Until the struggle sheds its divisions

A friend had sent me this poem in response to my note on my resignation.
Just getting around to posting it now, but think that it’s as relevant today as it was at that point.

****

This strike was not my strike
Somewhere deep down I still know I was
and always will
be
an outsider
to this wretched
cold
land
my blood too Jewish
too Spanish
my French
too weak
despite years
of assimilation
the strike hit me
with a reminder, somehow
that I am not of this land
until the struggle sheds its divisions
and sets us free.
If I feel this way
in my white skin
imagine others…

(anonymous, upon artist’s request)

Building [student] movements – the onion model

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Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M

I am posting the presentation I gave at the North Carolina State-wide student convergence. The recording of the keynote address is available here but friends told me it’s not the best of recording (nor my performance.. lol) so you might be better off looking at the presentation, posted here:

Presentation (powerpoint): (it’s 22MB) Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M.

An abridged version of the ppt (with less pictures, thus proportionally more substance, ha!) (9MB): Getting to the heart of movement building, by Rushdia M – Abridged.

(I’ll try to post only the notes in a word document shortly; apologies if you have difficulty downloading the above ppt).

 

My thesis here is that we can have all the nuts and bolts in the world — the coalitions, structures and processes — but without the human touch and passion we can’t mobilize a department, let alone building a whole movement. While I consider relationship building – putting together an inclusive and caring group of people in the form of mobilization committees - the heart of the movement building, the General Assembly as a mechanism for living out the direct democracy can be viewed as the brain of the movement.

Here’s my conclusion, quoting from one of the slides:

If Building Relationships is [at] the heart of the movement, then general assembly/participative democracy is its brain. I don’t believe there’s a substitute for collective participation (debate, discussion and decision making) – many brains are better than a few (execs and/or the clics…)! With some structure and process I believe it is really true and possible that collective participation, via open and well organized/mobilized General Assemblies, can master a movement.

Thought this way, Coalitions such as CLASSE (bringing together decisions from many general assemblies) could and would be the super brain (or the so called super-computer).

Thus, Building Relationships, according to me, is the basis of it all and the basic building block of a movement. This is applicable at student organizing level as well as any affinity group organizing whether it be a Palestinian solidarity group or a mobilization against Austerity measures of the federal government.

In other words, it all about building ground up.

Note that the presentation file is heavy ’cause it has lots of images, in fact, it almost has only images! My text can be found in about a tenth of the slides.  Please do leave me a note if you have any comments, suggestions, feedback or any corrections.

If you were to read one slide/get one piece of info from it (I’m battling over two of my favorites, but I think this is more accessible), it’s about the ABCs of outreach, according to me, of course. Here’s the extract from that slide:

(note that my presentation, thus this slide doesn’t give you to-dos for building a campaign…. there’s a lot missing in it, such as how you build a campaign – I’ll try and post something/links on that. Here it’s really point information (plotting the dots), not the threads (not necessarily linking them together)…..

(the rest of this page is my notes from one of the slides)

6.     Mobilization / outreach / getting the word out

Research work / build your argument (argumentaire) / perhaps this can be done by a student-friendly think-tank or by a cross-campus group – as this work can be shared by all the universities and colleges

This goes hand in hand with  preparing the material in a presentable format. See, for example:

http://freeeducationmontreal.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Do-we-really-need-to-raise-tuition-fees-eight-misleading-arguments-for-the-hikes.pdf
http://www.stopthehike.ca/ (See Materials link on top)
http://www.bloquonslahausse.com/ (See Materiel d’Information link on top)
http://freeeducationmontreal.org/library/  (a bunch of research material)
http://www.gratuitescolaire.info/mobilisation

 

Educational campaign – Share the research (talking about the issues) — ways to get your message across; show empathy – very important). Examples include:

  • Speaker events – by thought leaders
  • Workshops
  • Teach-ins
  • Training Camps
  • Debates
  • Open-mikes/free exchange of ideas

Note: the above attracts the “choir” – those who already are somewhat a “believer” or sympathetic to the idea. They’re probably “ripe” to join the mob-squad (next level)! Make sure you have discussion about going forward (getting new people to organize with you.. A lot more on this coming up).

