As much as I want to avoid this becoming a political action blog, I can’t help but write about the “6 Party” that’s going on at McGill right now. If you want background on the story, click here.
Let’s start with the reason they’re protesting. The demands made by the partiers are that 1) the QPIRG and CKUT funding referendum be accepted, and 2) that Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Morton Mendelson resign. However, this protest, as I’ve stated on Twitter, is a natural result of the complaints of a large group of people being disregarded and marginalized. The McGill Administration’s attitude toward students is one of distance and condescendence: they want to their rules to be accepted without question, and they don’t want to have to get involved with those pesky students, except when it looks good for the university. As an example of this, if you are a student at McGill University, have you ever seen Morton Mendelson? This man is supposed to represent our interests to the administration, and I don’t even know what the man looks like. I could be wrong, but I think I speak for most of the student body when I say that. Students are sick and tired of being treated as “clients,” and of having their role in the community that is our university become less and less important. People are frustrated.
Now, let’s talk about laws. Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there were laws called the “Jim Crow Laws.” These laws essentially said that white people could do whatever they felt like doing – with impunity – to black people. The Jim Crow Laws continued until many black people and some white people got together and peacefully disobeyed these laws (look up the “Greensboro Lunch Counter Protests” on Wikipedia. Interestingly enough, those protesters were met with a similar style of resistance to the force used against the protesters at the James Building on November 10th, 2011.) Is it legal for students to “occupy” the James administration building? Probably not. But legality is not the point of non-violent protest. The point of non-violent protest is to say, “We have a grievance, and we will not go away until you listen to it.” This is how Ghandi fought British oppression in India, how African Americans fought the Jim Crow Laws and other kinds of oppression in the United States, and how students fought for their rights in Tienanmen square.
What McGill needs to do in this situation is to ignore the protesters. McGill needs to let the protest continue, with the attitude that these are a bunch of radicals who do not represent the views of the public – let the movement die down on its own, or take steps to address the concerns of the students. I am astounded by how badly the McGill administration has reacted to situations that have tested its public image manipulation skills. In this situation, for example, they cut off internet access to the protesting students. Since most students these days have access to data-enabled smart phones, this was an utterly futile attempt to prevent the students from contacting the outside world. In fact, the only thing it did accomplish, is making it look like McGill is trying to hide the fact that the students are unhappy. This image was made even stronger when McGill cut off media access to the campus as well. The goal of non-violent protest, by the way, is to peacefully goad your opponent into tipping their hand and using force to silence you. McGill has tried to forcibly silence the students by cutting off their internet access, cutting off media access to the campus (for a while,) and by physically cutting off their access to food (the building is closed, and a rope that was being used to raise food to the protesters was cut by a security guard; an action that can at best be described as immature.)
McGill has had numerous opportunities to repair its badly damaged image as an institution that does not care about its students or employees, and it has ignored all of them. Instead, it chooses to enforce the attitude that what McGill Administration Says Is Law. Their tactic is to say that the demands are “impossible,” pointe finale, and that the students should really just shut up and go home before the administration has to call their parents. It was this way with the Architecture Cafe, with the MUNACA strike, and with the current situation. In each case the administration has tried to marginalize the demands of the opposing group.
I can’t say I condone the way the 6 party went about their non-violent protest. Their public image isn’t looking great right now either; most major media outlets don’t seem to be taking their complaints seriously because of the “party” nature of the protest. But I certainly support and agree with their concerns.
We – students, faculty, staff, and administrators – are all part of a community. We all contribute to that community, and we all benefit from it. To make this community work, we need to be able to communicate and compromise. And compromise, for those who have forgotten the meaning of the term, means that sometimes you have to do things you don’t like so that in future, others will do something for you in return. We’ll support you, McGill Administration, if you’ll support us. The ball is in your court.