Administrators try to disrupt a teach-in about the Occupy movement


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By: Toban Black

Our “Teach-in on the occupy movement” event was held in the “University Community Centre” (UCC) atrium here in London, Ontario on November 22nd.  This teach-in was arranged by some campus students and employees who plan to continue to collaborate with one another.

The day after our teach-in, the headline “UCC atrium gets occupied: Unauthorized pamphlets distributed” was on the front page of a campus paper that covered the event.

We had prepared this pamphlet for the teach-in.  Sections of it are about Canadian economy, universities, and local issues.  This pamphlet was collectively read out into the “Community Centre” atrium during an assembly, where we also discussed its contents.

A group of guys with ties tried to disrupt the assembly by singing over us, but we just raised the volume of our people’s mic.

Details about how “Students’ Council” administrators tried to stop the teach-in are outlined below.

First, here is the event call-out, which communicates why we arranged this event:

WHY OCCUPY?

These words were in our online event postings, and in notices sent to the campus press –

In solidarity with the ongoing struggles and peaceful occupations of parks, streets and campuses across the world and here in London, we would like to offer an invitation to all students, faculty, staff, and neighbours to join us

The Teach-In is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the claims, passions and concerns constituting the movement as well as to acknowledge the risks taken and injustices battled against by the thousands of people engaged in and supportive of these occupations. It will be a chance to recognize what is at stake in this for all of us — autonomy over the conditions of our educations, our work, our futures.

In the face of growing economic, political and social uncertainties, and shrinking confidence in the powers that presume to govern our lives, these thousands have disowned the burdens piled on their shoulders by an unjust and inequitable system that increasingly constricts the shapes of our lives and imaginations. In an age of privatization and corporate interests, institutions that claim to serve our interests instead reinforce inequalities, demolish our access to essential services, and turn their backs as we are left utterly insecure. Profit-making dictates decisions concerning our education, our housing, our health, our lands; considerations of democracy and justice are left by the wayside.

How can we bring this occupation movement to Western? The university should be a public institution that holds a societal responsibility to resist corporatization and to promote equity, accessibility, and social and environmental justice. The university’s role should be to provide an environment for free and open critical inquiry, fostering members of society who are able to creatively and imaginatively contribute to a dynamic future.

Join us in building awareness of issues relevant to our lives on and beyond this campus, to our political organizing, to our sharing of knowledge and skills, to a rediscovery of what we hold in common. In a spirit of inclusivity and open-mindedness, bring your questions, your uncertainties, your personal stories, your hopes, and your misgivings- join us in a discussion of our present and of our possible paths. We will not always agree with one another, but we must respect one another, support and affirm one another. We must recognize that we all have an equal stake in this university as well as the wider community across the city, the nation, the globe.

We all have a stake in this.

ADMINISTRATIVE RESTRICTIONS

We decided to pre-book the atrium for this teach-in.  Since we aren’t an official campus group — and we don’t even have a name yet, for that matter — it was an accomplishment to get the booking.  We even were able to manuever out of paying for the space.

But many other corporate-bureaucratic hurdles got in our way.

The day before the event, a campus printing service (InPrint) wouldn’t accept money to make copies of our a pamphlet for us.  They insisted (incorrectly) that the pamphlet violates the university copyright over their brand logo, which has the same campus tower in it.  Yet, the tower on our pamphlet actually is a personal photograph of the tower, so it isn’t a copy of any of the university marketing graphics.

Administrators also tried to stop us from distributing the main pamphlet for the teach-in.  One of many administrative policies demands that approval be requested and received for “pamphlets, handouts, posters, signs, surveys, or advertisements” that are distributed.  This document includes that policy, and many others that restrict activities at the campus.  None of our pamphlets were pre-authorized by the “University Students’ Council”.

Although we had gone through official channels to arrange to be in the atrium, we were told that we were going to have to leave, before we had even finished setting up for the event.  For hours, it seemed like we were going to be evicted.  The campus police stopped by, and administrative staff were lingering around during much of the teach-in.

The main sticking point with them was a section of the pamphlet which questions the student code of conduct (see below.)

Other criticisms from the “Students’ Council” administration were about:
– how we were stepping more than three feet away from the event tables
– not receiving approval for the event posters
– showing a video that has David Heap, a Freedom Waves to Gaza activist, in it — despite how he is a professor at the university
– setting up a tent in the atrium
– their expectations that there might be swearing in the videos

The “Students’ Council” administrators who have raised all of those objections also are in charge of the printing operation that refused to make copies of the pamphlet.

One of those campus bureaucrats ended up in a debate with several people who had come for the teach-in. In many ways, their approach to the university is clashing with ours.

In regards to the controversial video clip with the pro-Palestinian activist in it: one of our teach-in organizers was told that the video is ‘not about occupy issues’ — so it supposedly doesn’t fit into our event booking.  The organizers of the Occupy London rally shown in the video wouldn’t agree though, since they had invited David Heap to speak.  We chose to show the video a couple of times.

As for the controversial section of the pamphlet: here it is:

What you should know about UWO’s Student Code of Conduct:
•  “The University does not condone behaviour that infringes upon the rights of the University’s neighbours or that brings the University’s good name into disrepute.” – This clause is so vague that most students overlook it. Disguised as something encouraging students to be well-behaved off-campus, it actually gives the administration the capacity to punish anything you do, anywhere. You could be punished for anything and everything that the University finds “disreputable” (from participating in the Victoria Park Occupation to complaining about Amit Chakma’s salary on Facebook).
•  “By action, threat, written material, or by any means whatsoever, disrupting or obstructing any University or Affiliated University College activities, including a University sponsored program, event or activity, or other authorized activities on premises of the University or its Affiliated University Colleges, or the right of another person to carry on his/her legitimate activities, or to speak or to associate with others. University or Affiliated University College activities
include, but are not limited to, teaching, research, studying, sports and recreation, administration and meetings.”- This clause is as vague as the rest of the Code of Conduct and it gives the administration the freedom to construe any action (from coughing too loud in class to speaking your mind about tuition fees on concrete beach) as a disruption, which can be punishable however they deem fit.
•  UWO’s Student Code of Conduct has the potential to be used as a political tool against students.

Administrators have singled out a couple of students who they expect to answer to them for a ‘debriefing’ session.  They’ll have to learn that we don’t have leaders or spokespeople who they can pin blame on.

[Note: this write-up is just a personal summary of these efforts and conflicts]

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