The YU Free Press is now accepting submissions for our next issue on Alternative Media and Activism. We are seeking critical content concerning mass media, media-military industrial complexes, representational systems, and knowledge/power production more broadly in the context of intensified social/digital media and globalization. With this issue, we hope to investigate democratic, participatory forms of alternative media, including but not limited to alternative education, autonomous broadcasting, activist journalism, critical skill-sharing practices, community arts projects, and their capacity to intervene and resist dominant systems of mediation and control. Please send your articles, opinons, reviews, art work, poetry, inquiries and other media content to firstname.lastname@example.org!
By Alex Hellmuth
Continued pressure from citizen activists has finally started to crack Nintendo – the company that ranked dead last in the Enough Project’s 2012 company rankings on conflict minerals report released last month. Nevertheless, much more is needed to convince the world’s largest video-game console maker to move beyond issuing public statements and take meaningful action to clean up its supply chain.
The 2012 company rankings showed the significant progress electronics companies have made over the past two years toward sourcing conflict-free minerals used in their products, and investing in conflict- free programs in eastern Congo. Consumer activism has undoubtedly played a role in moving these 24 companies ranked in the report to take action, but until now, Nintendo seemed immune to public pressure, let alone participation in Enough’s surveys in 2010 and 2012. However, in recent weeks, building consumer pressure and outrage among Nintendo users seems to have finally pushed them over the edge.
Last week, Jenna Kunz, a high-school activist in California, started a Change.org petition, calling on Nintendo to take the initial steps to map out its supply chain and ensure it is not using conflict minerals sourced from eastern Congo in Nintendo products. After reading Enough’s company rankings report, Kunz was shocked that the world’s largest gaming company had apparently not made any attempt to stop the indirect funding of violence in eastern Congo.
“I was appalled that a company with this much influence did not put human needs above the production of their gaming consoles,” said Kunz.
Her petition, which as of today has 5,147 signatures, inspired the Australian-based anti-slavery group Walk Free to create their own petition that focuses on ending the slave-like working conditions associated with the conflict minerals trade. Walk Free activists threatened to protest the September 13 preview event for Nintendo’s new Wii U game console. Amid such growing consumer pressure, Nintendo was forced to respond.
“Nintendo outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to our production partners,” a Nintendo spokesperson said last week to Polygon, a technology news blog. The spokesperson said the company established the Nintendo Corporate Social Responsibility Procurement Guidelines in 2008, which were revised in 2011, and disseminated it to all production partners who have all agreed to comply with the guidelines. The Nintendo spokesperson added, “Further, we have obtained individual confirmation from each production partner that they agree not to use conflict minerals.” Although this demonstrates that Nintendo can be moved by consumer activism, the company’s statements on conflict minerals and corporate social responsibility guidelines are hollow and do not make up for a lack of action. It remains uncertain how Nintendo enforces these guidelines and how production partners guarantee the minerals they use are conflict-free. Additionally, the procurement guidelines do not seem to be publically available on the company’s website, which is critical for maintaining transparency moving forward.
“Unfortunately, the company’s statement looks like a meaningless piece of paper without concrete steps behind it, because suppliers don’t know where their minerals come from,” said Enough Project senior policy analyst Sasha Lezhnev. “Guidelines are not supply chain investigations, audits, requirements to source from conflict-free smelters, or a plan to help certification.
Nintendo should join the electronics industry audit program for conflict-free smelters, and require its suppliers to use only conflict- free smelters. Without that bare minimum, Nintendo is only putting a fig leaf over serious issues of war and slavery.”
In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, released long-awaited rules and regulations on how companies should trace and audit their supply chains regarding conflict minerals. To ensure that companies comply, consumer pressure in the form of more petitions, demonstrations, and conflict-free resolutions is needed to pressure the industry laggards like Nintendo and HTC to take initial steps forward on this issue, and to keep the leading companies – like HP, Intel, Apple, and Motorola – to continue setting industry standards. Hopefully, with more pressure from activists and Nintendo users, Nintendo will follow-up its vague statement about guidelines with steps to make conflict-free products a priority.
This article was originally posted on the Enough Project blog on September 17, 2012 (www.enoughproject.org/blog)
By Deborah Murray
On September 4, the Quebec Liberals were tossed out of government. The next day, Liberal leader Jean Charest resigned from politics after 28 years in office. Ousting the Liberals was a huge victory for students and the left in Québec. Fed up with government corruption, declining social services, the demonizing of student protesters and criminalization of demonstrations (Bill 78), Quebecers had simply had enough.
