How can we emulate the Montréal students?

How can we emulate the Montréal students?

After a trip to Montréal I have some recommendations as to how we can get on their level.

I returned from Montréal exhausted and amazed by what I had just seen. I know that we have all heard recently about the defeats that the student movement there has suffered, but in America we are so far behind what has been created in Montréal that we need to be taking notes on all the things that the Montréal activists did right.

I attend American University in Washington DC, a school that has a tradition of radicalism that dates back the 1960s. At American we feel forever indebted the administration for being kind enough to grant us a storage closet for our social justice club's office. Imagine my surprise upon visiting the offices of the radical leftist groups on the campus of CGEP (a school for people of ages 17-20) Marie-Victorin. Marie-Victorin was smaller than my school, my school has 6,500 undergrads and 4,000 graduate students, Marie-Victorin has 4,000 students total. The activists at Marie-Victorin have an office space that includes 4 or 5 rooms and its own storage closet. Oh la la! At Université du Quèbec à Montréal an entire section of the school is decorated with elaborate leftist murals, graffiti, and revolutionary slogans which include encouragements to kill cops. Needless to say this section of the school belongs to the leftist activists.

Beyond the freakin cool offices and graffiti the student activists in Montréal have succeeded in so far keeping tuition at CGEPs and Universities to around $2,000 a year. At my school it is currently $50,000 a year with room, board and food (mandatory payments for Freshman) included. In addition, it has recently been announced that our school administration is proposing a 30% tuition hike.

The strength of the student left in Montréal lies to a large extent in the hard work, maturity, and unwavering amiability of its central activists. These people work hard and communicate without bitterness or passive aggression towards one another. I believe this has to do with the differences in culture between Montréal and the US. It is my understanding that US culture is more alienating than Montréal culture and thus produces more students with psychological problems. This is evident from my own personal experience with organizational infighting and if one needs concrete evidence of this a quick look at the recent history of mass shootings by disturbed US males should be enough.

To remedy the psychological problems of fellow activists and in addition as an organizing tactic I believe that American student activists should put a great deal of energy into creating a tight knit community of activists that is also welcoming to those who are interested in joining. By creating such a community we can offer a social circle that is an alternative to the Frat and Sorority community as well as to the “community” of the cynical hipsters.

Additionally, we need commitment. Activism is not a career path. This is not something we should be doing simply to pad our résumés. The student activists in Montréal were not taking time out of their lives not because they wanted a job with a non-profit upon graduation, but because they actually cared about what they were fighting for. I have seen a lot of careerism amongst US student activists, but we need to start caring more about our work in activism than our future career opportunities.

Finally, the Montréal students have taught us that the future is unwritten. Things may look really bad now, but that just means we need to start working from where we are at. If we want to fight then we will fail many many times, but we will learn from these failures and become stronger because of them. Cynicism is our enemy and it can only be defeated by taking risks and not losing our will to fight.

Posted By

Soapy
Aug 18 2012 17:23

Share


  • The future is unwritten

Attached files

Comments

Dunk
Aug 19 2012 05:21

Why is American culture more alienating than Montreal culture, and why do you think it is culture which alienates us? The idea that the problem with student activists in America is really an inside, individual psychological defect preventing them from having a similar movement is thin to begin with - but then you seemingly offer the end goal that is blocked thanks to this defect as the solution to the defect. Which is to say, you claim the solution to our alienation and our psychological defect is the very radical egalitarian student activist movement which you imply cannot emerge because of our alienation and psychological defect.

Also, you say activism is not a career path, and that these student activists take time out of their own lives for activism. Yet you go on to criticize American student activists for careerism, as if this kind of activism is something to put on a resume. To me, it is as if you were shooting for being critical of a kind of division of labor extending to activism at first - that it was an implicit call for everyday people, who think they're busy with whatever else, to get involved in activism, but you instead take an awkward turn and call for American activists to focus solely on their activism and not on the other things in their lives, like their work, or their possible future work.

Steven.
Aug 19 2012 10:53

Yeah, I think you're looking at this the wrong way round.

It's not that the left activists in Montréal are better than in the US. The differences are more to do with the balance of class forces more generally in Québec. So there is a higher level of working class self organisation and solidarity, and so a correspondingly high level of militancy in Québec than in the US.

Look at the Québec general strike of 1972, for example. There is nothing like that in recent US history.

This is an error that UK activists have made - going to Italy and seeing how well organised some activists/libertarians there are, they imported some of their tactics (like social centres and protective equipment on demos). But divorced of the level of organisation and militancy within the class as a whole they couldn't work in the same way.

