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Student Day of Action brings 2,000 to the streets

Every Halifax university was represented at the Student Day of Action protest on Feb. 2, and were cheered on by local businesses and pedestrians on their walk to the provincial legislature building. There, thousands of voices called for Darrell Dexter to appear before the students and called for accessibility to knowledge.

“King’s is a place of divinity. King’s is a place of knowledge.”
That’s Dan Brown, external vice-president of King’s College, who had his face painted as he rallied King’s students in the Quad before the Day of Action for Post Secondary Education.
“I’ll tell you, King’s, knowledge is power.”
Every Halifax university was represented at the Student Day of Action protest on Feb. 2, and were cheered on by local businesses and pedestrians on their walk to the provincial legislature building. There, thousands of voices called for Darrell Dexter to appear before the students and called for accessibility to the knowledge Brown spoke of.

After King’s and Dalhousie’s rallies joined up with other schools at Victoria Park, the crowd swelled—on-the-ground police officers and organizers estimated that between 2000 and 2500 were there. Those numbers blocked traffic in four directions at the corner of Spring Garden Road and South Park Street as organizers worked to get the police to allow them down Spring Garden, the city’s major artery, which left traffic backed up and about six Metro Transit buses stranded. Passengers leapt off the buses and abandoned their routines to join the student ranks in support of reducing tuition and lowering debt.
Later, on Barrington Street, Just Us! Coffee employees posted support leaflets on windows and cheered at the enormous crowds marched past, chanting as one. The day’s blizzard was no deterrent: the stream of students seemed unending.
“It is an uphill battle, but giving up is exactly what politicians want,” said Elise Graham, one of NSCAD’s vice presidents, as the group arrived at the provincial legislature building. “They want our voices to fade along with the news coverage and not to be held accountable.”

On Feb. 1, the government announced that tuition fees will raise 3% next year and provincial university funding will be cut by 4%. The announcement came after the Dexter government commissioned a report from Tim O’Neill, which recommended the government cut the Nova Scotia Student Bursary and deregulate tuition. Though the hit to students is less than he expected, Matthew Anderson, president of the Saint Mary’s University Student Association, said he was worried it would affect the student turnout despite the need to protest the current system.
“We want to change the culture of the government in the sense that they recognize that every dollar they put towards a student is an investment for the future,” said Anderson. “You can reasonably access an education in this province but it comes at a cost of an unreasonably high amount of debt.”
The mood was festive as students danced at the feeder rallies at individual schools, at Victoria Park, and all along Spring Garden Road, trying to warm up. Protesters raised signs high and chanted loudly. Four graduated students even took the extra step of dressing in all white, pushing a guillotine that beheaded three stuffed scarecrows, fake blood splattering the snow on the road.

The executed scarecrows were the three “mainstream political parties,” said Brendon Dunlop. He said that none of them properly represent Nova Scotians or “working people like students”.
The four, who are alumni of NSCAD, King’s and Dalhousie, were there “to support the struggle.” Dunlop graduated three years ago from NSCAD, has $33,000 of debt and hasn’t made “a dent into it at all.” The group acted independently of the Day of Action rally.
Despite the last-minute negotiations by Canadian Federation of Students’ Maritimes organizer Rebecca Rose for the rally to take Spring Garden Road instead of the planned South Park Street route, the police were pleased with the rally’s results. “Everything went smoothly considering the weather and the number of people who were there,” said Cst. Brian Palmeter in a later interview. He estimated 3000 were in attendance, and police didn’t encounter any problems beyond “some traffic related issues, but nothing serious”.
White arm-banded rally organizers directed students to the legislature, encouraging cheering and discouraging running. On the steps of the legislature, the crowd shouted “Darrell” in between speeches, receiving no response from the empty building.
“Today, we march in solidarity with past, current, future and potential students here and around the world,” said Graham, in between cheers. “And tomorrow, we will continue to work to build a system of education that is accessible for all students: a system that doesn’t include debt, that isn’t restricted to high family income, that isn’t racist or classist, a system that is based on the needs of staff, faculty, and students.”

The University of King’s College, Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University, Mount Saint Vincent University, NSCAD, Acadia University, and Université Sainte-Anne were all represented at the rally, which also included high school students and graduate students. Sister rallies were held at Acadia University and Université de Sainte Anne. A planning meeting will be held Feb. 9 to discuss further action to “reduce fees and drop debt.”

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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