Voters did not overwhelmingly vote for the separatist Parti Québecois (PQ) either. The PQ won a minority with 54 seats in the 125-seat assembly, just ahead of the Liberals with 50 seats. The PQ did not win a majority government because they want a referendum on independence, tighter language legislation, stronger citizenship laws, and a ban on the hijab in public service jobs.
Pre-election, PQ leader Pauline Marois wore the red square of the student movement, denounced Charest`s mishandling of the student strike and demanded a freeze on tuition to win the youth vote. During the election campaign, Marois took off her red square and recruited one of the student strike leaders, Léo Bureau-Blouin, who got elected in a Laval riding.
One of Premier Marois’ first tasks was to quash Charest’s tuition increase and draconian Bill 78. Even so, militant students were critical of the PQ’s plan to index tuition to the cost of living.
Even if disappointed that the Liberals won official opposition, voters had felt uneasy with the CAQ (Coalition for the Future of Quebec), a right-wing mix of Canadian federalists and Quebec separatists that formed a year ago. CAQ came in third with 19 seats. The Liberals have no power and the PQ must court the CAQ to pass anything through the assembly if they survive a non-confidence vote and another election is not called.
While the other parties in the media overshadowed the left wing – Québec Solidaire (QS) – their presence on the political scene grew significantly.
QS fought for a place in the RDI televised debate for Françoise David (one of the national co-spokespeople for QS), who emerged the debate’s winner. She will join QS’s other national co-spokesperson, Amir Khadir, in the national assembly this time. Amir Khadir, elected for a second time, won an easy victory in Montreal`s Mercier riding, over 7,000 votes ahead of the PQ candidate. CAQ came in third and the Liberals trailed in fourth place. Françoise David (15,096 votes), after three elections, took Montreal’s Gouin riding from the PQ (10,723 votes), which had held the riding for 12 years. QS showed impressive promise in three other Montreal ridings (Laurier-Dorion, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and St. Marie/St. Jacques) and grew deep roots in many ridings across Quebec.
QS officially supported the student strikes from the beginning, taking up student demands for free accessible post-secondary education, joining citizen pot-clanging marches (les casseroles) and proudly wearing the red square.
It’s interesting to note that progressive Anglophones voted for QS in greater numbers despite the party’s programme for an independent Quebec. QS’s internationalist approach to an independence sensitive to the needs of other language and cultural groups and a proposed democratic constituent assembly process seems to be opening up Anglophones to a new view on the national question.
Tragically, during Pauline Marois’ victory speech the night of the election, an English-speaking man shot three people, one fatally, at the PQ gathering. Anglophones and Francophones united at a vigil held the next night outside the venue where a sound technician was killed. This amazing response spoke volumes about the solidarity the two language groups achieved throughout the student strike and election. To prevent the media from playing up tensions between the French and English, this solidarity must continue to be built upon in the student and broader social movements as well as in the QS.
The battle against tuition increases radicalized a generation. The “printemps Québécois” (Quebec Spring), led by militant, democratic student strikes, was infused with the language of the Occupy movement. In their turn, Quebec students inspired a mass social movement bringing in demands for change: for the environment, against shale gas drilling, against Plan Nord (Charest’s plan to draw in multi-nationals to mine the North), to protect aboriginal lands, to vote out the Liberals, and for Charest to resign.
Students and locked out Rio Tinto Alcan workers, visibly supported each other’s struggles on the ground. Despite supporting students financially, the major unions infrequently mobilized actions with students. As the working class was the key to change in Quebec in the 1970s, unions will have to mobilize rank-and-file members in upcoming struggles.
With the right-wing parties in disarray and many of the demands still unmet, CLASSE has called for a mass demonstration at 2 pm on September 22 at the Assemblée Nationale du Québec. In the tradition of the mass demonstrations on the 22nd every month during the student strike, CLASSE want to remind the government that battle is not over.
Deborah Murray is a member of the International Socialists in Montreal. This article originally appeared in Socialist Worker.
By Farshad Azadian
On September 7, Canada’s Conservative government announced that Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Canada. The Marxists of Iran and Canada are issuing this joint statement to condemn this latest round of aggression by the Canadian government.
