Thinking back to my first experience of being on strike was a time filled with emotion and confusion. The first afternoon I went to go strike was the second day into the strike period. It was a cold day, probably -15 or something, and I remember wearing 4-5 layers of clothing. I was in contact with two of my friends and felt comfort knowing I was meeting them and would experience picketing together.
I got to York and was surprised to see a line up of cars waiting to get into campus. I turned in and waited in the line up to park. A fellow student I did not know walked up to my window. I rolled it down and said, “I’m a graduate student and I’m picketing too”. “Oh! We’ll get you right through”, he said with a smile. I parked and got out to walk to my picket station, “The Main Gate”. As I walked on this cold day, I felt my face burning from the crisp winter air; I wondered how many people would be at my station.
After catching up with my friends, sharing a few laughs while listening for the ‘open the line’ warning, I began to feel my body get sore and my feet were getting numb from the cold. Looking at the time, thinking most of the four-hour shift had passed; it read 1:30, which means we still had an hour and a half to go. I thought to myself, how am I going to last another hour? I’ll never do this again. This will be my first and last time I picket. Then I looked up and saw “Tim Hortons”. At this point I never realized how much I would appreciate a warm place where I could take a break and get a hot soup.
After that long day I returned home and jumped right into my bed. I stayed there for the rest of the night feeling exhausted after a long, cold 4 hours spent outside. I remember telling my friends and family about the experience and being bitter about the cold and walking for hours.
Before I knew it, I found myself back at York’s Main Gate after a few days break from the picket line. How did I find myself back here, you may ask. Especially after my strong claims of swearing I’d never return again.
Well, it was a teeny tiny human emotion called guilt. I felt guilty that my classmates were doing what I found to be so horrible, but were there to stand up for something I find myself a part of. What did my four-day break from the picket line consist of? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn’t working on my research or writing my long overdue book report or working on the countless papers or assignments, as I should be. I found myself getting into a bit of slump. I was feeling really clouded, from battling my own thoughts on picketing, feeling over consumed in information and daily changes in information, and having all of my schoolwork on the back of my mind. My friends would send me a text message asking to hang out and I would say no. How could I hang out when I have so much to do? I would fight this lack of motivation by continuing to be unmotivated. I’d stay in bed until about 2pm wasting all the daylight away, after a restless night awake.
It’s interesting how the mind can exhaust you. My thoughts were consumed in facebook notifications about the strike. I knew the list of assignments I had due, but couldn’t get myself to open a book. Well if I’m not doing anything, then I should definitely go to the gym. There’s no excuse now, you have all the time in the world. Yeah! I’ll go to bed at 11 wake up at 6 and have a really productive day, started off by getting some exercise. Well, you may have already guessed what happened here. That’s right, a whole lot of nothin’. Instead, I was there, lying in bed and wasting my day away. Common, I thought, your better than this, you can do this, get OUT OF BED!
That’s it. That’s where I found myself on the picket line again. I re-joined my friends and had made it to the morning picket. I did this as much as I could. I found myself beginning to quite like being out there. I had a firm schedule. I work well with schedules. I enjoyed joining my peers and seeing my classmates that I missed seeing every day. I was a part of a community. Even if it were for a brief amount of time, I belonged to something. We were walking together. We joined together. We were together.
One day, after a long day of picketing and not having had breakfast, I turned to my friend and asked if he’d like to take a Tim Hortons break and get a bite to eat. We waited to walk around the picket circle to transition to the sidewalk and walk out of the line. As we did this, we saw an angry gentleman get out of his car and slam the door. He then proceeded to yell at everybody and threw a tantrum. He walked up to the roadblock we were using and used all his might to pick it up and throw it out of the way of his Mercedes car. He approached the gate and opened it, not caring for the person who was there opening and closing the gate. He walked back violently to his car, with an angry look on his face. He then drove through the picket line, as I watched in awe of what was happening. He pulled over once he got through and proceeded to gallivant his ‘manly-ness’ and threw our table over, watching as our sign in sheets, water bottles, and food went flying all over the snow.
I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to get my phone out and record what was happening, as I know the power of social media and bringing attention to these issues. I did not feel safe to do so. I could envision this person taking my phone and throwing it to its demise. I walked away to Tim Hortons, talking to my friend about what had just happened. I saw this on facebook and couldn’t believe it was happening to our picket gate and right in front of my eyes. How can someone act this way? How angry must they be to drive themselves to that point where they will make a public display of their anger? How do they feel after having done that? Will he gloat about it and feel proud that he stood up to some ‘no good’ picketers?
While I was at Tim Hortons, my Dad happened to call and asked me how picketing was going that day. After telling my Dad about the situation that had just occurred, he got mad at me and did not want me to return to the picket line.
“Who’s fight are you fighting by being there? Why aren’t you focusing your energy into getting a summer job?”
Those questions stayed with me after that day. I knew why we were all picketing, but then I began to question why I hadn’t heard of these issues before. Especially after attending the strike vote meetings, I could definitely say I did not fully understand everything that was going on.
I also wondered what would happen with these issues after the strike. Once were all back to school and back to our daily routines, should these issues go unsolved, will students still continue to fight for them?
Overall, I can say the strike was definitely a learning experience. It taught me more about myself than I expected, and showed me the hardship involved with picketing. I definitely have a newfound respect for those that are involved with strikes and are involved with the picket lines. It is not easy and takes a toll both mentally and physically. I’m thankful and appreciative to all my peers who were involved with the strike. I was amazed to see all the creative and amazing projects that came out of the strike, such as this Picket Parade forum.
In conversation with my colleague, she reminded me that the benefits we have in our masters program today, wouldn’t have been possible without strikes we had in the past. Strikes are important because they give us the chance to fight for our rights.