, in the metro, rows upon rows of riot cops were standing guard. Outside, they surrounded the square already. It was terrifying. They were all around us. But we marched anyway. We were angry. So angry. I went masked and carried a first aid kit on me. I had a change of clothes in my inner coat pockets.
It took about 15 minutes before they declared the protest illegal and started throwing flash grenades. We kept walking. And walking. They started charging us. People panicked, started running. A flash bang exploded 2 feet from my head. I almost puked. Everyone panicked just enough and was disoriented just enough that they managed to split us into 2 smaller groups. And then 4. And then 8. I remember one moment where they were closing down on us, blocking 3 of the 4 entrances to the crossing. The fourth was closing down, slowly, and we ran. There is no word for the kind of adrenaline you feel in that sort of protest, with the flash grenades raining down upon you, the noise of the batons on the shields, the shouts, the panic, the screams, the fear. It’s exhilarating. It’s terrifying. It’s galvanizing. It’s empowering. And it’s humbling. And so on so forth. Soon, we were a bunch of 50-100 people mobs, running around the city, escaping cops by millimeters, hiding, running, throwing rocks at stores when we had a chance. They got us finally on the McGill campus in a dead end we hadn’t seen coming. There was maybe 30 of us. I ran and jumped and my hands griped the steel fence. It was 12 feet high. I was terrified. I climbed with all my might. My skate shoes were to big to offer any sort of grip so I climbed using my hands only, shaking, crying. One of them grabbed my feet. I kicked him with the other one and kept climbing. My glasses kept fogging up because of the cold and of my mask. He kept trying. He almost got me. I got to the top. I didn’t have time. I looked down. 12 feet.
I jumped, rolled, and ran. I ran through a wall of bewildered riot cops, into McGill university, into an empty classroom, changed as fast as I can, braided tied my hair, put on sunglasses, reverted my coat to the pink side and walked back out through another exit. The cops looked at me suspiciously. I walked as fast as I could to downtown and gave number 20 a call. We grabbed coffee and headed towards where I had learned arrests were happening, back at the square. That day they arrested a 100 people.
Only a few days later, I got an invitation to take part in some large-scale secret “operation”. I was told “bring rain boots, code yellow, and you’ll remember this one for your whole life”. We took off in 3 buses, the fourth 25% of us arriving by subway, departing from 3 different corner of the cities, meeting and switching buses several times on the way there to try and avoid sparking rumors. The least radical unions were holding a protest in a park next to a bridge in the east side. We “landed” on the south shore far more west… and went on to block Pont Champlain, the bridge with the highest traffic in the country. We stayed there for an hour. The police told us “in once we declare the protest illegal you leave, there will be no arrests”. It took the police about an hour to figure whose jurisdiction this bridge was under (national highway, bridge connection two cities, national, provincial or municipal? apparently it’s tricky). In the end it was the provincial police who told us to gtfo and we did. We ran back exactly the way we had planned, to some grocery store parking lot. The first group got on their bus and left. We got on our bus to leave. That’s when a million police cars started arriving from everywhere. The ran literally into the bus, both back and front, blocking both doors. We were locked in. Our friends were outside, all 100 of them. They circled the police and shouted at them to let us free, that they had lied to us. We opened the windows and told them to just run. They did. Only one of them got arrested. They led us (and the other bus, which they had caught on the highway) to the police station. They kept us in the bus, because they no room for us inside. For hours. And hours. And hours. We got there before 9AM and would be released 8 hours later. They kept us and for the first 4 hours, they did not let us go to the bathroom. Men pissed in bottles. Girls bit their lips and held it. It was excruciating. I wanted to die. I thought I was going to die. Then they started letting some us go. One by one, escorted by 4 policemen, we could go to the bathroom, but not before they searched us.
We sang. We called our friends, our parents, told us where they were. We were told we could be seen on TV. They proceeded to write 500$ tickets to us before releasing us. Traffic tickets. So officially we had never been “arrested”. They released us, finally. The bus driver dropped us at a random spot in Montreal. We went back to school. I went out with one of the other activists to grab a few beers. I need it.
