Let’s just say that you’re a young person- a student. Let’s just say that you already struggle to pay your bills and keep up with your studies. Let’s add that you are a good student, and that by putting lots of time and energy into grasping new concepts you have made progress in your field, and set yourself up for future accomplishments. Let’s also say, though, that you are not a great student- and that diverting time from your studies would have a serious, even fatal, impact on your learning.
Let’s add to this a hypothetical proposal in the works to raise your tuition to a point where you would have to work nearly full time to afford it, while still paying for other helpful study tools like food, a bed, and papers. You, good, but not great, student, now have a choice- you can stay in school and spend less time at it, making less progress, or you can lower your admittedly high standard of living (what with your bed, your clothes, and your meat and fresh vegetables five times a week).
And so after all that, let’s just say that you, hypothetical student, refuse to participate in an academic system which you feel is bound to exploit you. You strike. So let’s think about this. What happens if students don’t attend class?
Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t know. But there will be a lot of young people milling about in the street at all hours, which the State hates. This is lucky, because the aim is justly to force State action by showing such massive popular discontent that elected officials have to respond to it. (Sidebar: Some less civically-minded people will try to force a response through violence. Don’t bother: the State is better than you at violence.)
Now, this is fine. For students, the day-to-day world is the Academy. The majority spend most of their days at the academy building, and engage in most of their conversations with other academics. The topics are often academic as well. A global refusal to take part in the communion of class- in the cours magistrale where the pantomime of learning takes place- is shattering.
But let’s expand our thought experiment. It is not just in education where this hypothetical government has dominion. It directs your health care, including mental health and elder care. It defines your law, and maintains your prisons. It decides with you you are at war, and with peace. It runs the extraction and exploitation of shared natural resources. You can tear down the walls of the Academy, but there will be a lot of the city still standing.
This is the problem- by acting along one axis, the State can simply isolate your concerns and address them, without addressing the systemic causes and tangental issues. By acting along one axis, the Media can portray you as an Other, and spin your demands any which way. By addressing one problem, and one problem only, you allow yourself to be marginalized and trivialized.
And so the trick is leverage.
You are a student, but you are not just a student. You are a protestor, but you are not just protesting tuition fee hikes, you are protesting a system which restricts access to the joy of discovery. You are a person who is interested in sharing the wealth of a society- not just its material riches, but its art, culture, history, and poetry; its psyche, energy, passion, and flow.
You are so much more than one person protesting one issue, but the longer you are held in a box, the harder it is to break out. (You are, in fact, a node in an impossibly large web which connects all history and human experience, but that’s a topic for later.) You already have the power to reach out and share the joy of learning, the joy of self-expression, to others from every walk of life. Your gift doesn’t require expensive materials, or an enormous, purpose-built space- it is something instinctively passed from person to person, as knowledge always has been.
And so don’t be confined. Don’t let yourselves believe that only students understand your cause, and that only students share your struggle. It is not just in education where the small players are asked to pay bigger shares, while the biggest do what they will. It is not about tuition- it is not about user fees or two-tier or mandatory minimums. It is about justice.
Use this time. Make connections, build bridges. There are people in high places sympathetic to our common cause, a sustainable society shared in by all, and they can help us. There are people in every bus, in every grocery store, in every park, who share this goal. The longer we see ourselves as isolated minorities, struggling for our principles, the harder it is to see that our struggle is universal, and that our goals are possible.