An always amusing statement used by folks associated primarily with the Canadian Federation of Students. Of course, this is said to imply that there is no movement outside of said organization. This notion is as false as the so-called ‘union-busting’ claims that the UTGSU has debunked in its previous statements on such matters. However, even in such falsehood, there is a truth.
But rather than just repeat past critiques to reach these conclusions, let’s look today at a comparator to the CFS that is only in its very early stages, the Alliance of British Columbia Students (ABCS). Comparing the most recent CFS Annual General Meeting (AGM) with the Inaugural General Meeting (GM)** of the ABCS will give greater insight into the notion of ‘breaking the student movement’ and what is actually occurring in the Canadian Student Movement, outside of the rhetoric of the Federation.
The Federation: Old Tricks
The 32nd AGM of the Federation was, in many ways, a better meeting than previous. It was not as filled with malice as others and on a personal level I came away a lot less disgusted than in the previous two. However, this was largely due to the fact that the meeting contained the fewest reform motions in some time and the greatest controversies were those tied to events still yet to fully play out.
But, sadly, the meeting was still disappointing and did not change my larger opinion that the Federation continues to eat itself alive with paranoia and anti-democratic behaviour. If anything events proved this belief to be true, even than before. With a denouncement of dissenters and petitioners right off the top, the AGM was met with several further affronts to openness.
Return To Sender: The late news of several petitions being confirmed as returned to petitioners shook a number of dissenting locals to action. Our petition and motion to remove the Chairperson – Jessica McCormick – was met with childish derision from the organization’s establishment. Discounting entirely the notion of holding one’s leadership to account for actions that have precedent within the organization Instead of taking stock of the problems of the organization, such folks entrenched their views and gathered speakers together to talk of how lovely McCormick is personally. This, as you can imagine, misses the point entirely.
Fixing Elections? Not us!: The Laurentian Students’ General Association put forward a notable motion at the CFS AGM that would have dealt with several major concerns of some students and unions. This Bylaw change would have increased member association rights to include notice for CFS Staff appearances on campuses (allowing for increased communication), the right to campaign autonomy, and most notably the right to not have the Federation interfere with local elections. While the first point was discussed the most (via ad hominem attacks on LSGA representative Mark Mancini’s character), it is the defense against the latter extension of association rights’ that was the most galling. In particular, Melissa Palermo, President of the Ryerson Students’ Union, was among the voices that simply denied that election manipulation ever has occurred. One assumes Melissa is unaware, then, of her predecessor’s appearances to campaign at UofT for certain candidates, for example.
Locking the Doors: As I and other noted in the press following the PGSS-led protest of the AGM, the doors of our hotel were literally locked as the protest began. Only after accusing our delegates, sarcastically, of wanting to start a fire did they unlock the doors in response to complaints regarding fire safety. Instead, they posted internal and local staff to stand by the doors and intimidate those who might choose to view or join the protest, according to those who remained inside. Moreover, in rejection of these dissenting voices, the Federation continues to claim that in spite of legal disputes, these folks should have simply came into the AGM and worked as members.
None of Our Business: The Budget of the Federation, that is. Much like in the last AGM, Federation staff denied delegates information regarding critical expenditures, like that of the Federation’s legal budget – which is misleading in its current form, improbably low for the number of known litigations they are involved in. Philip Link, appearing once more, was unable to provide specifics when requests while loyal delegates derided members from the UTGSU.
As you can see from these examples, good faith proposals and actions – along with outright dissent – are continuing to be disregarded and treated as anathema to the Federation. Mind you, this is an organization that encourages dissent and even reform in other spaces, outside itself. Thus, the first real instance of ‘breaking the movement’ can really be said to be occurring from the Federation’s establishment by their very own definition. Their actions continue to limit and distract from true solidarity-building within while ignoring student solidarity occurring simply without them present. The lack of good faith shown by the organizers of the Federation to others is what truly creates division and spurs protest, as with the just ended AGM.
The Alliance: New Beginnings
The 1st GM* of the Alliance was, in many ways, a better start than many organizations of its kind have received. It was not as filled with malice as others and on a personal level I am much more enthused than by the previous organization. However, this was largely due to the fact that the meeting was founded on principles of open association and allowed for wider divergences in viewpoint between member associations.
This meeting has inspired me, once again, even while sitting many miles away in Ontario. Why is that? Well, even before this weekend’s meeting, the agreed upon principles of the ABCS from its core Letters Patent-like documents set out a pitch-perfect counter to the problems of over-centralization and quelling of dissent as is found in the Federation at every level.