Then on the 21st there was a feminist protest. It was just maybe a 100 of us, women front, men in the back, shouting feminist chants. I held the banner. My old roommate happened to be in the area and taking pictures, so I have some pretty good pictures of that protest (he’s a really good photographer. he lives off it now, so I guess it means he’s good.) I remember the way men in suits were looking at us. With contempt and amusement.
March 22nd was a gorgeous day. One of those days in march where it is 20 out and you guess ridiculously optimistic that winter is over and that it is summer already (the truth is it will snow for 2 more months, just watch out). I left from school with my a group from my program, with our Chinese hats and our signs in Chinese and Japanese.
When we got there, it was insane. It was so huge. There were people EVERYWHERE. And more people just kept pouring out and out and out of the metro stations, of the malls, of the streets. It just kept growing. It took forever to finally leave, to get the sea of people to move. And we marched, every so slowly, for miles upon miles of Montreal streets, under the cheers of people from windows, and roof tops, and balconies, throwing red confetti at us, agitating red flags. People were climbing on lampposts and stop signs to take pictures. There were people everywhere, on the roofs, everywhere. There was music and dancers and chants. I looked all around me. We had expected around 100 000 people, like the biggest protest in 2005. I held out for something around 150 000, being more optimistic than the average activist. I looked around me and I thought to myself “this… looks like 200 000”. I couldn’t believe it. Later I would learn that it would take 2 hours, from the moment the head of the protest had left Square Victoria, for the last of the people to march out, because we simply were too many. I’d learn later that I was quite right; media cited 200 000 people being there. I remember passing by that 2nd floor nursery where they always waved at us from the window. They had red squares painted over the window, and the kids waved at us, and we waved, and we shouted to them “We’re doing this for you”. I cried a little.
There are a few fantastic YouTube videos about how tremendous this protest was. They give me shivers every other time I watch them. And the other times, they make me cry. During the protest, there a banner hung from an overpass that we walked under. It stated “The strike begins today.” It was wishful thinking. We all knew what would happen; we’d get a crappy offer in the next few days, most would take it, some would try to go on. The most hardcore would be on strike for 2 more weeks. And then it would be over.
Only, it didn’t go that way. Only, this banner was right. So right. In the following days, the government would not budge even a bit. And the number of students on strike barely dropped. It stayed. And stayed.
Eventually after many more protests, they invited us to negotiate On the second day, they kicked out the biggest, most “radical” student coalition on grounds of grounds that we had broken a “peace treaty” which we had never signed. A protest had been held, organised by students on an individual basis. They just did not seem to understand, how we did not operate in a top-down manner, how the ones they liked to call our “leaders” (executives, spokespeople and negotiation team) couldn’t order us to do anything, that it worked the other way around.
It is pretty symbolic that these people are so far removed from the real notion of democracy that we spent six god damn months trying to get them to understand that we worked under a democratic system and at the end of those six months they would still say that we “threatened democracy” with our “mob rule”.
Anyway. Moving on. The night where they kicked out our union, we held the (second? third?) night-time protest. We would end up holding a hundred of those, but we didn’t know that yet. We joined up in a square, candles and flash lights in hand. And we marched. Much faster than in the day time protests. We lit fireworks. “Capital wages war on us” shouted someone. “WAR ON CAPITAL” we shouted back. There was so much anger. I was wearing my mask and my hoodie. I was no one. I was part of a mass. “Der Kapital macht uns der Krieg” shouted a voice I recognized as “that guy I was arrested with the other day”. “KRIEG UNS KAPITAL” I shouted back. My voice, my real voice, that I use almost only when singing power metal and folk and chanting in protests, is deeper than most guys I know. It’s also extremely powerful. Chanting is liberating. That night, people walked until morning. “1-2-3-4 THIS IS FUCKING CLASS WAR, 5-6-7-8 ORGANIZE TO SMASH THE STATE”. I had my fellow activists by my side, people from my union, my boyfriend even.
