Brooklyn and Graduate Center students support Quebec Student Strike, launch red square solidarity campaign

An Open Letter in Support of the Student Strike in Québec

We, the students of the City University of New York and State University of New York, openly support the Québécois student strike.  For over nine weeks, post-secondary education students have been on indefinite strike, galvanizing 300,000 people to take the streets and holding the largest student demonstrations in North American history.

Three Brooklyn College student organizers visited Montréal for four days over our spring break to meet with and learn from the student strike–to understand the challenges that Québécois students face and how they have been able to successfully mobilize around their tuition hikes. Even if for only a couple of days, what we witnessed was beyond our wildest dreams of what a student movement could look like and accomplish. We marched with hundreds of students in the strikes, we saw students with pepper spray stained cheeks and the courage to stand up for their right to education.

Québec is rightfully proud of its institutions of higher learning, and Québécois students are rightfully proud of years of work they have put into ensuring that these places remain accessible despite provincial attempts to raise tuition beyond the reach of many Québécois and to convert grants and scholarships in to student loans. In keeping with the tradition that has kept Québec’s tuition the lowest in Canada — an important insurance that education will remain available to the many instead of the few in one of the country’s poorer provinces —  students have taken to the streets to protest tuition increases of 127% over ten years. We see these hikes as an attack on the rights of low-income and communities of color to access higher education, and we find their parallel in the tuition increases that will affect SUNY and CUNY students. Our “rational tuition increase” will result in students and their families having to pay an additional $1500 over the next five years.

In addition to seeing clear connections between the struggles around access to education facing our two provinces, we also see the Québec student strike as a model for gaining legitimate student power in our own city in struggling against the anti-austerity measures affecting students across the United States.

We denounce the violence against strikers and unjust profiling of students in Montréal for exercising their right to protest against unjust policies. In particular, the use of pepper spray to violently hinder the strength of the hard picketing on the part of students.

As an act of solidarity and a symbol of our escalation campaign as a student movement in New York, we are launching a “Red Square Campaign” in which allies wear the very same red squares pinned to their chests as the student strikers of Québec. We do this in solidarity with the student struggles in Québec, and to signify our shared struggles against the neoliberal corporatization of our institutions of higher learning. We will wear the red square because we share a common vision of a truly free university.

Thank you for being an inspiration to students everywhere, despite the colonial borders that separate us. We are together in this fight. Nous sommes ensemble.

Brooklyn College Student Union
The Graduate Center General Assembly

In a separate post, Brooklyn College Student Union explains the meaning of red squares worn in solidarity with striking students.

Across Québec, members of the student movement recognize each other by the red squares pinned to their backpacks or coats. The symbol puns on the expression «carrément dans le rouge» (“squarely in the red”) to make visible the burden of debt that bursary cuts and tuition hikes place on students.

Widespread use of the red square dates to the 2005 student strike against the Charest government’s attempt to turn $103 million of grants and scholarships into loans. The strikers adopted the «dans le rouge» rhetoric used in the previous year by the Collectif pour un Québec sans pauvreté in their fight against cuts to social assistance, thus making the connections between the student movement and anti-poverty activism explicit.

Originally worn only by those who supported striking, the red square can now be found on the clothing of anyone in solidarity with the québecois student movement.

This movement holds different meanings for all of its participants, but it might be understood best in the words beneath the giant red square that covered the famous cross on Mount-Royal for 24 hours on March 30, 2005: «Arrêtons de sacrifier nos enfants» (“Let’s stop sacrificing our children”).

We invite you to join us in wearing these squares, both in solidarity with our québecois comrades and to adopt the symbol of the red squares as our own, with hope that our own sacrifices can be ended.

Ce n’est qu’un début, continuons le combat!