>Monday 16 October 2000 > >To change a world >Corporate globalization is giving rise to a new wave of >campus activism >by KATE SWOGER >The [Montreal] Gazette > >In a hot, humid third-floor room, a dozen bodies were >squeezed together in a circle of chairs to discuss "a >necessary evil" that's "out of control" and "is trying to >take control of the world" - corporate globalization. > >Gathered in those steamy quarters at a Concordia University >building on Mackay St. were CEGEP students, university >undergraduates, artists, teachers and longtime activists. > >"We're not against globalization per se," said activist >Jaggi Singh, part of Montreal's Anti-Capitalist Convergence, >as the workshop he was leading picked up speed. "Our group >is talking about corporate globalization. It's a vision that >sees everything as having a dollar value - people, the >environment, the air. We need our own positive vision of >what the world should be." > >However you define it, globalization is doing more than >expanding the reach of industry around the world. It also >has the potential to bring together some of the >long-fractured elements of activism, and do so more >powerfully than any other cause has in decades. > >The issue of corporate globalism is broad enough to bring >together a diverse range of critics, from environmentalists >to peace activists, from consumer-rights lobbyists to trade >unionists to those concerned with the treatment of women, >minorities and the populations of developing nations. > >The movement brings with it critiques of governments and of >powerful world bodies. And it carries visions of an >alternative way of doing things. But this same movement is >sometimes accompanied by images of anger, destruction and >clashes between protesters and police. > >That face of the new activism was apparent in street >protests that disrupted the World Trade Organization >conference in Seattle last fall and the World Bank and >International Monetary Fund meetings in Prague last month. > >We might see that kind of activism in the streets of >Montreal this month, when federal Finance Minister Paul >Martin meets representatives of the "G20" developed and >emerging nations to discuss global financial reforms Oct. >24-25. > >The protesters promise to be out in even greater force in >April in Quebec City, when the heads of 34 governments of >the western hemisphere meet for the third Summit of the >Americas. > >But this umbrella protest movement has many sides to it, >almost as many as there are individual activists. > >University students, most of whom are young and starting to >think about what kind of world they want to live in, often >fill the ranks as foot soldiers of social movements. > >Helen Hudson, a co-ordinator at Concordia's branch of the >Quebec Public Interest Research Group, sees dozens of >students hungry for social justice arrive at her office >every year. > >"They're trying to figure out how they want to fit in in the >world, how they want to change the world and make it a >better place, and we can act as a springboard for that," she >said. > >Students might end up gathering books for prisoners, >recycling old bicycles for community groups or holding >workshops on genetically modified food. > >Hudson was active in environmental causes when she an >undergrad at Ontario's University of Guelph in the >mid-1990s. Today's students, she said, are making >connections between their concerns in a way that didn't >happen even six or seven years ago. > >"It definitely feels more like a movement now," she said. >"It was really easy to feel isolated when I first got >involved, and there's definitely still times when that's >still the case. > >"But now it feels like I'm working in a wider context with >other people who aren't necessarily working on the same >specific issue, but it feels like we're working toward the >same larger goal." > >The anti-globalization movement has helped, Hudson said, but >globalism itself has also contributed to shaping locals into >activists with a sense of connection to people around the >world. For instance, activists have set up alternative >information centres on the Internet, where they can find out >what's happening on the other side of the globe, and >exchange tips on protest tactics or herbal remedies for >pepper spray. > >Last fall's events in Seattle showed how technology has >widened possibilities for social change, said Louise >Gauthier, a Concordia sociology professor. > >"This was the first instance where the new forms of >communication became useful tools for potential social >criticism and political activism on a relatively broad >scale," she said. > >Gauthier argued that the phenomenon is failing in that it >occurs in fits and starts, focused on big demonstrations. >"There is no sustained energy," she said. > >But for Rachel Faucher, an executive of the Universite du >Quebec a Montreal's main student union, the message of the >recent protests has real meaning. She believes the state of >our post-secondary education system is clearly linked to >globalization. > >Growing corporate power in a time of government spending >cuts means companies have increasing influence on campus, >she argued. As a result, our universities are in danger of >becoming merely tools for industry to compete in a >knowledge-based global marketplace. > >She said she often finds it frustrating to deal with >baby-boomers who now make business-minded decisions about >the education system even though many of them, in their >youth, rebelled against such values. > >"The university is a place of learning, but they have >management and big-business people to run things," Faucher >said. > >"But it's not just a question of cash. They forget at times >the principles at stake, the students, the moral side, and >think only about money. > >"Many baby-boomers have forgotten what it was like for them. >Back then, students were in revolt." > >Indeed, scorn for the anti-globalization forces has come >fast and furious from many quarters. Activists have been >dismissed as naive, destructive, retrograde. New York Times >columnist Thomas Friedman dubbed the Seattle protesters >"flat-Earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and >yuppies looking for their 1960s fix." > >"We're the regressives," Singh remarked, his voice tinged >with sarcasm. To counter negative images of the >anti-globalists, an adopt-an-activist campaign will run in >Quebec City during the Summit of the Americas, asking >residents to billet protesters in their homes during the >counter-conference activities. > >"We're not all scary people," Singh said. > >Students contributing to the movement aren't just in >political science, social work, the arts and humanities. > >Sebastien Grenier, a McGill University management student, >said he first started thinking about social problems when he >took a CEGEP class in environmental ethics. > >"From there, you either say, 'Well, it's too big,' and you >don't do anything, or you think, 'I'm