November 15, 2018

For the right to disruptive Protest

By Everett Newland 

We enter an age where far-right movements and overt fascism gain increasing traction within the public discourse. The Ontario government has sought to legitimize these movements on campuses through an underhanded “free speech” directive for Ontario campuses. Yet the rising visibility of reactionary and oppressive movements also gives us the opportunity to build a powerful fightback against them, and empower ourselves to pursue a socialist future. This opportunity begins with the Day of Action scheduled for this coming November 29, 2018!

On August 30, 2018, the Ontario government issued a statement "Upholding Free Speech on Ontario's University and College Campuses": A directive to Ontario universities and colleges to institute policy regarding "free expression" under the threat of funding cuts and auditing. The directive is detailed here. The directive tasks schools with defining what “freedom of expression” constitutes, and mentions minimum requirements for what the policy must do, including that the policy must sanction any action that “significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed.” The action is to be monitored by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), who have the capacity to audit how this policy is maintained, and further allows for individuals to file reports where they feel their “freedom of speech” is infringed upon, which can be taken as high as the Ontario Ombudsman. So, why is this important? Why is it taken for granted that freedom of expression, which is recognized in academic environments as a tenet of their values, is “under attack” and must be defended by a government-mandated and audited policy? Why are these “Chicago Principles” being applied in Canada?

This directive conspicuously unfolds after an Ontario PC Youth BBQ held at Doug Ford’s home at which Jordan Peterson was a keynote speaker, using the event to air his pitiful grievances about freedom of speech to a fawning audience. JP (that’s his nickname!) is a household fixture among those who think having their reactionary views scrutinized and meaningfully resisted constitutes oppression. You may know him for having a hissy fit about how gender-neutral pronouns are bad, not knowing what postmodernism is, some interesting ideas about how humans should emulate the social dynamics of lobsters and ants, being sad, castration anxiety, and whatever all this stuff is. In any case, the origins of this directive in the complains of speakers such as JP, his sycophantic fangirl Lindsay Shepherd who used her platform as a TA to advance his ideology, and white supremacist nationalist icon Faith Goldy - all of whom have found themselves continually frustrated with the fact that campuses are one of few platforms for legitimacy to which they find themselves repeatedly barred. While by all means it must be recognized that campuses are by no means the progressive, neo-Marxist safe space conservatives make them out to be, we can recognize nonetheless that campuses are one of few places where revolutionary ideas may reasonably be granted some measure of legitimacy, though typically in watered-down forms.

This directive established by the Ontario government therefore serves the express ideological motive of gratifying and empowering reactionary groups with disproportionate representation. In addition to the figures mentioned above, Doug Ford himself has evidenced his antipathy toward speech that doesn’t support his own ideology by his absurd proposal to ban Al-Quds day, reflecting hostility to Muslims. A statement from the American Association of University Professors, available here, details the history of policies of this sort in the United States, including the model bill a model bill funded by the Goldwater Institute based on work that in some cases dates all the way back to the 1960s in response to student protests, where students were actually being shot on campus. Rallying reaction against students under the banner of “free speech” is nothing new, it’s simply become more obvious in recent years - and now it’s entering Ontario. This action threatens the capacity of students, as democratic citizens, to exercise control over campus space, rendering protest sterile through tasking universities to discipline students, faculty and workers in accordance with vaguely-worded statements that demonize any protest that is “disruptive”. It so happens that striking, which is protected by labour law, is very disruptive and intended to interfere with the ability of an event to proceed - so what happens to students, faculty and workers who choose to strike? The directive condescends students with the notion that we look to shield ourselves from differing opinions, rather than opposing the spread and legitimation of oppressive ideology. The directive is riddled with contradictions. When law and policy come so clearly into contradiction, those with more political power tend to win the battle. It cannot be overstated that all actors in favour of this directive typically have disproportionate representation already, some being published in widely-circulated magazines - yet they are not conferred the legitimacy of the academy, which is what they’re truly fighting over.

Our response to this directive must be an express movement of resistance. In my experience organizing against this directive, many people I’ve spoken to believe it is possible to resist it from within, by drafting a policy that is difficult to enact against protesters. Firstly, this simply does not happen. While I have participated in the process of drafting the rough version of Western’s policy to satisfy the government directive (consistently under the message that it should not be drafted at all), much of the wording that I, alongside others, petitioned to have removed from the draft policy is still there after it had been established by the drafting committee that it would be taken out. I would not be surprised if the school were prepared to adopt wholesale a policy based directly on the “Chicago Principles” mentioned earlier. Secondly, even if it were possible to write up a policy within the directive guidelines that was theoretically innocuous, one can be sure that the HEQCO and conservative students would see to it that the minimum guidelines - including that disruptive protest must be punished - are enforced in accordance with Doug Ford’s directive. To meaningfully oppose this directive we must organize an opposition against drafting any policy in accordance with it. One may be hesitant to rock the boat, yet students at Ryerson have succeeded in forcing the senate to postpone a vote on their draft policy. Ironically, the kind of disruptive protest that occurred would be precisely the kind that the policy itself would target. Therefore, not only do students have the power to oppose this undemocratic directive, but we need to be mobilizing against it to sustain that power.

As capitalism reveals its internal contradictions, we see a growing fascist movement that enforces capitalist ideology in the boldest, most repressive terms - yet we also see a growing socialist presence which recognizes the reality of capitalism's dysfunctions rather than scapegoating migrants, Muslims, Jews, feminists and LGBTQ+ people for the dysfunctions of capitalism. When fascism is so clearly endemic to capitalist ideology, we are presented with a tremendous opportunity to build resistance and the socialist movement. We also find within ourselves tremendous potential to speak truth and justice against the violence and oppression that is endemic to capitalism itself. As fascism grows, it is easy to despair - yet we have the power to organize and resist. We must simply stand up and assert our dominance as the moving forces of history, and constantly encourage others to stand alongside us.

I invite the reader to recognize our potential for a socialist future and strive to enact that potential. Please take care of yourself in a world that's patently unfair, yet find within the socialist movement the motivation, love and hope that spurs us forward. We need a personal connection and sincere affection for each other as comrades in a world that is alienating and frightening, and are beholden to each other if we are to live in any meaningful sense. We have a world to win if only we fight back against this stale and austere capitalist system. We must assert ourselves as students, the youth, and members of the working class, and unite against the asinine, paternalistic and undemocratic directive of the Ford government. Disruptive protest is a powerful tool in the resistance against the privatization of education and the conversion of campuses into nexuses of capitalist ideology and fascist reaction - one we cannot afford to give up.

Organize with local student organizations and unions, political organizations and the broad labour movement for support and endorsement for the Day of Action coming up on November 29! Together, we will build a movement across Ontario, making a firm statement against the Ford government and building an ongoing movement of socialist resistance, bringing together all marginalized and oppressed people to assert our mutual interest in revolutionary change.

The Facebook event page organized by the Young Communist League/Ligue de la Jeunesse Communiste may be accessed here. The YCL-LJC callout may be viewed here, and we encourage contacting if you wish to express your support for our motion. We will resist the Doug Ford government!

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