A letter of support for #6party

COMMENTARY | FEBRUARY 9TH, 2012
(Student) party and (admin) bullshit
A letter of support for #6party
To the sixth floor partyers, and those who have supported them in the lobby and outside of the James administration building:We’re writing to stand in solidarity with you, and to offer you all of our support and love. Your actions – your parties, both inside and outside of James – are inspiring. 

They fall into a history of powerful and peaceful actions in the Quebec student movement, and the student movement more broadly: there’s a precedent for occupation, for protesting by putting yourself in spaces where you’re not “supposed” to go. It’s been done at this school, on campuses across Canada, and in institutions all over the world.

It’s a tactic used when standard methods of communication have stopped working; when there’s a broken system. A broken system requires a full-court press. A broken system requires stepping outside the bounds of “allowed” social conduct. A broken system means walking into the lion’s den, and dancing there.

McGill’s system right now is broken. The administration’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the QPIRG/CKUT referendum is just the latest in a string of actions on the part of administration that do not take into account student voices and opinions.

We’re behind you in getting what you are asking for: Mendelson’s resignation (his term was extended without student consultation), and the continued existence of QPIRG and CKUT (as voted for by the student body).

We recognize that these actions are not the end point of this movement. There are more goals to be met and issues to be worked on at McGill. But thank you for upping the ante at this school, for raising the bar, for speaking up.

Y’all throw a hell of a party.

In Solidarity,

Members of The McGill Daily editorial board: Joan Moses (Coordinating editor), Shannon Palus (Science+Technology editor), Fabien Maltais-Bayda (Culture editor), Alyssa Favreau (Production and Design editor), Victor Tangermann (Photo editor). The opinions expressed here are their own

Down but not out

COMMENTARY | MARCH 14TH, 2012
Down but not out
Reflections on the AUS General Assembly
Written by Davide Mastracci

I initially thought this article would be written for, and read by, a campus on strike. I didn’t believe that the AUS would vote to strike, but there was always hope. The AUS GA was six hours of exhausting political soul sucking that snatched that hope away from me. These are my thoughts on the AUS GA and where those who voted ‘yes’ to a strike can go from here.

1. I’m very impressed with the turnout at the AUS GA. Thanks to Mob  Squad’s ability to mobilize students for accessible education, and ModPAC’s ability to spread good old fashioned fear about the strike in the hearts of students, 1,120 voted on the strike resolution. This is approximately 15 per cent of Arts students. In comparison, just five per cent of Concordia voted to put their entire school on strike.

2. The turnout isn’t as big of a deal for me as I’m sure it will be for other commentators. I would have preferred a minimum quorum with a majority ‘yes’ vote, rather than the turnout and outcome we received. This is because I view accessible education throughout Quebec as far more important than McGill students being unusually politicized for six hours.

3. With that said, the ‘yes’ side managed to acquire 44 per cent of the votes. A supposed “radical minority” nearly steered the way for the whole faculty. Some may call that unfair; I call it impressive. 495 voters is nothing to scoff at. And it was made possible due to the efforts of the wonderful people who worked tirelessly and passionately on the ‘yes’ campaign.

4. If you voted against the strike but claim to also be against tuition increases, I look forward to seeinghow your opposition will manifest itself. McGill has never been part of an unlimited general student strike. Going on strike would have expressed solidarity with the Quebec students who have made the tuition at McGill what it is, despite the fact that McGill has historically leeched off of their efforts time and time again. McGill’s tarnished reputation amongst other Quebec universities will live on.

5. Another thing that will live on is Quebec’s anti-increase movement. History has shown that Quebec universities and CEGEP’s do not need McGill’s participation in order for strikes to be succesful, and with this strike shaping up to be one of the largest in history, there’s a good chance the government will buckle to  the student movement’s demands. This reality makes McGill’s current lack of participation less crushing than it could be.

6. Even though the chance of an AUS unlimited general student strike may be gone, the involvement of McGill students in the movement should not end. 495 Arts students indicated that they are willing to fight for accessible education, and, as such, I would encourage them to do so. How, you may ask?  Well first, by attending the province wide rally on March 22 against tuition increases. This call does not go out to just Arts students, but McGill students in general. This rally will be a show of force to the Quebec government, and more bodies equals more strength.

7. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, students within AUS can still go on symbolic or unlimited strikes. This can be done by holding GAs for departments within the Arts faculty. So, for example, Philosophy students are working toward a GA which will give them the opportunity to strike. While these organizations will not be able to harness the full power of the AUS, having certain departments on unlimited strikes is certainly better than having no departments on unlimited strikes.

So, to the 495, keep on keeping on. The GA definitely was a blow, but it’s not the end. Strikes at McGill are still possible, strikes throughout Quebec are still guaranteed, and a strong presence on March 22 is still required. The fight for accessible education does not end here.

 

Tuition Hikes Are Sexist

COMMENTARY | MARCH 16TH, 2012
Tuition hikes are sexist
Hikes would aggravate existing inequalities

This semester, students have left their classrooms and taken to the streets in opposition to the upcoming Quebec tuition hikes. The hikes have been part of our public discourse, but what’s rarely discussed is the the feminist nature of the fight for accessible education, as tuition hikes particularly affect women.

The past few decades have seen women make substantial progress in their university involvement. In 1971, women made up a mere 42 per cent of all university graduates, while, in 2006, 60 per cent of all university graduates were women. Changes like this could be reversed in Quebec if we allow the proposed tuition hike  of $1,625 over five years.

Tuition hikes disproportionately affect women, given that women earn 71 cents of every dollar earned by men. Women who are attempting to pay their own way through university have a more difficult time doing so than men because of their lower average  income. According to Concordia’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, “A woman will earn $863,268 less than a man with the same diploma over the course of her lifetime.” Therefore, it’s also more difficult for them to pay back student debt post-graduation.

Additionally, this strain hurts single mothers attempting to finance their children’s education. According to a 2011 study, tuition fees made up 18 per cent of a single mother’s salary, whereas it made up 10 per cent of a two parent family’s income.

There is no need to aggravate existing inequalities by raising tuition – the hikes are completely unnecessary. If the Quebec government were to increase the top income bracket’s tax rate by 1.4 per cent and create a corporate capital gains tax of 2.4 per cent, the government could provide free post secondary education to all students.

The first Concordia student association to go on strike was the Women’s Studies Student Association. It is The Daily’s hope that more McGill student associations, including the Gender Sexual Diversity and Feminist Studies Student Association, will join the unlimited general student strike. Currently, the Social Work Student Association is the only McGill student association on unlimited strike.

If student groups do not actively work to prevent tuition hikes, women in Quebec and at McGill will be hit hard. It’s time for students to join the fight for accessible education and stop this sexist hike.

No news is good news

COMMENTARY | AUGUST 30TH, 2012
No news is good news
Breaking down the myth of objectivity
Written by Joan Moses | Photo by Jaqueline Brandon | The McGill Daily

It was widely reported that, on August 22, many people marched on the streets of Montreal. Most media sources also agreed that these people were demonstrating against Quebec’s proposed tuition hikes, and part of a loosely defined “Quebec Student Movement.”

Beyond that, though, media outlets’ reports did not seem to converge on many details of the march. For example, the Link, Concordia’s student newspaper, stated in an article entitled “The Last Day of Action” that “this protest was specifically focused on what Quebec’s new government should be,” while rabble.ca, an alternative news website, implied the marchers had a broader motivation, titling their article, “Tens of thousands march for social justice in Montreal.” And while the Montreal Gazette, in “Thousands of students and supporters stage peaceful demonstration,” drew focus to the fact that “numbers were far short of those seen last spring,” rabble.ca announced that this demo was yet another “monster, monthly [march].”

Even reports of the number of people marching – a fact that would seem to be objective – varied widely. A counting firm hired by Radio-Canada reported that 12,250 people had protested; a journalist writing for rabble.ca said that it “exceeded 50,000.” La Coalition large de l’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (CLASSE), a coalition that took part in organazing the march, said that 100,000 people attended.

The facts of the march, then, remain unclear, despite numerous articles. A single reality of the march remains undiscovered by journalists in anglophone Quebec media (whose coverage of the Quebec student movement, it should be noted, has been notoriously bad).

The differences between these accounts of the march illustrate a larger point about journalism. While journalists speak of attempting to attain a kind of ‘objectivity’ or ‘neutrality’ in their reporting (for example, news editors last year at The Daily refrained from wearing red squares in order to not appear biased), objective truth often isn’t attainable in reporting. Sometimes, it can be literally impossible to find. In the case of the march, for example, it wouldn’t be possible to speak to every protester in order to discover what their ‘real’ motivations are.