This act by the Canadian government, rightly described as “bizarre” by many commentators, comes after a recent history of aggressive behaviour towards Iran. It can be safely stated that no other government on Earth, with the possible exception of the current Israeli government, has fanned the flames of sanctions and aggressions against Iran as much as Canada’s Conservative government under Stephen Harper.
The Harper government has called Iran the “largest threat to the world’s security,” has stepped up economic sanctions that hurt everyday Iranians, and has been the most “hawkish” of imperialist countries in its stances against Iran.
This latest action – the severing of all diplomatic ties with Iran – is so extreme and “bizarre” that it has left in shock many establishment commentators. Just to put this in perspective, since the beginning of Iran’s nuclear crisis, no other Western country has taken the step of severing all diplomatic ties and closing down embassies. This action is a continuation of Canada’s imperialist and aggressive behaviour towards Iran, and is a step on the path of sanctions and warmongering.
We, the Marxists of Canada and Iran, condemn this action from the standpoint of the working people of both of our countries.
There is no doubt that the dictatorship ruling over Iran is no friend of the masses in Iran, or anywhere else. We fight for its revolutionary overthrow. As part of this fight, the solidarity movement abroad has, from time-to-time, attacked the embassies of the reactionary regime, an act supported by us. But, it is important who does this and what repercussions it will have. If the embassies of Iranian regime were closed down as a result of actions of the solidarity movement with the Iranian masses, that would help further delegitimize the regime and embolden the revolutionary movement.
When an imperialist government like that of Stephen Harper takes such actions, it will be rightly seen as an aggression against Iran and a further step on the path of sanctions and warmongering. It will not embolden the movement, but only strengthen the regime itself, which can then act as a “victim.” It will hurt tens of thousands of Iranians living in Canada, mostly opposed to the regime.
Therefore, we condemn this action and denounce Canada’s right-wing government for its aggressive behaviour towards Iran. It is the job of working-class people of Canada, the USA, Israel and other countries, to fight against their own government for their warmongering policy, and to stop the threat of war on Iran. It is also the job of the working people of Iran to continue their fight for the overthrow of their “own” regime.
In many countries, we have already seen an independent movement against war in Iran begin to flourish, including in Israel which was the starting point of one of the largest of recent attempts. While we believe the pacifist tendency that currently rules over these movements is not sufficient to stop the war, these actions are steps in the right direction. Such grandstanding extreme acts on the part of Canada’s government are intended to cut through such an independent movement, which is a threat to the interest of capitalist governments in both Canada and Iran.
September 8, 2012
Mobareze Tabaqati: Marxist voice of workers and youth in Iran (www.mobareze.org)
Fightback: The Marxist voice of labour and youth in Canada (www.marxist.ca)
By International Student Movement
Over the past decade students, pupils, teachers, parents, and employees around the world have been protesting against the increasing commercialization and privatization of public education, and fighting for free and emancipatory education.
Many of us use the International Student Movement as a self-managed platform initiated to exchange information, network and co-ordinate protests at both the national and the international level. Since the ISM platform was initiated in November 2008, various global days and weeks of action have been coordinated.
We strive for structures based on direct participation and non-hierarchical organization through collective discussion and action. Anyone who identifies with the struggle against the privatization of public education, and for free and emancipatory education can join and participate in as well as shape the platform!
The following aims unite us worldwide:
What are we struggling against?
• The effects of the current economic system on people and education systems:
→ tuition fees or any form of fees which exclude people from accessing and equally participating in education
→ student debt
→ public education aligned to serve the (labour) market;
► The so called Bologna-Process (as with its counterparts around the world) is aimed at implementing education systems that primarily train people in skills serving the labour market. It promotes the reduction of costs for training a person, shortens the length of time spent studying, and produces under qualified workforces.
→ turning education into a commodity as part of the commodification of all aspects of life
→ the significant and increasing influence of business interests on basic budgets for public education
→ the significant and increasing budget cuts on public education worldwide
→ the privatization of public funds through the subsidization of private educational institutions
→ the commodification and exploitation of labor within educational institutions
• We stand against discrimination and exclusion within any educational institution based on:
→ socio-economic background, for instance by charging fees so that people with less money can’t participate
→ performance and academic record
→ political ideologies and activities
→ sexual orientation
→ ethnic background
• We stand against the prioritization of research towards commercially valuable patents rather than open knowledge freely available to all
→ Public educational institutions are increasingly forced to compete for private sponsorships to do (basic) research; at the same time private funds tend to be invested into research promising to be profitable, leading to a decline in funding for areas of research which may be important but not deemed economically lucrative. Educational institutions and participants are evaluated on the basis of economic profitability and often compete to receive additional public funding based on this criterion.