This is so due to the confirmation of several core principles enshrined in the ABCS Constitution:**
-“ABCS shall encourage vigorous and substantive debate that respects human rights, dignity, and diversity, in the pursuit of consensus.”
- “A Member may terminate membership by providing thirty (30) days’ notice in writing to the Board of Directors of ABCS, in accordance with the charter and regulations of the Member’s Association. This provision is unalterable.”
- “ABCS may not officially incorporate under or align itself with any municipal, provincial, or federal political party, pressure group, or partisan or lobbying organization. This provision is unalterable.”
…Along with several more. Normally, I’d splash commentary all over something like this, but it really speaks for itself. Inherent to the organization’s earliest forms is a rejection of creating ties that bind members to structures that could mutate into something dreadful (as the Federation’s have). Moreover, the group is explicitly founded on principles of “human rights, dignity, and diversity, in the pursuit of consensus”. This is not the ‘unity is strength’ argument of the Federation, but an opening to a respectful, mutually-led dialogue between student organizations. So then, I would argue that there is a break here, with past practice. But, such a thing is best expressed in the words of Freddie Mercury…
“…I want to break free from your lies / You’re so self-satisfied I don’t need you…”
In the end, the truth of all of this reveals that, rather than breaking the student movement, dissenting members stand to break the student movements of its chains – long shackled by the lumbering, often-slumbering Federation. ABCS has put forward the first gambit to do so and by the notable success of their first Annual General Meeting this weekend, it may well be paying off. By establishing an organization with principled values, the ABCS have solidified what many dissenters have known to be true: You can be progressive and exist outside the Canadian Federation of Students, as a student organization in English Canada. We can break free.
While ABCS still has a ways to go and will inevitably fall into controversies, let’s savour this moment in what time we can. And, let’s hope for their success to spread such wonderful ideals throughout the country’s student movement.
Note: As always, the above is solely my own opinion and not that of any organization I am affiliated with.
For immediate release: Cooper Board suspends student trustee election
On Monday November 11th, 2013, Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees announced that they are suspending the election of a student representative to the Board. Despite widespread sentiment that the nomination criteria outlined by the Board had already reneged on the Board’s July negotiation with students occupying the President’s Office, the Joint Student Council (JSC) agreed in good faith to the board’s terms and eligibility requirements for the representative. The board is now seeking to start the process over, delaying the seating of a representative until the March 2014 Board meeting. If a representative is not seated by December 2013, as was originally scheduled, students will not have input on the the plans to be presented by the Working Group generating tuition alternatives; the current candidates will have too few semesters remaining to be eligible, and Board-community relations will be further strained.
Free Cooper Union has been advocating for board reform — including public minutes, voting student and faculty members, and mechanisms for the removal of trustees — since December 2012, when a set of demands were issued in conjunction with a week-long lock-in of the college’s clocktower. At the June 2013 Board meeting, trustees approved a motion affirming the Board’s intention to have student representation. Despite precedent at other colleges for one year terms, election of multiple students, and voting rights, Cooper’s Board prescribed a single, non-voting, two-year term for the student representative to the Board, and has repeatedly delayed the seating.
Cooper Union’s Board of Trustees in concert with Jamshed Bharucha’s administration have violated three major points of the negotiation made between the board and students occupying Bharucha’s office. Students will be at the December Board meeting, one way or another.
So I was on Jeremy McElroy’s tumblr, as I am sometimes want to do, eating pasta at a nearby restaurant. It was alright pasta, filled with glorious bacon (as all bacon is glorious). Anyways, I was there and feeling kinda meh at the moment, like I needed to do something.
And then it hit me: I should do art around the Presidents of UofT on tumblr. Terrible Art (as all my art is terrible). So, here is the first in a line of Presidents of many (unless I get bored of it and I will).
So here’s Bishop-President John Strachan.
Who was he? Well, he was a tory Anglican from Scotland with a mind towards a.) controlling Upper Canada in the name of Crown and God, b.) education. For Strachan, unsurprisingly, these subjects were notably linked.
What’d he do? Founded the University of Toronto (then-King’s College), then founded Trinity College out of spite when UofT secularized, he was also the spiritual head of the Family Compact. He was known for his enmity with reformers like William L. Mackenzie or Robert Gourlay, along with his devotion to the City as during York’s various cholera outbreaks.
Why’d you do what you did there? Well, the bursts of colour and frantic patterns look fairly disorderly — which is a direct inversion of how Strachan was depicted (he was an orderly, together fellow). However, the additional lines are actually in a pattern and there is a slight cast of blue over the whole piece, reflective of his nature and role at UofT.