Further, in the case of almost every story, facts are contextualized by journalists in a subjective way. Journalists choose what background to flesh out a story with, what sources to quote, and where to put these quotes in the story. In short, they narrativize the facts they find, framing them to make sense of them and to explain them to the reader. Even the hardest of news stories contain a subjective, interpretive element.

This subjective element is crucial to the practice of journalism, and it shouldn’t be glossed over. When journalists claim to be objective, they risk offering one interpretation of reality as the only interpretation, and thus erase the voices and experiences of those who weren’t included in the account. Further, a publication’s positionality and political leanings affect its interpretation: the mainstream Gazette covered the August 22 march in a more negative light than the progressive and independent rabble.ca. 

Many alternative publications, including The Daily, recognize that journalism can’t be a neutral pursuit. This recognition needs to become more widespread. Journalists shouldn’t despair, but they should disclose their biases and understand that their social position affects how, what, and why they report. We need to give up the fallacy of objectivity and start practicing a journalism that recognizes the incompleteness of its own truths.

Joan Moses is a U3 Honours Political Science student, and a former Daily Coordinating and Design & Production Editor. She thinks most journalism is macho bullshit, but still harbours a secret love for All the President’s Men.

A critique of The McGill Daily

A critique of The McGill Daily
Two former columnists offer their advice

1. The McGill Daily claims it is a “non-hierarchical collective organization” which has a duty to “depict and analyze power relations accurately in its coverage.”

2. Despite its claims, The Daily is not entirely non-hierarchical, and The Daily staff has failed to adequately analyze power relations present within the paper.

3. There is a non-hierarchical relation amongst the editors at The Daily as they make decisions through consensus with equal voting power. This is something most other papers haven’t accomplished, or even bothered to pursue.

4. However, The Daily is made up of more than just nineteen editors as each issue includes contributions from numerous writers, columnists, photographers, and illustrators.

5. Despite this, the relationship between contributors and editors is a hierarchical one that favours the editors.

6. This hierarchy manifests itself in numerous ways. In practice, the editors determine the cover, illustrations, and stories for each issue amongst themselves, though contributors are free to participate. Additionally, in relations with writers, the editors have the power to overrule whatever they wish, regardless of the desires of the writer. Though editors are usually reasonable, they ultimately hold the power not to be.

7. Subsequently, the issues that are described in point six become even more damaging when one examines the editorial team. The editors have usually been extremely tight-knit, which certainly makes sense, but which makes it very difficult to overrule the recommendation of your primary editor: when a dispute arises, your primary editor merely asks other editors for their opinion on the matter (such as the Coordinating editor), and then returns with a verdict. Thus far, in our experience, this has always meant that the primary editor has made their changes with little or no consultation on the part of the other editors who solidified this decision.

8. This process leads to articles being misinterpreted by The Daily community. For example, an article titled “Anti-intellectualism amongst the political right” (Commentary, October 31, 2011) was written with a quotation at the beginning, which was referred to multiple times in the article. When the article was put into print, the quotation was mysteriously removed, while the article was otherwise unaltered, ruining the entire piece. With greater dialogue, these errors could be avoided.

9. In the 2012-2013 academic year, The Daily will face a referendum which determines if it will continue to exist or not. We believe that The Daily will pass this referendum as it is undoubtedly the best newspaper on campus.

10. Regardless, this does not mean that the paper cannot be improved. And more importantly, the fact that The Daily has existed for over 100 years with an impressive history should not be used as the sole justification for its continued existence. Relying upon past accomplishments to justify presence in the present is a conservative tactic, and as a paper which prides itself on progressive ideas, The Daily must avoid it.

11. So, as writers primarily concerned with the Commentary section of the paper, we recommend the following changes be made to enrich the quality of the paper as a whole.

a. Ensure that The Daily becomes a more open and welcoming paper which the student body can really claim as its own. This can be done by working to create a team-like atmosphere which extends beyond the editors, so that Commentary writers are not just people who send in an article every two weeks, but rather feel like they are a part of the paper. This can imply mutual editorial draftings, Commentary meetings, and greater inclusivity in terms of determining section content, such as taking suggestions on what topics can/should be addressed weekly.

b. Strive for diversity in the issues tackled and taken up. That is, continue to challenge political structures of dominance in McGill society and society at large, but refrain from appealing to and maintaining white, privileged, and elitist ways of thought.

c. Push towards broadening the Commentary section by addressing issues that deal with people on the political and social margins of society and go beyond surface-based structures of oppression that are verbatim to white “leftist” issues commonly found in The Daily. An example that The Daily missed this year was an analysis of how the Montreal protests have privileged white protesters who have not had to deal with or experience racial oppression on a reoccurring basis at the hands of the Montreal police or the McGill administration.

