EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

Social protest: balance, democracy, truth

In Cooperative Blog Posts on October 24, 2013 at 7:47 am

Just because we have freedom of speech, doesn’t mean we get to say whatever we want. This is how we feel after watching the documentary “Discordia” which follows the lives of three activists at Concordia University after the September 9th 2002 riot. The video follows three students; Samer Elatrash, Noah Sarna, and Aaron Maté. While following the three students around campus the video shows a campus filled with chaos. Samer is the head Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights group and Noah is head of the Hillel Jewish students group. These are the groups in conflict during the documentary; with Aaron Maté, the vice president of the Concordia Students Association, representing the mediation between both groups.

With the riot came active “debates” that took place between the two opposing side in the hallways of the school. The discussion never seemed to have a true focal point, and tend to become racial accusations. Both groups, in some situations, have ample evidence and cause for their case; however neither group is willing to hear the others point of view. So when arguments do come up between the groups, they turn into racist claims and name games meant to attack the other group. No group can ever make an argument without the other claiming that they are being: racist, anti-Semitic, Nazi’s (somehow), or in one case being called a “F****** animal” (0:25:08). The people fighting for their side are closed minded and the result is we have two groups who feel they are 100% in the right to do what they are doing, without thinking about how it affects the other group or anyone else on campus.  It becomes a simple case of people wanting to be heard, but not wanting to listen.

Probably the most interesting point is made by Aaron’s father later on in the documentary. When Mr. Maté was in university in the 1960’s he was a part of a Jewish community group, this group was regularly taught to debate with Palestinians. However in order for Aaron’s father to be able to argue with Palestinian students when he was at college, he said he had to learn their point of view. He found out his historical point of view was very narrow and isolated from reality. Because of this, Mr. Maté becomes a writer who is able to write for both sides of the Israel conflict. Finally he ends his piece in the film with: “There should be a lot more activism on campuses, more discussion, more controversy; if at that point in your life you don’t get engaged, impassioned, attached to something, one way or another, you don’t try to come to the forefront of what the world is really about and the injustices in it, then when will you do it for god’s sake?”

It is a wonderful thing to be passionate about something, especially when you are young and able. However when your passion turns to hatred of another group, you lose sight of your original reasons for your activism: to make the world a better place.

In his article Democracy Unbalanced David Brooks writes that those who founded democracy in the West knew that if people got the chance, they would try to get something for nothing (Brooks, 2013).

Brooks, a conservative journalist, feels that voters have become entitled and impulsive. People feel that government representatives need to be responsive and responsible for their needs and if they are not they make sure to let them know they are upset. Because of this, politicians are actually less responsible and have adopted a “marketing” mindset. They simply try to appeal to the voters in order to gain power and keep the peace, even if they can’t fulfill their promises. Brooks feels that people express their opinions in outlandish ways because they fear that if they don’t their opponents may get their way (as they surely won’t restrain themselves).

The Social Protest Basket, as well as the Discordia video, really highlights the idea that people will go to great lengths to be heard. Examples form the articles show that most people escalate their protests to unreasonable levels (flipping tables, spray painting university property etc). Some of the people in Discordia were not trying to achieve change peacefully; rather, they were trying to make a commotion in order to attract attention. Brooks feels that people now throw tantrums to be heard rather than voicing their concerns in a more productive way.

The youth of today are considered to be entitled individuals that have an opinion about everything. Is this what democracy has done to them, or is it the expectations of democracy that has led individuals to become entitled and obnoxious. Has democracy turned people into entitled individuals who push for more yet do little. What is it about democracy that gives individuals this feeling that what they want matters. People have needs, and as long as the government put in place is adhering to the people’s needs the people should be happy, but is that enough? As was displayed in the film Discordia, which shows students at the University of Concordia in Quebec and their interactions with one another in regards the age old conflict of Palestine and Israel. One of the students interviewed Emily Bitting, says something along the lines of,  it has become difficult for the students on campus to take a step back realize that Concordia is not the centre of the world. She adds that the students are forgetting about the things that are actually happening in the world.

Freedom of speech is an essential part of our democratic society. The problem arises when people forget to listen to each other. This was demonstrated by the student body of Concordia University in the Discordia documentary. The students got so wrapped in their own thought processes that they failed to consider their opposition. Instead they put up defensive walls that reduced all discussions into shouting matches and racial accusations in the student common area of Concordia University. Brooks illustrated that government bodies have implemented policies to appease the masses, a “marketing” mindset, without actually keeping the promises made to gain the public’s favor. The issue is that if people are going to maintain this high sense of entitlement they need to be held accountable for their actions and become more responsible citizens.

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  1. Individually and as groups everyone has needs that must be meet and wants/desires that they wish to be meet or feel they deserve to have meet. This is a fact of life it does not matter who that person/group is racially, culturally, etc. In a democratic society it is expected that both the needs are meet and the desires can be meet. However some of these desires require taking away from, inhibiting or even degrading other individuals/groups. Is it really fair to have your wants met if it results in negative consequences for another? Democracy is for everyone not specific individuals in a society. Thus it is important to have a balance between the competing wants of opposing groups. It is not fair for one group to get their wants met if it means another group can’t have theirs met. In deciding who’s wants are more important (if either’s are) it is important to have open discussion and consideration. It is the stereotypes, prejudices and beliefs that our group is superior that leads to upheaval, protest, fighting, violence, etc. It is important to take a step back and have a truthful assessment of the conflicting groups wants/desires, otherwise there will never be peace or relationships (of at the very least peaceful co-existence).

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