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Is democracy dead?

by Archives October 16, 2007

While the concept of baklava-clad students plastering Concordia’s walls with a literal SOS plea for their school makes for great copy, I had to think twice this week about what this fledgling movement actually means. Other than some good underground fun playing anti-establishment spy games, what does SOS hope to accomplish? Secondly, what does the start of this kind of movement say about our school? Most importantly: is democracy at Concordia really that compromised?
What I find noteworthy is that yet another group is expressing its discontent with the way things are run at Concordia. But wait, hasn’t this happened before? (Remind me again how many joke slates we saw in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. What about the fact that we’re the only school in Canada with actual political slates running for office?) So this could be the yearly cycle of yet another group of discontented students, symptom of a significant democratic malaise in Concordia that just won’t go away.
Or maybe, just maybe, this latest group is a sign of a good thing, symptom of democratic freedom expressing itself.
Anyone who has been around for more than a few years knows a bit of Concordia’s history, so I won’t go over it again. It seems to me that no matter what rough periods we go through (yes, I’m thinking ‘Netanyahu’), Concordia has always had such a great foundation of cross-cultural dialogue it always managed to right itself after an unsettling period. We can usually be counted on to keep up a decent level of political discourse at the very least.
I would argue that this latest chapter in its colourful political history, ushered in by a group of sticker-toting unknowns committing themselves to Tyler Durden-esque activities, is actually a sign of a healthy, well-adjusted school. While protesting the school’s state of democracy, they’re showing by their very actions that, for the moment at least, democracy is alive and well.
Isn’t the essence of democracy the right of any group or association to express itself and find its place among a multiplicity of groups? If diversity is dead and Concordia truly is turning into a kind of corporate GroupThink where freedom of expression is stifled and students constrained, then we had better do something about it. But before we grab our fingerpaint and superglue, let’s just look at what Concordia actually represents to the average undergraduate.
It would be a challenge to find another university this size with such a range of groups and clubs. The average Concordia undergrad supports 20 student groups with fee levies, including initiatives such as the People’s Potato, Cinema Politica, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group and the student-run media. None of these groups, including this newspaper, could function without student support. Granted, all these groups were started long before the current brand of CSU came into power, but there is no sign they are any less supported now than they were at their inception.
Students also pay a 25-cent student association fee levy that supports another 60 groups and associations to the tune of $150,000 a year. The CSU’s fee levy of $1.50 allows the CSU to allocate money for special projects, green initiatives and to donate to new student projects.
We have the One percent campaign, the first initiative of its kind in Canada. Al Gore and David Suzuki praised the school last year for its service to the world in the area of sustainability.
As for school space, we have a great library, a new science building, a business school being built, a new gym and the Loyola gym renovations slated to start next year.
Concordia also has a history of accommodating different ethnic and religious groups. Muslim prayer space got top billing in January 2006 when they were moved to the newly-renovated seventh floor of the Hall building. McGill’s Muslim students didn’t fare so well when, in the fall of 2005, after being moved from building to building on their campus, they were evicted from the Petersen Hall with nowhere else to go.
More than all these initiatives, though, Concordia has an active political element that sets it apart from any other school in Canada. Yes, sometimes it looks like we’re forever ping-ponging between two extremes, with one side raging that the other has all the privilege and the support, while the other side snubs them for their radical thinking, protests and highmindedness.
But maybe it’s time we realize that this is Concordia, with all its complexity and variety, its different points of view, its mixture of gloriously extreme and polar-opposite natures. And maybe we need to see that we might never reconcile the tensions within it. And maybe that’s OK.
To those students who feel disenfranchised and out of touch with Concordia, I would encourage them to join SOS and join forces to make this university a place where they will feel more at home.
It will be interesting to see in the following weeks how much ground support this group gains. If there is none, the conclusion is easily drawn that the majority of Concordia students like their school the way it is. If the opposite happens and this movement takes off, then it would appear we’re in for another rip-roaring, exciting, eventful political debate.
And that, dear Concordians, is just what we do best.

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