Bigger Is Better?

Protesters Expand Focus of Tuition Fight

Yelling, “Fuck the police!,” and, “Don’t fuck with our education!,” a group of radical anti-tuition protesters made their way through Montreal’s downtown campuses on Feb. 2.

That morning, around 200 protesters met in Concordia’s Hall Building in an effort to raise awareness of the growing campaign against the Quebec government’s impending tuition-fee hikes.

The tactics used and sentiments expressed by the demonstrators were markedly more aggressive than those of the tens of thousands who took to the streets on the Nov. 10 Day of Action against tuition hikes.

“I think that our struggle is radical,” said event spokesperson Frank Lévesque-Nicol, who suggested students question the logic behind the rising tuition fees.

“Basically, more and more people are starting to realize that the real problem behind the rising tuition fees and the commodification of education is something related to a socioeconomic system that is behind it all.”

The protesters consisted of a loosely organized contingent of anarchists, socialists and anti-capitalists, who marched through the hallways, libraries and cafeterias of Concordia, McGill, CEGEP Vieux-Montreal, and the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Not all in the anti-tuition hike movement, however, identify with the anti-establishment message of the protesters.

“My only criticism is that I worry that by adding additional messages [such as anti-establishment or anti-police] you are diluting from the core issue, which is affordable tuition,” said former Concordia Student Union councillor Tomer Shavit.

“The great accomplishment of [the Day of Action protest] was that the students attending the rally were not just from ‘activist groups’ or the ‘usual protesters,’” he said.

“Any other cause that is affixed to the tuition fight can lead to divisiveness and so should be treated with caution.”

CSU VP External Chad Walcott, who has played a large role in organizing Concordia’s part in the anti-tuition campaign, echoed Shavit’s criticism.

Distancing the CSU from the divisive actions of the demonstration, Walcott said the protesters failed to choose the “most effective means of getting the message out.”

“Running around with a megaphone through the library isn’t necessarily the best way to get students on your side, though it is a really good way to get heard,” he said.

Walcott thinks a debate of more radical ideas would be more appropriate when activists and students aren’t in direct conflict with the government over tuition.

“[These activists] have a larger scope to their demands. They’re asking for the removal of all worldly oppression. Theirs is just another discourse that falls within the anti-tuition debate. More than anything, I think that these discussions should come at a time of peace,” he said.

“I think that it’s practical to ask for a freeze in the face of an increase and it’s ideological to ask for free tuition in the face of an increase,” he said.

“If you’re driving a car forward, you have to stop before you go backward.”