COMMENTARY: Opt-out misinformation

Opinion by

Re: “Opting out of QPIRG” by Brendan Steven (26.01.10)

In his article “Opting out of QPIRG,” Brendan Steven claims that “controversial groups” should go directly to students for their funding, instead of receiving it through the McGill chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group. However, a fee levy, like a referendum, is a form of direct democracy. McGill students vote to renew QPIRG’s funding, and thus the support of its numerous working groups, through a referendum every five years. Furthermore, students can choose to opt-out of the fee. QPIRG has passed three referenda votes in the last three years, re-affirming support for its work on campus.

Students support a wide variety of organizations that they cannot opt-out of, regardless of whether they take advantage of the services or agree with their mandates. We believe that QPIRG McGill’s working groups contribute to campus life in a variety of valuable ways: they strengthen ties between the McGill campus and the wider Montreal community, foster debate about society and political life, and encourage a broader understanding of the role of education.

Tadamon’s work in supporting the growing international movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions to end Israeli Apartheid comes in response to a call issued by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. While Steven attempts to dismiss the characterization of Israel as an apartheid state as “a parallel [with South African Apartheid] that is inappropriate at best,” we would like to point out the growing global consensus that Israel is indeed an Apartheid state. From South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, to South African law professor and UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur John Dugard, increasing numbers of people recognize Israel’s policies of separate roads in the West Bank for Jewish and Palestinian citizens, colour-coded identification cards based on ethno-racial designations, checkpoints throughout the West Bank, the brutal blockade of Gaza, and the discrimination in jobs, housing, property ownership, and other aspects of life faced by Palestinians within Israel as elements of a complex system of Apartheid. As Archbishop Tutu stated in 2002, “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.”

The Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble is not an anarchist drumming group. We are an open-membership marching band that supports community struggles by playing music in the streets, at rallies, demos, community dinners, and radical artistic events. As Steven claims, we do organize according to anarchist principles. Anarchism is a widely misunderstood and incorrectly used word. For instance, we do not advocate random, wanton destruction or violence. We do, however, make decisions on a consensus basis, operate in a non-hierarchical fashion, and support the struggles of real people in diverse communities. Our decision to organize according to anarchist principles is based on the idea that humans are capable of building a fully democratic society that is accountable to all of its members, not just an elite few or a tyrannical majority. Through our music, we work to resist oppression and reclaim our communities – to bring music, joy, and spontaneity to public spaces. This may seem “fringe” to some, but to others it is more and more necessary in a climate of increasing conservatism.

QPIRG working groups operate on the basis of solid analysis and real world struggles. The allegation that these groups are “misguided” is founded on an assumption that the current political system addresses the concerns of all its citizens. The movements for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and LGBT rights all began as controversial, “fringe” struggles for human rights. Disrupting the status quo and calling into question injustice is an important part of university life, and we are proud participants in this struggle.