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Oshawa group protests in support of Quebec students

Story and photos by Hillary Di Menna

The protesters stand at King St. and Centre St. before the march.

What’s all that racket?

120 cities across Canada have been banging pots and pans in solidarity with Quebec. Casserole Night in Canada is the Canuck nod to a popular form of protest, “Caserolazo”, practiced in Spanish speaking countries since 1971. The demonstration involves making noise with pots and pans to engage one’s community. The Spanish word “Cacerola” translates to “stew pot” in English, “azo” meaning to strike.

The charge behind Canada’s noise has been the tuition hikes in Quebec, Bill 78, and the growing economic and social inequality in Canada. Though critics of the movement have questioned the importance of fighting for Quebec students while students in Ontario pay much more in tuition, UOIT’s Vice President of University Affairs, Jesse Cullen, points out the fight is for Ontario students as well, who are taking on debts the sizes of mortgages.

The consensus among group members is this is not Quebec’s problem, but Canada’s problem. “I’d rather build bridges with people instead of building walls,” said Cullen. As for Oshawa specifically he sees the meetings as, “Building solidarity in a broad spectrum of community groups.”

Though Cullen plays an active role in organizing the weekly marches he is quoted in the latest Casserole press release saying, “While the Student Association has maintained neutrality in the Quebec protests, I have broken ranks on this particular issue.”

Cory Weir stands with a sign during the protest on June 27.

Supporters in Oshawa have met every Wednesday for the past five weeks at King St. and Centre St. to march within the downtown, and will continue to do so for as long as needed. Meetings start at 8 p.m. This is not only Quebec’s start time but also a time inclusive to more people who have work and family commitments during the day.

They protest in unity, red squares pinned on their shirts, yet reasons for coming out can be personal. “What brings me out is they say we can not assemble,” said Cathy Beth In reference to Bill 78, a rushed law making it illegal for Quebec students and supporters to picket within the vicinity of a post-secondary institution.

Matthew Penstone, who is home for the summer before returning to school in Ottawa, said, “I’m not happy with the direction our country is travelling, if we can’t get this ship turned around, the best place to start is at a grassroots level.”

Jeanette van Loon put it bluntly, “I just like to make noise when I don’t like what the government is doing.” She cites a Casserole in Iceland that was very successful in changing their government’s action as an encouraging fact.

The group discussed plans for the following week.

The marches begin at King St. and Centre St. and have traditionally found their way to MPP Jerry Ouellette’s office at 170 Athol St. E. On June 27 the group agreed to change the route and pass by more residential building to attract community engagement. “[The assembly] is very organic, we don’t want to tell anybody what to do or what not to do,” said Cullen. The next protest, on July 4, will have an anti-militarization message and will go to the armory at 53 Simcoe St. N.

Passerby to the protest marches has been supportive. Naturally curious as to why groups of people are walking around making noise with kitchen objects, they ask what the march is about, to stop and read any signs marchers have and, hopefully for the group, ask how they can get involved. “We engage people on the street,” said Cullen, “let them know why we’re here, and invite them out for next week.” Marchers raised their pots and pans in appreciation to cars that honked, those clapping on the streets, and even to one enthusiastic citizen who danced to the beat of the march.

Penstone recounts with a smile a senior couple that stopped and clapped for the troupe.  “To see something like that, it’s very moving,” said Penstone who said he was there for Oshawa’s first rally and will be there for it’s last.

At the end of last Wednesdays rally, apart from reported ringing ears and wrist aches, the feeling of the group was, “Small and mighty,” said Johnny MacDonald.

Cullen urged the group not to be deterred from small turnouts, paraphrasing Noam Chomsky saying it’s the same group that comes out over and over that makes a change.

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