Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Underground Issue 03

Student activists look for strength in numbers

Added Oct 27, 2011 by

On Oct. 17, UTSC’s chapter of Oxfam Canada held an event for World Food Day in the Meeting Place. However, many students were unaware of the organization, much less the initiative.

“People just don’t know who we [Oxfam Canada] are,” said Manjot Bining, second-year neuroscience student and secretary of the campus group.

With exceptions, charitable organizations and activist groups on campus often run their events with little or no success.
 “The first step is to let people know who we are and that we are a legitimate group,” Binning said. 

Oxfam at UTSC, a three-year-old campus branch of the international NGO, holds the World Food Day event every year in an effort to raise awareness about hunger around the world.

In a survey conducted by the group before the event, knowledge about food issues was severely lacking.

Bining said working with UTSC’s Sustainability Office and Farmers’ Market brought some measure of success to the event. Joining forces with campus groups, such as the Women’s Centre, also helped because there was common ground while advocating.

Another avenue for support is the SCSU. The student union deals with clubs funding and provides resources such as meeting space and storage for clubs.

SCSU executives stressed that there are opportunities for activism at all levels, both for groups and individuals.

Pagalavan Thavarajah, SCSU president, pointed out the significance of collective action.
“Everyone is very passionate, but they’re in their own little niches,” he said. “The biggest issue is that when it comes to advocacy and activism, [numbers are fundamental].”

Guled Arale, chairman of the SCSU’s Board of Directors, is involved with clubs funding and understands the unique challenges students face.
 “Individual students are not as active, because nobody engages them. They don’t know how to get started,” he said. “But if somebody starts engaging each of them, they will see the change happen.”

Thavarajah strongly urged students to speak up.
 “You can try to put all of the reliance on a big organization or student union, but if [you] yourself aren’t able to say, ‘I have responsibility,’ then who’s going to be responsible for you?”

He cited the recent Occupy Toronto movement as an example. “It (the movement) happened not because some big organization came, but because a bunch of individuals just came together and joined. Then it gained momentum.”

 Abdalla Al-Baalawy, VP external at the SCSU, referred to Scarborough Action as a great place to start. Held every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m., the group helps niche groups to promote their cause and make actual changes as a big group.

Thavarajah stressed that activism often starts out small and grows. “Everything to do with activism starts from the grassroots, the seed and it grows.”


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