My visit to Ryerson’s frozen protest encampment
Photo Credit/Zach Morgenstern
After witnessing the start of the Ryerson Student Union (RSU)’s “Freeze the Fees” occupation On Monday the 17th of November, I returned on the protest’s fourth night. A few more tents have been set up, signs posted, and leaflets made available. The leaflets, which make a case for reduced—if not free—tuition, are limited in number and confined to a corner where they are less vulnerable to the wind.
In the time I’ve spent at the tent city, I’ve seen no hostility to the movement. The cold of course keeps it from being a popular destination, but some students do stop by to talk to the activists. I had a brief conversation with fourth year Ryerson business student, who after a prolonged conversation about the history of tuition fees in Canada, encouraged the protesters to keep up the good fight. Another visitor at the tent city, asked Vice President-Education Jesse Root if he and his fellow occupiers were stuffing their jackets with newspaper, which I learned are an excellent insulator due to their moisture absorbing capabilities.
That’s not to say that the occupiers lack detractors. Shortly after the occupation began a photo surfaced of the occupiers in a meeting, inside a building right next to the tents. The image was used to argue that the occupation was fake. Root is able, albeit somewhat frustratedly, to dismiss the allegation. He told a group which included me, and UTSU executives Cameron Wathey and Grayce Slobodian about how on the occupation’s first night, he was awoken in his tent by a student on watch-duty to do a TV interview at 4:50 in the morning. That interview, he argued, should put to rest any notions of the occupation not being real.
Another occupier, Vadjaan Tanveer, the co-ordinator of Ryerson’s Racialized Students Collective, expressed similar frustration about the photo. Tanveer argued, however, that critiques based around the picture showed the emptiness of anti-occupation rhetoric. He suggested that the fact that people have resorted to criticizing details of the symbolic occupation, shows that they cannot meaningfully debunk the RSU’s demands for a fee freeze, greatly lowered international student fees, and a participatory, non-austere budgetary process. Tanveer contextualized the criticism in terms of other arguments used by the RSU’s opponents in recent years. He described, for instance, speaking against a past Ryerson Annual General Meeting Motion, that sought to ban the RSU from taking sides on international political issues. Tanveer passionately noted that the Canadian student movement played a vital role in early anti-Iraq War mobilization, and defended the broader activist trend the RSU has followed lately, including its support for the BDS movement.
So long as winter rages on, it may be hard for the RSU’s movement to spread. It has nonetheless pushed on in the face of criticism, and has seemingly found a space on Ryerson grounds where it will continue to be allowed to do so, something that may prove more of a challenge for a theoretical U of T movement. The RSU’s next big move will be a rally this upcoming Monday at 4:30 during a Ryerson board of governors meeting.