powerless, it will >still happen even if I do my small part,' " Grenier said. >"But I said, 'No, I want to know more.' " > >After he arrived at McGill, Grenier was part of the first >group of students to take a new class on the social context >of business. It got students talking about issues like child >labour, Third World debt, sweatshops, advertising and the >environment, in a faculty where the prevailing attitude is >that the market will solve everything. > >Grenier and some other students decided they wanted to >continue exploring the questions raised in the class on >their own, forming a group called McGill Business Watch. >Besides organizing speeches and workshops, the group is >making it their mission to research corporations, especially >those that are recruiting, sponsoring events or funding >research in their faculty. > >"We'll try to go beyond the image that big corporations are >all OK, that you just fit into it, you go work for them and >then everything is fine," he said. > >Ahmed Abou Chaker says that to go through university >thinking only about a job at the end of the line is to get a >second-rate education. The Palestinian physiology student, >who is trying to raise awareness at McGill about human >rights in his homeland, feels university provides people >with an opportunity to stretch their minds with new ideas >and experiences. > >"There's much more to life than just studying, just books," >he said. "If that's all you do, you won't survive out there >in the world." > >But for others, their concern over social issues often >remains just that, because they don't have the time to >devote to anything but their studies. > >And others have no use at all for organized political >action. > >Brendan Gunther, a second-year biochemistry student, said he >prefers to try to change things through his actions and by >influencing the lives of those around him. > >"I'm consciously inactive," he said. "I think >person-to-person is the way to do things." > >While Gauthier sees potential for the movement to bring >about real change, she said the stumbling block lies in the >conflict between our personal needs and our sense of >connection to others. > >"I think we're still living in the era of acute >individualism," she said. "If you combine that acute >individualism with this tendency to develop a social >consciousness, this duality is not going to mix well." > >Gauthier said she often sees mass culture's me-centred >message winning out over lofty ideas of equality and rights >in her own students. > >"They may understand social stratification and status and >class, but they may also think, 'I understand this for my >course, but it's not what I really want to live out in my >day-to-day life because I want the Lexus.'" > >While Gauthier says she hasn't seen protests on the scale of >Seattle since the fall of communism in the late 1980s, she >adds that she doesn't see the same congealing of forces that >occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s. The issues have, in >some ways, become much more complicated since that era >because the targets were more tangible, like discriminatory >laws or the Vietnam War. > >"It's much more fluid now," she said. "We're not working >with clear-cut categories any more." > >The challenge for this movement is to create unity in >diversity. There's a double-edged danger: anti-globalism >could become an unfocused protest against everything, or a >simplistic critique that fails to acknowledge the subtle >dynamics of global economics. > >Pauline Hwang began on her route to activism in high school, >when she did a lot of volunteer work at food banks and other >organizations. But she began thinking seriously about >globalization in 1998 when she attended a speech about the >proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment by Maude >Barlow of the Council of Canadians. > >Hwang was an organizer of a protest last semester that put a >stop to McGill's planned exclusivity contract with >Coca-Cola. > >This year, she plans to work on projects that link global >issues to local ones; she mentioned police brutality, >immigration and women in the workplace. > >While Hwang is encouraged to see more people getting >involved, she also worries that this new student movement is >in danger of becoming too focused on the concerns of the new >activists. > >"A lot of the dialogue is about, 'We're losing our power, >our governments don't have the same power,' which is rather >middle-class, because they are the ones who used to have >political clout," she said. > >"I think a lot of those arguments really draw in some of the >younger, more wealthy folks." > >Hwang sometimes senses a resistance to talk about how race, >gender and class issues play into the scenario, a backlash >of sorts to the identity-based politics of the late 1980s >and early 1990s. > >But the fact coalitions are forming gives her hope that >there is room for a change in those attitudes. > >"Some days I'm more cynical than others, but I think there >is potential," Hwang said. > >"I think this is an exciting time. We bought a bit of space, >by surprising everyone at Seattle, to really throw a lot of >things into question. That means pushing the boundaries of >what we're debating and not just limiting it to, >'Corporations, give us back our power.' Because who had the >power to begin with?" > >Karen Herland attended Concordia in the mid-1980s, when the >issues that Hwang is talking about were coming to centre >stage in the student movement. While she doesn't often find >herself on the front line at demonstrations with a megaphone >these days, she has remained committed to the questions she >grappled with in university. > >These days, Herland is working to create a dialogue on >prostitution in the centre-south area of Montreal, after a >pilot project to suspend prostitution arrests in the >district was canceled this spring in the face of vocal >opposition by local residents. > >"If you're still interested, you're still involved, but it's >not necessarily with a placard," Herland said. > >She doesn't see the current philosophy of the activist >community as all that different from the discussion of >racism, sexism and homophobia that proceeded it. > >"For me, it was ultimately about a question of respecting >difference - recognizing that not respecting difference gave >people unequal access to self-determination," Herland said. >"I think that looking at these issues on a global scale >takes up that same point and extends it." > >Herland contends the anti-globalization forces have the >potential to effect some real change - concessions in laws >and regulations, amended banking practices, a boost of >consumers' power and, perhaps, an acknowledgment that >sweatshops are not ethical. > >"I think this, like every kind of movement before it, will >evolve into a certain recognition of some of the issues," >she said. > >"But that's not going to happen overnight."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : 10/19/00 EDT