The second annual Student Day of Action on Feb. 1 brought together more than a thousand students to march under one common goal. But according to Gabe Hoogers, national executive representative of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Nova Scotia, Premier Darrell Dexter was seen marching away from the crowd.
“At one point, someone taking video footage ran into Premier Dexter and asked him to comment, but he chose to walk away,” Hoogers said.
That interaction lead to what Rebecca Rose, maritimes organizer for the CFS, described as a significant moment in the march.
“We changed our route to go down Sackville Street to be outside the NDP caucus office,” said Rose. “We slowed down the march and announced to students that the NDP were in a meeting.”
At this point, Rose said protesters began to chant “Beat back the Dexter attack,” and the ever popular chant from last year: “Dar-rell.”
Hoogers said that despite the frustration students conveyed, there was also a lot of excitement.
“Students got a sense that they can make a difference and change the hearts and minds of the public and the government itself,” he said. “Excitement felt today was huge and comparable to last year.”
According to Omri Haven, VP (external) of the King’s Student Union, university students were not the only ones out to protest.
“I saw students from high schools, workers, and other members of the public who were concerned about not adequately funding education,” he says.
But despite the large crowds, Hoogers confirmed that the rally was peaceful and conflict-free. In fact, according to Haven, the police were more cooperative this year than last.
Haven said last year protestors had difficulty negotiating with police to take Spring Garden Road. This year, he said, there were no problems.
“This year precedent set in and we were able to take it no problem,” said Haven. “It shows the power of a number and the longevity of the movement.”
Organizers and volunteers spent the morning blowing up balloons, putting up flyers and making sure speakers were ready to go. A sound system and risers had to be transported to and from Victoria Park and flags and banners had to be dropped off at various campuses in the area.
“It was an early morning,” said Hoogers. “But I think it paid off and we had the numbers to show it.” An estimated 1,000 people showed up for this year’s protest. This was a good turnout, but it was down from the approximately 2,000 to 3,000 that showed up last year.
Students from NSCAD were feeling especially fervent. Nicole Cooper, VP (external) for the NSCAD Student Union, said NSCAD has been feeling a lot of pressure from the provincial government to restructure their school.
“The government wants us to cut a large amount of money in the next short while,” Cooper said. “We’ve been asked to look at curriculums and facilities to figure a way to cut costs, but many reports have shown there is no money left to cut if we want to maintain the quality of our school.”
Though some students are feeling optimistic that the protest will change the government’s mind, others are not convinced that they should tuck their wallets away just yet.
University of King’s College student Sam Burleton used Twitter to express his doubts about the event. He wrote that although he understands Maritimers protesting tuition, out-of-province students should have known what they were getting into.
“Tuition in N.S. is the highest in Canada. That’s a fact. So if you’re from out of the province protesting ask yourself why did you come here?” Burleton tweeted.
Burleton mentions that everything has gone up in price and tuition just happens to be lumped into that category.
“Post-secondary education institutions are a business at the end of the day,” he tweeted.
But some students have chosen to remain optimistic.
Oliver Burrows, a first-year King’s student, said, “Awareness was raised, but it won’t be an immediate thing. Now that we’ve gone national it may help speed up the process.”
Dal student Katelyn Armstrong said, “I’d like to hope it makes a difference. I went to show that I want change, and I feel that if we get together it can actually happen.”
Mohammad Nosoudi, a first-year science student, says students have to ask for what they want.
“In my experience, when people don’t ask for their rights they lose what they had before. If we want better things to happen, we have to protest.”
Rose knows what she wants. “The point is to get the message out to voters, and get them on our side to make sure the government is feeling pressure not only from the students but the general public.”
“This is not the end,” Rose said. “It’s just one part of it.”