No. That’s not activism.

I posted this earlier, but the server went down and took this with it. Here it is again. In the meanwhile it has also been reproduced in the newspaper.

This is part of what’s wrong with you: you do too much singing. Today, it’s time to stop singing and start swinging. You can’t sing up on freedom, but you can swing up on some freedom.
- Malcolm X

I have serious reservations with the entire idea of February 7 being a singular day of action to reduce tuition fees. Before I begin with the wider criticisms, let me explain that I will be participating in many of the events. I believe it is vitally important to express dissatisfaction about tuition. I also appreciate the work being done by everyone involved, including many bona fide activists. It takes a great deal of effort to organize and coordinate events like this. However, there are problems that we need to address.

Let me start off by focusing on a particular aspect of this campaign. That is, the concept of activism promoted by the organizers at the University of Toronto on the web site: http://www.feb7.ca/activis
t.html. It invites students to “be an activist,” and indeed, in this day and age who would not want to be an activist?

But activism is NOT about getting rewards. Changing your facebook display picture is NOT activism. Inviting seven friends to a web site is NOT activism. Call it something else, don’t call it activism. And please, don’t pretend it’s “all out.”

Activism is not a brand name in a certain brand font in certain brand colours, on a toque or a t-shirt. Activism is not about the bombast and shameless self-promotion of the Canadian Federation of Students. Activism is not about mass-produced signs printed with vegetable oil ink on 100% post-consumer recycled paper board.

Activism involves a critical awareness. It requires a specific, critical, reflective consciousness. It requires action and challenging authority — it requires praxis.
It requires rigour, intellectual and practical rigour.

Activism is not buying a product. Activism is not putting money in a box. Activism is certainly not superimposing a web site address on a picture of George Clooney or Paris Hilton to put in your facebook profile.

I say this, not because I consider myself to be an activist. Nor do I believe the label of an activist belongs to select people, who fight for select causes. I say it because activism is too significant a position — for whatever purpose it’s intended — to be reduced to such inanity. And this is what these kinds of statements are, they’re inane.

This is what this campaign is sorely missing — a critical self-reflexiveness and a reflection on the broader social context. I understand that, in trying to appeal to as many students as possible, the organizers of this campaign may be trying to focus specifically on tuition.

But tuition does not exist in a vacuum. Tuition is AN issue, but it is an issue that is related to everything else in this society. From this particularity, one can, and indeed, must create a broader cognitive map of many other societal problems. Tuition is related to healthcare, tuition is related to welfare, tuition is most certainly related to the commoditization of education.

The atrocious price tag on tuition is directly related to what we are taught. Where is the critical reflection on that? What use is a lower tuition fee if all we get is to become white-washed, socially ignorant products of a system that values human beings only in so far as they are able to produce more money?

It’s not that tuiton is not a cause worth focusing on and fighting for. But the entire campaign is utterly devoid of any context, academic or social. Movements in the past have focused on tuition as AN aspect of society, not THE aspect of society. The focus on tuition was part of a broader critique of society. And until the campaign is doing that, it is NOT “all out.” It is the furthest thing from “all out.” It is “all in” a cognitive bubble.

Where is the wider critique now? Where is this critique, as an integral part of the movement? Where is the movement?

All too caught up in shiny flyers and shiny buttons and shiny logos and shiny facebook profile pictures. And no. That’s not activism.

In my thinking, if the students in this country forgot the analysis that has been presented to them, and they went into a huddle and began to research this problem … for themselves, independent of politicians and independent of all the foundations (which are a part of the power structure), and did it themselves, then some of their findings would be shocking, but they would see that they would never be able to bring about a solution … as long as they’re relying on the government to do it.
- Malcolm X

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