Reaching out one-on-one and cross communication:

Your challenge here is to “convert” the non-believer (lol). Here are some ideas:

  • Petitions (use the opportunity to talk about the issue one on one!) or to launch the campaign
    • The objective of the petition is to find an “excuse” to talk to people and discuss about the issue, understand other points of view and discuss them within organizing teams/mob squads.
    • Since petition is an opportunity for one-on-ones, don’t put petitions online (thus missing the one-on-one op!), unless (a very last resort, I would say!) your objective is to gather signatures FAST and build moral around seeing how many people are interested — this “should” be done only in early stages of a campaign when you don’t have enough people to do the leg work.
    • Give example of Concordia – when Matt Brett (he was The thought leader on this one!) and I initiated the petition / fought a battle as there was LOTS of opposition to this initiative…. and got signatures online…. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/studentmovement/) – November 2010. It was then followed with a Concordia-wide  General Assemblies – one for Undergrads and another for Grads – a game changing moment in the history of Concordia. It was baptised WHALE (Wintry Hot Accessible Love-in for Education; an acronym that didn’t have everyone happy.. But nonetheless was a great success) on February 14th, 2011. Check out a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vwnyri6XYCY
      • For WHALE and later on, we used many of the mobilization tips described on this page.
  • Tabling (One-on-one op!)
  • Flyering (One-on-one op!)
  • Flash mobs
  • Etc etc

Oh, don’t forget Systematic (make sure someone goes to each class over a certain period of time, say a week, during your campaigns) Class Announcements/discussions | CLASS VISITS ARE VITAL!!!

  • Sign-up sheets — at the table, while you’re flyering if possible, at the class visit!!! That’s how you grow your organizing team!!

ONE ON ONE communication is so, but so, IMPORTANT (I can’t emphasize it enough). Meet less people, if you can’t talk to everyone, but if you were speaking to only one person about your cause and why you’re concerned, and trying to understand the other person’s point of view, it’s way better than trying to get mass attention….  if that’s only momentary….

In this context, think of law of average – for me it’s 10 to 1: for every 10 people I tried to speak with/try to give a flyer for instance, if I can have meaningful discussion with one of them, then what I’m doing is worth it. Your law of average might be different – what’s important is we’re in good spirits and keep hope that other folks out there are also interested in the cause you’re fighting for and (to feel good, let’s say) maybe need more info… so on and so forth…

 

 

Open letter to students and the CSU

This was practically when the movement took root at Concordia. It’s my pleasure to give credits to Matthew Brett for initiating the process and being the architect there of. I was happy to be the enabler and having believed in him and his idea. -rushdia, April 2013.

***************************************************************************

November 2010

Open letter to students and the CSU

We, the undersigned, call for a university-wide General Assembly to rebuild Concordia’s student movement in the immediate future.

The economy faces a shaky recovery after the most significant economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Budget cuts to health care and education are being implemented here in Quebec, and the Canadian government is set to impose significant financial austerity measures well into 2014.

In reaction to these measures, francophone universities and CEGEPs here in Quebec are currently engaged in general assemblies, strikes, sit-ins and other forms of action. It’s working.

Students are converging in Quebec City this December 6, when the provincial government is scheduled to introduce a province-wide tuition hike.

But the Concordia Student Union remains largely absent from the scene. Here at Concordia, the CSU has not issued a single statement regarding the provincial budget or the financial crisis. There is something wrong with this picture.

And while our frustrations are clear, we truly desire to work together with the CSU to build a stronger student movement. It is a shame that Concordia has no visible presence in the midst of widespread social unrest.

In Britain last week, students arranged a national walk-out and protest with some 130,000 people in attendance. Academic Saskia Sassen recently praised student efforts in California, Iran, Greece and Puerto Rico.

