Kiki Wood is the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and co-coordinator of Fossil Free Canada.
When I entered University in 2007, I thought a post-secondary education was all about the courses you took and the GPA you graduated with. What I didn’t know, was that the education that would get me pretty much every job I’ve had since graduating came from the education of the student movement more than the classroom. Today, Universities and colleges are once again becoming sites of grassroots organizing. Students today are one of the biggest forces of power for justice, but they shoulder an incredible financial burden.
I got my start in organizing fighting for increased access to education through a reduction in tuition fees and an increase in grant funding for students. A fight that is obviously ongoing. Through my involvement in student organizing with the Canadian Federation of Students I began to understand that all struggles for justice are connected. I worked with students in Halifax to mobilize the largest student protest in over a decade against the de-regulation of tuition fees in Nova Scotia. The power we created through a coalition of students, student groups and universities and the support of the Canadian Federation of students won us a tuition freeze and a cap on auxiliary fees.
These days I spend most of my time on climate justice, but I still spend a lot of my time working with young people and students. One of the biggest campaigns I support in my role as co-coordinator of Fossil Free Canada is the campus-based divestment movement. Globally, the fossil fuel divestment movement is full of thousands of colleges and universities, and tens of thousands of motivated, mobilized students demanding a just, better future for all. The divestment movement in Canada comprises hundreds of students across the country, with active campaigns on over 30 campuses.
Divestment is an incredible movement to work within. Not only does it coalesce moral, scientific and financial imperatives to take real, immediate action on climate; it is led by an incredibly motivated, inspired and empowered community of young people who are willing to take that action into their own hands. The more time I spend working with students and young people, the more I find that the same organizers on campus fighting pipelines; are the same students fighting for divestment; are the same students demanding tuition reductions; are the same students standing in solidarity with frontline communities being impacted by climate change and irresponsible oil and gas development. Because when we narrow in on just one issue, we fail to see the big picture - that all struggles for justice are connected - and not only by the people working on them.
The federal government puts less and less money into education while dolling out billions of dollars in subsidies to the oil and gas industry every year. The consistently rising cost of education is saddling students with mortgage-size debts in order to go through an undergraduate degree. Universities function more as businesses than social institutions - increasing the cost of tuition, not to mention ancillary and auxiliary fees as often as they can. The irony is that students face consistently rising costs of education while the oil and gas industry enjoys unfettered access to our educational institutions. As divestment organizers, we don’t want to attend institutions that are complicit in the climate crisis - and we certainly don’t want to put ourselves into debt for the next 25 years in order to do so.
There is a relationship between the cost of our education and the cost of doing business as usual. There is a relationship between the toll tuition fees take on our ability to thrive and the toll capitalism is taking on the earth. A system that thinks that 40k is a reasonable price to pay for your education is a system that thinks the planet is a reasonable price to pay for ‘progress’. Every way you turn it, young people are footing the bill for the price of education and climate inaction, and we’re not going to keep doing it.
There is a deep connection between the work of the student movement and the climate movement - because we envision a future that is better than what we are being offered - and we’re willing to fight for it. We demand better access to education, freedom from crippling student debt, and a justice-based transition to a fossil free economy - and we aren’t willing to take no for an answer. I couldn’t be more honoured to work along side students as they stand again and again and again for justice in a society based on intersecting systems of oppression.
Unite on the streets on November 2nd - because it’s time to eliminate tuition fees, and together we have the power and resources to make it happen.