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Divest McGill protests outside James Admin, completely oblivious to the traitor living in their tents. (Cassandra Rogers / McGill Tribune)

Commentary: There are too many weeks in a year

a/Opinion by

September has seen three large week-long campaigns on McGill’s campus. The Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) organized Anti-Austerity Week, which advocated against the provincial policy of austerity. The following week, Divest McGill had its own week-long protest, Fossil Free Week, which coincided with Indigenous Awareness Week. All events sought to engage and mobilize students; however, these efforts were met with the disinterest of the vast majority of students and, so far, inaction on the part of administration. In failing to engage students, these initiatives failed in their goals of spreading awareness and provoking change.

The broader problem with student engagement in politicized topics on campus, in the case of week-long awareness campaigns, is evident on social media. A tiny fraction of McGill students were involved in these week-long protest events. McGill has over 39, 000 students, and while it is difficult to say how much participation these weeks have exactly, Facebook events provide some information. 616 people attended Fossil Free Week on Facebook, and Anti-Austerity Week had 562 attendees. All students had to do to attend on Facebook was click a button, and less than two per cent of students even bothered to do that.

The transient nature of these protests discourages student participation. It is difficult for students to focus on changing any one issue when every few days a different issue takes precedence. By the time students are made aware of the events, the week is over and it is too late to act on that insight. The goal of these events is to get students involved. Students are more likely to be motivated if they feel an issue is of the utmost importance, or when they can personally identify with the objectives of a campaign.

It is difficult for students to focus on changing any one topic when every few days a different issue takes precedence.

While the student protests of 2012 caused change at the provincial level, there is little to suggest that this month’s activities will follow in those footsteps. Unless a significant proportion of students are mobilized, the demands of a few can be easily ignored. Without sustained attention throughout the semester, students will either become disengaged from movements altogether or shift their attention depending on the loudest issue on campus. McGill administration is logically unmotivated to make long-term policy changes in response to protests that last only a week.

These weeklong campaigns do not motivate action on the part of students and administrators. Students have many time commitments, from school, to extracurricular activities, to their social lives, and do not have time to engage meaningfully with a new protest every single week. Moreover, the time that is spent on these issues may lack substance if the larger student body has been unable to fully educate themselves as to the current topic.

Taking up a new issue every few days is an ineffective means of mobilizing students, indicated by the lack of people attending these events. The McGill administration also has issues they have to deal with, from budget cuts to renovations, while attempting to ensure that McGill has a bright and sustainable future. To ensure that the administration hears students' messages, student activism must draw a larger proportion of the study body and must do so over a sustained period of time. Small, infrequent protests on a new issue every week can be easily ignored by administration and students alike. Focusing on one issue at a time, like the 2012 student protests, increases the momentum of issues as well as the participation by the student body. With improved focus, the possibility of sparking real change rises.

  • Nina Scheer

    You’re right, it would’ve been great to get a higher attendance at all three of the week-long campaigns. However, it is unfortunate that you assume these campaigns only last a week because it’s the only time you personally see something going on. I can speak only for Divest McGill, but we have been tirelessly working with the administration for 3 years and are now beginning to organize awareness-building events. It takes time to build up the kind of activism of 2012, you’re right that is something to look up to. Thank you for your thoughts, but I don’t know if your criticism of the committed students and faculty that organized these week-long events will help to fight the unfortunate apathy of the McGill community that you clearly lament.

  • disqus_muPS396YeZ

    I my opinion, the author of this article of myopic, thinking that just because we only make ourselves clearly visible in the middle of campus, camping out in front of McGill’s administration building, negates the efforts we do the other 51 weeks out of the year, or the 153 weeks since we started this campaign in 2013. The author choose to ignore the years of campaigning and the many meetings we have had with students, faculty, staff and the board of governors. The author simply focused on the week’s worth of activities as a failure “to engage students,… in their goals of spreading awareness and provoking change.” We gathered hundreds of more signatures to our petition, and spread awareness to thousands more who had no idea what divestment was, or the global campaign to divest from fossil fuels and thereby erode their influence on public policy. We know it will take more than a week to change internal and external policy on fossil fuel dependency and climate change. That’s why we are continuing on this campaign, one week at a time.

    • this is the first time i have heard of any of these causes so you are literally doing a terrible job. log off.

      • disqus_muPS396YeZ

        Well, at least you’ve heard about it now, so we can’t be doing such a terrible job at it. I highly recommend reading the newspaper to get yourself out from under the rock in which you are living. Search fossil fuel divestment in the NY Times of the Guardian and you’ll actually learn about the context in which we are building the divestment campaign at McGill. Best of luck to you.

        • disqus_muPS396YeZ

          … and the rock. Logging off, dropping mic.

          • waaaahmbulance

            looks like someone needs to call a waaaahmbulance

  • Ira Sutherland

    The author claims that one week is not enough time to pierce the silence, but we are hearing McGill’s fossil fuel week loud and clear out hear in Vancouver.

    The author claims that a single week cannot hold anyones interest, yet look at the reverberations from Earth Day 1970.

    The author relies on redundancy rather than substance. We get, we get: one week! one week! But the author does not realize that the single week campaign is just a single gear in a roaring engine of change. I think it’s the noisiest gear we’ve heard from Divest McGill yet.

  • Laura L

    When is pro-austerity week??????

    • Bryan

      Every week is pro-austerity week…

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