November 24, 2014

Commentary | November 12, 2011
Letter from the fifth floor occupiers
| Visual by Farid Attar Rifai

We are the 14 students who occupied the fifth floor of the James Administration building. On 10 November, we took over the office of Her Majesty Blum.

Events in our world this year, as always, have revealed the necessity for direct action. At McGill, the administration has used the law to silence MUNACA workers and security to intimidate students and professors. The further abuse of the lines of communication between members of this community have made the administration’s authoritarian character explicit.

The charges listed above are not exhaustive, and we see them as symptoms and reflections of greater problems. Our society is controlled by intertwined bodies, predominantly government and for-profit interests. The for-profit system has hijacked our public education. Our researchers work for corporate interests, and the links with capitalist exploiters run deep –  see Barrick Gold, thermobaric weapons, tar sands.

Student and faculty representation in Senate is tokenistic. Our Board of Governors, McGill’s highest governing body, is filled with those who will never act for people before profits. Who in this community does the administration represent? Professors, students, non-academic workers, teacher’s assistants, and the public at large are systematically excluded from the decision-making process. Dialogue on campus produces zero meaningful results.

It is time to enter their space; occupation is a means of expressing our dissent outside of the boundaries of what the administration deems acceptable. At a time when university students from across the province came to Montreal to demand their voice be heard, we felt it was critical to do the same.

On 10 November, we occupied the fifth floor of the James Administration building. At 3:45 p.m., we entered the building and climbed to the office of the HMB, encountering no obstacles all the way to her front door. We knew her receptionist’s desk would be vacant because she’s on strike.

We knocked on the door and announced that this was a non-violent occupation. Using our feet and chests to stop the slamming door, we moved ourselves in.

At no point did we ever threaten, injure, or intimidate anyone. Everything you have heard about our violence is a lie. We asked those there to leave or stay, as they saw fit. We explored further into her labyrinth and flew a banner out the window: 10 NOV – OCCUPONS MCGILL!

We stress that the only aggression that occurred on the fifth floor of the James Administration building was by security personnel and directed at us. It was because of our non-violence that we were then so easily beaten and corralled by McGill Security.

The HMB said we were “ushered” from the room. In fact, one of us was scratched down his face and strongly hit in the stomach after being thrown and dragged. Others were forcibly expelled. We caused no ruckus, but only acted to protect.

We spread the word to our friends outside. We asked them to come support us in solidarity to secure our safety. This is what galvanized those in the crowd, who we deeply love and thank. We are in absolute solidarity with the brave ones who fought for our release by regaining control of the building’s exits.

It was with outrage and disbelief that we heard of the cruel use of physical force and chemical weapons below. The police were not necessary. We were immobilized and surrounded. A brutal reaction to our attempt to put our bodies where they cannot be.

Mendelson arrived unobstructed to talk with us. He left when we refused to “buy” his arguments. We did not see him again until far later when he came with Masi, ready to negotiate. They tried to mislead us about the situation, but we were in contact with those outside and downstairs.

We demanded unconditional amnesty from the police and the university for everyone in the building. Their demands were to walk us out through the back entrance and for us to leave campus.

They conferred in private and returned to us. We all agreed, so they dictated the agenda to the police. We moved past the war zone they created to join the others who were downstairs and outside.

The events of 10 November make vividly clear the strength and beauty of solidarity. To those fellow students ensuring our safety, who bravely amassed against police lines below us in James Square, we express our love and avow our determination to persist in this shared struggle. Your presence provided not only concrete assistance but knowledge of mutual support that sustained us mentally and emotionally.

By crossing the boundaries that authorities have forced on us, by taking up space where our presence is prohibited and our agency denied, we triggered a response that exposes the necessary violence with which the hierarchical power structure confronting students is enforced.

The administration tells us that its private security agents are there to protect the campus community, just as the state tells us that its police forces exist to protect the population. 10 November revealed the absurdity of these claims as soon as the McGill administration chose to resolve the danger posed by peacefully assembled students with the deployment of riot cops on campus. Outfitted in their dystopian armor, agents of the state violently attacked students of this university simply for standing in solidarity with us, their friends, family, lovers, and fellow students. The violence of the response betrays the real threat posed by direct action and demonstrates the strength that students exert when they collectively challenge authority and refuse to submit.

10 November marked the first presence of riot police on McGill grounds since 1969 (McGill Français), but violence at the hands of the state is a daily reality for many outside our gates. We must not accept police brutality against students. Pepper spray, tear gas, and batons are no more tolerable when deployed against demonstrators, workers, homeless youth, people of colour, anarchists, queers, indigenous populations, or other marginalized groups anywhere.

The narratives of the corporate media, the police, and the administration will aim at a common end: a return to the status quo in which they control our spaces and our bodies. But we are engaged in a struggle that is far from over. We must continue to move beyond the liberal model of ‘discourse’ that has only served to maintain unjust power relations and control. Acting boldly and defying prescribed boundaries, we subvert the logic of submission.

We all can occupy. We all can resist. We all must act.

Related Articles