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(February 21, 2002, Gazette)

Bring on the revolution

Jeffrey PardyOn a freezing Feb. 6, students clustered around the Memorial Tower to participate in the national day of action. Being a curious MUCEP journalist and semi-contentious student, I joined these students fully prepared to be an objective observer. Chris Vatcher, MUNSU council member, put on a good show as he denounced the crimes of the dictatorship (the national and provincial government). The Underdogs sang ’60 and ’70s era songs of revolution and sympathetic groups such as the Graduate Students Union got up and said their piece on the pressures of being a student. While being swept up in the speeches, ceremony, crowd and the music, I pondered why; a) I had not eaten lunch, and b) I had not investigated what this protest was about.

Perhaps I am a sucker for punishment. Perhaps I assumed, because I had done these kinds of things before, that it didn’t really matter if I knew all about the issue or not. Perhaps I was apathetic. Hmmm, am I talking about me or am I generalizing about the thoughts of the student body?

I marched up to the Confederation Building, driven by the adrenaline of my fellow students, even though the combination of slush and cold ate bitterly through my boots to my toes. I carried my Reduce Tuition Fees sign high on my shoulder and banged it on the fine marble floor of the Confederation Building lobby as loud as any of my comrades. I raised my voice in yelling shame and boo at Sandra Kelly, and sympathized with students who carried burdens far, far more severe than mine. In the end, I piled into a tiny black Mazda with a bunch of other people, drove back to MUN, and resumed my studies. Now, with the day of action rally fading fast into the hazy annals of MUN history, I wonder, what was it all for?

There were two things I found disappointing about the protest. Most of the issues set out by MUNSU were not discussed, and an incredibly small number of students turned out to protest. We didn’t even have enough to fill the lobby of the legislature. Now, if you’ve ever been in the Confederation Building you’ll know that it is fairly large. But, based on the number of students in this university, the protest mob should have been big enough to fill two lobbies that size. What’s the problem? Apathy. Many of us don’t know the issues, and what’s more important is that we don’t care. On top of that, what real differences do we make by protesting anyway?

I can understand student apathy. Apathy is everywhere in our society. We often become creatures of habit without realizing it. Stuck in our individual pursuits of studies, social realms, sex, money, and other forms of hedonism, we rarely realize our minds are centred entirely on us. Elements of the political left (socialist) are needed to balance the political elements of the right (conservative) in order to create and sustain a democratic society. We need student council members like Chris Vatcher, and groups like CUPE and the CFS to give us a kick from time to time and make us realize that change can happen. Otherwise, we would probably do nothing about tuition raises. One day we would find ourselves auctioning off our vital organs just to finish university. However, as long as a relative balance between these elements exists, it can be assumed that the majority of students will live in relative harmony and good health. Therein lies the reason for apathy, if it doesn’t happen to me, then why should I bother protesting?

Those of you who walked through the Smallwood Centre cafeteria during the week of the protest probably noticed the Day of Action signs stuck up all over the place. These signs contained the customary viva la revolution — Rage Against the Machine fist, along with a series of demands. Only one of these demands was confronted by the protest: the reduction of tuition fees. While it is true that Mark Bragg and Funk Dory rocked the Breezeway last Friday with a sweat shop protest concert, could one automatically assume that the concert had any connection to the actual Day of Action?

All I’m saying is, if we’re not going to confront the issues, then why mention them at all? The only thing our signs said was, Reduce Tuition Fees. Why did the council go through the trouble of citing all these other things as issues if all they planned to do was mention them? Maybe I’m being too harsh. I mean, it was a national day of action. Perhaps Memorial was chosen to confront the issue of tuition fees while Dalhousie was picked to attack the issue of work term equity for all faculties. Somehow I strongly doubt this was the case.

So the battle rages on. While it is clear that free education is in no way possible as of now, students still have the ability to protest for lower tuition rates. The revolution is still out there, if only in the minds of those who fight for it. Meanwhile, I’ll be studying like mad and cramming for the midterm exams which are fast approaching. Somewhere in my mind, the Day of Action rally fades far out of sight, somewhere between a version of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again and Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind.