Allegations of allegations of racism and debate obscuring at the CFS general meeting

5 Dec

Racism, accusations of racism and white people.

This trio has stymied many an activist, especially when he or she believes the stakes to be high enough to warrant pulling out this special collision of criticism. When the three collide, accidents are bound to be made.

At the last meeting of the Canadian Federation of Students, this collision played out on Twitter. Representatives from the Dawson Students’ Union claimed either the entire CFS, the national executive or about 100 delegates said that Québec’s student movement is racist (the variations on a theme are from DSU representative Morgan Crockett’s Twitter feed). Crockett neglected to be less ambiguous, instead fanning the rumour mill online and repeating the claim rather than identifying the source or providing context, leaving questions about whether or not anyone actually said anything close to this.

Technically unrelated, though perhaps related to this tactic, the motions that her students’ union served were rejected by other students there. Two DSU reps were unsuccessful in their electoral bids for National Executive positions.

She argued that saying that the students’ union general assembly model privileges the involvement of people with privilege was tantamount to declaring an entire province’s student population as racist.

With 300 delegates at a General Meeting, characterizing anything other than a motion being passed as something that “the CFS” supports is a lie. Thanks to the system of motions passing and failing, determining what it is that the CFS supports or opposes is really easy to figure out.

Last May, for example, the CFS lauded the Québec student movement, encouraged civil disobedience against Law 78, organized two casseroles protests to join with local Gatineau students during the five-day meeting and made a donation of $30,000 to defend students who were targeted during the protests.

So, if Crockett is to be believed, all of the work in May was done to support what many of the same people now think is a racist movement?

I can’t do the necessary mental gymnastics to get myself to believe that.

Crockett didn’t explain the source of the comments, so we’re left to either ignore her, challenge her or believe her. Unfortunately, folks at ASSÉ chose to believe her.

In response to Crockett’s Tweets, Jérémie Bédard-Wien from ASSÉ wrote “Racism and perceptions of the Quebec student movement.” It assumes that Crockett’s Twitter ranting characterized some actual position or discussion. He finishes his article with this: “However, to discount general assemblies or, more generally, structural change on that basis is not only mistaken: it is a political smokescreen used to draw attention away from awkward, yet necessary debates about direct democracy. Because the Quebec example is not one of racism.”

I have yet been able to find proof of anyone discounting general assemblies or structural changes within the Canadian student movement as being necessary to build something similar to what transpired in Québec this year. There were no motions calling for the use of or reorientation towards a general assembly model at the meeting.

Crockett is a vocal critic of the other student federations in Québec, and I suspect ASSÉ has identified DSU as a potential member. However, as membership in ASSÉ and CFS would be possible, I see no reason for the approach taken by Bédard-Wien in his article.

The other question is the one that is at the heart of the debate: the role of anti-oppressive structures in decision making versus the open, general assembly model that will undoubtedly reproduce society’s oppression when in action if oppression is unaddressed. Our societies (here, I refer to Canada, the society I have the most experience with, and Québec, my new home) were built to maintain white privilege and white supremacy. Structures that we create are naturally going to reproduce this inequality.

But identifying this as a fact doesn’t say that the people who participate in these structures are all racist. Claiming so could be seen as an annoying distortion, perhaps leveled by someone frustrated with another aspect of a general meeting in which she (or he) was participating.

Gender speaking lists and identity caucuses try to mitigate the influence of oppression reproducing itself. Where CFS has work to do in other areas, it remains a leader in its approach to ensuring that decisions are discussed and motions are amended in spaces where people of various shared identities are able to meet, organize and be heard.

Rather than being dismissive or even defensive when claims of racism or exclusion are leveled against us or organizations in which we are involved, progressive people should step back and take the time to reflect. This is not a criticism of Bédard-Wien.

For him and ASSÉ, my criticism is this: I don’t think his article reflected the solidarity needed between the two organizations. Allegations like this deserve a phone call to the CFS Chairperson and a demand for clarification, not a response to a fabricated or exaggerated story.

But the more than 300 student representatives present at this general meeting have a responsibility too. They must ensure that the characterization of their meeting was how they experienced it.

The stories about the good, the bad, the inspiring and the frustrating add to the collective history of the student movement on this territory. Don’t leave it up to a few people with Twitter accounts to erase your story and alter how you experienced your meeting.

After all, if someone claims you’ve said people are racists and you don’t respond, the vacuum of voices will respond for you.

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12 Responses to “Allegations of allegations of racism and debate obscuring at the CFS general meeting”

  1. Morgan Crockett (@MorganCrockett) December 5, 2012 at 5:04 am #

    Hey Nora!

