Volume 90, Issue 92

Wednesday, March 19, 1997



Virtual sit-in: a primitive display of prehistoric bravado, maybe?

Re: Virtually taking a stand, March 6

To the Editor:

Upon reading the aforementioned article, one is made to wonder how Thoreau, Gandhi, Chico Mendez, Stephen Biko and the like ever managed to mount effective campaigns of political protest before the advent of electronic mail.

Thanks to the great liberating technology known as the Internet, such obviously backward and inconvenient methods of civil resistance as the protest march, the sit-in (the physical kind) and even the letter-writing campaign have been rendered obsolete. Many students at other universities across this province have taken to the streets with placards and bull-horns to protest funding cuts to post-secondary education and tuition increases. But, if they believe that such primitive displays of prehistoric bravado will have any effect at all, then they are truly deluding themselves.

The future is here, my friends. Put away your protest signs, save your voices and stay at home, because since Thurs., March 6 at 9 a.m., Western has been staging a sit-in – a true testament to its history as a champion of student rights in this province – a virtual sit-in.

Rather than occupying the university president's office, as others have done elsewhere, "students can visit a website which will record their entry into the site and allow them to send a personalized message to Paul Davenport's email address outlining the reason for their protest." USC President, Dave Tompkins, said at least 500 students were expected to join the virtual sit-in within a week and warned that "a virtual tuition freeze would not be acceptable. . . I think we will demonstrate to Dr. Davenport that students feel very strongly about these issues and we are expecting more from him and his administration."

One wonders what radical measures might follow should this virtual sit-in prove ineffective? Perhaps another virtual sit-in, this time at the Minister of Education's website? Or maybe even a massive, province-wide email campaign directed at the premier himself? You can almost hear the establishment shaking its boots from here.

In order to have any effect at all, genuine protest must be active and it must influence people in the real world. As it is, our time will be characterized by the progressive withering away of the democratic ideal in favour of economic efficiency. This is a lesson that the citizens of metropolitan Toronto have learned all too well. If a million plus voters, flatly rejecting the province's mega-city plan failed to move this government, then how can we be so simple, so naive, as to think that lodging polite protests by email on Dr. Davenport's website will solicit any kind of substantive response? Paul Davenport is not responsible for making these kinds of decisions and, even if he was, he would have no obligation to read a single one of these virtual protest letters. If 30,000 Western students emailed the president's website, we have to ask ourselves, would anyone hear?

Civil resistance is decidedly inconvenient. The whole point of social protest is to inconvenience the system – those who work within it and those who use it. You can not do this from the comfort of your home.

The stakes have changed. We are being lied to, manipulated and oppressed. We can no longer afford to assume that the decisions of our political leaders even pretend to reflect the opinions of the majority. We can't even rely on enlightened self-interest (ie. the individual politician's hope for re-election) as a moderating influence on public policy any more. We have real problems, problems that we must meet with more than a virtual protest, if genuine solutions are to be found and acted upon in the real world.

This cyberspace sit-in is a futile gesture and one that plays directly into the hands of the very people whose actions we hope to influence. A protest by email will have about as much impact on funding cuts and tuition increases as will this letter – which, at the very least, makes a call for active protest in the real world. This sit-in is meaningless, because it has no substance, because it inconveniences no one and because it does nothing which can not be easily undone by a stroke of the delete key.

Brad Wallace
Political Science IV

To Contact The Letters Department: gazoped@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997