March 22nd: One Year Later, What It Was Like to Be There

One year ago today the province saw its citizens stop behaving as bystanders toward issues in its society, by turning into those who would pave the way toward a new era in Quebec. The tuition increase imposed by the Charest Government brought the province to a halt as thousands of students voted in favor of an unlimited general strike that would last almost 200 days.

 CEGEP du Vieux-Montreal vote in favor of strike
Although on this day many didn’t foresee this fight having to last so long. They thought after a moment this historical the government would back down.

A link to an article from the Quebec Political Scene showing an overview on the movement can be found here.

On this anniversary, let us stir away for a minute from the stresses of politics to find a recollection from yours truly, the author of this article. Let us take a stroll down memory lane to a day still clear to many minds.

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I sat in my English class that morning, stirring in my seat and unable to focus. The course that morning was very vague, but the rest of the day is as describable as though it happened now. Before everyone left the classroom our Professor, with a red square on his shirt, said, “Go yell at the government.”

Dawson College did not vote for the strike, so naturally few from our school took part, but the front entrance on DeMaisonneuve was filled nonetheless. The weather was rather warm, not a sign of the typical cold Canadian winter in sight. There was a sense of mystery somehow. We began to head down the street meeting with the students at LaSalle College nearby, but it wasn’t until arriving at the Concordia University campus on Metcalfe did we realize how numerous the protest would be.

The streets were crowded. The radio and media had warned drivers to leave their cars at home, but some still took the chance and alas were trapped in the midst of springtime, with students, families, professors and politicians filling the city of Montreal. Some drivers cheered us on by honking, while others sat impatiently.

Not having been there at the previous mass protest of November 10th 2011, I asked Fatima Santin, now a member of the Dawson Student Union, whether there were more people than then. There were. It was impossible to see where the protest began or ended.
Finally, we arrived at Place du Canada where people from various schools across Quebec sat, gathered. It was an image straight from the 1960s sit-ins. A fellow classmate handed me a red square- the exact same one is pinned on my winter coat till this day.

The only unnerving event was the sound of firecrackers going off several times. Beyond that, there were no arrests. Many people even brought their children. We had to stop many times throughout due to the large mass of participants, which made everything completely overwhelming. I held my camera, clumsily snapping photos and filming.

The walk remained festive as music blasted. People were cheering from their balconies and office areas. It rained briefly as we passed under the bridge near Sherbrooke metro.
The historic event concluded at Place Jacques-Cartier in the Old Port. We stood, listening to the speeches above the ecstatic screams. Nearby in one of the restaurants a television was turned on the local television station TVA with a news report. On the small screen showed helicopter footage of the protest stretching beyond fifty blocks- 200,000 people. Officially the largest student protest in North American history.

The moment was simply perfect. My classmates were in awe seeing the footage at the exact moment everyone was gathered together. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, former speaker for CLASSE, gave his speech simultaneously, yet to be honest I could not focus on listening- the moment felt indescribable. My head was empty from thought as the energy of the crowd built.
Walking from Place Jacques-Cartier all I could do was attempt to call my mother, asking whether she was watching the news report at home.

That same evening, I listened to a song that resonates with the date perfectly, describing well in music what cannot be described in words about March 22nd 2012, one of the most important moments Quebec has known.

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