Students there, she wrote, “are doing urban agriculture, collective cooking, environmentally sustainable practices, art, music… in brief, they are striving to build the elements of a different society.”

Concordia students and organizations are actively building upon this new society, but continued support and collaboration from the CSU is absolutely essential.

Struggles against tuition increases and the recently signed contract
with Pepsi are necessary, but just the tip of the iceberg.

Concordia’s student movement needs to come together and take measured actions if it is to have any impact at the provincial, federal and international level. It is time we work together.

We, the undersigned, therefore call on the Concordia Student Union to organize a university-wide General Assembly during the week of February 14. We also call on faculty and staff, graduate, international and long-distance students to take part in this process. Enough is enough.

VERY IMPORTANT: PLEASE write your department or organizational affiliation NEXT TO your name. Thank you.

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/studentmovement/

Concordia Graduate Students Make History by Joining the Student Strike Movement

Published here for documenting purposes.

March 9th, 2012

PRESS RELEASE – For immediate release

Concordia Graduate Students Make History by Joining the Student Strike Movement

On March 5, GEOGrads, the graduate student association of the department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, made history by being the first graduate association from an Anglophone university in Quebec to vote in favour of an unlimited strike mandate. They were followed by their peers in Engineering and Computer Science and later by the GSA, the umbrella organization representing all of Concordia’s graduate population. As of now over 6,000 graduate students at Concordia have approved unlimited strike mandates in their general assemblies.

Graduate students at Concordia have therefore joined the province-wide student movement opposing the Liberals’ funding plan for education. Concordia graduate students, especially in Geography, are extremely concerned by the shift away from public funding in favour of private funding as laid out in the plan. This radical shift in funding sources includes tuition hikes that have been largely discussed in the press, but also an increased reliance on private funding from donations and corporations. In order to meet the objectives of the plan, universities will have to increase their private donations by 50% in the next six years. Graduate students are worried about how this might affect the integrity and autonomy of current and future research. Moreover, 10-20% of the proposed new funding is earmarked for “competitive positioning” (i.e. advertising), not for direct improvements in the education system.

By voting for an unlimited strike mandate, the Geography graduate students are taking a strong stance against the commercialization of research and the commodification of education.

For more details you can contact:

Annie Lalancette: (Phone number deleted)

Tom McGurk: (Phone number deleted)

Annelise Grube-Cavers: (Phone number deleted)

gpe.grads at gmail dot com

http://geograds.wordpress.com/

Concordia Students Join Province Wide Strike Against Tuition Hikes

Published here for documenting purposes.

PRESS RELEASE

March 4th, 2012

Concordia Students Join Province Wide Strike Against Tuition Hikes

 

Thousands of Concordia University students are joining over 100,000 others on strike across Quebec who are fighting for their right to accessible university education. Concordia is the first Anglophone institution to take a strong stance against the Liberals’ regressive funding plan for post-secondary education.

 

Students are striking to draw attention to the large tuition hikes the Charest government are scheduled to implement this fall. These hikes will increase individual debt loads and reduce accessibility to higher learning. These changes will also adversely affect groups already facing serious barriers. The Women’s Studies and Sexuality Association adopted motions referring to the hikes as being sexist, racist, ableist and classist, effectively increasing obstacles for many to post-secondary education.

 

“What I find scary is a shift in the thinking of the government,” says Tom McGurk, president of the Geography Graduate Student’s Association. “A shift that is slowly trying to move education from the realm of rights to one of privilege and ownership.”

 

Far from being a small minority, the strike movement is spreading quickly throughout departments by way of general assemblies. Students from five departments and one faculty at Concordia have already passed open-ended strike mandates at general assemblies on Wednesday and Thursday last week, five of which will come into effect on March 5th. This represents over 6,500 students, with several other associations set to vote this week. It is particularly important to stress that this movement emerged organically from students that wanted to organize in their own departments.

 

“The energy, commitment and dedication of each of the hundreds of students participating in strike activities are incredibly inspiring and mind-blowing,” says strike mobilization committee member, Irmak Bahar. “Concordia has sent a strong message that we sincerely care and will fight to protect accessible education.”