There was this really strong moment, where, walking between houses, at 11PM, we just started screaming. One person started it. Just this long howl of pain, frustration, anger, fear. And we joined in. Soon it was thousands of us just screaming nothing at all. Just screaming months of frustration (it was April already then..).
The next night we walked again. And the night after that. “Each night ’til victory” was our motto. Police brutality was not on short supply, either. It escalated. Black blocks targeted bank windows, McDonald the apple store. The police targeted everyone, cornering us between high buildings, circling 20 000 of us at a time, flash grenades and pepper spray all over again, and panic, people almost being stampeded to death. They’d declare the protests illegal after charging in, at the complete back to make sure the people in the front could not hear at all. They seemed to expect 20 000 people to vanish within seconds.
Not much later another universitary assembly was held. They prepared for us and locked down the building. We tried with all our might to get inside, as they filmed us, took pictures of us, filed us. Eventually, an innocent lecturer exited the building, ignoring the security guard’s threats, because he needed to go give class. We rushed in, howling. A security guard punched me and threw me down. Three students got me back up, picked up my glasses. We ran towards the hall. It was exhilarating. Never have I seen a University Director run for his life in such a manner. All the teacher’s unions cheered us on, as we climbed on stage and stole the delicious lemonade our beloved rector was having. We sang, and cheered. Later on, one of us would get arrested by those special security guards who can act as policemen. There was him, at the center of a circle of 10 security guards. And then there was us, all around them, and I was first row, staring one of them in the eyes, shouting at his face. All the hate in their eyes. It was scary. They hated us so much. They hated us way more than we hated them. And there was fear also.
Then there was the Plan Nord Salon. It was a presentation of our government’s brilliant plant to ruin the environment of Quebec forever in the name of economic development. Inuit women had walked down thousands of kilometers to protest this here, from the Great North down to Montreal. These powerful, fearless women. I respect them so.
The plan nord salon was empowering because the cops ran for us. They were scared. For once we had the upper game. Our tactics were perfect. Everybody was so profoundly angry that nobody was trying to tell us to remain pacific. Dreadful things still happened. Arrests upon arrests, of people who did nothing wrong.
The next day was April 22nd and the protest that day, on earth day, numbered 300 000 people. It was insanity. We beat all records. And it wasn’t over.
Days later we’d hear about was happening in the western end of the province. Cops had invaded the school and arrested the professors that were refusing to teach (the school had been granted an injunction by a judge to try to force classes to start again.) People bled, that day. An incredible number of arrests were made. I remember the horrifying picture, of professors dragged on the ground of their universities, of students with bleeding scalps, of the crowd composed of youths and elderly with, in the middle of them, fully suited riot cops with casks and masks and tear gas guns. Some people made pretty nice ‘shops with these pictures: “Call of Duty: Québec Warfare”. I think that’s one of the first time I sat in front of my computer, in the very chair I am sitting in right now, and just sobbed in front of my computer. The horror.
It wasn’t long before my school had its own injunction. You could get arrested and held in contempt of court for holding a picket line.
The protest at school that day was insane. People were so angry. People who had been against vandalism from the very first day were cheering people as they used turned a bench into a ram to ram into the door of the director’s office. The hall of honor was half destroyed. They were trying to shut us up by force and we would not have it.
The hired new special security guards, who threatened students with rape threats and racist insults. It took us two days to get them out of the school with a combination of not being scared of them.. and writing a pretty intense pamphlet with quotes by said agents. The fact professors and department directors were backing us up helped tremendously. I remember the words of these disgusting guards “You’re a black guy who’s just made a racist joke at me.. see, all my friends heard it! And nobody will believe you when you say you didn’t” and “Go back to your fucking country” and “At night I put my baton in my girlfriend’s ass” and “I eat little (female) philosophy students for breakfast”.
That was the day the dean of our faculty decided to suspend the classes of every union that was on strike. So that we would not have to hold picket lines anymore. That was a big “FUCK OFF” on his part to the director and the government. I respect that man. I do.
