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U of C club seeks grassroots activism

By Matty Hume, February 15 2019 —

A group of University of Calgary students plan to spark student activism with a new campus club. Students for Direct Action (SDA) is a newly-formed club centred on issue-based grassroots activism, according to second-year political science student and SDA co-organizer Mateusz Salmassi.

“We have five overarching values, [the first is] labour movement and co-operative economics, and that’s focused around supporting unions, working people and a democratic economy,” Salmassi said. “Number two would be social-democratic reforms, which looks like a safety net, basically. Third is environmentalism and fourth is social issues like race and gender. The last one is human rights.”

When Salmassi arrived at the U of C, he hoped to find a campus club with a focus on organizational education and issue-based activism. SDA will focus on usable skills and education for its members regarding campus-based issues like students’ access to healthcare, according to Salmassi.

An upcoming initiative for the SDA is to garner campus support for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation of Northwestern British Columbia. The ongoing dispute with the federal government regarding pipeline construction on Wet’suwet’en territory is a community issue, not just an Indigenous one, according to SDA Indigenous relations organizer Amber Cox, a second-year U of C English student and member of the Saddle Lake Cree First Nation.

“Indigenous issues are not Indigenous issues exclusively. These are issues we all need to face as Canadian citizens. I feel like it’s super important to bring these issues on campus,” Cox said. “What is the point of an institution like this? You’re creating the working force of the future who are going to be in these positions in the future and to pretend that we’re too busy within the academic institution to pay attention to real life issues really makes no sense. That’s where we’re heading. We’re using all of this to bring us to real life.”

While the Wet’suwet’en are geographically distant from students at the U of C, Salmassi says supporting their cause is an educational opportunity for students seeking to provide tangible support for issues that concern Canadians.

“One of the things we’re looking to do, and this is where students will learn a new skill, is canvassing and fundraising grassroots-style for the Wet’suwet’en,” Salmassi said. “So, engaging the student population and bringing material support for them. We want to show that there is support here, there’s support on the U of C campus.”

“When you think about the lack of action from the student body, it’s not that people aren’t engaged about these issues and concerned about them, it’s that there’s no genuine, authentic platform for people to come together and communicate these ideas in a real way that involves research and facts rather than mass media, propaganda and rhetoric,” Cox added.

Solomon Khalid, a second-year political science student at the U of C, joined the club based on an opportunity to participate in political engagement without being tied to an existing party or party-affiliated club on campus.
“We’re also non-partisan. A lot of times people want to join a club but it’s affiliated with a party. We just tackle issues, not ideologies,” Khalid said. “We’re encouraging engagement in the community. Even now, I know a lot of people in their 40s and 50s [thinking], ‘There’s no space for me, I can’t do anything.’ And we want to change that. You can.”

SDA aims to provide a safe space where students can learn to find their own voice, according to Khalid.

To join, contact SDA on Instagram at @studentsfordirectaction or on their Facebook page.

Editor’s note: Salmassi and Khalid have both contributed to the Gauntlet as volunteer writers. They were not involved in the making of this story in any capacity other than as interview subjects.

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