The highlight of the weekend was the panel of speakers involved with the student movements in Chile, Greece, Spain and Quebec. They provided both insight and inspiration to new and old members of the student movement in Ontario. As Sara from Guelph University said, “For me the experience of coming to something like this makes the idea of organizing around and fighting for an idea less intimidating—I know I’m not alone.”
Although undoubtedly chock full of experienced and knowledgeable activists, the real benefit of the Assembly was for the new voices and minds it hosted. The fight against rising tuition fees is one that is growing as more and more students are feeling the financial strain of costs of living, textbooks and even just survival. It is a powerful and unifying cause that has the potential to create co-operation between fields of study, campuses and even to bridge the gap between students and workers.
The keynote address on the opening night was by Clayton Thomas Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who through his own personal story talked about the process of radicalization and the importance of broad-based grassroots movements.
The second day of the assembly was broken up into blocks of workshops hosted or presented by passionate and experienced activists. Themes included: Educate, Agitate, Organize!; Activists in Court; Building an Inclusive Movement; and the Economics of Free Education. For many students, these workshops facilitated important conversation around real issues facing students today, in addition to the issue of the growing cost of education. There was also opportunity for skill-building and networking both in and outside of the workshops. For the attendees, discussing their passions and campaigns with other students was just one of the many steps taken for change over the weekend.
“It is not enough to just be against something,” said Rodrigo Echecopar who is a part of the student movement in Chile. This message is well understood by the students who attended, as the conversations were focused not just around the cost of education but also around other equity issues facing both students and workers. Even if a person is able to make it into school and able to afford to stay in school, if there is oppression on campus what are the chances they will continue? The answer is different for everyone, but the consensus among progressive minds is to eliminate the root of the question altogether.
Every person has the right to equal access to high quality education, free of cost, discrimination and oppression. In his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges reflects on what the purpose of education is and writes, “We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.” It is safe to say that this point is not lost on the students present at this year’s Activist Assembly. And if they have anything to do with it, the rest of the world will understand it too