Commentary | This is not the McGill we once knew

Students are making themselves heard

When I read Erin Hale’s Hyde Park on November 12, I must admit that I thought I was reading an issue of The Daily from 2009 or 2010, as her commentary was so out of touch with the recent developments on McGill’s campus.

One has to be very pessimistic to overlook that, in the span of only two weeks, students at McGill have voted for a faculty association strike, showed up in great numbers to the November 10 protest, gave clear support to independent student groups in light of their impending Memorandum of Agreement negotiations (CKUT and QPIRG), occupied Principal Munroe-Blum’s office, and organized the biggest campus assembly in McGill’s history.

Students have more influence today than they’ve had in at least the past  ten years. The principal’s presence at Mondayès assembly is significant proof of this change. Last year, she walked by a massive student protest against the closure of the Architecture Café, commenting condescendingly that it was just “students being students.” But last Monday, she cancelled whatever important schmoozing appointments she had in the afternoon to come listen to what students had to say. Had she gotten “her way,” like Hale claims administrators always do, she would be at the Montreal Club drinking scotch with the CEO of Quebecor, or engaged in a similar activity reserved only for the Montreal elite, which entails anything but listening to campus activists speaking out against injustice. The Ivory Tower she once hid in, completely detached from students, has been broken into, both figuratively and literally.

On Thursday night, students could have “[given] in,” like Hale claims the administration usually convinces them to do. The presence of riot police is scary and could be an excuse to forfeit. Instead, most students remained peacefully on what they shouted is “their campus.” Pepper sprayed and beaten by police batons, they stood next to James Administration demanding that their friends be liberated safely (following reports of the occupiers being brutalized by McGill Security) and claiming their right to assemble peacefully. This manifestation of solidarity and perseverance is nothing short of inspiring.

Students around the world have historically fought,  and still continue to fight, political repression, and they’ve led various social justice movements,  while being subjected to police violence, and in a number of cases they have won. There is no doubt that these students also had “finals to worry about.” However, when you come to realize that the pressure of finals is very much smaller than the pressure of the status quo, then you will def  initely persevere until your goals are achieved, no matter how long this can take and regardless of the sacrifices you will have to make. Listening to students’ speeches at the assembly on Monday, I firmly believe that many of them have come to realize the scope of the struggle at hand. And this is only the beginning, as this movement may very well be a gateway to deeper analyses of power, and the different injustices it creates and sustains.

Hale must not diminish the potential of current student activists on campus. Old hacks like Hale and myself need to move past what once was a student movement reduced to only electoral student politics, filled with political scandals, power trips, and complacency vis-à-vis a fierce and careless administration. We must commend the current grassroots movement and its successes, while remaining critical of it in order to make it more inclusive and empowering to those who are otherwise marginalized. In other words,  to make it a better representation of the socially just world we are all trying to achieve. All of this is in the hopes of having it become stronger, a force not to be reckoned with.

Erin, this is the movement we have both hoped for throughout all those years. We must turn the page on the past, and embrace the future of activism at McGill.

Myriam Zaidi is a U4 Humanistic Studies student. You can reach her at myriam.zaidi@mail.mcgill.ca.


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