This is what democracy looks like: UQAM and the War on Democracy

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About this time last week came the first reports that Harper – after ramming the extension of the mission through Parliament – had ordered the first Canadian airstrikes within Syria against the Islamic State. To Harper’s great pride, Canadian troops are now fully pledged in the war against terror.

At the same time as Canadian missiles were raining down in Syria, violating every international convention possible and imaginable, students at UQAM were met with the brutal force of SPVM’s riot police squads, who besieged and dispersed the students that had assembled there, violating the “sanctity” of academic space and the cherished democratic right of assembly and of strike.

While Harper is fighting a war against terror in the Middle East, it seems that the federal and provincial governments in Canada are fighting a war on democracy.

And the latest manifestation of this broader “war on democracy” has been the brutal repression with which the student strike of 2015 has been met, in addition to the “delegitimization” campaign student associations have been facing. The arguments in this realm have been quite creative. First of all, we have had a strain of arguments saying that students shouldn’t have the “right” to strike. Then there is the argument that students aren’t striking, that its merely a boycott and to call it anything else is false. Finally there’s the last strain of arguments saying that the strikes/strike mandates aren’t democratic because the proceedings of the general assemblies aren’t democratic, that there’s intimidation, there’s no secret ballots thus the student unions mandates are void.

Regardless of how many times all of these arguments have been proven wrong; regardless of the fact that non-remunerated student work lays at the foundation for many of the advances in research in many areas of study; regardless of the fact that students are workers and produce value; regardless of the fact that student strikes – not boycotts but strikes – have been at the backbone of some of the most important political mobilization in history; regardless of the fact that student assemblies have more legitimacy than, let’s say, the government of Quebec that is imposing austerity; and regardless of the fact that the percentage of students who voted to strike is significantly higher than the percentage of eligible voters who voted for Harper’s Conservatives or Couilard’s Liberals; the mainstream media onslaught continues: student democracy isn’t valid!

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Others have argued that the student movement is just an offshoot of ISIS and Boko Haram – no kidding, there’s actually a page created by UQAM’s anti-strike students to denounce the terrorism of the so-called Boko UQAM. It’s imaginative to say the least – their logic is: students are terrorists and must be dealt with as such.  They are called terrorists because they dare say that academia must escape the clutches of profit and of limitless speculations, and that education isn’t for profit. Through the lens of this demagogic discourse, the crimes committed against innocent civilians in Syria and the crimes of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and throughout that broader region have an equal footing with the “crimes” of students that are fighting to make sure that public services continue to be accessible to all, that equality of opportunity is preserved, and what was created through public wealth continues to profit the public, and not the private sector or a clique of individuals.

Once the mainstream media draws the correlation between the “war on terror” and the striking students, it isn’t surprising to see the same government which has declared unilaterally a “war on terror,” crush student democracy, painted as a foyer of terrorism.

Today, a war against student democracy and dissidence, which is the essence of democracy, is taking form. Long gone are the days when this government adored the shrine of freedom of expression and of #jesuischarlie. This is the struggle of students today, never mind the headlines which say “They’re just a bunch of spoiled brats that bite the hand that feeds them.” The student associations form the vanguard of the struggle to uphold democracy.

Student associations have taken on the heavy task of ensuring that democracy and the fundamental democratic right of dissidence, of disagreement and pressure tactics (in this case strikes), safeguards of democracy, are upheld.

Where neo-liberal “no alternativism” prevails, strikes and especially student strikes with their weekly GAs and spontaneous direct democracy constitute the proper counterbalance. That counterbalance is the antithesis of the PLQ agenda, which creates a state apparatus that “legalizes” and promotes inequality, precarization of the workforce, and the parcelization of society while ”liberating” the free circulation of capital of all constraints, the destruction of the limits to its accumulation, and the dismantling and privatization of sectors outside of its reach in this case education.

The reason why students have been equated with terrorists is not because of the bloodthirsty radical ideals their espouse. The reason students have been equated with Boko Haram and ISIS isn’t because of their Islamic principals. Rather it’s because of the very sensible idea of direct participatory democracy; because of the idea that legitimacy becoming more than a vote every 4 years terrorizes the class that will benefit the most from austerity. Through this struggle, students are not only combating austerity; they’re reviving and redefining democracy, and that scares the political clique shitless!

La lutte continue!

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