On June 9, the UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) and Camosun College Student Society (CCSS) co-hosted an event to show solidarity with student protesters in Quebec. Dubbed the “Solidarité Block Party,” the event began at 5 p.m. in Victoria’s Centennial Square. From there, attendees marched around downtown Victoria and emulated protesters in Montreal by banging casserole dishes and pots as they walked. The group — estimated by one organizer to consist of 150 people — wound back to Centennial Square for a speech by Tara Ehrcke, the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.
Ehrcke expressed contempt for Bill 78, a law recently passed in Quebec as an effort to quell protests, calling it “draconian legislation.” She compared it to B.C.’s Bill 22, which forced public school teachers on strike to go back to work in March of this year. She also lamented her generation’s change in fortune as tuition costs rise and corporate taxes fall.
“We were going to do better than our parents did,” she said. “Nobody has the audacity or the gall to say that anymore.”
Still, Ehrcke concluded her remarks with the optimistic rhetoric of the Occupy movement. “We have one thing that the One Per Cent does not have. We have each other,” she said.
Following her speech, protesters braved buffeting winds to listen and occasionally dance to the music of Kytami (a violinist paired up with a DJ) and T-Spoon (of Dehli 2 Dublin fame).
Renay Maurice, a UVic student at the protest, wore a mask in defiance of Bill 78’s stipulation that Quebec protesters cannot cover their faces. Bill 78 also mandates that protesters must give police advance notice of their plans if more than 50 people will be congregating. In stark contrast to the clashes between police and protesters in Montreal (more than 500 protesters were arrested on a single night in May), organizers of the Solidarité Block Party worked closely with police, hugging and chatting with the officers who accompanied the march.
“I think honestly, the police at this point, it’s kind of fun for them almost,” said Maurice. “I hope that changes — not in a negative sense, but I hope that our presence becomes louder and larger, and that we get enough people in the streets that perhaps our own government will recognize this is a serious issue. At this point, it feels like they’re kind of placating us.”
UVSS Chairperson Emily Rogers considered the party, the first event ever hosted by the UVSS in the summer, to be a success. She departed for Montreal on June 11, where she met with the heads of the three Quebec students’ unions most involved in the protests.
“It’s really important that students in B.C. are also able to mobilize and become aware and informed on the issue of post-secondary education and why it needs to be affordable and why the structure in which we’re paying for education now is fundamentally flawed,” said Rogers.
Maurice pointed out that the student protests fill a hole in modern society.
“This is what we need — participatory democracy,” she said. “We need people to come out, whether it’s in coffee shops or community centres or in the streets.”
Visit this link to view footage of the Solidarité Block Party and full interviews with Rogers, Maurice and Victoria Police Sgt. Keith Lewis.