Re-Occupy Edmonton/Feb. 1 Rally Against Tuition Increases, a photo by raise my voice on Flickr.
After appearing to lay low for a while (although they were meeting on a regular basis), Occupy Edmonton decided to come out from the shadows and planned a "Re-Occupy Edmonton" march and rally. The event was originally to be held this coming weekend, but the organizers decided to move the date to February 1 to coincide with the National Student Day of Action protesting tuition fee hikes.
The plan was to march from Ezio Faraone Park to the University of Alberta campus, joining the U of A student protesters in Quad. However, plans were quickly changed. When I arrived at Ezio Faraone Park, I noticed a significant number of police officers, as well as an EPS chopper flying overhead. In short order, during a "mic check" (where one person speaks and everyone else repeats), it was explained that OE protesters could not set foot on campus. The U of A had asked the police to arrest protesters who did not heed this warning (never mind the fact that many protesters were current and former students and faculty).
At the same time, we were also told that Campus Security had issued a warning to U of A students on campus that they could not protest in the Quad area as planned. Both announcements were absolutely baffling to me, as International Week is currently happening on campus, the theme being Living Democracy: Citizen Power in a Global Age.
The march proceeded over the High Level Bridge and headed to Saskatchewan Drive, where police informed protesters they could not cross onto U of A property and made a human and bicycle barricade. There were around 20 police officers, another dozen or so Campus Security people, and that chopper flying overhead. There were around 70 protesters.
A lot of the focus shifted to the belief that Occupy Edmonton was going to set up an encampment on U of A property, thus leading to the campus engaging the services of the police. However, no one that I saw was carrying camping gear. Most of the people simply wanted to protest, and then leave. I don't understand why they were not allowed to do so. A university campus is supposed to be a place of free, open ideas and speech. If there were people who would have stayed behind and tried to camp - well, then that would have been the appropriate time for Campus Security to get involved, with police backup should it have been necessary.
And yes, students and staff with identification proving them as such were permitted to cross the street onto campus. Could they have protested on U of A property under these circumstances? We will never know.
But the major problem here is the shift of focus from the issue at hand - tuition fees and pay equity - to camping. Because of the police hoopla over Occupy Edmonton as an entity, the message got lost. I am not sure if this was a purposeful tactic by the U of A but if it was, it was a brilliant lesson in diversion.
Basically, the U of A completely overreacted. It shunned the value of free speech in favour of control. Historically, university campuses are places where radical politics take root and ideas from all spectrums flow. Instead, the U of A decided to let fear dictate its actions. Living democracy? This is not what democracy should look like.
Here is my full photo set from the protest. Here is a video of the initial mic check, when the news was shared concerning the police presence; the march to Saskatchewan Drive; and, the rally as it took place despite the police barricade.
I have been documenting the incident as portrayed in social media through Storify, and will continue to update the story as needed.