A few weeks ago, over 100 students signed a petition calling on the CSU to hold a special general meeting on Feb. 14 to denounce tuition increases and deal with a few specific motions in relation to university governance and quorum issues. On Jan. 31 CSU president Heather Lucas announced the union’s support for the SGM. Ever since, a group of grassroots students, student groups and members of the CSU have been working tirelessly to organize this event, dubbed the Wintry Hot Accessible Love-in for Education. The difficult task at hand for these organizers is to reach the necessary quorum of approximately 850 students to attend for motions passed at the event to be legally binding.
While countless walls, boards and bathrooms around campus have been postered, classroom speeches have been made and even a Beatles flash mob held yesterday afternoon, WHALE communications coordinator Matthew Brett says there’s still a lot of organizing ahead of them in the next week and that the event will only end successfully if the CSU steps up its participation.
“The only way we will meet quorum is with active support from all students and student organizations and immediate support from the CSU in terms of resources and people power,” said Brett.
With only about two weeks to organize the event, Brett said time has definitely been the biggest obstacle in the way of making WHALE a success. “I think [the short time frame is] a huge challenge and that’s where we really need the CSU to jump on board,” he said. “Getting all the critical infrastructure together, the wires, you know the nitty gritty, making sure the stage is set up and stuff like that. We really need them to take an active role.”
The current organizing committee for WHALE comprises in the area of 50 students, many of whom are members of Free Education Montreal, the People’s Potato, the Peoples’ Campus Coalition and the Graduate Students’ Association of Concordia. Morgan Pudwell, the CSU’s VP sustainability and promotions, is one of a few CSU executives who has become very involved in the organizing committee. Pudwell said she jumped at the opportunity to participate and help out because it fits with her portfolio as VP promotions and because she’s passionate about “this sort of direct-action and democracy.”
Brett noted there has been some tension between the moderate CSU participants and the more radical grassroots activists, but said this exchange and debate was healthy and had actually created a productive environment. Pudwell agreed. “We’re working towards one common goal, and that’s to involve students in the decision-making processes at Concordia – these tensions are necessary for democracy,” she said. “These tensions are part of a larger discussion around representation, it’s constructive tension that propels the project forward.”
During WHALE students will be voting to call for a “day of action to denounce the Ministry of Education’s proposed tuition fee hikes,” to take place following the voting period Monday morning. Despite having CSU support for the event, Brett believes that this motion is necessary as a means of assuring the union puts all their weight behind this movement.
“At the moment, the CSU is giving its support in word, but we need much more support from them with resources and excitement and participation,” he said. “This should really be a legacy issue for this council. They need to take it on.”
But Pudwell said that the CSU staff, executive and councillors she has been working with have been putting a lot of time and effort into this event. She added that “all the CSU executive is onboard” and is “dedicated to representing students and working as a community to fight tuition increases.”
Attendees will also vote to decrease quorum for special general meeting’s to 1.5 per cent of the student body from the current 2.5 per cent, which now equates to about 850 students. Brett says is absurd since no indoor space on campus can easily accommodate this number. “The key message particularly for the students is we need this quorum just this one time and we won’t have to worry about having to go outside to do this thing. It’s really crazy,” Brett said.
By Monday night just over 380 students were listed as attending the event on Facebook, while another 225 were listed as maybe attending. In the unlikely case that all of these people do attend, that still leaves a difficult deficit of about 250 students who need to be convinced or recruited over the next six days.
Pudwell is still optimistic when it comes to reaching quorum. “It’s a scary big number, but I can’t remember a time where community members at Concordia have ever worked so hard to support each other,” she said. She also noted how receptive all the students she has spoken to have been about this project.
Organizers have already received a letter of support from the Concordia University Faculty Association which has expressed support for the event and has recommended to their members not penalize students for missing class or assignments on Monday. The part-time faculty association has also made a similar recommendation to their members and a show of support according to Brett. While this is by no means a guarantee, he says they hope that if students explain to their professors what the event is about, they will be met with understanding and be exempt from penalties, something that could really help the turn-out on Monday.
Regardless of whether 850 students actually show up to make these motions legally binding, Brett is firm in his belief that students will be making a symbolic gesture at WHALE, one that could have a long-lasting impact on Concordia students and their influence on the student union and administration.
“If there’s one thing that’s going to come out of this it’s that students are starting to work together and that all of these groups are coming together,” he said. “I think there’s something to be said about the grassroots nature of this. It’s student-led.”