Features | Where have all the activists gone?

The activist élan of the sixties has all but disappeared

On Friday, October 12, 1962, Eve Norton wrote an article for The McGill Daily called “Is Politics Fatal for Femmes?” She wrote, “It is time to earn some respect and the gratitude of our country by showing that we can be trusted to do a dignified competent job in politics. Let’s stop hiding in mental laziness behind a stunning feather hat.” This feather hat, in 2009, is the complacency that shelters far too many university students from taking action on global atrocities.

Norton’s plea was for students to show that we can be trusted with the responsibility to affect our government’s decisions. On the whole, media coverage throughout North America has evolved into a pessimistic, profit-driven distraction. However, the media is not wholly to blame for this “news coverage” since they cover events that resonate with the majority of the population. Canadian citizens can control what the media covers by expressing their interest in the prisoners of war in Sudan, and the genocide in Darfur. Most students have concern for the well-being of others, but have difficulty conceptualizing mass murder when it isn’t a local issue and not a popular topic in the media. Does your heart hurt any more when you learn 15,000 people have died rather than 12,000? At some point, all large numbers are the same, yet a difference of 3,000 individuals is approximately the number of deaths caused by the 9/11 attacks.

In another McGill Daily article back in October 1962, Herbert Aronoff covered a protest by McGill students against American president John F. Kennedy’s newest legislation. Aronoff said, “Large-scale picketing and occasional fisticuffs kept Montreal police busy outside the American consulate yesterday as university students added their voice to public opinion over President Kennedy’s order to blockade all arms-carrying ships to Cuba.” Looking over articles such as this one, in which McGill students took strong stances on political decisions, one cannot help but wonder what happened to that burning, jittering desire to take action.

The article goes on to discuss the merging of McGill students and those of Sir George Williams University to create the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Members of this group picketed at various universities to voice their political opinions. The keyword in this acronym is combined. Many students, and citizens in general, tend to fall into the mindset that they cannot create significant change as individuals. However, the sixties student movement shows that a combination of students fighting for change can be significant enough to change history books. This cooperation should elicit vigour in McGill students for their fellow humans.

In several 1971 issues of The Daily, writers complained about student laziness that came on the heels of the huge surge of activism in the late sixties. Even then, McGill students were disappointed in the decline of political zeal. Now, 28 years later, the fortitude of students has dramatically decreased. There is a disturbing tone of contentedness pervading the present day, which entices a question Eve Norton prodded her fellow students with: “What, to be more precise, is the future of the [students] in the political clubs of McGill University?”


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