The success of the massive 2012 student strike in Quebec, which lasted more than 6 months, involved over 200,000 students, and brought down the provincial government, demonstrated that students were more than capable of a powerful mobilization to oppose attacks on education. But is Quebec an exception? Can sharing stories from movements all across North America, can we learn useful lessons for future attempts to shape the political landscape of our countries? Knowing that a successful response to the attack on public higher education requires an understanding of neoliberalism and a commitment to confronting racism and sexism, how do we best structure our movement?
Those were some of the questions over 200 students from all across North America tried to answer at the Montreal Student Movement Convention in June 2014. A number of students from Massachusetts attended, and PHENOMenal News recently caught up with Josh Odam and Dean Cote, both undergrads at UMass Amherst.
Josh found it refreshing to be with so many students active around so many issues, not just higher education. He was especially impressed with the rapid growth and great organizing done recently by New Jersey United Students. It is structured so that both elected student government leaders and unaffiliated student activists play leadership roles. Assessing past efforts to build a statewide student association in Massachusetts, Josh said “we have been too heavily dependent on one or the other, and we need to understand we need both.” Josh himself led a successful workshop on Racial Justice and Anti-Colonialism, discussing the re-segregation of United States public schools sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education.
Dean was disappointed that some of the workshops were too much like lectures since “it’s collective reflection that leads to the strongest collective actions”, but felt like he learned a lot of important information – such as how the Koch brothers essentially bought an Economics Department at Florida State University, what activist students are doing in Ohio, California and Portland, “specific ways that I as a white man can support my women of color peers when they face oppression”, and how “we don’t have to recreate Quebec in order to have a successful student movement in the US”.
Josh summarized his experience by saying, “This is a good moment for me to realize that while there is a time and place for theory, the key is the work – the work in and with the communities whose conditions we are trying to improve.”
PHENOM helped host visiting Quebec students in 2012 and sponsored our own fact-finding trip to Quebec in May of 2013. We continue to draw inspiration from the vibrant student and union movements just 300 miles away.