Students Out en Masse for Nov. 10 Tuition Protest
See more photos of the Nov. 10 Day of Action here.
Red paint stained the flagpole and the ground. Vapour from a discharged fire extinguisher made the rainy darkness even gloomier.
Lightbulbs filled with more paint, smuggled into the crowd in emptied-out Pringles cans, sailed over the heads of those closest to the HSBC building on McGill College Ave., shattering against the ground.
A firework, shot from somewhere in the massive crowd, exploded inches away from an upper-level window.
The few cops who dared stand and face the onslaught retreated to the safety of the building, home to the office of Quebec Premier Jean Charest. All that protected the building from the crowd were a few student organizers, arms linked, yelling at the minority of people hurling objects.
A peaceful protest against the increase of tuition fees now teetered on the brink of violence.
Earlier that day, despite the rain, Concordia Student Union executives had gathered students from all corners of the campus onto the Reggie’s terrace.
The Hall Building at Concordia was filled with students in face paint sporting the small but recognizable red felt squares that meant one thing: No Tuition Fee Increases. Protesters in the halls warned students in no uncertain terms that if they continued on their way to class they’d be crossing a picket line.
The mezzanine and Java U grew packed with students seeking shelter from the rain and waiting for the procession to start because they simply could not fit outside.
As volunteers from the People’s Potato distributed falafel sandwhiches, the numbers swelled into the hundreds.
Concordia Student Union President Lex Gill and VP External Chad Walcott spoke to the crowd, preparing them for a day of francophone slogans. “People from Rimouski and Chicoutimi are coming,” said Gill. “It’s gonna be epic. We’re all gonna practice our French today!”
“Qu’est-ce qu’on veut?,” shouted Walcott to the anglophone crowd. “Le gel!” they shouted back.
As students swarmed down Mackay St. and then eastwards, the crowd grew bigger and stronger—and their French grew clearer.
By the time the Concordia contingent merged with their McGill counterparts at the corner of McGill College Ave. and Ste. Catherine St. W., the number of protesters had grown to somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000.
At around 3:00 p.m. the mass of students took over Berri Square. With more free sandwiches and music, they joined the full demonstration of roughly 20,000 protesters.
Although speculation on the real number varies, protesters from across the province were in attendance, spilling out of the park on all sides and flooding the streets. University and CEGEP students alike touted the party line: no tuition increases. Not in this province.
“We’re here to support the students, we’re here in solidarity with them and we’re here to fight for accessible education,” said Deputy Chairperson of the Dawson Student Union, Mira Katz.
After rousing speeches and music blasted from speakers to encourage the army of protesters, the assembled mass departed from Berri Square and continued north towards St. Louis Square.
When the crowd crossed the Berri St. overpass, it was possible to see the full scope of the protest as it stretched all the way back to Berri Square. Roughly one kilometre of people packed the streets, chanting and parading clever and elaborate signs, including a vampire-esque caricature of Charest.
Turning around at St. Louis Square and proceeding along de Maisonneuve Blvd. E., the front of the procession eventually made it to Charest’s office at around 5:00 p.m. As the crowd appeared at the corner of McGill College Ave., the six police in riot gear present drew their batons at once.
One demonstrator climbed the facade of the building up to the front balcony, but came back down as the crowd was busy trying to figure out what the next step was. As people grew impatient and cold, the momentum started to die off, but the crowd’s frustration remained evident.
That’s when the paint began to fly, signaling the beginning of the end. In the brief period between the cops’ retreat and the arrival of their riot squad brethren, nothing stood between the few Black Bloc protesters and the home of their enemy but a few student organizers, determined to maintain the non-violent ethos of the day.
“When you are organizing something of that scale, nothing ever goes according to plan. I am incredibly proud of the organizing team and the security team. These people worked with what they had,” said Gill, who had been among those attempting to defend the HSBC
A few speeches remained, but the momentum was gone, lost somewhere along the way, due to exhaustion and the collective knowledge that they had done something big, maybe even started the process of accomplishing a goal.
Some in the crowd began wandering to the nearby McGill campus. “Occupons McGill!” yelled people in the crowd.
A general sense of confusion took over. People weren’t sure if this was an official next step or just a rogue group’s decision. The events that followed at McGill, though only experienced by a minority of the protesters, still ended up colouring Nov. 10 for most.