• We stand against the prioritization of income-generating research grants ahead of education and basic research
•Activities for the army within educational institutions:
→ no research specifically for military purposes
→ no recruiting and advertising activities for the army
What are we struggling for?
→ free and emancipatory education as a human right. Education should primarily work for the emancipation of the individual. This means: being enabled to critically reflect on and understand the power structures and environment surrounding them. Education must not only enable the emancipation of the individual but society as a whole
→ education as a public good serving public interests
→ academic freedom and choice: freedom to pursue any educational discipline
→ free from monetary mechanisms of payment by participants and any kind of discrimination and exclusion and therefore freely accessible to all individuals
→ sufficient funding for all public educational institutions, whether they are deemed profitable or not
→ all educational entities/institutions should be democratically structured, meaning direct participation from below as a basis for decision making processes
Why on the local and global level?
The impacts of the current global economic system create struggles worldwide. While applying pressure to influence our local/regional politics and legislation, we must always be aware of the global and structural nature of our problems and learn from each other’s tactics, experiences in organizing, and theoretical knowledge. Short-term changes may be achieved on the local level, but great change will only happen if we unite globally.
Education systems worldwide do what they are intended to do within the economic and state system(s): select for, train and create ignorance and submission. We unite for a different education system and a different life.
We stand united against any sort of repression by governments worldwide directed at people involved in the struggle for free and emancipatory education.
Wish to support this statement by having your (group) name listed? Just send an e-mail to: email@example.com
By International Student Movement
Oct.18th & Nov.14-22nd 2012
We are calling for a Global Education Strike. It is the first time that an education strike is being coordinated worldwide. We will UNITE in solidarity, because no matter where we live, we face the same struggle against national state and profit driven interests, and their hold on education. Increasing tuition fees, budget cuts, outsourcing, school closures, as well as other phenomena are linked to an increasing commercialization and privatization of education. Only by uniting globally will we be able to overcome these and enable free emancipatory education for all.
We are all struggling against cuts in education. Most of us are drowning in student debt. The increasing pressure to perform just makes us sick and the restrictions on education and ever-increasing tuition fees, among other barriers, make us angry! Everyone must have access to education, no matter their monetary or social status.
We have had enough of the pressure to measure everything – even the immeasurable! We are sick and tired of competitiveness being the only criteria dictating everything! It is about time that we do something about this together – UNITED!
We are all people affected by the increasing commodification and commercialization of education. This is vividly portrayed by the symptoms affecting us, such as schools and universities being de-democratized and the further implementation of more hierarchical structures. The education market and competition between institutions is being facilitated by governments around the world, which are increasingly privatizing education, health care, and all other social needs.
In June 2012 alone, we recorded 45 protests in more than 40 cities in connection with the struggle for free, emancipatory education. Governments have chronically underfunded the institutions, often using the current economic crisis as pretext. They promote ‘solutions’ such as rankings encouraging competition; closing schools that ‘underperform’; increasing student enrollment without increasing faculty, staff, and student resources; outsourcing everything that can be outsourced; promoting elite institutions. All these ‘solutions’ are steps towards an increasing commodification and privatization of education, which also has negative impacts on the conditions for teaching and learning.
The education market and national states require that profits take priority over developing the capabilities for emancipatory thinking; both need obeying ‘citizens,’ consumers and cheap labour, not emancipated individuals living self-determined lives.
We are being mechanized to function as cogs in the capitalist machine. We are socialized to compete with our fellow beings on every level. The educational institution is actively crushing our creativity, our energy, and our free spirits.
The education system within capitalism consists mainly of training factories, which are supposed to produce human capital for exploitation on the labour market, as well as knowledge that will be commodified. To point out these links and interrupt this mode of production we call for the closing down of educational institutions worldwide during the Global Education Strike.
Fight back! Join in the GLOBAL EDUCATION STRIKE.
All justice begins with knowledge. Stand with us as one this October and November, and the whole world will hear our call to reclaim education.
