Founded in fall 2018, Solidarity Alliance McGill (SAM) is a new umbrella organization that serves to unite several of McGill’s socially-progressive groups. Student clubs such as Divest McGill, McGill Students for the New Democratic Party (NDP McGill), and Socialist Fightback at McGill and Concordia attended a Feb.11 SAM meeting to finalize the coalition’s constitution. According to the new document, the Alliance will act as a forum for McGill’s left-wing groups to coordinate efforts and is committed to the ‘protection of all those who are unjustly oppressed.’
NDP McGill member Joshua Werber was inspired to help found SAM in Nov. 2018 to foster relationships among parties with similar interests. For Werber, the Alliance represents a way for progressive voices on campus to act in a more concerted manner.
“Whenever there’s a hot issue, the groups will make [an] individual statement,” Werber said. “It becomes very divided. But, if we can all join together to make some sort of united statement on certain salient issues, we can have a much larger impact.”
Maranda Raskin, SAM social media coordinator and member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), gave a different reason for SAM’s inception. For her, SAM is also a means for progressives to match political rivals on campus.
“I feel like a lot of conservative groups on campus are, [or] have been in the past, very organized, and this is just a way for us to do that ourselves,” Raskin said.
Raskin believes that SAM will help foster communication between left-leaning groups on campus. She also hopes that the alliance will make it easier for students to get politically involved on campus.
“In the future, we want it to be like a platform for new students who are interested in leftist politics or progressive organizing to come into McGill and have one platform for people to shop around, like a virtual activities fair,” Raskin said.
Members stressed that the non-hierarchical structure of SAM is a crucial part of the organization’s identity—no member has a veto.
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) Student Life Sophia Esterle confirmed that SAM members have already conveyed their desire to gain club status, which members of SAM hope will guarantee their Alliance’s existence after they graduate.
However, Esterle warned that associating with SSMU is not without its conditions. This comes after the SSMU Judicial Board (J-Board)’s unanimous ruling in May 2016 to prohibit SSMU from politically campaigning against either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Specifically, the J-Board found that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which aims to non-violently pressure Israel into complying with international law, was unconstitutional and violated the SSMU Equity Policy by targeting a country directly.
“Any group that is associated with SSMU has to adhere to the Judicial Board ruling […] in their official documents,” Esterle said. “All groups would be held to the same standard [whether they are] existing groups or groups seeking [SSMU club] status.”
The J-Board is the dispute resolution body mandated by the SSMU Constitution to adjudicate interpretation of constitutions, namely, the SSMU Constitution but, also, the constitutions of clubs and services under SSMU. Currently, SAM’s constitution supports BDS.
“We’re fully committed to not violating any SSMU legislation or [Judicial Board] ruling,” Werber said. “We respect SSMU and we also are not ashamed of our beliefs, but we’re certainly not going to try to usurp SSMU, and if we’re told there’s an issue we’re going to work in good faith.”
Werber pointed out that several student groups have published pro-BDS material and continue to work with the SSMU. He also noted the Alliance’s stance against anti-semitism which stand independent of its views on BDS.
“Both ‘pro-BDS’ and ‘opposed to anti-semitism’ are independent [principles],” Werber said. “We believe in both because they’re both progressive values. All of our principles are equally important to us. It could happen that some individuals may decide to focus on one of our particular principles, but we’re a very broad coalition and our goal isn’t to be defined by one principle but rather to offer the left on campus a louder and inclusive platform to speak from.”