What do you call 550 words, strung together through unconnected events from three different countries that span a half-decade, and that begin with the boring and derivative announcement “Here we go again”?
A teacher might call it a nice first draft of a Grade 11 English paper.
The National Post calls it an editorial.
In a screed that ranges from an anti-abortion presentation in England, arguments made in a random New York Times column and the ever-classic story of students rejecting Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa, the National Post’s editorial (collective? No, surely not. Too Bolshevik) board does its best to de-legitimize student action and protest on Canadian campuses.
Even the title: “What are universities for?” is hilarious. According to these guys, universities are for their beloved columnist Christie Blatchford to speak at, not for students to go on strike to protest government spending cuts. Students should be forced to face unpopular opinions; they have no right to take action against them. Blocking presentations, staring down riot police and holding events where students can relax, play with play-doh and look at puppies have no place on our campuses.
Even better, they call these actions cowardly. Ever stare down a riot cop who then knocks you to the ground with his baton, Chris Selly? Haha yeah right. I’m sure the National Post editorial club’s members are too brave to do that.
This is overextension to the max. From referring to these responses as lunacy, to calling active students “Bolsheviks in short pants” (which doesn’t actually mean anything but perhaps gave the typist a shot of endorphins into his anti-Marxist brain as he wrote), the editorial cannot be taken seriously.
Campuses are hotbeds of classes. They’re hotbeds of young people and older people looking to learn about stuff. And, as access has rapidly widened, new kinds of people are going to university.
Like women who, after hearing chants year after year about all the ways you can rape a woman, are saying: enough with this bullshit.
Like, racialized students who hold a discussion group where they can finally be free of the annoying subconscious or outwardly racist things their white classmates say, then get attacked by white students.
It comes with the terrain: increase enrolment among women and racialized people, you’re going to have people fight to undo the systemic elements of the system that has served to unfairly boost the odds of success for white men.
And I get it. That makes white dudes uncomfortable. May I suggest checking out “puppies” on YouTube?
Newspapers have been instrumental in suppressing the fact that power lies within social movements and they do this with overextended, contrived articles such as these. The National Post and its cranky older brother the Globe and Mail are more likely to report on the entitlement of the least entitled age segment of society than take protests seriously. Downplay numbers. Ignore. Highlight clashes with police. Highlight fringe opinions. Repeat.
This has a very important effect on popular discourse around social movements: protests are fringe events, meaningless and bothersome to a fantasy silent majority. It tells young people that their campaigns don’t matter; they have no power.
It’s a neoliberal bowl-a-thon. The newspapers set up the pins; neoliberal governments knock them down, over and over.
As Québec students set the stage for what is likely to be a year of impressive protests, readers need to be careful to not buy such propaganda. Within minutes of the first protest in Montreal, police declared it illegal, a cover that allows cops to infringe on protesters’ rights, charge or detain protesters. Why wouldn’t the National Post respond to such an outrageous attack on free speech?
Far from apathetic, students are setting the stage for what will become a show of social movement force that is much more broad than just students. People will be arrested and charged. Civil liberties will be attacked. Free speech will be undermined.
Mainstream national newspapers aren’t likely to be defenders of anyone’s free speech or free expression in this struggle.
And from time to time, editorials like these remind average people on whose side they write.