    “Crockett neglected to be less ambiguous, instead fanning the rumour mill online and repeating the claim rather than identifying the source or providing context, leaving questions about whether or not anyone actually said anything close to this.”

    In a 140 characters it is definitely hard to give a whole context. I am sure you have run yourself into this problem once or twice. Not a single person the whole weekend other than folks from Laurentian, UofTG, out in B.C. and Windsor. Sorry, I know CFS delegates tend not to ask questions, but even you yourself Nora have written this ramble off of little fact and only what you imagine is true. I left questions. No one asked them from the loyalist side. I also did not name the countless names, because I do not think that is at all fair, though some have accused it to be one single staff.

    “She argued that saying that the students’ union general assembly model privileges the involvement of people with privilege was tantamount to declaring an entire province’s student population as racist.”

    If you are going to ask for fact, please do so yourself. At least add links to this blog to the tweets you are referencing. FECQ, FEUQ and ASSE choose to process in GA style as does almost every department or college in Québec. No it does not make every student racist, if you accuse these systems of being racist, just as those who accuse CFS of being authoritarian it does not make each student authoritarian. But I love your use of fallacies. This just gets even better.

    “Crockett is a vocal critic of the other student federations in Québec, and I suspect ASSÉ has identified DSU as a potential member. However, as membership in ASSÉ and CFS would be possible, I see no reason for the approach taken by Bédard-Wien in his article.”

    As an executive. No. Like. This is just not true. ASSE has not come to make a presentation for us joining in over a year. And it was hardly even that. They do not exactly do membership development in the same way CFS does. Nice try though. There is a reason for people to question CFS other than that Nora. The dynamics in Quebec for CFS is not the same as OUSA or CASA “rivals”. The only rivalry is between FECQ and ASSE…

    “Rather than being dismissive or even defensive when claims of racism or exclusion are leveled against us or organizations in which we are involved, progressive people should step back and take the time to reflect. This is not a criticism of Bédard-Wien.

    For him and ASSÉ, my criticism is this: I don’t think his article reflected the solidarity needed between the two organizations. Allegations like this deserve a phone call to the CFS Chairperson and a demand for clarification, not a response to a fabricated or exaggerated story.”

    Nora. Again. I know you love the CFS but this meeting you were not at. You did not participate in the discussions. You read a twitter feed. You never came to speak to me or any of our delegates. Please, do not assume a story and then tell people not to make up a fake story. We all tried to start up the debate with many people. None of which you were apart of.

    CFS has the communication tactics of Suns News when trying to take down their apparent “opponents”. Lie. Change the story. Suggest advice that they themselves do not even use.

    Anyways. If you want my version of events definitely hit me up with an e-mail.

    advocacy@mydsu.ca

    • Léo Fugazza December 5, 2012 at 5:13 am #

      “The only rivalry is between FECQ and ASSE…”
      And the TaCEQ! #OkI’llLeaveNow

    • Nora Loreto December 5, 2012 at 5:17 am #

      Actually, if you have a version that answers any of the questions I raised, please write them here. Who made the claim and what was the context? It’s obviously been a hot topic among people and it’s not good enough for you to pick apart seemingly unimportant aspects of what I wrote and ignore the central question.

      I’m a member of the CFS just like you. I don’t work for them and just commenting on what I believe to be a reckless use of the word “racism” while creating a sphere where solidarity and working together is strained. I want my national student organization to do what’s best, not claim that I’m a racist by virtue of my Québec student status. You’re the source of the fact that this claim was made, it’s your responsibility to clarify.

      Any other response is an omission that I’m right…that you’ve either made it up or distorted a conversation.

      • Morgan Crockett (@MorganCrockett) December 5, 2012 at 5:25 am #

        Ouf. And when people claimed you were aggressive I thought they were exaggerating..

        I would really hate to point fingers. CFS meetings are supposed to be a safe place where people are not persecuted for what they say. The Tweet was because not only the five Québec delegates but many many others were tired of bringing up the topic of direct democracy (not just General Assemblies..) we were told it would never work because DD promotes racism. Again.. and again. And again. The Tweet was to finally bring up the topic.

        It is a reckless use of the term racism. But it was the term Quebec student organising was subjected to. I am glad we agree that word should not have been used.

      • Nora Loreto December 5, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

        I’m not asking you to name names, I’ve asked for context and an explanation. This comes close enough, I guess, and so my point above stands. Claiming that criticisms of direct democracy are, as you say it on Twitter, “It’s the new line of the national execs, staff and many delegates: québec, assé & direct democracy are all racist” is a flat out lie. I look forward to you correcting the record with Jérémie.

