By Megan Jackman
Getting active on campus
“You do not reform a world by ignoring it.” As a strong supporter of activism and the potential for positive changes it brings about, I think this is one of the simplest statements that indicates what activism truly means.
Activism, as defined by the Nelson Canadian Dictionary, is the doctrine
or practice of assertive, often militant, action such as strikes, as a means
of achieving a political or social goal. Well, yes this is true.
But, what does activism mean at MUN?
Bob Buckingham, a past student activist at MUN and a current family lawyer in St. John’s, recently took me back to the early seventies when activism at Memorial took the form of perhaps the largest demonstration of student solidarity held within its quarters.
It all began when Lord Stephen Taylor, Memorial’s president at the time, decided to abolish the collection of student union fees. Taylor’s reasoning was that the council of the students’ union was incompetent and, thus, incapable of properly using the money from the fees. He was soon to be proven wrong.
At that time, there were approximately 7,000 students attending MUN. News of Taylor’s decision began to trickle down the ranks, eventually reaching the ears of key student leaders, including Mr. Buckingham. Mr. Buckingham recalled, “we wanted to stage a demonstration against this so we attained the home phone numbers of every student, because it was midterm break and most were not in town. A committee of four of us called each student to inform them of our plans.”
Referred to by Mr. Buckingham as “the occupation,” over 4,000 students showed up at the Thomson Student Centre Nov. 14, 1972, to protest in opposition to Lord Taylor. “One student became so excited about it that they called for students to storm the Arts and Administration building,” said Mr. Buckingham.
Ultimately, the building was occupied for 10 days by students no faculty or administration services took place after which time the proposed cuts to union fees were halted.
Like many other activist movements, and successful as it was, “the occupation” was not without its risks. Grinning a little, Mr. Buckingham explained that, had the demonstration been unsuccessful in achieving its goals, he would likely have been suspended from the university and have his degree nullified.
Today’s activists are as hard-core and passionate as ever. Continuing the legacy of making decisive and innovative moves toward improvement, from campus to the global level, are student groups such as Oxfam, Project Green and the Society for Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility.
Katie Temple is a master’s student at MUN known for her involvement with MUN Oxfam, the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Interest Research Group Society, and Project Green. When asked about being an activist Katie said, “It’s frustrating sometimes ... but overall it’s definitely worthwhile and it’s satisfying to work on something I really care about.”
Activism at MUN takes many forms. And, many people don’t consider this but a number of currently occurring programs and events at MUN are a direct result of student activism there doesn’t have to be bra-burning riots and tree-hugging to indicate activist change.
For example, the lug-a-mug program, aimed to cut down unnecessary use of disposable beverage cups, as well as the dump and run program are both initiatives of Project Green which reflect their active commitment and passion towards encouraging environmental practices.
In November 2002 MUN students, along with concerned citizens, marched through downtown St. John’s to show discontentment with the planned military attack on Iraq.
And, in October 2002 students demonstrated their opposition to Inco’s pollution and corporate presence on campus.
You really don’t have to change the whole world in a day to be an activist. In fact, I admire those individuals who avoid such clichés and instead work in babysteps to achieve more specific goals. But if you do have a vision, no matter how small, passion is the best tool to build on a vision and MUN is one of the best places to begin.
New, let’s return for a moment to my opening quote. Hats off to Memorial students who choose not to ignore the world and make immensely significant impacts on campus and worldwide. But shame those of you who abuse the right to practice activism. Remember, activism takes on a number of forms. Also, let me tell you that inspiring opening quote is one by George W. Bush.