By Melissa Graham
On October 13, 2012 the disability community once again made their voices heard on the streets of Toronto. They marched with a goal: to bring recognition of the struggles and value of people with disabilities fighting against ableism and other forms of oppression. They also marched to celebrate and take pride in themselves as part of a community of people with disabilities.
The Toronto Disability Pride March began in the fall of 2011, inspired by the events of Occupy Toronto, and the marches against cuts to disability services that were happening in the UK. The March was also intended to raise awareness to cuts and events that were affecting the disability community locally, such as cuts to social housing and incidents with the Toronto Police. In that first year, one hundred people gathered at Nathan Phillips Square and marched down to St. James Park.
The UN has noted that people with disabilities are largely excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them and their society. Many people with disabilities are unemployed or underemployed against their will. People with disabilities are seen as less – or not at all – exploitable by the owners of the means of production and are further oppressed by being left out of it. To put it in terms of the occupy movement they are often the lowest 1% of the 99%.
This year we are noticing this oppression in the form of cuts by stealth, and a political scene that not only divides us by our various disabilities, but also by other forms of oppression such as race, class, gender, etc. In September, the provincial government put forth a draft standard to make parks and the outdoor environment accessible. This sounds great until you consider that the same government is eliminating Community Start Up and Maintenance funding to people living on social assistance, which many people rely on to find and keep their homes. They might as well call making these parks accessible the new Home Modification Program.
The way the March was built also changed this year. Without a solid Occupy Toronto base to build from, we were starting from scratch. We discovered some of the perils and perks of grassroots group organizing. We came up with a new route, and made new allies that helped make our March a success.
We also discovered that for some people in our community the concept of disability pride is scary, the concept of the oppression of people with disabilities is still too hard to face, and connections between different movements in the disability community are something they are not ready to build. We need to work on that. For too long, the rights and oppression of people with disabilities have been discussed behind closed doors, or not at all. Through actions like the Toronto Disability Pride March we find our voice and make ourselves heard in the chorus of movements.
It is no mistake that the Toronto Disability Pride March is a call to build connections within the disability movement. It is a call for equal access and equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, class, gender, sexuality, or what disability they have. This is something that seems to be lacking from mainstream organizations and movements, and is why the March will continue to forge its own path.
We call on our allies, people of every ability from the labour movement, the student movement, and beyond. We call on those whose struggles have long been supported by people with disabilities to join our struggle and prove that we are stronger united. For more information, you can find us on Facebook, or check out our website http://torontodisabilitypride.wordpress.com/. We look forward to seeing you next year!
By Catherine Duchastel
I am a Quebec student doing my masters at York. I have watched and supported my friends in Montreal who have worked tirelessly in the student movement over the past few months. I have seen them organize demonstrations, raise awareness in their departments, and educate themselves and others about democracy. I have offered as much solidarity as I can from Toronto, and I have also wished I could go back to Montreal and be directly part of the student movement many times since last February.
But, my desire has been tempered by my awareness that I need to be here, because I need the knowledge and experience in disability rights activism and scholarship that I am gaining here at York. I am in Critical Disability Studies, a field that does not exist as such in Quebec, yet. I need to do this because the student movement in Quebec and everywhere else in Canada is ableist. This can be said of all student activism. In fact, it can also be said of social movements everywhere. This needs to change.
In Quebec, if you are a disabled student that can medically prove your disability, you receive bursaries instead of loans. This can seem like a really good deal, and a reason not to include disabled students as part of a student movement that is fighting for lower tuition. After all, you do not end up with the same crushing debt that nondisabled students have at the end of their studies. You also do not end with a job afterwards. But, surely, that’s a social problem, not one that student activism should be faulted for failing to address, right? Well, we receive the same amounts nondisabled students do, but also incur extra costs, and often take longer to finish our degrees. And of course, in order to get bursaries, we have to qualify. (I qualified my first year of undergraduate studies, but not the following 5 years.) We have to contend with inaccessible campuses, classrooms, and course material, as well as inaccessible student events and groups. We deal with isolation, poverty, discrimination and inaccessibility every day, yet our experience is neither valued nor acknowledged by other students. When nondisabled students discuss issues of inequality and discrimination, they are about inaccessibility in education, but when disabled students bring them up as part of their reality, which are being compounded by student groups themselves, they are treated as only disability related and outside the scope of the student movement.
But, really, who do you think knows more about inaccessibility than disabled folks?
I spoke with Laurence Parent about ableism in student and activist communities. Laurence is an alumnus of York who completed her Masters in Critical Disability Studies, and her major research paper won the Critical Disability Studies Program Human Rights Prize. She is now completing her PhD at Concordia in the Humanities department. She is the vice-president and a co-founding member of RAPLIQ (le regroupement des activists pour l’inclusion au Québec), an activist disability rights group, for and by disabled people. She also participated in the student strike in Quebec.
Laurence Parent: RAPLIQ is a disability rights group, I would like it to be more like a visibility justice group, but it’s hard. Our goal is to eradicate discrimination based on disability, and that kind of discrimination is not well-known in Quebec. It’s not understood, you know, and there’s no concept to talk about it. I would say that this is the biggest obstacle that we are facing right now: to let [people] know that this thing exists [discrimination based on disability]. So it’s hard to connect with other social justice groups.
I feel like we are just at the beginning and just fighting for basic, basic things, like access to public transit which is one of our big, big issues, and access to housing and accessibility in general.
As a student with a disability and an organizer and activist, how were you involved with the student strike?
I was more involved through AEAIPS (l’Association des Étudiants ayant des incapacitées au post-secondaire). For example, we wrote a press release to talk about how the tuition hike would affect people and students with disabilities because it wasn’t included or talked about at all. […] Getting attention for us was impossible but we tried. We were at every monthly mass protest. I know that in Quebec people with visible disabilities are still not visible, so despite not being a huge number of disabled people on the streets, we were enough for people to be aware that we, we were there.
Also the strike started in winter so it’s very difficult [for people with disabilities] to get around because it’s not accessible, and then the strike got very dangerous very quickly for people with disabilities [who may not be able] to run away fast. So it’s not really welcoming for people with different abilities to join the protest and we never knew where the protest would go, and stuff like that.
Did you feel that there was an awareness on the part of nondisabled students or organizers, as to why the demos would be dangerous for disabled people? In part because of how aggressive the police were, and also not knowing when or where the march would end?
I think that they didn’t understand, but it [the student strike] was like a war, a real war, and the organizers themselves didn’t know where the march would end. It was like a state secret, so it was really hard to know who was really in charge. I guess it was because students with disabilities were not there at the higher levels of student organizing.
What do you think contributes to the fact that the disability rights movement has not worked in Quebec?
The [disability rights] movement [in Quebec] is really apolitical.
People want to advocate for disability rights, but they want to be neutral. How can you be neutral when you fight for human rights? You cannot be neutral. You cannot be neutral. I think there have been some people who have tried to build bridges but they have been excluded. Like disabled women, I don’t know if you know [the] group, Action Femmes Handicapées de Montreal? Well, when they founded [the group], the first thing that they tried to do was to be included in women’s groups but they faced discrimination, or they were included but in a paternalistic way. They founded that group [Action Femmes Handicapées de Montreal], and still today, they are excluded by other women’s groups. 25 years later.
It’s a trauma that I guess we have. When you are rejected and excluded, it has an impact on you. You know, you don’t feel like going back to a place where someone has excluded you. I also think that the people who are working in disability rights groups are often the people who have been able to go to school and get diplomas, and so they are like in the upper class of disabled people. So the system worked for them, so then some disabled people don’t really feel any need to change the system.
So what do you think would need to change for there to be collaboration between disabled activists and nondisabled activists?
Maybe to make them [nondisabled activists] realize that disability is not something far, far, away. That it’s everywhere that we don’t see it, but it’s there. Even though the student movement was opposing the system, it got so big that it started to reproduce how society was organized and those that were marginal were, you know, ignored. It was like a generation protesting, but we haven’t heard that much about racism either, for example, in that strike.
And it’s too bad because there are many links to be made about disability oppression and what happened, like the fact that they would prohibit protest near the university campuses. Like blocking access. This is something people with disabilities experience every day – being denied access. And, all those metaphors about access to education; I feel disabled people have more in common [with the student strike] but not metaphorically, concretely.
And the problem that we have, when we talk about education, is that it’s pretty new to have disabled people go to university. And, for many disabled students I don’t think they see this as a right. It’s more like, “I’m the lucky one who has been able to make it. I receive services, and I should be grateful.” And some people who are recognized as having a permanent disability, then all the government aid you get is transformed into bursaries. So we don’t have loans, and a big issue of that strike was students getting [into] debt and that the government would increase the amount of loans. So I felt that a lot of students with disabilities felt that it was not their fight. Because they were not affected by that measure, but in fact, they are already the poorest.