Khawaga
Aug 19 2012 12:05

I think Dunk and Steven raise a very good point. In Ontario so many people I've talked to refer to this 'special' culture of resistance in Quebec and argue that that is really the reason for why shit kicked off there and not anywhere else in Canada (considering that Quebec has by far the lowest tuition fees in the entire country). Well, the reason for why there is such a 'culture' is that it was built decades ago through struggle and organizing. Student strikes in Quebec happens regularly and most of the times they've been quite successful in beating back tuition increases. If there is anything 'cultural' about this, it is that there is a 'cultural memory' that striking works.

There is nothing special about this at all really. There is no strike gene in Quebec, there is no special culture. What has happened there can be emulated anywhere. Indeed, there have been lots of workshops held in Ontario where members from CLASSE taught us how to organize on campuses AND build towards a strike. In effect, the 'special culture' can be instituted it just takes a lot of solid organizing at every campus, in workplaces (not that campus and workplace are two different things) and in neighbourhoods.

Soapy
Aug 19 2012 12:44
Dunk wrote:
Why is American culture more alienating than Montreal culture, and why do you think it is culture which alienates us? The idea that the problem with student activists in America is really an inside, individual psychological defect preventing them from having a similar movement is thin to begin with - but then you seemingly offer the end goal that is blocked thanks to this defect as the solution to the defect. Which is to say, you claim the solution to our alienation and our psychological defect is the very radical egalitarian student activist movement which you imply cannot emerge because of our alienation and psychological defect.

Also, you say activism is not a career path, and that these student activists take time out of their own lives for activism. Yet you go on to criticize American student activists for careerism, as if this kind of activism is something to put on a resume. To me, it is as if you were shooting for being critical of a kind of division of labor extending to activism at first - that it was an implicit call for everyday people, who think they're busy with whatever else, to get involved in activism, but you instead take an awkward turn and call for American activists to focus solely on their activism and not on the other things in their lives, like their work, or their possible future work.

I don't understand why you think I have created some sort of paradox here. I am saying that from what I have seen activists in America lack the same level of maturity and awareness that those in Montreal do and I am offering a first step towards getting us out of this situation. I really don't see your point.

When did I say that activists should focus solely on activism in their lives and nothing else? I am simply saying that people need to care more about their activism and to see it less as a means to getting a job once they graduate.

Also to Khwaga, I am arguing that we need to create a culture of resistance and take these preliminary steps towards creating such a culture. I think that you are misinterpreting my point.

Khawaga
Aug 19 2012 12:52
Soapy wrote:
Also to Khwaga, I am arguing that we need to create a culture of resistance and take these preliminary steps towards creating such a culture. I think that you are misinterpreting my point.

Ooops, I re-read your post. I now see that I misinterpreted (I normally don't get up this early in the am). My bad, sorry about that. I'm backing up your argument! smile

Soapy
Aug 19 2012 13:08
Steven. wrote:
Yeah, I think you're looking at this the wrong way round.

It's not that the left activists in Montréal are better than in the US. The differences are more to do with the balance of class forces more generally in Québec. So there is a higher level of working class self organisation and solidarity, and so a correspondingly high level of militancy in Québec than in the US.

Look at the Québec general strike of 1972, for example. There is nothing like that in recent US history.

This is an error that UK activists have made - going to Italy and seeing how well organised some activists/libertarians there are, they imported some of their tactics (like social centres and protective equipment on demos). But divorced of the level of organisation and militancy within the class as a whole they couldn't work in the same way.

This is an interesting point, I suppose that it could be true, undeniably the level of militancy among the working class here is very low, and let's say that it is true, what should US student activists do about this? Not work as hard because they know that the terrain for struggle is worse? I think it just means it's one more obstacle to face. And more people fight at the university level then there will be more militant workers once these people join the workforce.

Additionally, I know that on our campus we are currently putting a good deal of effort into organizing the people who clean the dorm rooms and the people who drive the school buses.

Khawaga
Aug 19 2012 14:16

Just to add to that excellent little summary. They didn't necessarily just spend 'months' organizing. They started two years ago. At certain schools (esp. the anglophone ones) it was more hurried.

I've been to several workshops given by CLASSE organizers over the summer, and the advice they always give is to start small in your department, and always stressed the one-on-ones as the main organizing tool.

doca
Nov 11 2012 15:27

Lovely to see this discussion here!
@Khawaga, by the workshops by CLASSE organizers in Ontario, are you referring to the strike training camp in Toronto at U of Toronto? Just wondering.
Also do you think such workshops would be interesting in the US?

Khawaga
Nov 11 2012 15:52

Doca, the strike training camp at UofT was one of them (certainly the longest and most thorough I've been to). I've got no clue whether such workshops would be interesting in the US, but I can't see why not.

wojtek
Dec 19 2012 21:59

dp