The validity of demonstrations

By Noah Miller

As students from the Universities of Alberta, Calgary and Lethbridge prepare to march on Alberta’s legislature in defiance of proposed tuition hikes, one has to wonder what effect their outcries will yield.

For a government faced with a large deficit to balance and voters to sway in the wake of decreasing support, it is highly unlikely that they will change their stance on tuition simply because of 1,000 students standing in their backyard saying “no.”

Students, who are in general left-leaning, are unlikely to be dragged all the way across the political spectrum to the right even by the conservative government rolling over to students’ demands and saying “okay.” In fact, they are much better off appeasing the taxpayer already bearing a huge portion of post-secondary education by not asking them to shoulder an even larger cost through higher taxes.

But does this mean that students should hang up their protest signs and resign their hopes of changing the course of ever increasing tuition, allowing Emperor Stelmach to go on building his galactic Albertan empire?

No. Even if the march itself changes nothing, it captures the essence of student protest and protest in general. Hell, even master Yoda lived in the swamp for awhile. Regardless of the (lack of) tangible outcomes that result, student demonstrations are a reaction to the predicament of huge tuition increases. Most students generally understand that the government itself is not trying to screw them and that, as the Consumer Price Index indicates, things go up in cost and education is no exception. However, the market modifiers on the table are well above the 1.5 per cent CPI increases.

Nevertheless, the march gives students the opportunity to forcefully make their opinions heard. Though a half-day-long event may not on its own directly influence the government’s policy on tuition, perhaps it can continue a series of actions that display an increase in solidarity among students that could garner support in public opinion, thereby indirectly influencing the votes the Progressive Conservatives are hoping to keep. The point is to keep a consistent effort going so as to influence, if not the government’s, then other voters’ opinions, which will indirectly influence the government. March of the Ewoks, anyone?

There are rational incentives on both sides. For the government, appeasing the people most able to keep their asses in power. For students, voicing their opinions with the hopes that eventually someone will listen.

The march on legislature will probably achieve little more tangible result than a bunch of cranky students venting their frustrations at a symbolically significant building and passersby, but that shouldn’t stop them from doing it.


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