Editor’s Note: This story is part of our ongoing first-person coverage of protests in Quebec against student debt, tuition hikes and Law 78, as well as actions elseware in solidarity to those causes.
New York, NY–Like most L train commuters I generally put on my headphones and wait for the wave to rush out at Union Square, but tonight was very different. I was on my way to Washington Square Park for my 2nd casseroles march with OWS. Sans headphones or book in an attempt to travel light, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between a couple sitting across from me. A young woman was telling her boyfriend about the student uprising in Canada that had been going on for over 100 days—how hundreds of thousands filled the street each night demanding free education. “I had no idea about any of this until you sent me the Facebook invite this afternoon,” he said. “Do you think people will actually show up?”
I smiled, we were in Union Square and I had my chance. I tapped them on the shoulder and told them my name, about the site and that I thought it was awesome that they decided to come out and stand in solidarity with people they may never meet. I also invited them to continue coming out, letting them know this march happens every night at 8pm and won’t stop until they do, how could anyone possibly be against the higher education of its country’s youth? Wishing them well, I began down Broadway to Washington Square.
Surprisingly only a handful of NYPD blue shirts flanked the north entrance upon my arrival. Being a bit late I thought I may have missed the march but to my relief about 250 of my comrades were standing on the north side of the fountain making signs, soapboxing and chatting amongst themselves. After a few minutes of wandering I found my friend Joe and could feel the march preparing to leave. I readied myself with my saucepan lid and noticed the couple from the subway out of the corner of my eye. I smiled and we began to march.
As we marched, the sounds of our pots and pans filled the air and our chanting echoed off the buildings… the blue shirts were beyond overwhelmed and didn’t know how to react. The streets were ours from the moment we stepped out of that park.
Marching down Broadway, residents came out onto their balconies to see what the commotion was about. A large majority clapped along with us, some even bringing out pots and pans and joining! Something about this march was different; tonight we weren’t just taking the streets. We were taking our message to the city, to the world. All of it—every side street and major road, from small towns to big cities. From Montreal to NYC, education must be free.
A small group of us began running to upcoming intersections and blocking traffic for the oncoming march, a tactic I had seen used quite effectively in Chicago at the recent #noNATO demonstrations and heard had been used in South American protests to the same end. It worked just as well for us. A few of us, some on bikes, some on foot, would run up to the intersection before the light turned and stand in the crosswalk. The support from most motorists was shockingly positive, some honking in support or even hanging their arm out of the window to give a high-five or pound. Many drivers and their passengers asked what we were doing, why we were marching. After explaining to them why we were there they each replied exactly the same: “I had no idea any of this was happening, good for you!” to which each of us would reply in our own way “That’s why we are here.” Sometimes you can’t help but love New York.
As I ran up to block traffic for my comrades I noticed the march had seemingly doubled since I last checked, we were pulling people off of their couches and into the streets. SUCCESS! Until I noticed the amount of police officers had more than doubled, too. We were now being followed by a few cars/vans, and more on foot. They were trying to catch up to the front and cut us off, force us onto the sidewalk. The march began to twist and turn down streets in an attempt to dodge the corrals. One cop in particular started getting rough, pushing us around and ripping bandanas off. We hadn’t even made it to Union Square yet and the tension in the air was thick. Shit was gonna go down.
We broke into a run on 5th avenue in an attempt to evade the vans and I found myself separated from the group. I continued up 5th Ave and down 14th where I met them at the corner of University. We made it, or so I thought. We continued around the park and again I ran into Joe. Apparently we were taking the city and would be heading to Madison Square Park from here. Our group, as strong as ever, surged uptown against traffic.
The police had no choice but to pursue us on foot and frankly couldn’t keep up. We bobbed and weaved between cars. Some on bikes intentionally blocked pathways between cars behind the group in an attempt to slow our captors. We were finally working as a group, using the tactics and training we spent all winter developing and all spring perfecting. It was beautiful to watch it all come together.
As we headed further and further uptown the ever-gracious company of the boys in blue increased. Our presence was less than desired in midtown and as we approached Madison Square Park, we realized it had been closed. This did nothing to discourage us but gave the police the opportunity to corral us onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately for them, they forgot about the entire west side of the march and again we broke into a run toward the heart of the city. Destination: Times Square.
As we marched up against traffic, the lights of Times Square were almost surreal. We had done it. Pots and pans in hand the entire time. We made it to TIMES SQUARE! We danced with tourists and shared our new-found instruments! Bystanders joined in our chants and it was like you could sense a better world on the horizon. Demonstrators and tourists in the streets, dancing and chanting “When Education is under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!” Counter Terrorism on the other hand did not find our display quite as entertaining and we were shortly pushed from our celebration and once again onto the sidewalks.
Blue and White shirts alike began to surround the rear of the march, pushing those in the back to walk faster. Rather than simply closing the sidewalk, as is standard NYPD procedure these days, a new speed limit had been implemented and we just were not walking fast enough. I narrowly avoided the police charge but the young girl behind me was not so lucky. I watched as friends grabbed at her in an attempt to unarrest, but were overpowered by the three huge beats ripping her to the ground. Jabbing their knees into her back for speaking her mind. For crossing the street with the right of way. This was their way of separating us. Allowing half the march to cross while the other was held up in the madness. We reconnected across from our original goal of the Red Stairs and decided our night would not end until we took our fight to the Canadian Consulate, so on we marched.
We continued to weave through streets and were headed up 5th Avenue when I heard a chant erupt, not at all unfamiliar but one that had not be used all night. We had found an undercover in our ranks! I had recently experienced this same situation in Chicago and both times they acted exactly the same. Frozen, they walked toward the wall of cops, head hung low as we chanted “See a cop, say a cop!” only this time his brothers in blue denied him. As he broke into a sprint down the street to avoid our cameras a few livestreamers took chase to get a shot of his face. I don’t think he will be coming back very soon.
We ducked down more side streets until we were finally walking up 6th Avenue once more, and with Radio City Music Hall in sight we took the fountain in front of the Canadian Consulate. It was a beautiful night, still relatively early, and people were milling around as we Mic Check’d. We announced our successful march from Washington Square Park all the way uptown to the Consulate to onlookers, and told them why we decided to end there, inviting them all to join us again the following night and EVERY NIGHT at 8pm in Washington Square Park. We were jubilant as we relaxed around the fountain, some said goodnight, others chatting. But of course with OWS things never end that simply. A white shirt announced that the building, whose fountain seating area had previously been occupied by falafel-eating tourists, had advised them the same space was off limits to us and asked that we disperse or face arrest. Slowly we said our goodbyes, it had been a long night and we needed a moment to catch our breath. Less than a moment was all it took. They darted in and arrested two more for continuing to sit as we said our goodbyes, throwing an NLG observer into the marble fountain in order to form a wall and trap us so we had no choice but to walk north or south. Other pedestrians passed freely as the NYPD dragged their latest victims to the paddy wagon. I had had enough for one night and after saying final goodbyes began my walk to the subway. You would think after 8 months one would become desensitized to senseless violence but I just can’t seem to reach that point. I guess it must be because I’m human.
– Nicole Rose –