 

For the most up to date information about strike related event general assemblies at Concordia please go to www.concordiastudents.ca or email strike.concordia@gmail.com

 

Rushdia Mehreen (Free Education Montreal) (Phone number deleted)

Matthew Brett (political science graduate student) (Phone number deleted)

 

Concordia University students from six departments voted to go on strike effective March 5:

  • Women’s and Sexuality Studies Association (undergrads) (WSSA)
  • Geography Undergraduate Student Society (GUSS)
  • School of Community and Public Affairs Student Association (undergrads) (SCPASA)
  • Fine Arts Student Association (Faculty of fine arts – undergrads) (FASA)
  • Philosophy Student Association (undergrads and grads) (SoPhiA)
  • Political Science Student Association (Undergrad) (PSSA)

To read + references

I’m putting down relevant articles to read here. Mostly for myself but it may be of interest to you as well. I’m trying to make this page a “master” reference page, so it’s a work in progress.

Some To Read articles are:

Les critiques féministes des syndicats étudiants

Par Frank Lévesque-Nicol

http://orientation.bloquonslahausse.com/les-critiques-feministes-des-syndicats-etudiants/

The 2012 Student Strike: Many Lessons Were Learned and Taught

Written by Aziz Choudry and Eric Shragge

http://socialpolicy.org/index.php/spring-2013/602-the-2012-student-strike-many-lessons-were-learned-and-taught

Mobilization at Concordia – a retrospect

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Concordia and the student movement - front-single

In the interest of posteriority and some history, I’ve uploaded Concordia and the student movement – what you should know flyer that we distributed to students at the back-to-school time of September 2012. The  text of the flyer is reproduced below. [the version on the http://concordiastudents.ca/ had links to all the facts mentioned in the flyer.. :( .............]*

Concordia, September 2012 flyer:

MAKING HISTORY: In winter 2012 Concordia students made history by being
the first anglophone institution in Quebec to have a general unlimited (open- ended)
student strike. Francophone universities and CEGEPs have chosen to
go on strike 9 times since the 1960s.
DIRECT DEMOCRACY : Concordia students voted at general assemblies of
their departments and faculties to go on strike and also voted on how the
strike would be enforced – including what kind of picket lines, how to treat
labs and studio sessions, and whether to withhold assignments.
The associations on strike held general assemblies on a weekly basis
to decide the continuation of the strike: any member had the right attend,
discuss, debate and propose motions.
BUSINESS AS USUAL: Despite this unprecedented strike movement,
Concordia administration adopted a policy of “business as usual” choosing to
ignore and repress the movement. They hired more security contractors and
in one instance a female student was assaulted by one of these guards. On
March 23rd the administration released a letter encouraging the political
profiling of students on strike.
REPRESSION: The results of the March 23rd letter were profound. Students
took pictures of and videotaped other students, as did the security guards.
Many students were charged under the university’s Code of Rights and
Responsibilities for their political activity and as of September 5th, 2012,
many still have pending charges. Overall Concordia spent almost $250,000
on security during the strike.
DIPLOMAS NOT EDUCATION: Despite the fact that some in departments 5
weeks of 13 week courses did not take place, Concordia pushed ahead with
exam period as scheduled, making no accommodations for make-up classes.
“The professors are in the best position to decide how to evaluate the
courses,” said then-President Lowy in his first dialogue with the students, 6
weeks into the strike and only two days before the exam period began.
RESULT: Course content was dropped. Exams were re-written and curved.
Quality of education was compromised. Concordia got paid. Credits were
awarded. Business as usual.
GENERAL ASSEMBLIES CONTINUE THIS FALL The student movement
continues, and Concordia students are again coming together to
democratically make decisions about their collective futures and the direction
that education is taking in this province under the hand of neoliberalism.
For more information: FreeEducationMontreal.org** | ConcordiaStudents.ca

 

