Demilitarizing Your Campus – A Guide from Demilitarize McGill

Summary: an introduction to the tactics of the Demilitarize McGill group, which advocates an end to Military-Industrial-Acadmemic relations, which are especially prevalent at McGill University. 

 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 annualremembrance 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!


About Demilitarize McGill:

Demilitarize McGill banner drop, Remembrance Day 2013

Demilitarize McGill organizes to interrupt the University’s history of complicity in colonization and imperialist warfare by ending military collaboration at McGill.

We oppose research, recruitment, and other activity for military purposes because they are local manifestations of imperialism. By imperialism, we mean the process by which western states, and the networks of economic and political interests they represent, extend their power over other territories through the organized use of force. Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Israel, and their allies use the pretense of “terror” to wage wars that give western corporations control over natural resources and violently enforce authority over all spheres of life in targeted regions.

Military institutions also play a key role in enforcing settler colonialism, by which we mean the political order produced by, and serving to reproduce, a society founded by the colonization of an area that used to be outside of a given state’s control. Canada, the U.S., and Israel are good examples of settler colonial states, as they were built on land stolen from respectively the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and the Palestinian people.

Today, as Indigenous peoples stand on the front lines of battles against resource extraction and the expansion of colonial control that it signals, they and their accomplices in urban centers confront configurations of state violence fully informed by military counter-insurgency techniques, if not actual soldiers equipped for war. In Canada and elsewhere, police increasingly deploy military technology to conduct surveillance and repress revolt against a colonized society.

These wars, foreign and domestic, also fuel a powerful coalition of companies, military agencies, and political interests that make up what is called the military-industrial complex. They are unified by an interest in the continuation and expansion of warfare, which increases the profits of private armies and weapons manufacturers, raises military funding, and promotes nationalism, making it easier for politicians to maintain social control.

This phenomenon is perpetuated by the powerful lobbying capabilities of military industries and by the revolving door of senior personnel between militaries and their industrial suppliers. In such a climate, military contractors are able to sell increasing amounts of weaponry and other tools of warfare to militaries, whilst further development of such technologies receives unlimited government funding.

Universities fit into this pattern as a convenient place for both military contractors and militaries themselves to do research. By conducting research at universities, the military-industrial complex benefits from labour and resources that they need not fully fund, in particular low-cost graduate student workers. Moreover, conducting military research at universities provides a publicly funded method of training future workers for the military industry.

The military-industrial complex also diverts public funds from other areas, and military funding is often maintained or increased even as the economic logic of austerity dictates cuts elsewhere. Under the logic of austerity, universities are urged to seek funding from corporate sources, including military industries. Military research on campus becomes seen as ‘necessary’ to the university’s financial viability, or as a source of opportunities for students and researchers, compensating for the serious harms enabled by such research.

As an active party to the military-industrial complex, McGill University is the site of a wide range of military research projects. The University is engaged in research for the U.S. Air Force building the legal foundations for war in outer space, for defense contractors seeking to optimize the design of attack drones, and in collaboration with army research agencies developing more lethal thermobaric explosives. Other collaborations see McGill researchers participating in the development of software for guided missiles and for drones to be used in urban warfare. For a summary of what we know about this research, see Military Research.

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