Protesting is sexy. We grew up learning about the courageous people who changed the course of history through protests. We are young. We don’t conform. They will hear our voice. There is a sense of community. People get together for a cause. You feel righteous. You are taking your time off to show that you care about a public issue. Good.
But I have issues with the March to the Legislature that is taking place tomorrow (Friday). I think this is a misguided, too-hastily organized effort that is not only going to be ineffective, but also undermine the very cause that the organizers of the protest are trying to promote.
Why do you protest? Whenever I ask this question, my friend Andrew, who is probably going to the protest, always cites the example of a protester who could not do anything else but yell at the government. The objective of protesting is to demonstrate to the government that we are frustrated about certain things, and hope that it does something about these certain things—in this case, these certain things being cuts made to higher education.
So, the raison d’être for this March to the Legislature is to A) let the government know that we are frustrated about these budget cuts and B) hopefully make it fix this. Will this work? Maybe in other scenarios, but not in this case.
The key to a movement is to have a clear agenda and strategy. This protest was organized way too hastily to have these elements. Plus, it is led by people and groups who were deeply involved in Occupy Edmonton or Idle No More. These were polarizing movements, and especially the former has been an unsuccessful movement that became appropriated by the 1% of the left.
Why is this important? These people are not representative of U of A students. I’m not making a judgement call on whether participating in Occupy is a good thing or not (I even participated in one of their rallies in the past), but I am saying that they do not share the mainstream political discourse and verge toward, if not represent, the radical side of our political spectrum. They are the people who protest whenever there is an occasion for it—and they are too familiar, clichéd as to make the general population pay attention and side with us, students in this issue.
The media will be there. But the focus will be on that one crazy dude with a picket that says “legalize marijuana” or “make love, not war.” At least that is what the public will remember. When the Occupy protest took place on campus, students focused on one person with a sign that said, “books not bombs.” Point is, the world will not see the U of A student Joe, concerned about the rising cost of attendance, but Jim, the guy with a funny picket sign that he brought to the Occupy rally a year ago.
Then what is the alternative? We, students, need to get the rest of the population. We need to get the people who voted for the PC MLAs to this government. This is a rare chance in which the student body and the university administration can work together to address this issue. We shouldn’t have John, a person who subscribes to the Marxist theory of proletariat revolution, but Dr. Smith in political science, to speak to the media. We need to work with President Samarasekera, professors, university staff to educate people that what the PC government has done is outrageous and damaging to the public good. Once people outside of the Strathcona riding start to care, the MLAs will realize that they will have to do something to keep their jobs.
This kind of hastily-organized protest is what the government was expecting, and perhaps it is even desired. Protesting is sexy and it feels as if you are doing something about it. But are you contributing to the public good through this protest? Are you participating in this without a second thought? If you know this protest will not bring about a positive political change, aren’t you doing something for the sake of feeling great about yourself?
Think about it.
Dongwoo Kim (@dongwookim_) is a student of history and politics at the University of Alberta. He will not go to the rally tomorrow to be a good citizen, and respects his fellow students’ differing views on this issue.
CC Photograph Courtesy of VPickering on Flickr