A time and place for activism

Would you rather have too much, or too little? When it comes to student government activism, I’d pick the latter.

I’m all for protest, activism and general shit-disturbing–if it’s for a good cause, of course. However, as so many of these “good causes” are divisive issues–think of the Iraq war or the conflict between Palestine and Israel–it would be poor representation for a students’ union to pick a side. This may seem a silly issue at this campus, where the only scandal comes from internal SU bickering and the only real action concerns tuition and the Den, but not all student governments ignore the outside world.

Thanks to their students’ unions, two universities in eastern Canada are now labeled “hotbeds of activism.” Last September, an SU-lead demonstration at Concordia University used violent protests to prevent former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking on campus. Just last week, 200 anti-war demonstrators, also spurred on by the local students’ union, prevented students from getting to class at York University. Both protests were marked by anti-Semitic rhetoric–one York prof opened up her office to find swastikas glued to her door.

Well, that’s one way to represent student interests.

As there are Jewish students on campus at both universities, one can safely assume that these protests don’t represent all students or even, hopefully, the majority. However, the students’ unions at both schools use their mandatory member fees to fund and support such actions. Now, I’m not sure exactly how their executives were elected and if they used anti-semitism as a platform point, but somehow I doubt it.

For all the faults of our own SU, at least they try to properly represent our views and desires, rather than use our mandatory fees to push their own personal agendas. Though not all students necessarily oppose differential tuition, it was a topic brought up during their elections; if you paid attention, you should know exactly where each elected official stands on such issues. And although not all students agree on tuition issues, they all face them.

The purpose of student government is to represent students to administration, government and media, while supplying services we can’t get, or can’t get cheap elsewhere. The SU exists to hold events, fight tuition and supply cheap photocopying–thankfully, that’s all they seem to do.

If students want to organize to protest war, Israel, Palestine or anything else under the sun, good on them. They should–universities are a great place for discussion and action to start. But that’s what clubs are for. They bring together like-minded individuals on a specific topic. Students’ unions, on the other hand, exist to represent issues that all students face.

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