The thing that we don’t say is that they will have so much trouble to get a job after their education. Most people that I know, I explain to people how it works, most of them would be, “Oh! You’re lucky. You’re lucky that you don’t have loans and debts.” And, I’m like, that’s not what I want you to understand.For disabled people rights are privileges, not entitlements. So that [a] citizenship right, like education ends up being a privilege, not a right, if you are a person with a disability.
What would you like to see for the disability rights movement in Canada?
I think that one of the problems that we had, and that we have, is that students with disabilities are not well organized on campus. It’s much better at York. I mean, I know it’s not perfect, but I can compare [it] with Concordia and UQAM – we are not organized, we don’t know each other, we are not proud of who we are, there’s just no solidarity.
… So, what do I wish for the disability rights movement in Canada? Well, yeah, to fight back.
Universities are great places to foster activism, and more and more disabled students are joining, but when you bring up accessibility issues, you get this pained look of contrition from students politicians and activists: “We know we’re not accessible, but we don’t have the money to be, we feel really, really bad about it, but there’s just no way. It’s just impossible.” The thing is, no one understands more about how lack of resources, monetary and otherwise, affects the activities you can or cannot do, than someone who has to negotiate how much pain or energy it is going to cost them to participate, or whether or not there’s a bathroom they can use wherever they want to go. So I am going to say this once, but I am going to say it loud, because you need to hear it, think about it and act on it:
YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT ACCESSIBILITY IS!
Accessibility is having all the documents on your website in both Pdf and Word so that people who use screen readers can access them. Accessibility is having half your printed material available in large print and half in smaller print. Accessibility is typing the discussion in your meetings and presentations if you can’t afford an ASL interpreter. Accessibility is asking yourself why you don’t have money for ASL interpreters. It means giving a full description of the space you’re holding events in so disabled people can decide for themselves whether they want to go or not. It means having a no-scent policy, and an acknowledgement that 5 hour meetings are just not productive. It means removing the phrase, “We regret that this event is not wheel-chair accessible” from your vocabulary and instead starting to ask disabled people not only what their accessibility needs are, but what they think could be done to remedy this lack of accessibility in your organizations. None of these cost money.
[Accessibility] means to stop expecting disabled people to be included in your struggle, and to become part of theirs, as well as to include their struggle as part of yours.
It means understanding that accessibility to education means much more than having the money and time to go to school, it means being able to get in the school, and be included in the society that getting a degree is supposed to give you access to.
Catherine Duchastel is a Ph.D. candidate in Critical Disability Studies, a member of RAPLIQ, and a student activist.
By Francis Dupuis-Déri
For weeks now, debates have been raging over “Black Blocs,” described as “Anarchist groups,” “vandals,” “masked, hooded, black clad and waving black flags.”
I have witnessed several incidents during demonstrations where demonstrators have insulted and physically attacked Black Bloc members in the name of non-violence.
Black Blocs can also, of course, simply march in the demonstration as union, NGO, and political party contingents do, crammed together behind their banners, following their leaders. I have seen Black Blocs in Montréal and elsewhere do just that, marching calmly, an expression of their radical critique of capitalism or of the State through their mere presence. But it is usually when Black Blocs use direct action that the media notice their existence. And yet Black Blocs are not a new phenomenon. A look back on an eventful history…
The Black Bloc tactic first appeared in West Germany around 1980, in the “autonomous” (Autonomen) movement, whose Far-Left politics and quest for autonomy from all institutions (States, parties, unions) set them apart. The autonomous movement was made up of hundreds of squats which were true spaces for collective living and experiments in counterculture. Whenever there was an attempt by authorities to evict squats, Black Blocs, sometimes made up of over 1,000 activists, would confront the police and defend the squat.
The Black Bloc tactic then spread throughout punk, anarchist, and anti-fascist scenes. It seems that the first Black Blocs to appear in North-America were in the 1990s in the radical anti-racist scene and in mobilizations against the first Iraq war. The Black Bloc phenomenon has been getting more attention over the last ten years or so in the mass mobilizations against international institutions associated with neoliberalism and the spread of global capitalism (Seattle in 1999, The Summit of the Americas in Québec in 2001, etc.). More recently, Black Blocs have done direct actions during the G20 Summit in Toronto (2010) and in “Occupy” movement demonstrations, particularly in Oakland and in Rome.
