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CFS’ protest act lacks drama

By Allison Heather and Maureen Rice

As the sun set and a chill swept through the air last Friday evening, Erin George folded up her “freeze the Fee” banner and grabbed a placard form the ground, resting it on her shoulder while she trekked back to Ryerson from Queen’s Park.[nggallery id=130]

George, RyeSAC’s v.p. education, spent the day rallying with 600 students and protesters, screaming slogans into a megaphone and writing chalk messages on sidewalks.

The day was the climax of more than five months of planning, though few Ryerson students joined the cause.

The Day of Action protest, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), was meant to draw attention to high tuition fees and student debt.  The day topped off a week of events and discussions about post-secondary education and the student lobby movement.

About 100 Ryerson students gathered at Lake Devo for a pre-march rally early Friday afternoon.

Michael Moore, a first-year business student, found himself unknowingly sitting next to protesters as he waited to go to his next class.

“I didn’t know about this until now,” he said.

The Ryerson rally was smaller than the one held last Jan. 28, when about 800 students from Ryerson and other schools united on campus before marching to Bay and King Streets.

This time Ryerson began alone and met the other schools united on campus before marching to Bay and King Streets.

This time Ryerson began alone and met the other schools and interest groups after walking down Yonge Street to Union Station.

Mike Burke, a Ryerson politics professor, joined the march.  I’m here every year,” he said.  “It’s one way of educating people.”

After meeting with students from York University and the University of Toronto, protesters walked through the financial district up Bay and across King Street.  A row of police officers stood guard in front of the First Canadian Place at Bay and King, trying to deter students from repeating last January’s protest in which 200 students forced their way into CIBC’s headquarters, staging an overnight sit-in.

But the protest through the financial district was peaceful this term, as students marched past the banks and continued up University Avenue.

Protesters’ theatrics drew the attention of bystanders.  Someone dressed as Santa Claus swung a Mike Marris dummy around while standing on top of a bus shelter.

Protesters wrote on sidewalk along the parade route — chalk messages read, “Education is a Right” and “Suck my Debt.”

Trevor Smith, a Ryerson alumnus who was in the area, said he supports the students’ efforts.

“Harris is an easy target for students and I think protesting is effective,” he said.

Marching with a sign in hand and a guitar strapped to his back, CFS-Ontario chair Joel Harden agreed protests are a good way for students to be heard, discounting the low attendance.

“It’s a gradual process where we move the public opinion in our direction.”

Grade 11 student Monika Cywinsky, from T.L. Kennedy High School, said she came to the protest because of cutbacks to high school education.

“There are hardly any extra-curricular activities, and teachers never have time to talk to us when we need help,” she said.

Protesters gathered at the front steps of Queen’s Park at 5 p.m., for a rally organized by the Metro Network for Social Justice.

Harden spoke and entertained the crowd with his guitar, though few students were left by the time union members gave speeches.

“This government is in contempt and they must be held accountable.”

He also said the fight for education is “a struggle for social and international justice.”  But as daylight faded and Friday night approached, less than 30 students were left to hear his message.

-With files from Yaseen Hemeda

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