Sitting in on the Department of English Students Association’s General Assembly, where its members debated whether they should continue to strike, I came to a realization: the discussion centred around something far greater than the issues themselves. The debate was really about how to discover and maintain a sense of community, a sense of purpose, and a common cause.
Certainly, the issues mattered. Students debated articulately-and thankfully with civility-whether the Quebec government’s proposed tuition fee increases would adversely affect accessibility; they spoke eloquently of what constitutes a strike and where a strike’s limits should lie.
But the desire for community and common cause underpinned almost every discussion of pickets and fees. Most speakers made this patently clear. One campus orator’s main justication for McGill students going on strike was because, “Student strikes are the chance to build a community.” This was met with applause by the audience (or rather, with hands waving in the air to signify approval-a sensible custom to avoid the auditorium being routinely drowned out with noise). Another speaker excitedly spoke of a similar reason to strike, one which the crowd received with equal levels of approval as he boldly proclaimed, “we are part of the largest movement we will ever have the chance to be a part of.”
Such a desire to be part of something greater than the self, to share in a common fate with others, and to unify with a common ambition pervaded the discussion.
And it was telling to see how exhilarated certain members of the audience looked, with many excited to convene and bond with their fellow classmates. One speaker fondly wished that students would meet more often like this anyway, and not just because there was controversy afoot. He went on to sum up the tolerant mood of proceedings, proudly observing that, “No matter what your stance, the opportunity to get together and talk has been great anyway.”
His point strikes an obvious chord. Many students were hearing their classmates open their mouths for the first time. Yet these were all people who shared a love for English, and as another speaker put it, “a shared love of education.”
This phenomenon pervades McGill. Too many students with shared interests do not get a chance to meet and talk because of a lack of community. What has made this year so exhilarating to many is that through the MUNACA strike, and through the Quebec-wide student strike, many McGill students-on both sides of the debate-have found a common cause which gives them the stability that comes with solidarity.
While tuition fee increases are the cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre of the day, it is important to use the momentum it has generated to attain a longer term goal of a closer community.