Student Solidarity in your Streets

Early midday, frosty cold. She walked towards the gathering crowd alone. It was bitterly windy, but she gripped her Styrofoam coffee cup in both her hands, extracting its warmth. She stopped and scanned the scene, hoping to see a familiar face. Students bustled by, talking loudly to each other and raising freshly painted signs, forming a sea of red and black cardboard. DROP FEES! FUCK TUITION! Excitement was mounting in the crowd, but she remained apprehensive. The sheer number of students blocked out the wind as she made her way deeper into the crowd.

“Who’s streets? OUR streets!”

Drums were hammered at deafeningly and the students started to push their way forward as a unified whole. She was handed a sign by one of the protestors, and she gripped it tightly with her free hand. Still unsure of where her friends were in the mass of people, she started to march where she was. The green rooftops of Parliament, their purpose, loomed in the distance. She sipped on the last sediments of her coffee. It was cold and bitter but she clung to it for refuge. The group continued to power forward, chanting, laughing, and shouting. She remained silent and cautious, save for her sign. Traffic honked at their procession as they marched down the middle of the street, physically demanding attention for their cause. Drums beat in response to the honks, carrying on their nonverbal conversation down the street.

“Who’s streets? OUR streets!”

People bumped into her from all directions; it was getting even more crowded as students from Ottawa U joined their rally. A growing sense of solidarity resonated through the group of students. She felt it like a tangible entity, as real as the sign in her hands. Increasing numbers of people were uniting to protest the same cause. High school students huddled together in tight knit groups, talking to each other excitedly. Banners waved around and cracked in the whipping wind. People sang louder, wanting their voices and their message to be heard.

She made her way to the edge of the crowd to get a better look. Pushing through people as gently as she could manage, she worked her way to the outside of the group. There was a noticeable temperature drop outside of the mass of bodies and she felt exposed. She noticed a few police officers circumnavigating them and a few other cruisers just arriving to the scene. They were not expecting that a student issue would gain such political weight. As she ditched her empty cup into the nearest bin, she noticed a familiar face off in the distance, but he was too far to reach now. She would have to wait until they reached their destination to meet up.

“Who’s streets? OUR streets!”

Emotion was creating an aura in the crowd and it was becoming contagious. She gripped her sign tighter, raising it up. Her energy began to reflect the crowd’s as they continued their trek towards downtown Ottawa. Music struck up from somewhere ahead of her. As they crossed a main intersection close to downtown, she realized that the music wasn’t their own. Another rally was crossing their path of protest.

“Who’s streets? OUR streets!”

The students unrelentingly marched on, welcoming the merger of activists. She heard snippets of conversations about the second protest. She sped up to ask the other activists about it. It was the Postal Union strike who happened to be demonstrating on the same day. The two groups merged together, creating a moment of unity. Although they were fighting for different causes, the two groups were fighting injustice with the same sense of passion and urgency. Music boomed, drums were struck, and people continued to shout for their cause. She shouted along with her fellow activists.

With a collective sense of positive energy, the crowd pushed forwards together to the entrance of Parliament Hill. Police tightened around them as she was pushed closer to others. Signs waved around her in a frenzy. The authorities underestimated the organizing capabilities of the student unions.  They worked around the clock to making the protest not just a student issue but a public issue. Speakers were emerging from the crowd, coming to the forefront to speak as the voice of students.

“We are demanding a drop in fees not a drop in standards. I have never felt so hopeful as when I saw all of you assemble together to reclaim your rights. Education is a right! We were not only protesting the fees we were protesting the system! Who’s streets? OUR streets!”

She outstretched her arms, the wind gusting around her, and replied along with the uproar, “Who’s streets? OUR streets! Who’s streets? OUR streets!!”

 

“Who’s Streets?” quote taken from the Ottawa Drop Fees Rally on Feb 1st, 2012.

Interviews done with Vicky Miceli, Kirsten Francescone, and Ginny Powell, all Carleton U students.

 

 

 

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