* Interestingly enough, we seem to have lost access to Concordiastudents.ca website which chronicled the amazing and successful mobilization at Concordia despite the authoritarian presence of CSU (a member of FEUQ, hard not to mention it here). The interesting part of all this is that the site (that is the domain name in question) was “owned” (bought and paid for by) now a Vice President of FEUQ (master of all authoritarian organizations… coming from my experience, mind you). Thus, I’m really (really?) doubting why the site is down……

** Although the flyer refers to Free Education Montreal site, for some strange reason I (or anyone else) had not posted the flyer text on that website…… we used it more for background info through out the strike and later.

footnotes dated: 2nd April 2013

On my resignation from ASSÉ / CLASSE

This is an email I first sent to a few friends, but we live in the Facebook and Twitter era, so it’d probably be good if anyone who read my resignation letter.zine reads this “preface”.


Hi all,

I’m writing to share two of my recent (co-)authored – reflection – pieces on ASSÉ / CLASSE with you. I am sending this to you ’cause I (sort of) recall having a conversation with you about the “race and racism” in student movement and/or in ASSÉ / CLASSE, or you might have asked me about what it was like to work with mostly all white folks (white men) in ASSÉ upper echelons.

Continue reading

A quick response to CFS re “General Assemblies in Quebec are racist”

This is quick response I’d written on Facebook in response to CFS’s allegations that the general assembly structure is racist, therefore they don’t want to adopt it.

“[CFS] hide their own inability to consult with their students (or their fear of being held accountable) behind the false notion that allowing everyone a chance to speak is somehow racist. Granted there are shortcomings in the GA structure – regardless of race or sexual orientation, some people may not be inclined to take a vocal part in a GA, but that doesn’t mean that they (CFS) should continue to work in an anti-democratic manner.

[...]

As a person of color who was actively involved during the strike, I think the issue is not whether there was problems related to people (marginalized voices) getting left behind of not finding a place among mostly white dominant spaces (Corey put it well in their first comment). The real issue is CFS using this argument to remain anti-democratic, continue with their status quo (that is top down management, so on and so forth. perhaps someone with more experience of CFS can elaborate this part).

I see it as more of a continuum of progressiveness (“radicality” and direct democracy) – There are extremely right wing student federations such as OUSA and CASA, CFS falls to the left of them. They’re more progressive then the other two (and actually want to fight against the tuition hikes, from what I gather). To the left of them, or at about the same place is FEUQ and FECQ. Then comes ASSE/CLASSE. To the extreme left, so to speak, would be an organization that’s anti-racist, anti-colonial and such.

Now saying that since CLASSE (and student movement) and it’s direct democracy structure didn’t address issues and race and privilege is ok to say, but if comes from CFS, then it’s not ok.

This article sheds some light on the issues of race and racism in the Quebec Student Movement: http://www.newsocialist.org/index.php/627-race-racism-and-the-quebec-student-movement

Elargissons notre lutte – selon le manifeste ?

Par Rushdia Mehreen, membre du comité aux luttes sociales (janvier 2012 à janvier 2013)

Petite histoire personnelle. Un camarade de l’UQAM m’a mentionné il y a quelques temps que pendant les congrès de l’ASSÉ (et la CLASSE) les gens ne m’écoutaient pas quand je parlais au micro[1] : «chaque fois que Rushdia parlait au micro, c’était une « pause-congrès »». Et pourquoi donc? Bien que ce soit le cas pour plusieurs femmes comme moi, j’imagine, j’ai une particularité, je suis d’origine indienne donc le français n’est pas ma langue première. J’espère que ce texte de réflexion aura plus de résonnances (sera plus « écouté ») que mes interventions en congrès.

Dans les années 60, quand il y a eu la première grève étudiante au Québec, on revendiquait l’accessibilité à l’éducation pour tout le monde, francophones comme anglophones. Une quarantaine d’années plus tard, nous en sommes pratiquement au même point. Le contexte a certes changé, mais nos revendications de base restent les mêmes: l’accessibilité économique aux études supérieures. Continue reading