Tuition protest blocked traffic

By Natalie Sit

On the last day of classes in December, about 50 students braved the cold weather to protest tuition on the streets of Calgary.

Operation Barricade, organized by Students’ Union Events Commissioner Greg Clayton and External Commissioner Kevin Maloney, brought students to the intersection of 24 Ave. and University Dr. NW Dec. 5, the same day as the Board of Governors tuition decision.

Students left MacEwan Student Centre with orange street barriers in their hands, chanting “high tuition has got to go.”

Gord Christie of the Calgary and District Labour Council was present because he is a “big supporter of public education.”

“The big problem is people are stuck in the ’40s and ’50s,” said Christie , wearing his protest placards. “There was low tuition and books. [Learning Minister] Lyle [Oberg] and the other ministers were on the gravy train and now are doing nothing to fail a generation of students.”

When students first arrived at the intersection, students waited until walk signs appeared before setting up barricades. It took a few minutes for protest leaders to organize the students and barricades.

“It’s a bit of a shit show, but we’re getting it together,” said Clayton of the barricade’s beginnings.

During the 15-minute protest, trucks, cars and busses headed toward the university were stopped. Some blocked cars opted to turn around but others waited out the protest. Passing cars not going to the university were allowed through. Their reactions varied from honking horns to flipping the bird.

One Calgary Transit rider didn’t agree with blocking traffic because it made people late.

“At some point they become no better than the government, and I don’t have a high opinion of the government,” said transit rider Stacey Van Drunen. “I agree with what they’re doing, but they could go about it a better way.”

Most students stood at the south-facing barricade of 24 Ave., where most traffic was stopped.

Engineering graduate student Yori Jamin thought the protest was important.

“It’s a signal to provincial government students were upset,” said Jamin of his participation. “The provincial government doesn’t value education and the Board of Governors can only make do. We’ve seen 12 years of tuition hikes in a row.”

Students yelled and raised signs for 15 minutes before an airhorn signaled the protest’s end. The most enthusiastic student was first-year engineer student Sandeep Vhutti whose anti-tuition cheers were louder than the SU officials on bullhorns.

Walking back to the university, Vhutti explained why he was here.

“It’s to oppose high tuition,” said Vhutti, wearing only a thin jacket against the cold. “I don’t want to end up in $50,000 of debt. Everyone came here to support us.”

Maloney was pleased with the event, seeing it as part of a the su’s overall lobbying effort.

“It was a half protest, half media stunt,” said Maloney. “We have [President] Harvey [Weingarten] on the front page [of newspapers], [su President] Jayna Gilchrist speaking to the media. It all comes together. The point is to get everything on the news.”

With assistance from Daorcey Le Bray