February 13, 2009

Student Action-Federal election "study-in"

interview by a
Rebel Youth Manitoba corespondent.

During the 2008 Federal Election, student activists independently organized a set of sit-ins called "study-ins" at campaign offices of three candidates from the Liberal, NDP and Conservative parties. The students were demanding improved access to post-secondary education for Aboriginal peoples. The Harper Tory government now in power has recently toyed with the idea of ending grants to Status Indian post secondary students. The funding for grants is so small that waiting lists backed up for years makes access difficult, for what is a right by signed treaty. Harper plans to replace grants with loans. The YCL and the CFS calls for grants not loans for all students. Harper wants to attack one group instead. Metis and Non-status Aboriginals do not get funds currently and are disadvantaged under the present system. Well all working class students are disadvantaged but Aboriginal more so given the racist history of Canada and Quebec.

In Manitoba, student activists are becoming more vocal, and adding action to their voices. Rebel Youth
did a telephone interview with one activist here is a transcript below.

RY: How many sit-ins were there?

ACTIVIST: Three, all at the same time.

RY: And how long did they last..uh, each one?

ACTIVIST: umm, maybe five hours actually

RY: five hours?!


RY: wow!

ACTIVIST: It was a pretty long time since it started. It began around 4 o'clock, I left a bit after nine.

RY: So, what offices did you go to?

ACTIVIST: A Liberal, an NDP, and a Conservative....I went to Pat Martin's [NDP] and he wasn't there and he refused to talk to us, his staff were not happy with us, they were polite but they were visibly upset that we were there. We were not like..abused or anything, but they found it quite stupid of us that we were there and they let us know that.

RY: I heard from student activists that.. that Pat Martin said something like you people didn't matter...it didn't matter or something to that effect ?

ACTIVIST: He said that oh it wasn't anything and then he sent flowers the next day to apologize.
We called our group a study group, and that's what every group called themselves. We ended up just sitting on the floor in the office almost beside the wall we sat there for hours.

RY: So how many were there roughly?

ACTIVIST: I'd say about a dozen people.

RY: How about the other offices what were the reactions there?

ACTIVIST: Oh! They were just nasty to them! We have video of the staff just screaming at people, telling them stuff like, that they're children, that they're stupid. At the Conservative one they were going, "your parents must be ashamed of you" it was..horrid. Then they said they called the police and told them that they [the activists] had no right to do this. It was..awful all around, but our sit in [the NDP office] compared was okayish to what the Conservatives did. But I found them [NDP] very condescending, saying that we just didn't understand what was going on, why are you here you are not doing anything important. Uh-yeah, oh and they wanted to know our names but we didn't give them any. So they wanted to know, like, who was in charge, and how could we just all come here since we were not from any student organization, we explained: were are from a whole bunch of different universities, we're all students and we were gonna study and we actually just studied there. We spent most of our time studying [laughs] I did not talk to them [staff] because we found them all quite insulting.

RY: Did they know why you were there?

ACTIVIST: Yeah we made sure we got our message out about the issue of Aboriginal access and made sure it got into their heads of theirs for as long as possible as a political party. But they were like "we already have policies. These policies [NDP] are the right ones"....... Do you have any more questions?

RY: No, uh, nope, that about it.

ACTIVIST: Oh, I should mention that I was prepared to spend all night there, but we got called out by the other groups.

RY: Oh because of the Conservatives threats?

ACTIVIST: I think so, the Conservative group was kind of freaking out they didn't know what to do. At ours we did stay longer because Pat Martin didn't show up, and the volunteers [staffing the NDP campaign office] had to stay longer as well since they did not want to leave us alone in there with all the stuff and we wouldn't leave. And they were surprised that Pat Martin just wouldn't come.

RY: Was the office only staffed by volunteers?

ACTIVIST: I think so, we didn't stop them from doing anything, we just sat there and studied while they worked around us. We just said we were sitting there waiting and we were not going to leave until Pat Martin comes. Then we got the call by the other groups to come out.

RY: okay I'm going to stop the tape..here.BEEEEP.

This "study-in" was only the first of a series of "battles". It provided lessons that would prove important only weeks later. Later on in 2008 the CFS Student Day of Action here in Manitoba was reported to be the largest since the days of activism in the late 1960s early 1970s. And the Manitoba Legislature would be stormed and subject to a sit in of much larger scale. And with its objectives met this battle was won. But the war for decisive change continues.

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