Several hundred people marched through the West Village last night in what has become a weekly protest against growing student debt.
The march was framed as a gesture of solidarity to the general strike currently roiling Quebec, and the marchers adopted several of the signatures of that strike, banging pots and pans and wearing small red felt squares to signify that student dept places them “squarely in the red.”
But the marchers, many of them students themselves, said the demonstration was also about education in the United States, where student debt recently tripped over the $1 trillion mark.
“Education is a right! Not just for the rich and white!” the marchers changed. “From Montreal to NYC, education should be free!”
Police also turned out in force for the protest, escorting the marchers on foot and on scooters, and repeatedly admonishing them to stay on the sidewalks. The demonstrators didn’t always comply, several times attempting to break free of the police and march in the street, and the march was frequently held up as police made arrests, totaling 16 by the end of the night.
The marchers garnered mixed reactions as they clattered through the streets. “What are you protesting?” asked one middle aged couple in the Meatpacking District. “Student debt? That’s a good one. You should be protesting that!”
Another passerby was less convinced. “That’s crazy!” he shouted at the protesters. “There already is free education!”
Outside the Standard Grill on Washington Street, a dapper Tracy Morgan narrowly avoided getting drawn into the demonstration.
Demonstrators said they planned to finish the march at the High Line park so participants could relax there afterwards, but when they climbed the steps to the park shortly after 10 p.m., police announced on a bullhorn that the park closed at 10 p.m. and that protesters in the park would be arrested.
Confronted by protesters with the park’s website and signage on-site indicating that the park is in fact open until 11 p.m., and informed that the park was still full of people, police were unmoved, blocking access to the High Line steps and escorting protesters already in the park to leave. NYPD Captain Brooks told the Voice the park was closed to the protesters “for reasons of public safety.”
Among those arrested last night was Jack Boyle, a 56-year-old man who says he has been on a hunger strike for several weeks and is refusing to take his HIV medication in protest of the charges being brought against eight protesters currently on trial for trespassing during a December 17 Occupy Wall Street demonstration.
Boyle is also among the defendants in that case, and is due back in court this morning.