12. In order to move into the next 100 years of its existence, The Daily must uphold all that it believes it strives to stand for. It needs to prevent itself from becoming a site of alienation and exclusivity, stagnant where it was once progressive. And so, in analyzing inequalities and hierarchies in the world, The Daily must turn its scope on itself, as the inequalities within the paper, unlike many of the inequalities in the world, are something Daily members can easily and readily fix.

A diversity of tagtics

A diversity of tagtics
Why we write graffiti
Written by Seamus Mercury * | Photo by Hera Chan

When viewing the Montreal skyline from the chalet on Mount Royal, most people focus on the snow-topped buildings and the bridges in the distance. As in most cities, the logos and text of corporations, banks, and hotels stand taller than any church or library. But there are those who search for the mark of a city’s authentic inhabitants, those who search for the writing on the wall. What captures their attention is the gigantic “VC” painted on an industrial tower towards the southwest. These people are graffiti writers: the inhabitants of cities around the world who know their environment better than any bike messenger or cab driver, and who take the advice of “making your mark” quite literally, and very seriously.

Regrettably, the state deems these graffiti writers to be criminals. Members of the public, who only want to consume graffiti when it has been repackaged and sold back to the streets that created it via commodified art and marketing campaigns, perpetuate this criminalization of public art and expression.

The demonization of graffiti has happened through the marginalization and stereotyping of writers as malicious and mischievous youths. Most notably, the development of the “Broken Window Theory” by social scientists in the early eighties unjustifiably tied all graffiti to antisocial behavior, and denied graffiti its aesthetic merit and nature as an invaluable resource for social history.

Indeed, there is no such thing as a typical graffiti writer. From rich to poor and left to right, all kinds of people write graffiti and they do so for very different reasons. Writers in the modern school of graffiti, which emerged in New York City in the second half of the 20th century, leave their homes at four in the morning with a backpack full of paint because they want to see their name in every neighbourhood and on every block. The motivation may be for themselves, other graffiti writers, or the public, but the ultimate goal of “getting up” consumes those who dedicate their life to ensuring that everyone in their city knows their name, but not their face.

Once one’s name is on the street, one’s reputation needs to be maintained. For many, graffiti can become an addiction as the repetition develops a profound intensity. But this world of graffiti isn’t a game. The egos, violence, drugs, passion, legends, and the smell of fresh paint on the cold night air are all part of the nocturnal art whose effects are only revealed as the sun rises.

In conversations concerning graffiti, the typical refrain goes something like this: “The colourful murals are really great, but not that stupid tagging shit.” But this is an ignorant position. If it’s an aesthetic judgment, then sure, everyone is entitled to their own taste. But without that first tag scrawled in an alley, the graffiti writer who now paints murals would never be where they are now. Graffiti, as with all forms of art, is a process of developing and harnessing talent, and this maturity grows in the can. A little tag evolves into a throw up, which evolves into a burner, which then evolves into a piece; Sharpie scrawls and commissioned stencils are co-dependent entities within the city.

But these murals, tags, and pieces occupy space that the ruling class deem only fit for profit. Every day, we are subjugated to absurd amounts of advertising visible from virtually every vantage point. On the streets, they are the only legal additions to the built environment. Indeed, just to hang a poster in the SSMU building necessitates approval from someone. By writing on walls, be it a political message or a tag or a heart, people challenge a system that says art in public space should only exist to sell.

In Montreal, the Quebec student movement was quick to utilize graffiti as a tool for political dissent. After the manifs had finished for the night, painted messages on walls, wheat-pasted posters on lampposts, and red square stickers everywhere maintained the physical presence of political engagement.

