Commentary | Real progressives say no to CFS

From March 29 to April 1, McGill’s graduate students and postdoctoral scholars will be asked if they want to continue their membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). There are many obvious reasons to leave CFS: their policies are bad for graduates (they support taxing scholarships); they are notoriously ineffective at lobbying (they failed to do anything meaningful to stop the new tax on post-docs); their services are overpriced and scantily used by grads; they sue their own members, resulting in legal fees of thousands upon thousands of dollars; they are an autocratic, centralized bureaucracy that stymies genuine member participation; and they constantly and aggressively threaten journalists that report negatively on them.

Unfortunately, the litany of CFS’s awful behaviour doesn’t seem to be enough to convince a handful of self-proclaimed “progressive” and “radical” students. Ironically, these ill-informed students, by supporting a largely corporate bureaucracy, have descended into the ranks of corporate conservatives, and they don’t even know it.

In the world of activism, there is a special category of people I’ll call “slactivists.” Slactivists are the people who pontificate on Facebook about how radical and progressive they are. They rarely attend organizing meetings or rallies because getting arrested might get in the way of their morning latte. Make no mistake, there are many ways to participate in radical organizing (and not all involve a megaphone in hand), but slactivists participate in none of them. They are a sub-class of scenesters, not fringe enough to be hipsters, not committed enough to be hippies. Slactivists wear the buttons, but don’t make them. They have been sold the “cool” of activism without any context or content. They use weasel phrases frankensteined from the legitimate talk of gender advocacy and left politics to “self-identify” as progressive, an insult to those too busy to flaunt the “image” of radicalism because they’re living it instead.

But the worst part of this slactivism is that it lends itself so easily to co-optation by the corporate machine. Because the slactivists are too lazy to do research, they are easily bamboozled by slick-talking “cause salespeople” that need them to fabricate the illusion of popular support, and have the corporate cash to pay for it. Slactivists are one of the most horrific outcroppings of our material age and culture, posing a more existential threat to radical activism than the forces they fight. The slactivist erodes a movement from the inside out, creating an artificial division between “us” (slactivists) and “them” (anyone else) by adopting positions without serious thought. The machine has now made it stylish to “challenge the machine.”

As my grandfather once said, “The boss doesn’t need to walk around with a sign that says ‘I’m the boss.’” Real activists don’t need to participate in the spectacle. It is from the position of bona fide activism that a movement of hardworking, well-informed people from coast to coast and across the political spectrum have come together to challenge the ugly beast that is CFS.

CFS is an organization that is actively corporatizing and immobilizing our campuses, and doing so in a far more insidious way than Chartwells or Coca-Cola. By hiding more than $5 million in sales and merchandising from its members and masquerading as a “progressive” anti-corporate student lobby, CFS – national bastion of slactivism – has weaseled its way into our very student unions. The devil is in our kitchen.

It is from the perspective of the ill-informed that the very real national anti-CFS movement is being criticized. Slactivists need to do some actual research about CFS. They can start with the hundreds of campus papers nationwide that have consistently slammed this draconian organization for its downright evil corporate tactics and general ineffectiveness.

Enough is enough. Members of PGSS, vote no – only no – just no to CFS.

PGSS members can cast their ballots online at from March 29 to April 1. Adrian Kaats is a PhD3 Biomedical Engineering student. He’s a PGSS councillor, but the views expressed here are his own. Write Kaats at