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.