Concordia Student Strikes: Reflection, reflexion and solidarity

28 Apr

The following was delivered at the Concordia-wide General Assembly on April 26th, to introduce a motion on non-denunciation and respect of diversity of tactics. It has been updated to reflect some observations made during the Assembly. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the discussion on this point, especially Prof. Anna Kruzynski of the School of Community and Public Affairs for adding her expert precision to the motion.   

I am a student of the Geography, Planning and Environment (GPE) Department. The majority of lectures in this department did not take place during the last 5 weeks of classes. The message from the University at President Lowy’s Townhall meeting was that it was up to the professors to determine the best way to evaluate the courses, given the circumstances.  This response is one of a university interested in passing students, not educating them. This undermines the value of class time. This undermines the value of professors. This undermines the value of a degree at Concordia. It was irresponsible of the administration to deny those students whose class time had been missed the education they had been offered at the beginning of the term.

From the time we learned the university’s intentions for the rest of the semester, it was in a sense our responsibility to block exams. During the weeks prior we had endured the méprise of our peers, with our hearts conflicted over our principles and our friendships, on the belief that the University’s responsibility to provide an education to its students would spur it into action. When that failed, it was our responsibility to block the exams: to force the University to acknowledge the state of affairs, to ensure they provided all students, whether participating in the strike or not, with the opportunity to make up those classes.

In our GA the motion to block exams failed by one vote. My own vote on this motion was an abstention. When I began writing this, it was because I wanted to take responsibility for my actions and apologize to my fellow GPE students.  If I voted to strike, and I voted to block your classes, then it was also my responsibility to vote to block your exams.  Instead, my decision (with the help of the administration’s indifference) denied you access to education and gained the movement nothing.

Yet… despite the fact that each of us as individuals has our own agency and moral compass, this is not a movement of individuals. The power of the student movement is in collective action. Solidarity. Every time we are tricked into these habits of individualist thought, the movement becomes divided and our power is weakened.

The movement is also divided when we criticize the tactics of our fellow students. We all have different ideas of what is effective, of what we are comfortable doing, of what is going too far and what is not going far enough.  We need to beware of believing our own norms to be universal. Until recently I had laughed at the idea that anything other than pacifistic tactics might be considered in this movement, only later to realize I was laughing at people I deeply respect and consider friends.

When the university did nothing and our GA voted against picketing exams, some students DID take responsibility for the situation by attempting to block the Hall building.  At the time, I wasn’t comfortable with this action and did not participate, although I supported the individuals who took part in it.  Looking back, it is perhaps the most strategically effective thing we could have done at that point to disrupt exams and use that leverage to force the university’s hand.

Maybe throwing a rock through a window is not what you think of as a strategically appropriate action, but perhaps over time historians will assert that it worked. Or perhaps the people who threw rocks will look back and think how they might have acted differently, the way I look back in regret at that one vote.

The lesson is: none of us has perfect judgment. But judging our allies gains the movement nothing, it only tears it apart.

For these reasons I propose the following motion (or simply propose we swear the following pledge):

Whereas the solidarity of the student movement is our single greatest strength,

Whereas the student movement is not a homogeneous group, but encompasses a wide range of experiences, values, aspirations, ideas, and needs,

Whereas division and individualism is the greatest threat to our solidarity,

Be it resolved that the Concordia student movement adopt a policy of non-denunciation, that no student will criticize the actions of another student who shares the same cause in the media.

Be it further resolved that the Concordia student movement adopt a policy of respect of diversity of tactics, that students may undertake actions that may range in their purpose, level of risk, and effectiveness, without denounciation from other students of the movement. 

[ Note: In response to valid concerns raised during the GA, I wish to clarify that this motion is not intended to promote an a-critical acceptance of all that takes place during the strike. I maintain that our actions and the strategies of the movement must be subject to constant critical evaluation by its actors amongst themselves in order to build a strong movement.  It is intended to prevent devision and factionalism between allies that could undermine the strength of the movement.  Feel free to discuss these ideas further in the comments. ]

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