Demilitarizing Your Campus

A protest organized by Students Against War against military recruitment at UC Santa Cruz in 2005.

A protest organized by Students Against War against military recruitment at UC Santa Cruz in 2005.

Campaigns to “demilitarize” McGill University have been active in different forms since the 1980s, and have intensified in recent years. At McGill, military collaboration has and continues to take many forms. These include everything from the development of drone software, explosives technology, and surveillance software to the on-campus recruitment of students for CSIS and the Canadian Forces, and the use of campus space for the bombastic annual remembrance day ceremony. Students and community members opposed to this military collaboration have used research, popular education, and direct action as some of many ways to attempt to put an end to it.

McGill University is not an anomaly in their military involvement. Across Canada, the US, the UK, and Israel, universities are sites of this kind of research and development. The Canadian Department of National Defence, weapons contractors, and the defence departments of the US, UK, and Israel use the labour, resources and prestige of universities to improve their capabilities to wage wars at home and abroad. The purpose served by these militaries is overwhelmingly to enact imperialist violence and enforce ongoing settler colonialism — from the ongoing attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples required to establish and maintain the Canadian state, to the millions of brown people killed in the so-called “War on Terror”, to the militarized police repression of Black uprisings across the United States, to the fueling of resource wars in Central Africa and Latin America.

We do not see these militaries, nor the governments they protect, as benevolent or democratic bodies, but as illegitimate and authoritarian structures responsible for mass global suffering.

Realizing the pivotal role that universities play in this system can be shocking. It can make people defensive and create rifts on campus, as military money can provide financial security for many teachers, researchers, workers and friends who have been driven into precarity by budget cuts and austerity. But it also allows us to recognize the power we have as staff, faculty, students and others around universities, to disrupt the smooth functioning of the military and its appendages in a small, but meaningful way.

While McGill University is receiving some pressure to end its collaborations with the military, and while crucial pressure is being applied to the government from other sectors of society, we need to spread this pressure to other universities in order to make it more impactful. The campaign to “Demilitarize McGill” is not the only one of its kind, other campus campaigns against militarism have developed in the recent past and provide great examples of where to start (for example, see Study War No More or Students Concerned About Militarism.)

We’re happy to work with anyone interested to get things started. A crucial first step to opposing military collaboration on campus is to find out what’s actually happening on your campus. Are researchers being given grant money from the military, or from defense contractors, to do applied research? Are spokespeople from the military being invited to give talks, or table at job fairs? Are there recruitment posters or flyers lying around campus? We can help you figure this out! We have done some initial research for many Canadian universities and some American universities and are able to provide interested groups and individuals with some basic information about ongoing or past military research at their schools.

We have also produced some resources on how to find out what military collaborations are ongoing at your university, namely a zine on how to file Access to Information requests, and a Basic Research Guide.

Get in touch with us by emailing demilitarizemcgill [at] riseup [dot] net. We are here to answer any questions or to provide more resources!

We look forward to intensifying and spreading opposition to imperialism and militarism with you!

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