Another mess at the SFUO: The importance of general assemblies and the mass line in liberation struggles

The last Board of Administration meeting was the theatre of a struggle around important issues, from solidarity with Palestinian resistance to women’s bodily autonomy. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats at the SFUO once again used a strategy that discards mass participation that consisted of adding a list of liberation movements that would be supported in the SFUO policy manual. By trying to sneak in these amendments using the limited institution that is the BOA, by making no public announcement to the student body, the manoeuvre has not benefited from any support that would have defended it against the reactionary attacks that were called by conservative groups when they discovered the proposed amendments a few days earlier.

Before we move on we would like to mention that the Revolutionary Student Movement is in full support of the Palestinian liberation struggle, bodily autonomy, emancipation of people of colour and indigenous peoples, support gender oppressed people in their struggle; are opposed to islamophobia, abusive extraction of fossil fuels, capitalism and colonialism. The object of our criticism towards the SFUO is not directed towards the politics presented since they are correct positions, even revolutionary ones if taken in the context of a challenge to systemic oppression within capitalism. The problem lies in the methods used by the SFUO to support these movements when there are plenty of better alternatives.

As the Fall General Assembly (the highest decision making body of the SFUO) quickly approaches, the opportunity for hundreds of students to debate and decide on various motions, the bureaucrats opted to pass their motions in the BOA where participation is limited to a handful of supporters despite these motions being controversial and affecting millions of people. Of course, this mobilized conservative groups, specifically pro-Israel ones, who threatened anyone who would support Boycott, Divest and Sanction measures against Israel.

BDS is an international campaign launched by hundreds of different militant and humanitarian Palestinian organisations in order to support the liberation of their people. Inspired by similar campaigns against apartheid measures in South Africa, it seeks among other things to oppose collaboration with Israeli military operations and to stop economic activities taking place on stolen Palestinian land. The Israeli state leads a ferocious fight against this campaign, recognising implicitly that its position is similar to that of South Africa in the 80s, by mandating groups around the world to defend its interests.

This is the case for one of the groups that mobilised against the amendment, Hillel, a pro-Israeli organisation that has sections on many college and university campuses around the world and whose mandate is to defend the Israeli colonisation project. Despite claiming to act against antisemitism and for the defence of all Jewish people, Hillel defends a very narrow vison of Jewish identity that is assimilated to the Israeli identity. This allows them to accuse anyone, including other Jewish people, of being anti-Semitic who defend BDS. There exists a large number of Jewish groups that condemn the acts of the Israeli state and that see BDS as a legitimate measure to rectify the historic injustice faced by Palestinians. Additionally, even within pro-Israeli groups, Hillel’s tactics are controversial. The organisation Open Hillel refuses to label any opposition to Israeli actions and support discussion around BDS tactics. Furthermore, Hillel itself recognises that a majority of Jewish students in North America do not feel like they have any ties with Israel. Hillel and its allies’ claims that they represent the Jewish community are false.

In a similar case, a “pro-life” group (that is to say against bodily autonomy for pregnant people) protested against the addition of a pro-choice amendment that would threaten their club status. A coalition of conservative groups, including bureaucrats from the Conservative Party itself, confronted the SFUO. Their tactics of intimidation, including threats of lawsuits, had a good chance of succeeding given the absence of pro-Palestinian, pro-choice and general leftist support. The result was that the SFUO capitulated on the section on Palestinian solidarity, withdrawing ahead of time the mention of BDS and opting for a meaningless “pro-peace” position. The votes took place by secret ballot so that students can’t know where their representatives stand. We can applaud the upholding of the pro-choice amendment, however the situation in general is not very encouraging.

Our main criticism does not stem from the obvious results of the maneuver but its legitimacy and substance. How are thirty or so student bureaucrats elected once a year able to take political positions in the name of all 35 000 students? It is inconceivable to adopt such motions without a larger debate among the student population.

This brings us to the implementation of the motions. Despite the strong opposition to them, the scope of these motions is very limited. These motions simply amend the constitution of the SFUO, an incredibly long and poorly known document with very little actual power. Merely changing or adding a few lines to the constitution offers no solutions for marginalised communities, it only appropriates their real struggles into bureaucratic maneuvers.

How then can the SFUO adopt political positions in a substantial and legitimate way? For this to happen they would need to be presented and supported by the student population. In other words, the SFUO cannot surpass its members; such positions should reflect changes in its membership. Furthermore, the adoption of political positions must be democratic. Without this they are essentially meaningless.

It is with these principles in mind that the RSM puts forward the concept of Mass Line to lead struggles of liberation. This approach, informed by the experiences of revolutionary struggles worldwide, can be summed up as “from the mases, to the masses”. Concretely, as militants for the liberation of the masses, we must conduct our political work among the people: gather their ideas and build our political campaigns based on their support and participation. We must meet people where they are at in order to advance the struggle. This is the only way to move forward on complex struggles like BDS that will put us in opposition with States and corporations able to hire political mercenaries on every continent.

This is why in the context of the University of Ottawa, the RSM reiterates the importance of General Assemblies as the highest decision making body of the SFUO. We uphold that it is only through the GA that political decisions can be made with legitimacy! We invite everyone to participate in the next General Assembly which is taking place this Tuesday, November 14th at 6:30pm in the Alumni Auditorium. On the agenda will be the following motions proposed by the RSM:

 

  • A reduction of the executive members’ salaries to a hourly rate of 15$/h for a total of 20 hours per week;
  • A mandate for the SFUO to guarantee a larger participation from students in the conception of class syllabuses and the inclusion of a mandatory class for all students on the theme of colonialism.

 

Additionally, we call on all progressive students to organise against the mess caused by the SFUO amendments. BDS is a victory that is close at hand, having made progress elsewhere in Canada and the US. We are committed to support all struggles in solidarity with oppressed peoples.

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