What came next? Victoriaville, I suppose. There they held the congress of the liberal party. That was the most horrifying event of the strike. Hundreds injured. It took nothing, only someone touching the barriers, and it was on. Flash grenades, pepper spray, tear gas but the most horrifying things: “diminished lethality projectiles”. That day, elders, and babies, had respiratory arrests. Several people suffered cranial trauma and concussions. One girl’s jaw was turned to pretty much dust by one of those “projectiles”. This guy had one hit him on the thigh. The nurse who saw to him told the media, later “His bruise was swollen as big as a grapefruit. I thought it was femoral artery. I thought we were going to lose him.” Then the inevitable happened. A student got hit by a plastic bullet (sorry, a “reduced lethality projectile”) on his temple. And his eye exploded. And he in a coma. And he wasn’t alone, for a few more people went into coma.
My friend who is a medic in such places told me she was acting like a robot “I’d only take care of the people I knew could keep assaulting the congress by throwing rocks. If I saw someone just couldn’t be fixed quick, I moved on”.
Then, on the way back, they arrested full buses, on the highway, in Montreal.
There is word for the horror that was lived through that day. Many people describe it far better than I do. Have you ever been pepper sprayed? It blinds you for long, agonizing minutes, where your eyes cry, breathing hurts, not breathing hurts, everything hurts. Tear gas is even worst. It’s even worst when everywhere you look, it’s just people as desperate as you. You want to help but you can’t because you can’t breathe, and it hurts, and you know you need to run but your legs won’t move. Looking back on pictures of that day, it looks like a battlefield. Smoke everywhere.
(here is a picture http://images.lpcdn.ca/924×615/201205/04/498084-emeute-victoriaville.jpg i think it shows the horror)
(and here are a few more, while I’m at ithttp://images.lpcdn.ca/924×615/201205/05/498156-emeute-victoriaville.jpg
That was a dark day indeed.
Then the order of events gets shady.
They attempted to negotiate again, making us a dumb offer that had nothing to do with the tuition fee hike. We refused.
Some High Schools went on strike to support us. People said it was irresponsible, that they were too young to understand, that they just wanted the day off. It was a terrible morning, of ice-cold rain, and sleet, and hail. And they were hundreds, holding a picket line at their school from 4AM to 11AM. So much for “just wanting the day off”. Sometimes, in the streets, school kids asked me “hey ma’am, are you on strike?” and when I said yes they said “thanks for fighting for our future”. It made me want to cry every time. I don’t feel worthy of thanks at all. I’m just doing what my values dictate me to do. Nothing more. I’m not doing this “for” anyone. I just feel it’s what is right. It’s almost selfish, in a way.
Then they decided to put us in a lock-out. That’s what you do with unruly employees that go on strike, after all. They declared that all semesters were on hold until mid-late august, and that then, any attempt to block a class or organizing a protest within 50 meters of a campus would be aubjected to 5000$ fines for normal people, 35 000$ fines for student union executives (like me), and 150 000$ fines for student unions. On top of that, any protest numbering above 50 was automatically illegal if not pre-authorized by the police. Any student union that broke that law would lose its accreditation for one year for each day of picket-lining or protesting.
There were two night protests the night that law was announced, one at 8h30 as usual, and one at 11h30. I attended both. The 11h30 one was brutal. It was declared illegal within minutes we were scattered by the police, running from one alley to the next, from one seemingly safe spot to the next. I was with a much tamer friend of mine. I held her hand as we ran.
The day the law came into effect.. was even worst. Cones and garbage cans burned, fireworks flew, and bank windows exploded by the dozen. We were angry. So angry. This is not what democracy looks like. When more than 4% of the entire population of your province is marching the streets in a single day, at the same place, you have to listen to them. Or if you are to ignore them, not shut them up by force. It was horrifying. That law was, above all, entirely against the constitution of Canada (protests are legal by definition of the right of assembly).
