After March 7th, direct actions became more frequent and yet despite widespread condemnation of the violent tactics which resulted in a young man losing an eye, the police response was increasingly vicious. Confrontations became more common.
Then came March 15th, the International Day Against Police Brutality. For the last ten years or so, a few hundred would take to the streets in Montreal annually on that date to highlight the problem of police brutality. That year, this demonstration was much bigger than ever before. As expected, the march was only tolerated for a very short time until riot squads moved in and attacked the crowd. Scenes of chaos across downtown were witnessed as the squads attempted to chase down groups of protesters who refused to disperse and, in some cases, vandalised police cruisers which occupied almost every street corner.
As the big student rally planned for March 22nd approached, the government’s response to the strike was more defiant than we had expected. For weeks it consistently rejected growing calls for negotiation with student groups, while at the same time reiterating ad nauseam its justifications for the tuition hike.
On the other hand, the momentum for the strike vastly surpassed our expectations. By mid-March more than 200,000 student were on strike, much higher than we hoped to reach during the entire length of the campaign. We realised then, almost in disbelief, that we were on track to shatter the record of the largest student strike in the history of the province.
Over 300,000 students were on strike on March 22nd, which is about 75% of all CEGEP (college) and university students in Quebec. Buses converged from all corners of the province into Montreal for the rally, which was in the making for months. It’s estimated that 200,000 people participated, easily making it the biggest protest ever seen in the province.
This huge protest and the sheer number of students on strike, combined with the fact that more and more students were drawn into organising and participating in direct actions, made us recognize that we had more leverage than ever over the government.
Still, faced with an unequivocal adversary, we still had to keep building up the pressure. After the protest on the 22nd and lots of discussion in general assemblies, CLASSE called on students to organise a “week of economic disruption”. Autonomous student groups massively answered the call, and for the following weeks, up to three major direct actions were happening every day. Ministry buildings, office towers, government institutions, highways and even the Port of Montreal became the targets of blockades and actions of disruption. As autonomous initiatives multiplied, some buildings like the Ministry of Education in Montreal were even targeted repeatedly.