On Tuesday March 13th, the SFUO held its 6th General Assembly. It was marked by a record attendance of over 500 people and a mobilization in support of Palestine that was without precedent. However, there is a lot to discuss as far as the events of the evening goes.
Firstly, the majority of votes that our Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) motion against the Israeli state received was overturned by a ruling that the motion needed 2/3 support, which was not communicated to attendees beforehand.
The evening proceeded with a number of hurdles, the first being a series of logistical issues. The room wasn’t large enough to accommodate all the students that came out to participate in the GA et nearly half of them were required to sit in the UCU Agora where they could not get speaking rights. No translation was offered and so the proceedings were only done in English to the detriment of francophone students who make up a quarter of campus. In the end, the General Assembly started 1:30 behind schedule due to last minute requirements on top of which the room had only been reserved for 3 hours, which is clearly to little for an assembly of over 500 members.
We should also criticize the measures taken by the SFUO that consisted of removing voting cards from students who didn’t follow the “no clapping” rule that was spontaneously adopted without precedent. There are good reasons to expel students acting in a racist, sexist or other unacceptable way, however the bureaucratic and non- transparent way this was implemented only further built up tension and derailed the meeting.
Secondly, the progression of the meeting was itself fairly bureaucratic and hindered actual debate on motions. The first proposal was on the adoption of online voting during SFUO elections, a proposal made by the right-wing student politician clique in the hopes that technology could act as a magical antidote for electoral fraud and voter absenteeism. The motion even argued for putting the elections in the hands of a private company. The RSM is opposed to online voting since it is no more democratic and does not really promote a larger participation from students. Democracy is not simply the act of voting. It must be a process in which politics are vigorously debated before being voted on. Unfortunately, procedural manoeuvres cut short debate on this proposal and it was approved without being challenged. As for our motion on BDS which followed, we were only given a brief period of discussion. Three interventions were made for each of the sides before the vote was called. Each side seemed convinced that they would win the vote, and assumed no further debate was necessary. As mentioned, we believe that democracy goes beyond simply voting, and that the way the GA developed prevented the effective combat of reactionary and liberal ideas that were brought up against BDS. The assembly had only just begun the debate on the Israeli occupation of Palestine when it was closed, ending any chance at addressing and exposing Zionist and anti-Palestinian arguments.
Despite this, we should be proud of our accomplishments that evening. We experienced a student mobilization that surpassed our expectations and that the University of Ottawa had not seen in a long time. We see that students are far from apathetic and want to participate in political life if they are given the chance. If we compare the result of the GA to the bureaucratic methods by which pro-Palestinian policies were attempted to be implemented at the Board of Administration last semester, we can confirm that mass mobilization and politicization are powerful strategies. Working with local Palestinian solidarity groups like Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and Independent Jewish Voices, over 250 students came out in support of Palestinian liberation. The majority of votes we obtained on the motion is a victory in itself. Despite their considerable political and material advantages, we overcame the doubts of the bureaucrats and the attempts that the right-wing made to block the motion.
This experience has shown that it is possible to struggle even in situations where reactionary positions are the norm. In conclusion, we would like to reiterate or opposition to colonialist and imperialist forces and that it is therefor our duty to end the support that the capitalist, colonialist and imperialist state of Canada extends to Israel. This effort will allow the removal of barriers to the national liberation struggle of the Palestinian people.
From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!