Then came may 22nd. The protest was close to 400 000 people. The population had been angered by the anti-democratic law. A lot of people that were pro-hike were against that law nonetheless. A lot of people who just hated the prime minister or his party or the government but didn’t care about the students joined in.
Then they started the pots and pans protests. Every day, at 8, for 10 minutes people would go out on their balcony and bang pots and pans to show support. In each neighborhood, people gathered at a popular crossing and then marched on, some people descending from their balconies to join them, some just cheering them on. The protests closer to downtown walked many kilometers each night to join up with the night protest. But these were happening all over the province, in small suburban towns, in the countryside, everywhere. There was one in my hometown. We chanted something that would translate “the special law, we do not give a fuck about it”. Everyone was at those protests. The elderly. Housewives. Workers. Kids.
Then it sort of died down, quietly. The night-time demos dwindled. 30-so irreducible people remained. The june protest numbered around 100 000. The July one maybe 50 000. The august one was much smaller. And much rougher.
At the beginning of August, they declared an election. I was angry. They were running away from the problem. For people like me, elections solve nothing. I felt as though everything we had done had gone to waste. My union chose to support the elections. In congress, I had to say we should encourage people to vote, because I was representing my union. I wanted to throw up.
The 100th night-time demo came and passed. And then it came around to the time were Cégeps were supposed to go back to school, according to the law. They voted on the strike. And they fell, like flies. It hurt so much to see that, sitting here, seeing the Facebook status updates about the provinces most radical, most left wing schools going back to school. Marie-Victorin. Saint-Laurent. Maisonneuve.
On the night of the 6 month anniversary of the strike, we had a really, really violent protest. I was there with all my friends. I wanted to break things. So did they. This girl from my union was with us. Back when this all started, she was for the hike, just a less intense one. She was deadly against the strike. Now she wanted nothing more than to sacrifice everything for the cause. She walked along me and cheered for every broken window. When our friends went to the sidewalk, scared, she stayed on the street with me. We ran towards the cops when they tried to taunt us, and they got scared and ran way. It was exhilarating. Vieux Montréal, my old college, was voting that night. Half way through the protest, we heard the news. “Still on strike”. We cheered like crazy. Little did we know they would revote days later and leave the strike.
Very quickly, only universities were still on strike. Arts and Humanities from University of Québec. Anthropology, Sociology Grad Studies, Anthropology Grad Studies, Film Studies, Litterature, Art History and East Asian Studies were all that remained at the University of Montreal.
The assembly at which History UofM exited the strike was one of the most painful ones for me. I sat there, trying to argue with them, to show them we couldn’t give up, not now, not because there was an election, that we had not gone on strike for an election, that we had not remained on strike for six months for an election, that we owed it to those who lost eyes, teeth, who were injured, to all the girls who got raped by policemen, to all of us who wake up in the middle of the night still, in cold sweats, having just dreamt of having been arrested, almost tasting the pepper spray at the back of our throats, we owed it to those for whom this strike would never end, because they were scarred forever. That if we fought for the quality of education, catching up the 9 weeks we had missed in just under 5 was stupid, that we were putting a burden on the professors we loved, who taught us day after day, tirelessly, who had supported us through the strike, that it wasn’t fair to them either. Almost no one was willing to listen. The strike fell.
After it all, this guy, who had been on the opposite side all along, a “green” as we called them, said “I think we can at least applaud ourselves for the fight we led.” The irony burned. Everyone clapped. I turned around just in time to see a friend’s eyes filling with tears. It was too much for me to bear. I ran out and collapsed near the door, sobbing. All this for what.. for nothing.
Then came that dreaded day. August 27th 2012. When we got at school at 7AM the police was already inside. There were cop cars all around the school. 30 cars. 12 vans. 4 buses. They quickly confiscated our food. Then as we picketed, they quickly got extremely rough. Strangling us. That was the security guards. They were, if anything, more violent than the cops. More vicious. With their pig eyes and salacious jokes and leers, and their cameras and their contempt for us.
