by Emmanuel Joseph
Under the sweltering heat of the mid morning sun, an estimated 50 placard-bearing students out of a roll of 6,000 Barbadians from the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies took to the streets of the City today, in what they pledged would be the first in a series of mass protests against Government’s proposed imposition of tuition fees for Barbadians from 2014.
However, the poor turnout did not stop the students, most of whom were foreign, from lifting their placards high and shouting “education is our only hope”, as they slowly marched from Jubilee Gardens, Lower Broad Street to Independence Square, under the watchful eye of about half dozen police officers on foot and in a vehicle.
Ironically, a group of about 25 of their colleagues had gathered a stone’s throw away from Jubilee Gardens where the demonstration started, waiting for the campus bus to take them to classes. Minutes later, the procession would also pass a second group of more than 30 university students at a regular pick up point on Probyn Street, about to head on to their classrooms.
Asked by Barbados TODAY why they were not on the picket line, the students at the Probyn Street location echoed their commitment to attending classes.
“I got class,” one of a group of three students responded.
“It is a matter of principle. You have classes,” a public officer studying at Cave Hill added.
“Marching will not help me,” another student declared.
Another female college student added: “If we don’t invest in ourselves, what are we going to do. We don’t have any natural resources, only our people. People expect the Government to do everything for them.”
“I don’t have a problem paying the fees, the Government got to make money. Money was cut from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and nobody isn’t making noise and the QEH is all we have,” suggested yet another student waiting to catch the campus vehicle.
Before “hitting the streets”, the demonstrators converged on Jubilee Gardens where they were joined by Head of the Clement Payne Centre and People’s Empowerment Party, David Comissiong who was invited by the students, as well as by some members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party including MPs Cynthia Forde, Dale Marshall, Dwight Sutherland, Trevor Prescod and Edmund Hinkson.
As the protestors reached the city’s main thoroughfare of Broad Street with placards reading “No Taxation Without Education”, “If You Tax Us, Respect Us”, “Education Build Economies” and “Education Made Slaves Free”, one passersby was heard to shout: “Let’s start the revolution!”
Further along the relatively short route that snaked its way onto Bridge Street and Bay Street, the protest seemed to have caught many shoppers by surprise as they appeared taken back by the sight of the “marching band” of young people and police escort.
Traffic was brought to a crawl and in some instances had to give away while the boisterous demonstrators paused in front of Parliament – the seat of democracy – and sought to send a symbolic message to members of the Freundel Stuart Administration, considering that the legislature is on summer recess.
On reaching the headquarters of the Barbados Fire Service, about half dozen fire fighters were already on their front step to witness the happenings on street.