University is a breeding ground for new ideas, and it seems only fitting that the Take Action! convention will take place on campus next week, on Oct. 22. A social justice group that began at Concordia University in the wake of the 2012 student rallies, Take Action! is “a collaboration between the Business Chair of Cooperative Enterprises and a network of students from Montreal that have been involved in various ways in a student-led cooperative revolution.”
“A movement kicked off,” the Take Action! team explains, “to replace the multinational food providers - who typically have monopolies on campus - with community and student-run cooperative food providers.”
The student-run Hive Cafe evolved to selling locally brewed beer provided by a student-run co-op brewery. Recent projects involve gathering $1.85 million to launch a student housing co-operative, which they hope will have a snowball effect in creating affordable student housing in the province through this more democratic system.
Benjamin Prunty is the current president and one of the founding members of the Hive Cafe Solidarity cooperative. He will be the keynote speaker at the Take Action! event and will discuss his experience and involvement with student government as a grassroots organizer. Janelle Delorme, founder of the St. Boniface bicycle co-op Vélo Cité, will be speaking at the event, as well.
Co-operatives are picking up pace in social justice movements, as the two go hand-in-hand. As Take Action! organizers put it, “the co-operative movement is itself a social movement for community economic development and community power.” They believe it is important that co-ops remain community-based, and this is ensured by the power of the “one-member, one-vote system,” which ensures the best interests of the overall group are met.
Take Action! specifies that “one of the beautiful things about building cooperatives from scratch is that principles of social and environmental justice can be embedded in them for the long term.”
Kevin Settee, the president of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA), believes events promoting social justice are important to university culture. He says the UWSA has a commitment to provide students with spaces and opportunities to assemble and share ideas in relation to their knowledge.
“Hosting events that promote social justice is valuable not only to our campus, but the communities in which students are going to be transforming once they graduate,” he says. “Social justice requires critical thinking, problem solving, and finding solutions to difficult issues that face society, and collective knowledge production through community events and action is central to creating change.”
Settee says social justice also ties in with course content. Many courses cover contemporary topics, such as gender equality, climate justice and education for change.
“The U of W is located in a unique neighborhood, in which students have access to a plethora of community organizing efforts, opening the doors to a community of organizers is only going to produce positive change,” Settee affirms.
Take Action! believes the student body at the U of W would benefit from programs like those in Concordia, from a foodshare co-op or a housing co-operative similar to the one in Montreal. Settee has different priorities.
“There are a number of campaigns on campus that are in the infant stages, some of which are related to student debt and tuition hikes,” he says. “With a new Conservative government in power, building a movement around fighting tuition hikes is going to be vital in keeping post-secondary education in Manitoba affordable and accessible for all students.”
These are but a few ideas in germination on campus. To find out what you can do, check out the event on Oct. 22. Go to takeactionwinnipeg-populus.nationbuilder.com for more information or search Take Action on Facebook.
Published in Volume 71, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 12, 2016)