“This is what democracy looks like,” shouted nearly a thousand McGill community members who gathered in James Square on Monday.
The rally, “We Are All McGill,” was a student initiative organized in response to the events of last Thursday, November 10, when McGill students were pepper sprayed, teargassed, and pushed off campus by riot police.
Alex McKenzie, a U2 Arts student and Daily staffer, created the event on Facebook the night of November 10.
“I was sitting at the library getting these crazy text messages from my friends, saying they were getting hurt, and I got really angry, and posted one of those angry Facebook events which I was expecting 10 people to join and embarrassingly have to delete six hours later,” McKenzie explained. “And I had 500 people on it in 30 minutes.”
“I woke up the next morning to realize that there were over a 1,000 people attending, and something needed to be done,” he added.
McKenzie, a Mob Squad member, then conferred with other members, who began to plan the event together. A meeting after the sit-in outside of James Administration on Friday formed working groups to help with organization.
The rally, which began with a march from Roddick Gates, opened with a sound collage from the night – which captured the screams of students as they were pepper sprayed by police – followed by a moment of silence.
A motion was then introduced to rename James Square. The crowd voted to rename the space Community Square, or Carré Communautaire.
Those present were encouraged to share personal experiences relating to the events and discuss “how we can move forward,” according to the Facebook event page.
One of the first students to speak expressed his refusal to stay silent amidst recent events that have taken place at McGill.
“We can dramatically change this University. We really, really can,” he said. “We must stand up, we must get loud, and we must act now.”
Jonathan Sterne, chair of the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, and member of the McGill Faculty Labour Action Group, also spoke.
“In the face of administrative inaction, let’s escalate our commitments to one another, and to other students around the city,” said Sterne. “Let’s escalate our commitments to fair compensation for our colleagues in MUNACA.”
At one point during the rally, the crowd waved to the MUNACA workers picketing across the road from Milton Gates, shouting “solidarité!”
“I believe in the protesters,” Sterne added. “I believe in my students, and I ask you to believe in yourselves, and let’s work to write the course for this University, in this province, and in this world.”
The open forum culminated in a General Assembly, which discussed commitments to future action, including forming a committee to democratize McGill’s governance structure.
Despite the peaceful nature of the event, police officers were stationed at three entrances to McGill throughout the afternoon.
According to Montreal Police Sergeant Guiseppe Boccardi, McGill called the police “to inform us that there’s going to be some kind of gathering between 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., five to six hundred people, to make sure that everything stays well.”
“We’re on what we call standby mode, in case something were to get out of hand,” he added.
Administrators in the crowd included Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson and Principal Heather Munroe-Blum.
Munroe-Blum sat on the steps for a portion of the gathering, and was on the speakers list before she had to leave for another appointment.
In an email to staff and students yesterday, Mendelson said the administration “clearly understand[s] the concerns expressed at Monday’s gathering and elsewhere in response to the events of November 10.”
He goes on to list services available to students who experienced “distress, fear or anxiety,” who “witnessed or were subjected to violence,” or were “hurt or otherwise affected” as a result of the events of November 10.
McKenzie said the most important thing to take away from the event was that “this isn’t the end.”
“This was a forum to start thinking about a set of ideas, to start making opinions about a set of ideas, and to start being active about a lot of ideas,” he said.
—with files from Juan Camilo Velásquez and Erin Hudson