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Teach-Ins: an Alternative Way to Occupy

Ottawa-based academics utilize the format of the teach-in to encourage discussion on the Occupy Movement.

by Sharrae Lyon


What does it mean to occupy? This was the opening question at a teach-in hosted by the School of Social Work in conjunction with Occupy Ottawa at Carleton University. The purpose of the teach-in was to encourage discussion on the Occupy Movement allowing people to gain insight to ideas, goals and aspirations outside the influence of mainstream media.


The auditorium where the event occurred consisted of various ages, students, faculty and the common citizen. There was a panel that consisted of Carleton University professors and three organizers who had either been or are organizing with the movement in Ottawa.


Topics that emerged addressed issues of indigenous leadership, politics of language and oppression, goals of the movement, and how the movement can continue to survive past eviction. 


Susan Braedley, an Assistant professor at Carleton University was the individual who spearheaded the event. She came up with the idea to hold a teach-in; a custom commonly practiced at her former position at York University, after visiting the occupation at Confederation Park. “I was feeling quiet ineffectual…I began to think we have resources as university professors that we can bring, I didn’t want to abandon my position [as a professor,] it has power.” Braedley shared feelings of frustration with one of her colleagues on the School of Social Work’s failure to engage in the movement, despite claiming to stand on the side of social justice. “I just went home and just thought that the connection [teach-ins] we did at York. I will go back to the university and see if I can get support from my colleagues; they were instantly supportive.”


Panelists and attendees expressed their definitions of what it means to occupy. “ It [occupy] suggests not going home, it suggests something permanent, it suggests something ongoing,” says professor Justin Paulson, emphasizing that the notion of occupation can go beyond the “confines of a particular park.”


Deans of Public Affairs and the Arts and Social Sciences attended the event and espoused their support for the efforts of the School of Social Work and Occupy Ottawa. Dean John Osbourne noted it wasn’t since the 1960s that Carleton has seen a teach-in. “The teach in is different from the 1960s, but it’s the same thing, its about the analysis of power and the differences of power.”


The purpose of the teach-in according to Braedley is to raise consciousness and inspire discussion about important public issues. “ It’s about teaching each other. Its not about talking heads, its about teaching how to truly listen, and do that by modeling it.” She makes the link between the functional objectives of teach-ins to General Assemblies, which have served as the backbone of the various occupations. “There are different types of processes, but they are about deep-listening, teaching and learning from one another, consciousness-raising.”


“How do we make the university truly public? How do we bring the public into the university?” Braedley poses how public institutions can uphold their purpose. Institutions and public spaces were themes that were recurrent throughout the discussion. Participants expanded on the idea of how spaces and institutions can be made to do other things for the public.


The mic was open to all attendees to pose questions or comments to both those sitting on the round-table and other audience members.  Oliver Crosby, a 24 year-old father who works with crime affected youth who attended of the event, was glad that there was a discussion on how a movement that is so driven by the grievances felt in the United States can be transferred into a Canadian context. The biggest point that Crosby took from the event was “how can we have a voice, how we can give people a bigger voice. We have a generation that feels they are not supposed to participate in democracy-- to some people that is disgruntlement, others are apathetic.”


The politics of power did not escape the event. President Rosanne Runte of Carleton University had expressed fear that “a Berkeley style event might happen here,” making reference to the student movement in the late 1960s that witnessed occupation of buildings and various sit-ins and teach-ins. Braedley reflected that the president’s fear is based on the rhetoric of those who hold systemic power, and argue that social movements are dangerous.


The occupation movement is an attempt to reclaim the meaning behind public spaces and institutions. Such questions pose the hope for potential new ways for organizers to carry on the movement after eviction. 

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Topics: Education
741 words


RE: John Osborne

Despite Dean Osborne's vague and awkwardly quote, "“The teach in is different from the 1960s, but it’s the same thing, its about the analysis of power and the differences of power" I feel that he should be taken with an immense grain of salt. This is an academic who has never supported student democracy on the Carleton University campus - which he is a manager at. Dean Osborne also takes a pro-apartheid stance to student demonstrations and campaigns on the university campus. Check out this blog post:

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