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The Joy of Striking pdf

Vincent Roy1

 

We are led to believe that with time, everything ends up taking care of itself.

In the very beginning of the student upheaval, I was simply a student who wanted to finish his CEGEP as quickly as possible, having run up against a few some bumps along the road. But there are special friends who make you take a step away from your everyday life in order to show you new things. Because I am in the habit of being closed to new things, since I am fine with what I have, I must have decided to be more open that, and I saw, I heard, I was in a General Assembly thanks to Loue B––, who after several tries finally convinced me that my outlook on life could be polished a bit. The assembly was to be held the next day.

– Tuesday, February 28, 2012

 

What good will come of this strike? More time in CEGEP? I had already made plans to move to Rimouski, as I thought I finally had the chance to restart my life from scratch. I followed Loue, worried, but I ended up participating in the General Assembly. There were many students, the whole gym is full. The assembly opens. A code of conduct is read out. A chair is elected. An agenda is read and adopted. The motive behind the assembly is receive a petition, whose intention is to create a rather unlimited strike movement. We also learned that the last assembly had been chaotic. If the government has decided to hike fees, there's for sure a reason behind it, let it be.

The debate is structured as plenary which goes on forever. It's long. It's hard. We finally learn that we are joining the 75,000 students on strike. I voted in favour. Why not?

– Wednesday, February 29, 2012

 

Break+strike week is long and boring. I have no job as of recently, I get bored and catch myself housecleaning. The next assembly is March 12 and I'll go back, this time, to vote against the strike. It will have lasted long enough, with no results. I want to get out of CEGEP. I hate it. It's boring. It's weird.

– Friday, March 9, 2012

 

The strike vote is renewed! I'm still happy to have a bit longer than a week's break. The strike will go on for another 4 days and a GA will be held, again, to renew it. There's also the announcement of a huge demonstration on March 22 in Montreal. Loue invites me to come picket the CEGEP so that the strike is recognized. I'm very hesitant at the idea of needing to get up in the morning to go do something that I don't know much about.

Finally, I'm off for the rest of the day.

– Monday, March 12, 2012

 

What a magnificent morning! We block the parking lots, symbolically, but in large numbers, as strikers do—so that no teachers have the ability to get to the CEGEP and teach. We stay there, from 7am to 8am in the morning. Afterward, we are at least 300 people gathered in front of the guy with the megaphone (I'm not sure of his name, but they tell me Ra-Ma, something like that?) who tells us what's happening elsewhere in Québec, about the other institutions on strike. Astonishingly, our number is growing, and many plan to go on strike around March 22 to support the movement. The movement is bigger than I thought. So I return home with some slogans in mind that we had chanted while going around the buildings … "Students are angry, revolution" (« Les étudiants sont en colère, révolution ») … or "Charest, you're not my dad you can't tell me what to do, Beauchamp you're not my mom you can't tell to calm down" (« Charest, t'es pas mon père tu m'diras pas quoi faire, Beauchamp t'es pas ma mère tu m'diras pas d'me taire »).

– Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 

Today, I met Émilie P––, Amélie G–– and Alexandre B––. They're some of the executives of AECS2, those who we don't see as often because they're always in a meeting. We're gathered around a couch, with several individuals other than those named above. And yes, I'm at the Artishow bed-in (see glossary) for picketing the next day.3 I was invited by Noémie, a new friend I made during various pickets. She told me that it would be relatively quite pleasant, that one would stay up and talk about this and that, and that that's what would happen. We ended up talkin, for hours, playing games, ate snacks, drank water, lots of water. There is an improvised fridge and a great "food committee" that gives food and most importantly breakfast (with coffee) to the picketers.

About the next day's picketing: I could say that I liked the coffee, but I would be lying, because the coffee tasted like the bottom of an ashtray. But it's not a big deal, it's the intention that matters, and many people quite liked the coffee apparently. Anyway, what's important is that we're awake! We're ready to go picket! It's less eventful than at other points in time, we're fewer people, I notice that we're fewer and fewer, but what I notice is through all the news I get.

I was an idiot to have faith in this government. It is imposing an unjustified and unjustifiable hike, and I'm now able to read between the lines of what the media says. It's dumb to say, but it's as though it's a skill I acquired through multiple discussions I had with strikers and picketers, but also with family members who asked me what I thought. I meet Carl C––: what a clown! He makes me laugh and smile a lot with his movements and ways of speaking. I get along very well with him. I watch my bank account shrink before my very eyes, because I still haven't found a job and I travel a lot from North Hatley to Sherbrooke for pickets, activities … I'm stressed, worried even, about my situation … even so, I try to ignore it to spend more time getting involved in the strike. It changes my ideas, and it does me good. I am meeting people who I otherwise would never have met.

