Occupy Toronto’s Operation #MapleSpread has brought the Red Square Spirit to Toronto.
True to the #Maplespread hashtag, Red Square’s first demonstration in Toronto was on Tuesday May 22, 2012, when students joined up with Occupy Toronto to organize the first Ontario/Toronto solidarity action with striking Quebec students against Jean Charest’s, draconian Law 78, which severely restricts the right to demonstrate.
In an Appeal from Quebec: Solidarity and legal support needed, members of CLASSE (Coalition large de l’Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante) – the largest and most radical student federation in Quebec – has been calling out for support in their struggle in light of Law 78.
In their open letter, “As you have no doubt heard, the government recently enacted legislation that amounts to the single biggest attack on the right to organize and freedom of expression in North America since the McCarthy period and the biggest attack on civil and democratic rights since the enactment of the War Measures Act in 1970. Arguably, this recent law will unduly criminalize more law-abiding citizens than even McCarthy’s hearings and the War Measures Act ever could.”
CLASSE, as well as smaller student federations, independent student groups and individual students and their allies have been trying to break the isolation of their struggle and reach out to the rest of Canada.
This is where Occupy Toronto and Toronto-area students – who have now formed the Ontario Students’ Mobilization Coalition (OSMC) – have stepped in to add their voice to the rebel yell.
Here in Ontario, organizers and allies were looking to spread the spirit of the Red Square protests to this province and across Canada. They also wanted to lobby the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to stand up in solidarity with the post-secondary and CEGEP students in Quebec.
In an appeal to the CFS started two weeks ago in the form of an open letter to the Canada-wide student organization, it reads, “We write this letter asking that the CFS engage in a consistent and serious mobilizing effort to bring the Quebec student movement to the rest of Canada.
We believe that this is the best solidarity we can give our sisters and brothers in Quebec. We believe it is the obligation of the elected student leaders to build this movement, and we commit, as rank-and-file students, to support you.“
The letter continues, “Quebec has shown, again and again, that the only way to force concession from governments is to mobilize on a mass basis through a strike campaign and confront the government, not with postcards, but with action! Students and youth, as well as the working population in general, have been inspired by the Quebec movement.
A massive student movement in Ontario would show the Quebec students that they are not alone. It would strengthen the movement for free post-secondary education across Canada, and it would cut across the divisions created by the pro-business politicians and corporate press to weaken the student movement.”
Despite mainstream media’s intense focus in the recent weeks, students in Quebec have been on strike for more than 100 days and have not been deterred by Law 78 – in fact, the Liberal government’s attempt to crack down on the demonstrations has only emboldened the Red Square Spirit. The arrest count is estimated at 2,500 students so far.
Not only is Charest using Law 78 to crack down on student demonstrations, but a new Montreal bylaw also makes it illegal to wear masks or otherwise hide your identity during demonstrations.
Whether Charest likes it or not, the Red Square has become a symbol or meme similar in power and scope to the tent and the phrase: Occupy.
Red Squares have been spotted in Toronto, Vancouver and on activists during the anti-NATO protests in Chicago, not to mention on the TV show Saturday Night Live and at the Cannes Film Festival. Graffiti of red squares has appeared in different locations around downtown Toronto, too.
[Now the Quebec Red Square demonstrations have a mascot of Anarcho-panda, how long until Toronto has its own mascot?]
Occupy Toronto felt that instead of waiting for the CFS to act, they would organize the first demonstration themselves in solidarity with Quebec students and follow the call from Toronto students eager to bring the Red Square spirit to Toronto. The call out for the action was drafted by Occupy Toronto activists and endorsed by the Occupy Toronto General Assembly (GA) a week before the actual march with 100 per cent approval.
At the Occupy Toronto GA, Laura, a Quebec student gave a moving talk to the group reminding them of the “power of the small massive” and that the student strike movement in Quebec had also started out small, independent and organic and she beamed with pride recounting how large the movement had grown from those humbly first days.
In Toronto on Tuesday May 22, 2012, 250 students, members of Occupy Toronto, Toronto students and their allies rallied at Hart House at University of Toronto before taking to the streets in a spirited march that made its way through downtown Toronto – occupying the intersection of College Street and University Avenue as the only College and University some will ever be afford to enter – before ending with a General Assembly at Ryerson University.
Things progressed organically from there and quickly – in the spirit of the new tactic of ‘Casseroles’ – another noisy demonstration with pots and pans was organized for Friday May 25, 2012 at the intersection of Yonge Street and Dundas Avenue.
During their nightly 8:00 pm demonstrations in cities like Montreal, activists on the streets and watching from their balconies have taken to banging pots and pans to give a loud voice to their struggle. Toronto decided to adopt that tactic, too, as it has been a huge success in Quebec.
“The pots-and-pans protest has its roots in Chile, where people have used it for years as an effective, peaceful tool to express civil disobedience. The noisy cacerolazo tradition actually predates the Pinochet regime in Chile, but has endured there and spread to other countries as a method of showing popular defiance.”
So on Friday May 25, 2012, 40 student and Occupy Toronto activist met at the intersection of Yonge Street and Dundas Square with their pots and pans to bring attention to the Red Square movement.
While the group itself was small, the amount of attention it garnered was amazing. Not only did people honk along or clap along to the sound of clanking pots and pans, many pedestrians asked many questions and the group was able to announcing the coming of the Red Square summer in Canada.
Two upcoming Red Square demonstrations in Toronto:
1: Next Pots and Pans demonstration in support of the Quebec Student Strike
Wednesday May 30, 2012
Start at Duffrin Grove Park
Bring pots and pans
For more information, please click here.
2: Mobilize to Take Back Our Education
Tuesday June 5, 2012
Start at George Brown College
200 King Street East
For more information, please click here.
And as always, Occupy Toronto has their weekly GAs on Mondays at 7:00 pm at Cloud Gardens (park on Richmond between Yonge Street and Bay Street)