They forced a beloved professor to give her class, though she was in tears. Then they locked up seven of us in a room. In the media, it said these people had locked themselves up. Lord. I will never trust mass media again. Ever. It’s not paranoia to say they lie. I’ve seen it with my own eyes often enough in the last year. You have seen videos of this day. When we tried to free those people, we put on our masks, a black mass on nondescript individuals, locked our elbows and walked towards the guards as a wall. “MOVE-MOVE-MOVE-MOVE-MOVE-MOVE” we chanted, tirelessly. Usually, because it is illegal for them to touch us violently, to push us, to hurt us, they have to move back.
But they broke the law. I remember it clearly, the hand locking itself firmly around my throat, the tremendous force lifting me off the ground. I saw, from the corner of my eye, a familiar silhouette taking the guards earpiece cord to try to strangle him. Then a sharp blow struck my face. “Was that a punch?” I thought to myself, bewildered. He dropped me. I turned just in time to see him strike another student, full swing, with a punch. “Yeah, definitely a punch,” We moved back. We tried other strategies. Nothing work. The seven were our first arrestees.
It went on like that for most of the day. I remember, being dead exhausted, at 7, failing to block a film studies class, thinking “how the hell are we going to keep this up all week”. I sat by my friend Marc. After a slight argument with another guy, I just ran off crying again. I was so upset. For no reason. Because I had spent all day getting arrested for those people and they still didn’t give a flying fuck about being nice to me.
The next day was worst, in many ways. Arrests over arrests. Again and again. It wasn’t even noon and I was already exhausted. Then the news came. They were lifting classes for Anthropology, Film Studies and Art History. They just seemed to forget about us and literature We shipped off most people to go help University of Québec. We kept about a hundred to lift the few classes still not cancelled for the day. And that’s when it happened.
We heard a girl had been arrested, we ran down to see what was up, tried to free her, the cops got scared, I suppose, called the riot cops in.. It was a terrifying moment. They were there. In our faces. Some of my friends were screaming at them, and I saw them wrench my friend’s boyfriend away from her to arrest him. I stood there powerless. I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t dare do anything. I looked at them with all the anger and hate in the world, but I couldn’t manage anything. I saw them kick a friend of mine down. She’s tiny, as tiny as me. We tried to get her back up. They kicked her back down again. They pushed us down the stairs, told us to exit the building. But down the stairs another wall of riot cops was waiting. We were stuck. Finally they let us out and locked down the building. We stood there, students, professors, friends, allies, employees, screaming at them. This was a school. More than a school. An university. A place of knowledge, a middle ground for professors and students, a place of research, of freedom of expression. I received a text “seeing you on TV . Then three. Then four. I had given interviews the day before, but on radio. I had told them, no cameras, don’t film my face. But in a crowd there is nothing you can escape. My whole world knew where I was, what I was doing. And what I was doing was screaming at riot cops who were locking me out of my school, my home, and with me the rest of this school’s life.
Finally they told us classes were lifted for the rest of the day. We left, for other schools. To go help out. They needed us as we had needed them.
In the classes were lifted for the week. We would come back, to vote on the strike, the day after the election.
On that day, people hesitated. A lot of people just wanted the semester cancelled altogether. Some other people just wanted to go to school no matter what. Most people felt no legitimacy to vote because they took none of our departmental classes (in this precise case, Ancient Chinese Literature, Modern Chinese Literature and Political Economics of China). I felt not such guilt. “To continue striking until the semester either the semester or the hike is cancelled.” For: 10. Against: 13. Undecided: 9.
The hike was cancelled 20 minutes later.
I picketed my last class the next day. It was a bittersweet victory. I felt cheated. We had sacrificed so much to go back to where we had begun. No more hike, and a few interesting gains on the loans and bursaries side, but nothing else. Nothing lasting. We knew this government would wait a year or two and propose another hike, less steep, and people wouldn’t want to go on strike again, so it would go through. Politics at its finest.
The last union left the strike about 5 days later. On September 10th, 2012, the strike was finally over.