Occupy brings the noise to the Canadian consulate for Quebec students

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PHOTO BY PETER MENCHINI

Activists with Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Education Northern California and other groups staged a small demonstration outside the building that houses the Canadian consulate to express solidarity with student strikes in Quebec.

Protesters brought pots and pans to the building at 580 California, banging them in tribute to the casserole marches that have characterized the Quebec strikes.

Students in Quebec province have been on strike since February. School has let out for the summer, but the uprising shows no sign of stopping- in a massive demonstration June 22, some reports showed 100,000 marching in the streets of Montreal, and recently teachers have pledged to join students. 

“Last Friday, they had 100,000 people in the streets,” cried Stephan Georgiou, a former CCSF and UC Berkeley student. “The students of Quebec have continued to take to the streets despite Bill 78.”

Bill 78, passed as an emergency measure May 18 by the National Assembly of Quebec, forbids protests on or near school grounds, requires that march organizers submit their route to police in advance of demonstrations, and attempts insure that all classes resume in late summer.

Security guards allowed two protesters into the building and representatives from the consulate came to the lobby to receive a list of demands written by the group, which included the release and dismissal of charges against imprisoned students, the repeal of Bill 78, and “the end of all austerity measures for students, because education is a human right.”

Protests in Quebec began over proposed tuition hikes, and at yesterday's rally, students from area high school and colleges told stories of their student loan debt during the rally.

“I was a senior in high school in the 2011/2012 school year. I applied to SF State,” said Hannah Stutz, 17. “My parents are currently in debt, so I needed to apply for financial aid."

With a loan offered by FAFSA, Stutz said, “I was awarded $70 if I take out a $30,000 loan.”

“I’m a single father, I have yet to graduate college, and I’m $60,000 in debt,” said another protester.

Last March, US total student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion.

“It’s approaching the amount of the bank bail outs,” said one protester. “They should have just bailed out all the student debt. The money would have gone to the banks anyway.”

Indeed, activists and polticians have thrown around the idea of widespread student loan debt forgiveness, as well as a debt strike- simply refusing to pay.

“The average debt people graduate with is now $25,000,” said Beezer de Martelly, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, “and we all know how quickly these prices are escalating.”

“On November 9, we were beaten in exchange for trying to keep dept down for future generations,” she said, recalling Occupy Cal protests against tuition hikes during which students were notoriously beaten by police.

“There is a large group of students here in California planning on forming our own student union,” said Georgiou.

After leaving the building’s lobby, satisfied with proof that the consulate had faxed the group’s demands to Canadian Premier Jean Charest, Occupy CCSF organizer Janice Suess thanked the crowd for coming out.

“Not only are we in solidarity with the students in Quebec,” said Suess, “but we’re building our own movement here.”

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