In some cases, they're right there with the students — on the front lines.
Parents and teachers have been among the older demonstrators joining thousands of younger ones in publicly opposing the provincial government's tuition hikes.
Perhaps the most striking example of that came earlier this week at a college where some adults reportedly wept when riot police shoved through a picket line to force open a school. Teachers said they were too traumatized to teach following the incident, so the school was closed again.
Support for the strikers has not been limited to a few parents and teachers. Just ask Murielle Turpin-Godin.
"Having grandmothers around — I think they're very happy to have us," the 64-year-old said Wednesday, while preparing to march into a Montreal university with 100 fellow protesters, many of whom were masked.
"We tell them not to give up, to continue... to go right until the end."
Turpin-Godin, 64, who has two young grandsons, smiled as she calmly walked through the corridors of Universite du Quebec a Montreal, along with three or four other protesters in her age bracket. She held hands with a man about her age.
The scene around them was almost surreal.
Scores of much-younger demonstrators rushed past in all directions, some beating drums and others blowing whistles. The event was staged to denounce a court injunction ordering UQAM's law classes to resume.
Dozens of the demonstrators in that group even stormed into classrooms, ordering students to leave. A few even grabbed two female law students by the arm to get them to move.
The incident was one of the most intense of the months-long student unrest. It even made some international headlines.
In an interview before the protest, Turpin-Godin expressed her support for the striking students, though she didn't condone the frequent acts of civil disobedience.
Turpin-Godin, who had stashed some apples in her bag to refuel during the march, said that in recent weeks she'd taken part in nearly 10 student demonstrations. A couple of them have even spiralled into clashes between police and youth.
"As soon as things start getting heated a bit, I leave," said Turpin-Godin, who has taken part in several protests over the years to defend the rights of people on social assistance.
"We fall easily at our age."
She stressed that the average student protester doesn't like the violence, either.
Since the strike began in the winter, the movement has received multi-generational support from people who agree with the principle of cheap tuition.
The student cause has also attracted a wide swath of other protesters who dislike the Charest government or represent a variety of causes, ranging from environmentalism to Quebec independence.
Some of the older ones have stuck it out, even in the toughest of times.
Earlier this week, teachers and parents helped striking students form a picket line to keep other kids — who wanted to go to class — out of a college north of Montreal.
The strange standoff played out after a court ordered College Lionel-Groulx to reopen its doors.
Riot police unloaded chemical irritants and used physical force to help 53 students return to class, a burst of violence that prompted some of the younger picketers to exchange tearful hugs. A few of their adult companions reportedly did the same.
In the end, the school closed again because faculty members weren't prepared to teach.
"It was a climate that was very, very emotional," school spokesman Yves Marcotte said.
Even parents whose children have yet to reach college age have been participants — along with their young kids.
Liane Simard, who has a 12-year-old son, said she decided to become active in the student movement a few weeks ago after watching what she describes as disturbing footage of riot police in action.
"I saw young people get hit with batons, young people get cayenne pepper spray shot directly in their eyes," said Simard, who took part in the same UQAM protest as Turpin-Godin.
"I find it scandalous that we hit, that we brutalize, that we injure our kids."
Simard, a member of the group Meres en colere et solidaires (or Mothers in Anger and Solidarity), said many fathers and mothers support the students. She said her group has some 1,500 members.
Simard brought her son, Arnaud, with her to a recent protest because she wanted him to learn from the experience.
She also believes the media have misled the public and tarnished the reputation of the strikers — otherwise, she thinks, more parents would be hitting the pavement with them.
"Adults are scared to come because they are brainwashed by misinformation that says these people are violent," said Simard, who believes the protests will ensure a better future for her son.
"I'm not scared of the students, I've never been scared of the students... It's not true that they are vandals and terrorists."
Like many protesters, Simard carries a scarf to wrap around her nose and mouth. She also keeps a pair of plastic swim goggles handy.
The goal, she insists, isn't to disguise her identity from authorities, but to protect her if police blast her with chemical irritants.
One UQAM arts student said it has been encouraging to see people from different age groups taking part. Andreane Roy, who began her strike in mid-February, said they've been present from the very beginning.
"I've seen adults, I've seen senior citizens, I've seen professors, I've seen lecturers," said Roy, who has also seen many little kids join in — even at the "riskier" demonstrations.
Roy believes the wider involvement in the movement comes from the fact it raises many different social issues that are close to the hearts of lots of people.
A sociology lecturer from UQAM, who marched with students through downtown Montreal this week, said it's important for teachers to participate. He wants the government to know that students aren't clients and education should not be a luxury.
Alain Deneault, who's a member of the organization Profs contre la hausse (or Profs Against the Increase), also wanted to send the message that teachers are not to be treated like automatic machines, like "coffee-makers."
"It's not by flanking professors with cops in classrooms that we will create a climate to allow teaching," he said as he took a brief break from marching down Boulevard De Maisonneuve.
The older strikers say they've been accepted by their younger peers.
Turpin-Godin said she talks with her fellow protesters like they're old friends.
"I find it cute," she said. "I like it a lot."Suggest a correction