Last week, The Tribune published an opinion piece "Too many weeks in a year," in which Norman Yallen questioned the effectiveness of Anti-Austerity Week, Indigenous Awareness Week, and Divest McGill’s Fossil Free Week. Yallen lamented the apathy of McGill students, argued that such week-long campaigns do little to encourage involvement. The argument rested on the completely unjustified assumption that these campaigns plan to do nothing visible for the rest of the year. Be assured, we will remain present.
It is myopic to qualify these campaigns as ‘transient’ because this was the only time they were visible to the author. This assumption negates the 51 other weeks of the year in which a phenomenal amount of work is done by movement organizers at McGill. For example, Divest McGill has diligently worked with the McGill administration, and written a research brief of 150 pages, while gaining the support and involvement of McGill professors, students, librarians, and departments. The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) External and other actors at McGill work year-round to ensure that students’ views of austerity are known. Indigenous Awareness Week was actually organized by McGill, rather than student activists. As such, its goal was focused on awareness, which is critical within the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, rather than mobilization. Failing to distinguish between these events reveals how little Yallen was aware of what was taking place on campus.
I agree, there is apathy among students, but it must be challenged. Criticizing the awareness-building efforts of organizers doesn’t help, it only entrenches the belief that students are powerless and might as well remain complacent. Concerning the accusation that these events failed to raise awareness, as a member of Divest McGill, I can speak for Fossil Free Week: hundreds attended our events, we accumulated almost 1000 petition signatures, and received wide-ranging media coverage from this newspaper, the McGill Daily, le Délit, Concordia’s The Link, Yahoo News, Vice, CIBL, the Montreal Gazette, and Radio-Canada. For a movement whose goal is to erode the influence of oil companies on public policy by spreading the message of divestment and climate justice, this is far from failure.
Since no clear alternative to such campaigns was suggested in the aforementioned critique, it remains unclear whether these initiatives should be cancelled or conglomerated into one mega protest. A relevant term from the social justice movement is “intersectionality.” It emphasizes the degree to which social issues are interdependent. Provincial austerity may push McGill to be irrationally fearful of financial change and make it cling to investments in oil companies whose industrial activities disproportionately affect Indigenous frontline communities. Further highlighting this intersectionality was the strong presence of indigenous people at Fossil Free Week, Divest McGill’s invitation to table at Pow-Wow during Indigenous Awareness Week, and Anti-Austerity Week’s emphasis on environmental issues. So if it was bothersome to have the three issues presented separately, let it be known that the organizers deeply feel the interconnectedness of their causes. Through recognizing this intersectionality, and working in solidarity with one another, we’ll build a more diverse, interconnected, and powerful movement for justice—one week at a time.
Antonina Scheer is a U2 student in Earth Sciences and Economics and a member of Divest McGill. She can be reached at [email protected]