Hundreds of students from across the province descended on Toronto Oct. 12-13 for a province-wide Student Activist Assembly. The two-day event was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario (CFS-Ontario) and was attended by students from all regions of the province.
According to Sarah Jayne King, Chairperson of the CFS-Ontario, the purpose of the Activist Assembly was to “talk about the different organizing that’s going on campuses … to find unity and be able to grow the student movement.”
The last time the CFS-Ontario had an activist assembly was in 2008.
“That was a really important time in the student movement and following it we saw students getting extremely engaged in the student movement and various movements,” said King.
“This year is another big year in the student movement and we thought it appropriate to see a similar sort of kick start to the student movement. We’re at the point in Ontario where we have the highest tuition fees in the country and we have a government that is talking about drastically changing the education system,” she added.
A leaked government document, “3x3: Revolutionizing Ontario’s Post Secondary Education System for the 21st Century,” or “three cubed” for short, revealed earlier this year that the Ontario government has plans to cut faculty, reduce undergraduate degrees to three years and make three out of five classes online only.
Students will also have to pay more in tuition fees, which according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are expected to be in excess of $9200 a year in the 2015-2016 academic year if the current increases continue.
Twenty-five McMaster students registered for the assembly and they were well represented with a bus that left campus on Oct. 12 and others who made their own way there.
“[This was] the perfect next step to get involved in the activist scene in Hamilton and Toronto and seems like a very positive thing,” said Anna Peterson, a second year English major, when asked why she came to the event.
“[The Activist Assembly] was a really effective way to have inter-campus conservations about organizing strategies,” said Karen McCallam, a Masters student in Gender Studies and Feminist Research at McMaster.
“Connecting with campuses in Ontario is the only way we can get perspectives on ourselves. It’s almost sectarian if we focus on our own campus politics. [There] is an unlimited amount of potential in coalition work and cooperation inter-campus.”
The Activist Assembly worked towards eliminating significant barriers for participation, providing ASL interpreters, translation, child care, and attendants while also covering food, transit and accommodations for activists.
The Activist Assembly concluded with a keynote panel on Oct. 13 with student leaders from Chile, Spain, Greece and Quebec, who gave powerful insights into the struggle behind their respective student movements.
The Activist Assembly imparted one core message to the activists present: urgent action by students and workers is needed. With increasing tuition fees, few job prospects and pressing ecological concerns, student activists asserted that youth are inheriting a world without a future.
With over 300 students in attendance from all regions of the province, organizers felt the event was a resounding success given the follow-up plans that participants pledged to bring back to their respective campuses.