For some, graffiti is about reaction. When a city dweller living out their daily routine notices ink on a wall, their mental state is altered, if only for a split second. Their reaction could be laughter, annoyance, curiosity, or anger, but what matters is the invisible connection between artist and viewer. For in that moment, the mundane glimpses the extraordinary like the darkness between frames on film; in a world increasingly characterized by isolation, moments like this should be cherished.

By taking the art from museums to the street, the ephemeral nature of existence becomes physically present. What is painted on a wall one day can be covered up the next, but this destruction only creates a new canvas for the next individual willing to break the law in the name of expression. Indeed, graffiti writers, consciously or not, are responding to capitalist societies that are both alienating and debilitating in their colonization of public space. So get yourself some paint, hit the streets, and authentically and subversively engage with your city! Just don’t write over someone else.

 

Ro-dee-NO

COMMENTARY | SEPTEMBER 6TH, 2012

Ro-dee-NO
How Engineering Frosh coordinators fell off their horses
Written by Natalie Church | Photo by Amina Batyreva | The McGill Daily

On August 28, veteran McGill students led their proverbial lambs to slaughter. This year, McGill attempted to “redefine” Frosh by making the world’s largest fruit salad and inviting the surrounding community to participate. They wouldn’t have been compelled to host such a fruity affair if there weren’t something terribly disturbing and disrespectful about Frosh’s reputation in Montreal.

The rodeo-themed Engineering Frosh glorifies the men and women of the forgotten West: those brave individuals called cowboys and cowgirls, who, seeking freedom and landed property in the wild frontier inhabited by Native Americans, committed innumerable atrocities. Likewise, the founders of McGill forcibly appropriated Native lands – not to mention James McGill’s purchase of slaves. Engineering Frosh organizers chose a theme which drags up awful memories for those in our community who have connections to the Native population; in the process, they used props like toy guns that serve to glorify weapons and violence. They should be held accountable, even if they need to be lassoed into writing an apology.

Too bad organizers, leaders, and newcomers to McGill, like those frontiersmen of the past, will be too busy colonizing the streets of Montreal shouting profanities and anti-Concordia cheers to write an apology. James McGill, the cowboy of Canada, would be proud.

He might also have been excited by the promotion video for “Rodeo Week,” which switches between shots of the orange Robert E. Lee car from the “Dukes of Hazzard” and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders – slightly perplexing considering that the only thing they have in common with the cowpoke is a hat, and not even a ten-gallon one.

The cowboy theme, then, is not only about the hats, but about sexual objectification. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office, “sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.” When prevalent, as these incidents are in Frosh, rape culture develops. The main instigators of rape culture during Frosh are the leaders and coordinators. Not all Frosh leaders promote these negative attitudes, however, a lack of sensitivity towards these issues can be just as damaging.

On the website, each coordinator has a biography section in which they post their favourite activities, their most treasured memories, and their “poison.” The most problematic question is, “How do you like your cowboys?” or “How do you like your cowgirls?” This question is almost as troublesome as some of the answers. Such a question, superficially non-offensive, enforces gender binaries by asserting that there exist only two types of people, which delegitimizes and ignores the many in our community who do not identify themselves as strictly male or female. Moreover, requiring a coordinator to answer questions concerning their orientation and publishing their answers on a public forum may grant too much importance to socially constructed ideas of sexuality.

Some answered this question with “bareback” or “bucking” – apparently mistaking their horses for their sexual partners; maybe to these cowboys they are one and the same. Another replied, “Lets just say I don’t touch anything lower than an 8.5/10.” Unfortunately, they are unaware that life is not an event at the rodeo, and scoring ‘contestants’ will not win them any prizes. Shockingly, one coordinator was able to take the question seriously and responded, “medium-rare.”

Although Engineering Frosh seems to be the leader in the race to a new moral depravity, a culture of violence, sexual subjugation, and objectification flourishes in the other Froshes as well. In fact, last year a number of individuals at the Arts Undergraduate Society General Assembly proposed changes to the Frosh mandate in order to make it a safer and more accessible space. These proposals included adding anti-oppression and rape culture workshops, which would have addressed many of the problematic aspects of these events. Given the concern surrounding Frosh, it is perplexing to see Engineering Frosh coordinators choose a theme centered around groups who have participated in acts of oppression and genocide. This only furthers the already apparent alienating and hierarchical paradigm in which McGill exists.

Natalie Church is a Philosophy, Political Theory, and Math student. She can be reached at pianonat@hotmail.com.