I think it would be useful for me to make some clarifications on my post down there.
I don’t think I’m capable of “giving up” — but I am capable of becoming lethargic from disillusionment, taking forever to get things done. That’s already happened as I haven’t taken concrete action on some issues pertaining to ASSU this winter, which (though I didn’t really have much time this winter pursuing other goals, such as comics, and dealing with family issues, like visiting New Jersey) I could have focused on.
Ultimately, I am a romantic — a hopeless romantic. Idealism is sometimes impractical, and to be idealistic is often to wish impossible things.
One of my goals has been to see a significant portion of the student body to move around a significant issue.
But it seems to me that the vast majority of students are either too apathetic or too passive or too disenchanted or too disillusioned to attempt to affect any kind of change.
Perhaps it’s an issue of leadership. I remember at a meeting of the Council of Student Unions (where I typically represent ASSU), voting on endorsing a tuition freeze movement. I wanted to amend the statement to read something like endorsing the tuition freeze as a “positive step toward the eventual elimination of tuition fees.” This didn’t seem to go well with anyone else there (two Vice-Presidents of SAC, the President of VUSAC, and a representative from St. Mike’s whose name I’ve managed to forget, as well as a representative from the Faculty of Music — although Paul, President of SAC, was there and maybe would’ve supported the principle of elimination, he was quite literally checking up on the pizza while this particular discussion came to take place). It really struck me that student leaders were unwilling to pass a resolution endoring the tuition freeze as a positive step toward the eventual elimination of tuition — this being a resolution that no one will give a damn about anyway (not the Varsity, not the university, no one but perhaps overzealous conservatives and right-leaning Liberals trying to discredit leftists as impractical).
Perhaps it’s because of the issues on hand. Most of them are long-term, it takes a while to get things implemented. Something immediate like tuition, while many students do feel strongly about it (but not strongly enough to take action it because they can get by), seems to be unstoppable — hence, any resistance would be stereotypically futile.
There also seems to be a general sense of malaise as far as activism is concerned. We’re at university to get an education, but that’s all it’s about now. Getting the marks and getting the extracurriculars on our resumes, and spending the rest of the time doing inane and random things. The focus has been shifted from getting the government to get things done, to doing things by one’s self. Hence, rather than kicking the government for not moving on social housing, one may join Habitat for Humanity. I’m not criticizing the latter, not in the least, I have a great deal of admiration for folks involved in that, and reference my several posts criticizing myself instead for my lack of action as far as that is concerned. But kicking at the government is an important part of this, and while the leadership of organizations does seem to focus toward this, the rank and file don’t seem to digest it.
Many other students don’t seem to care even about that. It’s more about the iPod and the boots, or something. The focus has been shifted from being a nonconformist for the sake of getting things done to becoming a nonconformist to conform to popular notions of nonconformism, hence really becoming a conformist anyway. Conformity or lack thereof should be a matter of ideas and action, not just clothing and accessories. (The only reason I have a Che t-shirt is because someone gave it to me as a gift, not because I actively seeked one.)
Lobbying has taken precedence over direct activism, and while lobbying may make some difference it should be conceded that our lobby is nowhere near as effective as, say, the auto insurance or oil industries’ because we don’t have money. (One of my gimmicks as I campaigned for SAC to get students to vote in the tution referendum was to tell people that there are only two things politicians listen to: money, and votes — putting up my index and middle finger respectively — and that since we don’t have the money, we should give them the votes — putting down my index finger and leaving my middle finger up.) But we do have numbers, if we choose to mobilize those numbers. Like the students in Quebec did last year.
It was remarkable, I wanted to move to Quebec at that stage. It was inspiring. I wrote an article on it, that was published in the Varsity in a hastily-edited (not by me) format, and rather than responding to the substance of what I wrote, people largely criticized my style (because the opinions editor managed to leave out some integral parts of my article, like the thesis). The mainstream media largely ignored the Quebec student strikes and pretended they didn’t exist or barely mattered, but this was the largest mobilization of students and unions since the sixties.
Many of the students who are involved politically are partisan hacks (including several student leaders). Whether this hackery be for the Liberals (who seem to have the largest hack to member ratio I’ve ever empirically experienced), the NDP or the Conservatives. Being a party ideologue may be fine as long as that party conforms to your ideology, but once it shifts, or manages to deviate remarkably from your vision, means that you should try to change it while voting for someone else. Being a member of a party isn’t the problem, having blind faith in its ultimate righteousness despite its failings is. If the coat doesn’t fit or is falling apart, you have it repaired and wear another coat for a while.
I don’t usually bother with Conservative hacks because, well, they’re on the other side anyway (that doesn’t mean that they have nothing meaningful to contribute to discussions and debates, or even that their motivation is in the wrong place). But Liberal and NDP hacks really get me ticking. The Liberal party has become something that is anything but liberal, and is in fact difficult to distinguish from the Conservative party (except on certain human rights issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion). Nevertheless people refuse to see this.
In looking at all of these things, I’ve also seen my role in not doing much about it. For instance, I don’t call my MPP and MP every week (not that it would make much a difference, living in Markham) to complain about poverty or education, although I’ll join the occasional protest and wear buttons to improve the lot of Sodexho workers. But I really don’t do much beyond that.
I haven’t tried to reach out to others to build the kind of consensus needed to get the ball rolling on a mass movement (I wouldn’t know how to begin). And getting a massive student movement going, even a year from now, is most probably something impossible. El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido is simply my mythology. “To wish impossible things,” as the Cure once sang.
More on this later, maybe.