Over 300 people gathered in Dufferin Grove Park last night to protest in solidarity with the Quebec student uprising. They eventually marched all the way to Yonge and Bloor, and beyond.
Despite a threatening bank of clouds and the occasional spit of rain, parents, babies in strollers, young people, Davenport MPP Jonah Schein, socialists, union workers, and grandparents alike showed up clutching all manner of pots, pans, casserole dishes, and spoons—a style of protest known in Quebec as a manif casserole. Decked out in the requisite red squares, which have become the emblem of the protest, the crowd first milled about uncertainly in the park.
“It should be better organized,” said York University student Kavh Boveeiri. “There are a couple hundred or so [here]. There should be thousands!”
Still, those in attendance knew exactly why they had come. Heather Shand had brought her kids, ages three and five, to last week’s Toronto manif casserole to teach them the importance of solidarity with the Quebec protestors. She added: “I think [the Toronto protests are] resonating in Quebec. I think that they understand that they’re not alone, this is not in solitude, that we’re here in solidarity.”
Peter Hogarth of the International Socialists waxed eloquent on the broader social mandate behind the Quebec student strike, as inspired by the Occupy movement and its focus on economic inequality.
“I’ve been really inspired by the courage and determination of the Quebec students and the social transformation you see going on in Quebec,” he said. “It’s extending beyond a mere student strike. It’s about civil liberties and what kind of society people want.”
Although Hogarth conceded that students in Ontario have been more apathetic about tuition costs, he doesn’t think that necessarily means they’re not mad. “People are under a tremendous amount of pressure, in Ontario and around the country,” he said. “They’ve got a huge debt load. They’re working. Most students I know are working one or two jobs in addition to their course load. Apathy is often suppressed anger.”
The protest meandered uncertainly through west-end side streets before lurching onto Ossington, and then onto Bloor, where the group quickly picked up speed as a small faction of police on bicycles pressed on ahead to ward off oncoming traffic.
Though one contingent tried to divert the march onto St. George Street, the majority surged on, seemingly determined to make it to Yonge and Bloor. The booming of the drums, the clattering of pans, and the cheers from the crowd resonated off nearby buildings as many bystanders urged the march on. By the time the protest reached College and Church, however, only a handful of participants remained.
Last night’s outing was more street party than protest (the previous week’s event attracted an estimated 1500 people), but it appears, at least, that there is still some appetite for social change, even post Occupy. As protester Syed Hussan put it, “Governments have to fall to the will of people. They can fall soon or they can fall harder later.”
Meanwhile, from Leslieville…
Another casserole protest was scheduled for the east side of the city, in Leslieville. It was, to say the least, slightly anti-climactic. At one point, the protesters, who numbered roughly 15 at the height of the demonstration, were outnumbered by police, who mostly stood by the fence at the meeting point in Leslie Grove Park and looked bored.
Still, the Leslieville protesters had promised a march. And march they did, clanging their way along Queen Street East, north on Pape, and then looping back along Dundas Street and down Jones Avenue to the park. While their numbers were small, they were nothing if not enthusiastic.
According to protester Julie Devaney, who says she decided to come to the protest in part because she was inspired during a recent trip to Quebec, the Leslieville casseroles will become a regular occurrence. She expects turnouts to improve.
“I don’t think there was any great organizing effort this week,” she said. “I think this will be the first of increasingly bigger marches. Those of us who did show up today are going to put some effort into actually pulling people out.”
Although the initial turnout was small, Devaney was pleased to get some supportive honks from passing cars and a few folks coming out onto their porches to join in the percussive protest.
“This is a way for people to have fun, make noise, be engaged, and show, in a much broader way, what we stand for,” she said. “Next week, when we’re better organized, people will remember that this happened last Wednesday, and will start to connect that with the giant movement in Quebec and the growing movement across the country.”