Hello everybody, my name is Gabriel. I am a member of the Social Justice Centre here on Campus. I am also a student from Quebec and I have experienced mass student mobilization and witnessed first hand the power of student movements. I am not here to debate whether the Quebec student strike was good or bad, but rather to talk about the power we as a student body can have if we mobilize.
And for that reason, I would like to start by thanking everybody who is here today either to learn about the problem or simply protest their profound discontent with the university’s policy. All the speakers before me have very eloquently argued that the proposed increases to tuition and residence fees are arbitrary, oppressive and inherently unjust. I will not dwell on the flawed logic of the university’s rhetoric nor on the devastating effects such policies will have on our community. Rather I want to talk about the importance of being here. The importance of being at the General Assembly next Tuesday. The importance of remaining mobilized not only this week, but for the weeks and maybe even months to come.
In the past few days, I have been asked over and over whether mobilizing, protesting and resisting will actually achieve anything. To which the only answer is a resounding Yes. I can guarantee you that if we all go home tonight and forget about this, the university will increase international tuition by 10% and it will increase 8-month housing fees by 20%. But if we decide to fight and if we mobilize we can effect change. I promise it will be hard. Trust me, I know. I was on strike for 9 weeks and I went to my fair share of student protests. And even though it was difficult, long and tiring; we came out victorious. I come from a place that has seen a dozen general student strikes and all but 2 were successful. Those that failed only had themselves to blame. Their failure being the result of lack of mobilization. I come from a place where people in powerbackdown when those they supposedly speak for rise up. UBC can be such a place.
It only depends on us, all of us coming together and collectively taking action. Let’s have our voices as students heard. Let us have a say in what our university should look like. Let us tell them that the wealth of a university is not measured by the number of fountains it builds nor the price tag they put on a degree. Rather the wealth of a university is measured in the diversity of its student body. A rich university is one where you can learn more from the people you meet than from the classes you take.
If there is one thing you must take away from my speech today it is that: this is only the beginning. It is the beginning of our struggle because the university will not cancel the hikes simply after a couple protests and two town halls. They won’t back down just because we ask nicely, highlight their flawed logic and their oppressive actions. The university has clearly demonstrated that the only arguments it understands are numbers. Well let’s give them an argument they will understand. We are hundreds of students here today. At the General assembly next Tuesday we have to be thousands and in the weeks to come our numbers will continue to grow our actions will multiply and discontent, solidarity and resistance will spread like wildfire amongst our peers. Next Tuesday, at the General Assembly, let us come together. Tuesday let us plan out, together – the entire student body – the escalation of actions we must take in the weeks to come until the university backs down. In two weeks from today, let us all come together again at the Annual General Meeting where all student voices may be heard on the subject. In two weeks from today, let’s have all 50,000 UBC undergraduate students vote on the collective action the student body will take in the weeks to come.
It is also only the beginning of a much larger change in the university. We know that today it is international tuition and residence fees, but tomorrow it will be national tuition and the day after it will another fee. We have to mobilize as a student body now because we are laying the ground work for not only this struggle but the ones to come.
In 10 years, UBC will be known across the province as not only a place of mind, but a place of resistance. Everybody will know that our student body bands together to defend the diversity, richness, and accessibility of our institutions whenever and wherever these are attacked. Let us leave a legacy of solidarity, mobilization and resistance to the future generations. Let them be inspired by our actions.
So I ask each and everyone one of you to come to the General Assembly next Tuesday. This will be an opportunity for all students to discuss what actions they want to take against these unjust hikes. Next Tuesday I hope to see you all with a friend or two you mobilized. Let’s double our numbers and demonstrate that our movement is just beginning. Go out and tell everybody that this is just the beginning.
This is something that I really want to do. This is something I know all the speakers really want to do. But I cannot do it alone, nor can any one of us. We can only do this together. And I know this might not be easy for everybody. I acknowledge that some people will have to step outside of their comfort zone. But I ask each and everyone of you to go out and tell your roommates, your classmates, even the person that sits beside you on the bus: that this is just the beginning.
Gabriel D’Astous is an executive of the Social Justice Centre, an AMS Resource Group that aims to serve any and all students interested in finding progressive solutions to societal injustice. Gabriel is from Montreal and was a student activist during the Quebec student strike of 2012.