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Fri, 19 Oct 2001 21:06:55 -0700
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Article by: Nathan A. Drescher
Friday 19 Oct 2001
Summary:Hamilton Student Resistance and Ontario Common Front stage city-wide school walkout on Friday, Oct. 19.
Metro riot police were on hand in tactical gear, but protest remained peaceful.
Huge success, with an estimated 300+ students, as well as members of OCAP, CUPE, Elementary teachers, and steel workers.
Reference at indymedia website: http://ontario.indymedia.org:8081//front.php3?article_id=2794
They were mostly young. They were supposed to be in school. They were definitely not supposed to be marching around Hamilton’s downtown core with whistles, banners, placards and a megaphone. This was Hamilton’s official kick-off for, and the signal that Hamilton had joined, the Campaign for Economic Disruption.
Various groups of the Ontario Common Front, including the Hamilton Student Resistance and CUPE local 3906, staged a city-wide student walkout to protest the Provincial Tories cuts to education and the massive 600% tuition hike since 1995.
It started with the Hamilton Student Resistance, a fairly new but extremely devoted group of high school and secondary students, at McMaster University. There, other Mac students joined them under their banner, followed shortly after by members of CUPE with their banners and flags. By 9:30 am, the crowd numbered close to 70 people.
Escorted by police on motorbikes, and photographed by a detective across the street, they marched off chanting pro-education slogans, carrying placards that read “Test Water, Not Teachers” and “Education Shouldn’t Be A Debt Sentence”. A few had signs that read “Remember Dudley George, Remember Kimberley Rogers”.
At 10:15 am, the march reached Westdale High School, not far from McMaster. They rallied at the front doors and, using a megaphone, urged the Westdale students to walkout and join the protest. Several students waved and chanted anti-Tory slogans out of the upper windows, but it wasn’t until the first Westdale student actually walked out that others joined.
Dave Munroe, a grade 12 student, was the first Westdale student to exit the front doors. He received a thunderous cheer from the protesters and the students in the windows. After him, a stream of students joined the march, and they set off down King Street. Nearly 100 Westdale students walked-out, despite the threat of suspensions the school board issued in the morning. Many had placards ready to go, which read “Common Sense=Corporate Greed” and “The Retreat Is Over”.
There were stops at other high schools, including Vanier and Delta, and by the time the march reached the city core, they were over 300 strong. Police in riot gear, including units from the Metro Toronto Police, were at the standby, but the protest was peaceful. The organizers climbed upon the Gore Park fountain and, with a megaphone, told the city of Hamilton why they were there.
It started with a roll call of all the schools, and was followed by a speech from Elementary Teachers local representative Kelly Hayes.
“Freedom does not come without controversy” she told the protesters, who cheered. Next, a member of Steel Workers Local 1005, who was not speaking as a representative of the local, told the students he was impressed with their spirit. He went on to describe the momentum the Campaign for Economic Disruption is expected to pick up. “We will get all the Universities, all the steel workers, and all the auto workers on board!”
A spokesperson for the Hamilton Student Resistance, Ned Nolan, gave an inspiring speech, telling the crowd to win back their rights. “The far right in Queen’s Park don’t understand logic. We need to get the Tories out now!”
The marchers then tried to enter Scotiabank, but security had already locked the doors. The march went off down King St and onto Bay, with whistles, drums and chants echoing between the tall glass skyscrapers of Hamilton’s financial district. Traffic was shut down and business doors were locked. The crowd looped around to Main and disrupted traffic into City Hall, before coming back to King. Surprisingly, all the marchers, now nearly 400 strong, entered the Jackson Square Mall and made as much noise as they could. They disrupted the CIBC merchant bank as well as several franchise stores, before exiting the mall. The protest ended with a ‘spanking’ of Mike Harris. One of the organizers donned a smiling Mike Harris mask and let the demonstrators ‘hit’ his buttocks with a blue paddle that read “Common Sense”.
The walkout was peaceful and energetic. Hamilton has not been known for its widespread support of demonstrations in other cities, and aside from local strikes, has not seen a demonstration of this size since 1998. No arrests were made that were linked to the walkout, and no damage to property was sustained. The people were vocal but not destructive, and instead of a mob mentality there was an intellectual collective, determined to stand up to injustice, and disrupt the streets of Hamilton in doing so.