Paradkar: Scholar Strike 2022: Why professors and students will hit the streets in a show of resistance

The “woke” crowd in action:

The intersection of Bond and Gould streets in Toronto, which housed the statue of Egerton Ryerson for 132 years only to see it toppled last year, will be the starting point of a walking tour on Wednesday. 

Call it our very own tour de résistance, marking the last of the three-day Scholar Strike that begins March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and Racism. It’s a labour action where scholars, activists and students from across the country will first participate in two days of virtual “teach-ins” that are free and open to the public, and then walk through the downtown core at various historical sites of resistance to oppression.

They will be protesting state violence against Black, Indigenous and racialized people and demanding, among other things, the defunding and abolition of police and prisons, and defunding of institutions such as Children’s Aid Societies, instead transferring funds to communities that offer care and affordable housing, and that work to eradicate poverty.

A running theme through the three-day strike is breaking down silos and drawing connections — between scholars and street-level organizers, between historical and current resistance movements, between anti-colonial and anti-racist struggles, between those who experience oppression and those who don’t. 

“We want to be able to say that this resistance movement is not against you. It’s about finding ways to be together,” said Mikinaak Migwans, assistant professor of Indigenous contemporary art in Canada and curator at the Art Museum, University of Toronto. The walking tour is Migwans’s brainchild. Migwans is Anishinaabekwe of the Wikwemikong unceded territory.

In the wake of the Black uprisings of 2020, the names Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Eishia Hudson, Chantel Moore, D’Andre Campbell, Ejaz Choudry were among those that began circulating around Canada to humanize and remember victims of police brutality. Two years later, not only are they all but forgotten by many — we all move on from crisis to next shiny crisis — but new names, new bodies have piled on the deck.

Anthony Aust, Moses Erhirhie, Trent Firth, Lionel Ernest Grey, Braden Herman, Julian Jones are some. As are Jared Lowndes, Sheffield Matthews, Dillon McDonald, Coco Ritchie and Latjor Tuel. 

They are among those Black, Indigenous or racialized people killed by police, or who died in police custody since the 2020 reckoning, that organizers from University of Toronto see as the genesis of this second Scholar Strike.

Tuel was experiencing mental distress when he was killed by Edmonton police in February even while various police handled Ottawa’s often violent convoy protesters with kid gloves. The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is investigating Tuel’s killing. Edmonton police say they followed all protocols. They always say that. 

Given the worsening global context of a continuing pandemic, growing authoritarianism, war and climate change, the Scholar Strike launches with a discussion on the rise of ultra-right fascism, racism and white ethno-nationalism, said Beverly Bain, a professor of women and gender studies in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga, who is one of the main organizers.

About 40 speakers will address topics such as harm reduction, migrants and borders and invasion of Indigenous territories. These sessions offer a way to connect the ivory tower to the streets.

“We can no longer afford to have this bifurcation of the university as a site of knowledge only and the community and activism as something different,” Bain said. “Many of us in the universities are scholar activists and organizers.”

Since the first Scholar Strike that Bain co-organized in 2020 that called for defunding of police, police budgets have grown. The Toronto police operating budget sits at a whopping $1.1 billion in 2022 after the city approved a $25-million increase. 

Police shootings and killings across the country have continued unabated. More than half the 64 police shootings in 2021 involved Indigenous people. 

Justice-seeking protests can be shrugged off as a series of disjointed events that allow people to let off steam or express anger over a particular incident or project, when in fact they are continuous and connected to each other by history and geography.

The United Nations designated March 21 as a day against racial discrimination because it commemorates the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, when South African police killed 69 people and wounded 180 during a peaceful protest against apartheid. 

The walking tour on March 23 also offers connects current movements to historical resistance. 

“There has always been resistance in our communities from the time of arrival onwards,” said organizer Kristen Bos, assistant professor of Historical Studies and the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, who is Métis. “That’s why the police exist, right? Like, that’s why they were literally created just in this country to stamp out Indigenous resistance.”

The tour sites include Trinity Bellwoods and Alexandra Park, where police violently destroyed encampments of unhoused people last year. Also, Christie Pits, which in 1933 saw violence break out between a baseball team that was mainly Jewish against members of what was called the Swastika Club, who told the Toronto Daily Star then they wanted “to get the Jews out of the park.”

Speakers on each site will address the injustices and connect them to larger movements. 

For instance, speakers will protest at Queen’s Park, the site of the Northwest Rebellion Monument to the officers who died suppressing an uprising led by Métis leader Louis Riel in 1885. Riel was tried and executed after being captured.

In 1920, when the RCMP was created out of the North-West Mounted Police, the old division headquarters were in the Post Office Building at 6 Charles St. E. in Toronto. Here, speakers will mark the century since the RCMP blocked Six Nations resistance against the dissolving of traditional governance and connect it to current 1492 Landback Lane, where Ontario is encroaching on and supporting a proposed real estate development on traditional land of Six Nations of the Grand River, near what we now call Caledonia.

At Yonge and College Streets, the site of the 1992 Yonge St. uprising after the police killing of Raymond Lawrence, speakers including activist-journalist Desmond Cole will talk about the history of the Black Action Defense Committee.

A big part of this tour, Bos said, is “about remembering our collective history and about reclaiming public space. So that we should be free to feel safe in parks as Black and Indigenous peoples and on campuses and on streets.”

It ends at the University of Toronto, where Bain will challenge the university’s reliance on institutions such as police in its approach to mental health issues and disproportionate policing of students of colour, and demand a police-free campus. 

“Our overall goals for this are to build collective memory and to build collective capacity to be safely and supportively together on this land,” Migwans said.

Source: Scholar Strike 2022: Why professors and students will hit the streets in a show of resistance

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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