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Activist Communiqué: Could Wednesdays become 'Casserole Night in Canada' in support of the student strike?

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In the spirit of the red square, different cities across Canada are having Casseroles nights in Canada to #Maplespread the growing movement in support of Quebec's striking students; to demand accessible education for all (and not just the 1 per cent); and show disapproval for Charest's Law 78 which restricts Canadian's civil liberties.

Perhaps as thrilling as once sitting beside a radio or in front of a television watching Hockey Night in Canada, this new movement 'Casseroles Night in Canada' will become the 'be there and be a red square' event.

The Red Square narrative remains mostly unwritten outside of Quebec regarding issues of accessible education as Quebec has issues unique to its province, but there are similarities regarding financial barriers to education. We will have to see if tuition fees is an transferable concern, though I should note here that Ontario has the highest tuitions fees of any province or territory in Canada.

Also, nearly sixty per cent of Canadian students graduate with debt, on average at $27,000 for an undergraduate degree. Total student debt now stands at about $20 billion in Canada ($15 billion from Federal Government loans programs, and the rest from provincial and commercial bank loans).

While student issues are important, the Red Square has come to represent something much more than just disgruntled student demonstrators against tuition hikes. It has become another symbol - think the tent and the term Occupy - of  a growing awareness that continuing the ‘business as usual' model in Canada will not solve economic or social inequalities and we are, in fact, heading towards economic and social disaster.

Francis Fox Piven, a political sociologist at the Graduate Centre, City University of New York,
compared the underlying motivations around the student strike to Occupy. "The Occupy movement is closely linked with recent student protests because its underlying theme is the rise of extreme inequality, which protesters believe cannot coexist with democracy. ``Now it's the neglected notion of free education.''

In the June 5 call out for the next #Maplespread Toronto rally, organizers say, "As curriculums are standardized and specialized to fit the corporate agenda, class sizes continue to rise with debt. Our system is increasingly corporate-minded, placing profit ahead of education; ironically, however, most of us now graduate to a jobless future.

This is not just the plight of students, but symptoms of a broken economic system. It is through well-funded higher education that our society grows and improves. Education is not a luxury, or an expense: it is an investment in the future.

For the past few months, as Quebec students have been turning a simple issue of fees into a wider criticism of the neoliberal agenda, in Ontario we have seen our media rejoice at every opportunity to ridicule and discredit a generation saying they want a better world for tomorrow."

These feelings are not isolated to Quebec.

Yes, I know the simple refrain, "well, Quebec is not the rest of Canada" and while this is true on many levels, culturally, politically and there is that certain je ne sais quoi that ultimately runs through the blood and the rivers of Quebecers, but this alone cannot only predict whether the Red Square spirit will spread to the rest of Canada.

When word began to get around that Toronto students and activists were eager to start something in Ontario, this notion was greeted with a sense of "thank god" from people in Ontario and "what took you so long" from Quebec.

One reason was, as I have written about before, is the lack of public concern or momentum from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) on the issue. While not every student in Canada is represented by this group, it is still by far the largest student federation and its lack of response created waves of frustration. You can view of video of students' frustrations towards the CFS here.

This gap was filled in by individual students who approached Occupy Toronto to pitch the lack of affordable education as a 1 per cent issue no different than Occupy Toronto confronting a target like Barrick Gold. This student group held their first General Assembly after their first march on May 22, 2012, on the topic and decided to call themselves the Ontario Students' Mobilization Coalition. Occupy Toronto looked on like proud parents.

Another motivating factor that increased awareness and solidarity with Quebec students and their allies was Charest's attempt to crack down on the nightly 8:00pm demonstrations through Law 78. Law 78 was enacted on May 18, 2012, but has done nothing to slow down the demonstrations.

Civil liberty activists are concerned that the special law and new Montreal bylaws infringe on the right of Canadians to democratically assemble. In response to the law, 70 organizations are currently taking the government to court with the claim that Charest's special law infringes on Canadian charter rights such as expression, assembly and association.

There are financial reasons behind the government crackdown.

Obviously, Premier Charest and Montreal Mayor, Gérald Tremblay, must know that if the student strike continues with large noisy, confrontational marches, this could affect the very lucrative tourist season in Montreal - if tourists risk getting tear gas, kettled or arrested by accidentally getting caught up in the demonstrations, they are not likely to return or spread the bon mots about their experience. 

According to a report by QMI Media, Michel Leblanc, president of Montreal's Board of Trade, told the news organization, "that businesses in the downtown core like hotels, restaurants and retails stores have seen sales drop by 15 per cent, on average. 'But of course you get higher numbers,' he said. ‘There are stores that are reporting 60% less business.'"

A new round of talks between student groups and the Charest government are set to begin Monday. This will be the fourth round of negotiations.

In the meantime, the call out for Wednesday night to become the first Casseroles Night in Canada has spread cross Canada. The first night is May 30, 2012.

8:00 pm at the Vancouver Art Gallery

7:30 pm at Centennial Square
Please wear masks, too.

8:00 pm at The Sails

5:00 pm at location TBA

--Cumberland, BC:
7:00 pm at Corre Alice Gallery (2781 Dunsmuir)

8:00 pm at Calgary's Red Square (8 Avenue at 1 Street SW)

7:00 pm at Rotary Park

8:00 pm in front of Safeway on 13th Avenue

8:00 pm at Manitoba Legislature

--Providence Bay, ON:
8:00 pm on the boardwalk

--Niagara/St Catherines:
7:30 pm at 50 Church Street

8:00 pm at Gore Park

8:00pm at Duffrin Grove Park (875 Duffrin Street)

8:00 pm at King and Centre

--*Ottawa: (one day earlier)
6:00 pm at Confederation Park

8:00 pm at Victoria Park

--Halifax: TBA

--Tatamagouche, NS:
8:00 pm n front of Fables, 259 Main Street

--St John's, Newfoundland:
8:00 pm at Harbourside Park

If your city is involved in planning something, please post below.


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