On Returning to University

It is flattering to be invited to be a visiting scholar at Carleton’s College of the Humanities. The very kind invitation of Professor Farhang Rajaee, the school’s director will give me the chance to meet many young people, to enjoy the company of the College’s teachers and to continue some research of my own on the origins of cities and their persistence.

It’s a long time since I was a university student and the appointment has pushed me to reflect a little on the passage of years. We thought we were going to change the world when I was a student at the University of Toronto and we had already started. We kept the big chemical corporations from recruiting on campus in protest against the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Vietnam. We stopped the Spadina Expressway, started food co-ops, day cares, community health centres and the co-op housing movement. We had a vision of the world which was less competitive, not more, governments that were more caring, not less and divisions between classes and peoples less onerous, not more.

We dressed funny with long hair as a statement as much as anything that we had a different agenda from the previous generation. I look back now and I see that the world did change but not in the way I ever could have guessed at the time. All of the great radical leaders were assassinated. Excepting Fred Hampson, the Black Panther leader murdered by the F.B.I. and some aboriginal leaders from Wounded Knee who are still languishing in prison, most of the have been resurrected and semi-defied. Martin Luther King has been deified outright.

It’s as if the past happened but didn’t because at the same time these vital leaders have been recognized with public holidays and so on, the voices for a more sustainable, equitable world have been driven into ever smaller corners. And the corporations that we argued were too large in 1968 now have bottom lines bigger than most nations and the where they don’t, they own the democratic process by owning the media.

On April 8th , Noam Chomsky will come and speak at Carleton. I’m sure that it will be a great night and he will give a fine talk, but he must be close to 80 years old. He’s been doing campus speeches his entire adult life. He hasn’t been murdered which is a great blessing, but he has been nicely boxed into the campus corner and kept there as surely as if he had chains on.

The Black Panthers still exist and they also visit Carleton occasionally. They are now a not for profit, city service agency. Twenty of their leaders were shot in the 60s and early 70s. I’m sure the list would be much longer today if they espoused the same rhetoric and raised fists clenched with rifles to the sky.

The 2011 security business is hundreds of times larger than it was in the 1960s and thousands of time more paranoid. Both the size of the security industry and the paranoia continue to grow. The current Canadian government is investing over a billion in a new security headquarters in the east end of Ottawa and with more billions built an alternate universe in Toronto for the G-20 with a security operation so large it was able to close down Canada’s largest city.

And I? I’m going back to university and pleased to do so, but I’m returning from a different world from the one I expected. My country is different. The world is different. Could you imagine in 1968, an American President winning a Nobel Peace Prize while fighting several wars? Or a Canadian Prime Minister today like Pierre Trudeau? Or flying without fear? And I have changed. I am no longer am young. My hair is not thick and long. I am grey and grizzled from my own years and battles, but I still believe a better world is possible and one day will be. So do these folks. Here is a video from the front lines of 2011. It is Michael Moore giving a speech from the Wisconsin Capitol steps, click here

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4 Responses to On Returning to University

  1. Bill Pugsley says:

    Clive

    the link to Moore’s speech was missing on your post
    there is a 30 minute YouTube here
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgNuSEZ8CDw

    Best wishes for your stint at Carleton
    Bill

  2. Erik says:

    Interesting post Clive. Welcome to Carleton University, it’s good to know we’ll have another professor with a progressive voice on campus. I want to raise one thing that I think you might have added into your blog. I think that although it’s great to recant the past, clearly, you were involved as a student organizer in your day and its great to recognize where we’ve come. I also think its good to recognize where we are at, and although it seems rather bleak in some respects (bigger corporations, security so prominent, some argue even reduced militancy of the left in some respects) – i think in other ways there is reason for hope. Honestly, i’ve gone to Carleton for many years and we have an incredibly politically active student body. I think we are arguably one of the countries most “activist” if i can say so, university’s in the sense that we have an overall progressive student body. The administration, well, not so progressive. But needless to say, i think that you will find that many students here and doing incredible activism that would make the late nineteen sixties proud.
    Welcome aboard.

    • Clive says:

      I have been away from university for a long time. I do not know what the mood is or what is being done. I freely admit to being quite ignorant in these matters. The students who worked on my campaign were fantastic. I learned from young people like Brian and Karen Foster. I hope to continue learning. Your comment confirms that thought.

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