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Serving up Casseroles–With a New York Flavor

Aby Sam Thomas Jun 15, 2012

The clanging of pots and pans filled the air Wednesday night as more than 200 students and protesters marched from Washington Square Park in New York to show their solidarity with the ongoing students’ strike in Quebec, Canada.

“Education is a right, not just for the rich and the white!” chanted the protesters. “From Montreal to NYC, education should be free!”

This was the third of the weekly “casseroles marches” being held since the start of June, with protesters making their presence felt through drums, whistles, pots, pans and chants as they walked on the city’s streets, closely followed by members of the NYPD on foot, motorbikes and vans.

Although the march was intended to go on till Times Square, the police cut them off at the High Line, with at least ten arrests made during the course of the march. One of the arrested was Jack Boyle, the Occupy Wall Street protester who has been on hunger strike to protest arrests made at the Trinity Church last December.

Despite the arrests, the march was largely without incident and just simply noisy. Marchers handed out flyers and invited people to join them for the “Night of the Living Debt,” the next casseroles march on June 22.

As a play on the “Night of the Living Dead,” protesters are hoping to dress up as “debt zombies” and create a lot more of a ruckus next week.

The solidarity marches in New York began on May 22, the 100th day of the Quebec students’ strike against hikes in university tuition in Canada. While the solidarity marches initially occurred daily, it evolved into a weekly march in June.

Although the marches began as a show of support to the Canadian students, the protests soon took on the cause of students here as well, with student debt reaching more than a trillion dollars in the United States.

“Students in the States have similar struggles and in some cases, it’s a lot of worse than the Canadian education system,” said Aislinn Bauer, a student of Hampshire College in Massachusetts. “But nobody is doing anything about it, nobody is talking.”

David Salay, a student at NYU, said that while there were only about 20-30 people in the daily marches, the weekly marches have seen a surge in attendance with more than 250-500 people coming for the events.

Salay gathered with other fellow protesters near the Garibaldi statue in the park early in the evening to discuss and strategize their march. Red squares of cloth were passed around to pin on as symbols of the protest.

“We are squarely in the red as students,” Salay said, as he explained the red squares. “We are all in debt.”

The use of casseroles in the marches has been attributed to the cacerolazo phenomenon, a form of protest used in certain Spanish-speaking countries, most recently in Argentina, where people banged on their pots and pans to show their disapproval and call for attention.

With all the noise they are making, the students and protesters hope to initiate dialogue and bring about change in the education system, making it less about student debt and more about education.

“When you have that kind of burden [student debt] weighing you down, it puts a burden on all aspects of your life,” said Salay. “The entire purpose of your education starts to change: people make different life choices, different choices about what they are interested in, where they, who they’re with.”

“For me, it’s about reclaiming our education,” said Bauer. “It should be accessible to everyone; it shouldn’t be about how much you can pay. And if you can pay, it shouldn’t be about being in debt your entire life.”

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