The assembly is held today, the strike is renewed, until March 23. I suppose the whole month of March will be one big holiday: scattered with pickets, peaceful and joyful demonstrations, activities and workshops?

– Friday, March 16, 2012

 

What a memorable day. I had never lived anything that gratifying, heartwarming, stressful in my entire life. I took the bus to Montreal, and on the way they explained what to do if we were arrested, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, etc. This part was stressful for a peaceful little newbie like me. Nevertheless, I took what was said very seriously and I took notes. I also write down the number of the AECS lawyer in case any arbitrary arrests are made. It's nice outside. We have signs and a lot of people. It's Pénélope (I finally learned her last name: D––) who is taking care of our group and our bus. So we go protest, and we take pictures and videos. The size of this demonstration is huge. In the middle of the march, we learnt that we were over 200,000 students in the streets of Montreal. I had expected 50,000, but we were way more than that! We tell ourselves that the government will have no choice but to retreat.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the government says nothing. I'm led more and more to follow news from CLASSE on Twitter. CLASSE is the coalition of which we've been a part, us, AECS, from the start, even before the strike. The students' spokespeople are outraged to see the government's inaction in spite of 200,000 people taking to the streets, because let me specify, at the end of the day, there were not only students, but workers, union members, "construction guys", young people and old people, English and French. It's a day that I'm happy to have lived. We return to the CEGEP, to the Artishow, and I sleep there.

– Thursday, March 22, 2012

 

From now on, we do one demonstrations after another to get our point across. We win the trust of many people each day, and we feel it. The city of Sherbrooke was behind us! I worry more and more for my future in Rimouski, should I cancel all my plans again? An injunction arrives at Université de Sherbrooke, and we have to help them, since together is the only way that we can make a difference. Fierce plans are discussed …

There's the demonstration today that changed me a bit, since I was leading it. We demonstrated at the University along three colored routes through the town. We were orange, and I had improvised myself a cardboard-megaphone. It was one of the last joyful demonstrations, because things were heating up …

– Thursday, April 12, 2012

 

The rumor of an injunction at CEGEP de Sherbrooke is confirmed. Classes will resume April 26, while our CEGEP is still on strike, until April 27 even, a Friday. We're destroyed.

This week will have been the richest in emotions I've ever lived. I swear. Let me tell you what happened …

After a classic picket, we met to talk. After this discussion, we left angry. We went walking toward the courthouse to hear the upcoming news about the injunction. Would it be granted by the judge?

Some people even thought the injunction would be refused. Indeed, a similar injunction was granted the week before with regard to Université de Sherbrooke, by a judge with ties to power, Gaétan Dumas. We learn that the injunction will be heard by the same judge. Fear returns to people's faces. Still, we knew one thing that we had never forgotten since the start of the adventure: we're together, and we're ready to move forward. So we advance toward the courthouse4, provoking, chanting, angry. After hours of waiting in the cold and the wet, the injunction is granted. We're screwed.

We're so angry, we march toward the CEGEP de Sherbrooke. We begin to run learning that the "greens", those who requested the injunction, are already discussing the document with the administration of the CEGEP. We run from the courthouse to the CEGEP, and once we're on campus, we take building 5 by storm: we're looking for a damn entrance. Adrenaline is running really high. I see a friend, green apparently, who shakes his head at me ("no") from the other side of the door. I'm disappointed… For a short moment, I'm discouraged. I see two of my friends run into the corner to open the door for me and ignore the green who was in the way.

From now on I belong to this movement, I can't let them down, because I know they wouldn't let me down. And that's our strength.

– Tuesday, April 24, 2012

 

The bad news tumbles in hour by hour. After waking and picketing, we're tense, very tense. Gathered in a shed, we look at each other, we're together again, and we're sad. But we're here. The truce decreed by Line la pas fine5 ends later today, at 4pm. We want to burn the town to ashes.

CLASSE is excluded from negotiations, and it's not up for discussion, because a demonstration "using their name" (allow me to express my doubt at this) was held, during the truce.

… what freaking truce?

