By: Morin Mawhinney
“Time for Revolution,” “Yes we can,” and “No More,” were just some of the hoots and hollers that could be heard during the November 2: Day of Action Rally. With the goal of abolishing tuition fees across Canada for citizens and international students alike, 58 campuses within Canada hosted rallies on November 2 united by the slogan “Fight the Fees!” At UPEI, from 12-1pm outside the Main Building, a fluctuating mass of cold students stood out on a damp, Autumn day to support their cause.
The attendees of the rally represented a vast diversity which included international students, graduate students, domestic students, island residents, and even a smattering of professors. Several organizers in black and red T-Shirts handed out free pizza, while representatives from the Electoral Reform Plebiscite handed out sample ballots. A speaker also representing the Electoral Reform Plebiscite spoke, highlighting her belief that unless electoral reform was voted in, the chance of government providing free tuition was unlikely. Adorning the front window of the Main Building, directly above the main doors, a brightly colored banner fluttered in the breeze declaring the goal, “ACCESS TO POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION TO ALL: EVERYONE.”
As people began to gather, either as curious passersby or as intentional supporters, they were offered T-Shirts scribbled with slogans against tuition, or signs protesting the same. The rally was opened with a prayer to “our creator” from an indigenous elder/instructor at UPEI, who also mentioned that he personally had been “advocating for free tuition for many many years.”
Performing the official introduction was Mary McPhee, a graduate student in the Ph.D. Program, Vice President of Administration Academic with Graduate Students, and PEI Representative of Canadian Federation of Students, who made it clear this was a “peaceful campaign.” McPhee also described student stories as she waved student debt confessions in the air, collected on the “Wall of Debt” that had been happening in the SU Building for the month of October.
The National Treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students also flew in from Ottawa to speak. He addressed the high numbers of outstanding student debt in Canada as well as the cost of potentially abolishing tuition, declaring that 17 other countries around the world participated in free education and that it was a real possibility in Canada. Several other UPEI students spoke including Nouhad Mourad, a domestic student and a representative of the Council of Canadians; Jenna Burke, a representative involved in the issue of Indigenization of the Campus; Valerie Campbell, a Graduate Ph.D. student at UPEI; and Nova Arsenault, leader of the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM) on campus.
Closing the rally was a speech from Nova Arsenault regarding the connection between free tuition and communism. Although most speeches were given to a crowd full of nothing but supportive and enthusiastic cries, Arsenault’s speech was not received with as much approval. Several crowd members who may or may not have been in support of the rally began to shout comments during Arsenault’s talk as he quoted Mao Zedong. The onlookers called out, “Mao Zedong killed 40 million people!” as well as, “Stalin killed 50 million people!” Arsenault dealt with these comments by replying “Shut up,” “Shut the fuck up,” and “You wanna talk after?” Both parties seemed fairly emotionally charged, however, nothing went past these confrontational remarks.
As the rally was occurring, Nathan Hood, UPEISU President, and John Rix, Vice President of Academic and External, were meeting with Sydney MacEwan, MLA for the Morell-Mermaid District, Minister Richard Brown, MLA for the Charlottetown District, and Minister Heath Macdonald, MLA for the Cornwall-Meadowbank District to discuss “policy priorities for 2016-2017.” Minister Brown tweeted later in the day to celebrate “another productive meeting with the UPEISU.”
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