It is clear that the Black Bloc is not a permanent organization and that it is therefore more logical to refer to Black Blocs (plural). Before and after a demonstration, the Black Bloc does not exist.
We are often told that Black Blocs “infiltrate” demonstrations. Black Blocs have even been referred to as the “cancer” of the Occupy movement. Through making such condemnations, social movement spokespeople are able to remain respectable in the eyes of the elite at the risk of undermining solidarity and condoning police repression and the criminalization of dissent. But such statements are also confounding in that it is unclear on what basis it can be claimed that members of Black Blocs don’t participate in social movements. In order to do so, you would have to determine to whom movements belong to, and what right those people have to claim such ownership.
To respond to this critique, “anarchists, amongst others” who participated in Black Blocs and who wrote the “Manifeste du Carré Noir,” published in March 2012 in the context of student mobilizations in Quebec, declared:
“We are students. We are workers. We are the unemployed. We are angry. We are not co-opting the strike. We have been part of the movement from the beginning… We don’t infiltrate demonstrations, we help organize them, and we bring them to life.”
Their detractors also accuse members of Black Blocs of having no political cause to defend, since all they want to do is “break everything.” There are obviously some who join Black Blocs without strong political convictions, but let us not forget how many politicians work for political parties not out of conviction, but rather to seek personal profit or the glory of power.
The Target is the Message
It seems that members of Black Blocs are actually generally individuals with activist experience and political awareness. Members of Black Blocs do not believe that it is always necessary to resort to force in demonstrations, nor do they believe that using force is the purest form of activism.
This being said, on certain occasions, they do find it useful and justifiable to disturb social peace and express legitimate rage, not to mention that liberal “social peace” is itself inherently violent: war and police brutality, various inequalities, isolation and poverty. Who in Quebec knows that between Westmount and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, there is about a ten year gap in life-expectancy? Smashing a window? That’s not violence, then, they say, or at least it’s nothing compared to the violence of the system.
Besides a few rare communiqués, it is through their graffiti and their choices of targets that we are best able to grasp the political thought of Black Blocs. It is never – or rarely – “senseless violence.” Their targets are associated with capitalism (banks, multinational corporations), private and public mass media, the State (especially the police) and, sometimes, patriarchy (during the G20 summit in Toronto an American Apparel shop and a strip club were targeted by a Black Bloc, which counted many women in its ranks).
Black Blocs seem, in this way, to be reiterating a statement made in the early 20th century in Britain by Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement, for whom “the argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics.” She thus justified the collective action of hundreds of activists who, in March 1911, had smashed dozens of windows in London commercial districts. After their mass arrest, one of the prisoners would say: “We tried everything—demonstrations and mass meetings—but those didn’t work.”
“Black Blocs are the best political philosophers of our time,” according to political scientist Nicolas Tavaglione, because they ask societies to decide whether the protection of material goods is worth police brutality, or whether the maintenance of social order is worth sacrificing liberty and equality.
Black Blocs are certainly anarchist, communist, ecologist or radical feminist and most of the time –according to their communiqués – against all authorities and hierarchies. In the communiqué “Pourquoi étions-nous à Gênes,” sent out after the G8 summit in 2001, Black Bloc members declared: “We are not seeking a place at the table in discussions between the rulers of the world; we want there to no longer be any rulers of the world.”
I do not claim to have revealed the whole truth about Black Blocs here, nor do I claim to know all there is to know about them, and their spokespeople. Black Blocs can also be criticized on moral grounds: “Peaceful protest!” (but who gets to decide what is good and what is evil?), on legal grounds: “It’s against the law!” (but who judges which laws are just?), on strategic grounds: “They’re hurting the movement!” (but who decides which tactics are “efficient” and which aren’t?)
This being said, it is important to know that hundreds or thousands of protestors are also in favour of Black Blocs. What’s more, “violence” at demonstrations is not exclusively perpetrated by Black Blocs, as police violence is always more brutal.
Seeking to truly understand the history and actions of Black Blocs and taking the time to read the communiqués they release over the course of mobilizations may allow us to remain critical of the simplistic discourse of opinion-makers, politicians, and police, who delight in making all sorts of false and gratuitous statements about them – although I find “gratuité” to be an admirable principle.
Francis Dupuis-Déri is a political science professor at UQAM and the author of the book Les Black Blocs (Lux, 2007).