Injunctions are raining down in Sherbrooke, and the town is starting to be ruled by little babies who can no longer be on strike, and so invoke justice in what is an unjust battle. Yes, we are "all naked in the street" (a quote from Stéphane Gendron), and we're getting lawyered up the ass.6 Here is the world of injustice, the world that all the supporters of the injunction want. Woopde-doo.

Finally, we hear some good news. Finally. Fiiinally.

FECQ and FEUQ pull out of negotiations in light of the exclusion of CLASSE, which the Minister has wanted to see burnt at the stake for a while already. Some faith has been restored to humanity. A little party is planned, in order to maintain spirits.

– Wednesday, April 25, 2012

 

We stick together. Injunction, injustice. We stay strong. We help each other. We love each other. We hold on. We're together. We worry about each other. We don't give up. You are beautiful to see. You are brave, you are the people of tomorrow. I'm proud. I get shivers.

I couldn't stop myself from shedding a few tears when I saw the gathering of people determined to defend their General Assembly vote.

I get a grip on myself, I'm not alone, not at all. I start to split up the small crowd to block the main entrances of the campuses. "Send some people to the parking lot entrances, just like classic picketing!!" Stevette tells me. I do this right away. We're already split into five small groups. The police arrive on the other side of the street. Estrie Against the Hike (Estrie contre la hausse; see glossary) also arrives. A human chain is formed. People have coffees in one hand, their cell phones in the other.

An old philosophy teacher, with whom I hadn't lost contact, comes to see me, tears in his eyes. "Please be careful". I'm teary-eyed. I realize this is more serious than ever. I stop for a second. Someone comes to see me. I'm told "What is this?? We need a hard picket! Teachers are starting to try to force through the picket lines!" I get a hold of myself. Again. I go toward the main doors and shout at people to not give up, the injunction—bla, bla, bla. I give a big speech. I leave while people chant, people are angry and aren't giving way. They put their coffee aside, and pull together. Copy-paste situation on the other door. I make my behind the human chain in front of building two and building five.

HEY. I just broke through the human chain from behind!! What is this?!

So I challenge those in the line at the front. Can they shout louder than Estrie Against the Hike? Chanting gets louder, on both sides. I see people trying to cross the lines. I see the media. I see the teachers. I see people crying, others laughing, others who are worried, but my job is done. The small groups don't give way, they're determined, numerous, but together. They are there.

The same teacher comes to see me; after an hour of running between small groups, classes are canceled. Classes are canceled. No one is injured. No dead. No anything. No UQO. No Valleyfield. No. Classes.

We succeeded.

We succeeded together. We march. We chant. Morale is at 1000%. I'm proud of my people. I'm proud of this morning. I'll remember it for the rest of my life because the moment still gives me shivers. I'm proud of you. We don't surrender. And it's our strength. Conviction and solidarity. I adore you.

– Friday, April 27, 2012

 

Nevertheless, May 3rd, after a week of morning battles, during which our comrade had his face trampled while he was arrested roughly and for bogus reasons; during which the greens confronted us, each morning; during which we fought; during which we were afraid of being cleared out by the cops or by the greens (gives you a sense of the latter's intensity)… the strike at CEGEP de Sherbrooke was not renewed. The results were 870 in favour and 1,119 voting against. There's some controversy when counting starts, etc. But I don't pay any attention.

Part of me is happy that it's over. I can finally finish my semester. I. I can go to Rimouski. I can finish CEGEP. I. I can't believe I'm thinking like this, but I can't stop myself. I'm sad that the strike is not renewed, I really shed tears, but there was a hint of relief as my eyes water. I accept it.

1 Translated by Joël Pedneault.

2 AECS is the student association for the CEGEP in Sherbrooke.

3 Artishow is a play on the French word for artichoke and is a cafeteria space at the CEGEP in Sherbrooke.

4 The author wrote palais d'(in)justice. Courthouses in Québec are called palais de justice; the author chose to parenthetically mention the injustice which they also embody.

5 "Line" refers to the Minister of Education at the time, Line Beauchamp; la pas fine means she is not very nice. The truce in question was a truce the Minister announced as a condition for negotiating with student associations, who were in turn supposed to temporarily halt any actions that might disturb the social and economic order. The "truce" was originally supposed to last 48 hours (hence the reference to, 4 pm on April 25th) but that day, Beauchamp also announced that the truce should last as long as negotiations were still being held. (Marc Allard, "Négos: Line Beauchamp éxisge le maintien de la trève", La Presse [Montreal], April 25, 2012.)

6 Translator's note: The original text did indeed use an anal metaphor.