  2. Delegate December 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    I believe this discussion started when a memeber of the Dawson Student Union claimed that racism and colonialism did not exist on their campus. As a delegate present I was offended by that comment made during the election speech for chair person. To my knowledge no comments about racism and Quebec were made but discussions about ignoring racism and colonialism on campuses was.

    • Morgan Crockett (@MorganCrockett) December 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Hey!
      Our Director of Com & Mobilisation did in fact say something similiar. He claimed in a quick comment about what he would do to fight colonialism and racism on campus that racism was not a big deal on our campus. This comment was made out of being nervous and not really realising what he had said. We all do not support his claim and neither does he. I suggest you speak to him about why he said this by e-mailing him at mobilization@mydsu.ca if you feel uncomfortable about what was said. He is more than open to criticism.

      • Nora Loreto December 5, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

        I responded to a post that was premised on your assertion that Canadian students called Québec students and their Federations “racist.” You have now said that you didn’t mean to say that, that your words were chosen poorly or that you meant to have typed something else. These are the clarifications that I sought, so thanks. As I guessed, what was taken to be true is actually a distortion of what happened.

        If you think being challenged for publishing comments that aren’t true and that smear a lot of people is being “bullied” I challenge you to brush up on your definitions. No need to apologize to me, your clarifications have been enough.

      • Delegate December 6, 2012 at 2:27 am #

        If your delegate did not mean to say what he said, he could have issued out an apology, instead of having the situation snowball into what it is now. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s also important that we not only recognize them but apologize for them,especially in the forum and the context in which that comment was made.

  3. Morgan Crockett (@MorganCrockett) December 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    ““It’s the new line of the national execs, staff and many delegates: québec, assé & direct democracy are all racist” is a flat out lie. I look forward to you correcting the record with Jérémie.”

    It is not a flat out lie. I did not mean to make these accusations and for that I am seriously sorry. The rest of the claim was true though. Though Québec was never claimed to be racist (I think I may have meant to type québec student groups?), the other claims did happen. I really do not appreciate you telling me what did and did not happen Nora. And I also do not appreciate you telling me what to do. I am sorry your feeling are hurt (or something?) but that is no reason for you to try and bully me into making the CFS (or you? like I still do not know?) look better in the eyes of Jérémie.

  4. Kile James Curlew December 6, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    I would like to clarify that the racism talk on twitter was not only about what you good fellows are discussing at this moment. There was a deeper context – that offended myself and many others I talked to in person at the meetings. A picture was pulled out of the internet, a picture of one of the candidates for the Chair position that was then dragged grossly out of context and proportion. I probably don’t need to mention the one – I am sure everyone with a Twitter remembers the argument. It was, in context, a protest against Facist like reactions of the Montreal police to protesting students. Not a racist and facist rally in itself – as some delegates had taken it upon themselves to spread over twitter aided by ‘right’ wing media sources. From my what I had witnessed, this took up a lot of the discussion. And also from my perspective, to distort a picture like this is slander. Nothing less. When I defended the candidate in saying a picture doesn’t tell an entire story and that it might be wise to look into the context that is blatant through out the entire bloody internet – I was then called a racist.

    So don’t go blaming the fiasco on DSU – there were many more people involved in this throwing around of such a powerful insult. A word that should never be used lightly.

    And I tend to agree with Morgan,
    if you weren’t there, and only observing over Twitter, then your side of the story might be a bit skewed.

    Also, Morgan might perhaps be right in saying that you are aggressive. Which for all your criticisms of people at the NCFS AGM – does not help the student movement much either. Its called Coercion and its a right wing tactic. Thought you should know.

    k.

    • Nora Loreto December 7, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      I’m sorry, my blog is aggressive, therefore I’m aggressive, therefore I’m using a right wing tactic? Uh, OK. I’m proud of being aggressive, in case you were wondering.

      I did see the debate about the fascist salute and while I agree that I don’t think that it’s itself racist when employed ironically, it’s ridiculous to deny the triggering feelings that it raises in people for whom that symbol is directly associated with genocide. Dismissing it outright is inappropriate.

      I’m responding to a story that was written about something that *only* appeared on Twitter, hence my response relies heavily on Twitter too. Makes perfect sense to me.

      Morgan’s already acknowledged that her words were poorly chosen. But the damage has been done…I’m just trying to level out the debate. That’s what the student movement needs: debate predicated on proper terms that aren’t meant to obscure what the actual issues are. It’s obvious that DSU’s main issue is about CFS-Q. I took on the claims of racism alone because I have no business trying to navigate that minefield. But DSU caring about CFS-Q issue doesn’t justify smearing the rest of the plenary with claims that claims were made about an entire province being racist.

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