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Dominique Desjardins June 4, 2012
I study at University of Montreal’s School of Library and Information Sciences. My program trains future librarians, archivists and other information professionals – in short, those who will connect citizens with information. Those who seek to preserve a free and democratic access to information and knowledge. Since February 23rd, my student association has been on strike and involved in the student movement.
When l’ASSE launched the student strike, we questioned each other about our values and aimed to collectively reflect on our vision of education. What came out of it wasn’t surprising: members of my association were concerned that tuition hikes might restrict access to education. It appeared to us that education is key to a democratic society, and that it was our duty to ensure its accessibility. We held some assemblies to establish our position clearly before going on strike. We debated our vision for education from the get-go. We discussed our position as an association on various topics, namely free education, the commodification of knowledge, social equality and gender equality.
We held assemblies roughly every six days. Out of 530 students in all, 30 came, then 50, then half the membership for the first vote on the strike. Attendance was always high for each strike vote – approaching that of the last referendum period. Just as many member associations within FEUQ did, we chose to join CLASSE to recognize its central role in student mobilization, its progressive values and structure transparency, and to better participate in the movement. Numerous media outlets presented the student associations’ decisions and propositions in what we found to be paternalistic and insufficient ways. Let us mention for one that many higher education students are well over 18, and that our parents need not explain democracy or math to us. We get it better by ourselves, having been immersed in it for months.
Of course there have been dissatisfactions, debates and disagreements. At all times however, we strived to maintain a respectful conversation, where each had the opportunity to express their view. Our picketing was mostly symbolic, seeing as the vast majority of our members respected it, and even those who opposed the strike as a pressure tactic did cross the lines. No one was injured or shoved. From the beginning, dialogue has been our favoured method. Our executive committee wanted to reach the most students possible, so we alternated between daytime and evening assemblies, and we considered referendum and Interned voting options. We rejected them by consensus because of budget restrictions and the organizational challenge they represented. The only association that did use Internet voting (a CEGEP) had to do so by the direction’s orders, and still a strike vote was renewed. It appeared to us that only assemblies could provide real debate, respectful exchanges, confrontation of opinions and the clear broadcasting of information. An assembly forces one to reflect; it is often long and laborious, but it brings out the full spectrum of views contained within it. It enables amendments, modifications and debates around propositions. It is absolutely democratic. One need only have the desire and make the effort to go. Yes, a student assembly is long and occasionally a pain, including for me. But I make the effort, because I consider that that’s where legitimate decisions can get made. And quite frankly, no one will have me believe absentees were always unavailable, when assemblies mostly took place during cancelled classes.
According to our liberal ministers, only referendums and secret votes are legitimate. Funny though, the atmosphere at our assemblies was less tense than at the National Assembly, where deputies insult each other and behave like children before voting in an entirely public fashion. And let’s not even speak of the liberal party, corrupt to the bone, whose ministers have breakfast with Mafiosi and receive brown envelopes, trying to teach us about democracy? For as long as they have existed, student associations have valued direct democracy, presence at assemblies, and have decided of each detail collectively. What many colleagues and I have learned from this experience is that a true democracy that satisfies and represents its citizens cannot resume itself to scratching a vote on a piece of paper once in a while. It ought to nurture itself sustainably; it ought to entice people to be stay informed, to discuss with friends, parents and colleagues. And the decisions that are taken by consensus should then be applied by our leaders.
From a professional standpoint, I believe that data should be open, meaning that the ensemble of governmental data could be made accessible. In order to understand and face it with a critical mind, education should be highly valued and made to be as inexpensive as possible, which doesn’t seem to be the case in Quebec at this time. Not as long as we shamelessly compare our universities to shopping centres. We should never allow individuals sold out to corporations to dictate how it should be done.
Must I remind you that the liberal government has never agreed to nor been able to justify the increases in a tangible manner? Their “predictions” as far as needs go stem from ideology. Those needs have never been demonstrated. How many teachers would be hired? How many programs would be modified? Where does this decision come from? Oh yes, I forget, we must always pay more, because we have a debt. However, big corporations who come to pillage our land are greeted as half-gods. After all, they’re bringing jobs, so let’s keep them happy. Ah, those famous jobs! Twenty, thirty, forty years of jobs, and then the mine closes and we’re back on welfare. Wouldn’t it be wiser to invest in our brains rather than our resources? We jump on a pile of rock, a pile of diamonds, and to hell with the rest, as long as we have pebbles and trees. What kind of primitive mindset is that?
The students have been called anarchists, spoiled brats and what not. From our perspective, our ways being misunderstood or seen as complex doesn’t make our opinions radical. I personally cringe each time I see our prime minister once again justify his hard line by rehashing that less than a third of the student body is on strike. As if those who aren’t striking are pro-hike. He seems to forget that 300 000 of us were on strike on March 22nd. Obviously, the majority of students supported the fight against tuition increase. Not all of them were willing to pay for its consequence on their semester, however.
We’ve been told ad nauseam that even within associations on strike, some students chose to remain in class. That is totally true, and was the case in my program as well. Do these students approve of the hike just the same? Not so sure. Do all students and associations who stayed in class approve tuition increase? Not easy to prove, is it?
But I forget that we are spoiled children. We have no understanding of numbers; we don’t understand the issues at stake. Even though the majority of us will soon be part of the work force and won’t actually be carrying the burden of this hike, it sure did seem to me that we took part in this battle (oops, this recess I mean) because we refuse to pay fifty cents more per day. (Or more like 0.50$ the first year, 1.00$ the second, 1.50$ the third, etc.) We are doing this out of narcissism, and not for future generations; not because we are soon to be the cows milked by this system; and especially not because we actually spend a lot of time thinking of, well, not just ourselves. We are doing this because our parents never taught us the meaning of “no”. Besides, everyone knows that students in social sciences, humanities and any “soft” science choose such a branch solely to party, and because we could care less about our future. We choose these fields because we’re too lazy to pick highly profitable directions, because we’re not ambitious enough to aim for that suburb house with three cars and comfortable retirement plans.
All these students have been having a blast since the beginning of the strike (so relaxing indeed, that I’ve hardly heard of anyone suffering from burnout, stress, problems sleeping, sore feet or social disenchantment). They much prefer heading down south for the winter, whereas at HEC and Polytechnique’s administration programs they are fighting for future generations; they’re down in the streets each night, having a good laugh. These students who get involved in their associations and who believe in the common good are lazy human beings. They don’t hold a job while studying. They prefer hanging out in bars and tanning salons, buying laptops and smart phones, while it would be much more reasonable for them to use messenger pigeons and to delay making money to meet the demands imposed by a technological world.
You may be sensing a tinge of sarcasm in my tone. I have nevertheless heard liberals and other tuition hike defenders present the situation in this light. We saw a special law attempt to flatten our movement, seeing as clearly the students refuse to give in to so-called brilliant government offers. I won’t go into detail on the mean-spiritedness of these offers, which only confirm a commercial vision of education, because I can’t imagine that people haven’t seen it for themselves. We may be accused of many things; but accusing us of refusing for refusal’s sake is not one of them.
There is one thing I would like to emphasize: if the liberals imagine that another bogus offer will be accepted by the student associations, if they think that after being ignored, disrespected, insulted and targeted with a special law we will return to class from fear for our semester (or our belly button), they’re in for a surprise. You don’t come this far to turn right back around. If they pursue in the same direction, they will find us again and again in their way. If they imagine they can lull us to sleep by suspending our semester, I would remind them that, as a famous character of our history once said, “If I have understood you, you are telling me, ‘Until next time’.” This next time might be closer than we think.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at email@example.com. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.