By John Hanan
When hundreds of students walk out of class to protest rising tuition, it’s hard not to notice.
There was less noise inside the halls of Ryerson last Wednesday than outside, as students banged on drums, sang songs, and chanted slogans denouncing the rising cost of university at the Students’ Day of Action. “Education is a right, we will not give up the fight,” was the rallying cry as demonstrators made their way to Queen’s Park.
The press was there to get their 10-second sound bytes, but failed to find images of unruly or unlawful behaviour.
At Ryerson, activists began gathering at Lake Devo around noon. Exactly how many Ryerson students attended was a guessing game as students from Trent, York, Guelph, George Brown College and OCAD joined the rally before reaching their final destination.
Hundreds of Ryerson students joined the day of action, which took place at campuses across the country. Students froze for a couple of hours in hopes of freezing fees in the future.
“The most amazing part was seeing some of my professors come out, seeing so many new faces join the march,” says Krystalline Kraus, a fourth-year Ryerson social work student who helped marshal the march. “If (the government) goes against the 82 per cent of the people who support a freeze, that’s their stupid mistake.”
In Ontario, the average cost of tuition for undergraduates has more than doubled in the past decade. Four provinces have frozen tuition rates — Newfoundland has actually lowered fees — but in Ontario, tuition will continue to rise by two per cent a year for those in regulated arts programs.
Let by a flatbed truck up Yonge Street, the angry mob of students bobbed their signs up and down to the beat of protest anthems by Rage Against the Machine and Bob Marley.
Most students carried bright yellow “Freeze Tuition Fees” signs provided by the Canadian Federation of Students. A few brought their own placards bearing messages such as “I already have three jobs, don’t make me get a fourth,” and “Government Experiment? How much is too much?”
Dozens of police officers stood around steel barricades, guarding the front steps of the legislature. Other than one daring protestor, who launched an egg that fell woefully short of his target, security had nothing to do all day but stand and watch.
“I was thrilled, from our estimates it was one of the biggest student demonstrations ever,” said Alex Lisman, RyeSAC v.p. education, who helped lead the march to Queen’s Park and estimated the crowd at about 5,000 students.
At the National Student Day of Action two years ago, organizers said their efforts resulted in a five-year, two per cent cap on fees. This year, the province has refused to freeze the fees, saying they will be allowed to rise at two per cent per year.
But Lisman still doesn’t believe their message went unheard. He and other volunteers were out of bed and out onto the streets by eight in the morning the day of the protest, in a last ditch effort to get new students to join the march.
“This is the starting point of a much larger campaign,” Lisman said.
Lisman said as many as 500 Ryerson students took part, but whether or not that’s a high level of participation is debatable, considering there are 14,000 students at Ryerson affected by this issue.
The rally attracted speakers from all over the political spectrum. The NDP was out in full force, along with Liberal, Communist and Green Party members.
“We’ve got to decrease tuition by 10 per cent. We’ve got to put $500 million back into post-secondary education and we’ve got to provide debt relief for graduates or those about to graduate,” said NDP provincial leader Howard Hampton.
“Think carefully about who you are voting for,” warned second-year law student Louise James after Hampton finished speaking. “If the Tories don’t (roll back tuition), we will use the democratic process to turf them out on their asses.”