Debating what Should be Commonsense: Another Self-Serving CSU goes for Gold

Posted by in Broadsides

dunce.jpgIt’s election time at Concordia University, where every year for the last four years, students have voted for a corrupt, inept, and self-serving bunch of miscreants. This year, some students that I actually respect as activists and organizers, like Edwin Janzen, are coming out of the woodwork to throw their support behind the latest incarnation in the Evolution/Experience franchise. What dismays and disturbs me is that well-meaning students like Janzen, who are influential on campus when they write endorsement letters to our school paper, the Link, have a complete inability to connect the last four years with this year’s offerings. For nearly half a decade our CSU has been useless at best, corrupt at worst – this much is common knowledge amongst the student body. However, each year, the same gang of careerists manages to hypnotize the electorate into thinking they are voting in a “new” team. This, despite the fact they haven’t changed their campaign aesthetic or message (including the exact same poster four years running, only the colour changes and some of the candidate names) for four years. Each year, they make the same promises, and after one whole year and 1.6 million dollars, having failed miserably at delivering results, they make the same promises and get voted in.

In the following email exchange, I debate these points/grievances with Janzen, who is an upstanding artist and activist in the Concordia community (and is president of the Fine Arts Student Alliance, a group that ├╝berculture has worked in solidarity with for years), but seems to me terribly misguided in his unflinching support for Unity, despite his own complaints of CSU uselessness. I publish the exchange here with respect to diverging opinions, and in the name of open, respectful dialogue…Dear Edwin,

After reading your letter in today’s Link (March 20th), I have to say that I am extremely surprised that you are endorsing a slate that has TWO executive members who were the architects behind putting funding at risk for fee-levy groups such as Art Matters. After Noah Stewart and Leah del Veccio drafted the secretive proposal to require fee levy groups on campus to fight for their right for funding every three years, all of the fee levy groups formed a unified front and fought hard against this latest attack on activism by the Evolution/Experience/Unity franchise and managed to protect important funding – for now, at least. One can only imagine the damage these people will do if they are in power for another year. In your letter you state that “for several years Fine Arts students have been sorely neglected by the CSU executive,” which is true, you got it bang on, but WHO has made up the executive the last four years? The answer is the same people that you endorse publicly!! This is the most quixotic to me: that Concordia students seem very well aware that for the last four years their CSU has been completely corrupt and ineffective, and hasn’t put their interests first, including fine arts students, yet these same students (including you I guess) can’t make the connection that Unity is a team built from this inept and corrupt foundation! The people ON Unity and the people BEHIND Unity – the architects who build these teams all year long – are all part of one miserable lineage at our school that started as Evolution and is now called Unity. Every year executives from the prior year run again as executives or on council. THESE are the people who have shafted fine arts students. THESE are the people who wanted to jeopardize funding for fee levy initiatives like Art Matters. So why wouldn’t someone like you, someone who cares about students, cares about fine arts, and cares about Art Matters, why wouldn’t you advocate for CHANGING the regime, and voting in some people who’s past is not marred with corruption, ineptitude, and self-serving actions?

I look forward to your response,

Edwin Responds:

Hi Ezra!

What I wrote was not inaccurate — chiefly an endorsement of Mat Murphy-Perron, my primary motivation in writing it, and the observation that their platform is by and large a good one, and in the area of fine arts, it’s very good. And I have every confidence in Mat’s determination and expertise in being equipped to forward it with gusto; I feel no one in Go can likely say as much. All the same, my preference would be the ability to vote for individual execs, rather than the slate system, which would allow me to throw my support behind Mat, who quite deserves it, and thereafter make my own selections irrespective of slate.

The fact that Go is a left slate has made this a difficult choice for me. All the same, while I’ve worked with Mat for the past year, and base my support for him upon that — and while Go supporters make much of being “the left slate” — I don’t see much in Go’s platform that’s particularly inspiring, visionary, or, to be honest, particularly leftist. It’s basically a centrist, services-based platform, which in some cases promises things over which the CSU will in any case have little control. (I overheard one Go candidate describing how Go was going to achieve cheaper bus passes, because someone on the campaign “knew someone who knew someone” in STM, and thus had an “in” — rather unlikely. I realize that student elections often involve candidates who know little about existing systems and institutions, but I wasn’t prepared for this one.)

Likewise, the Go platform’s apparently principled stand against tuition hikes stands in sharp contrast to the Concordia Left’s performance on the CFS National Day of Action, in which they took the position — if it can be called that — of “No Tuition Hikes, No CSU,” or something roughly equivalent. I’m all for protesting the actions of the CSU — but not on the Day of Action, the one day per year when the eyes of the country are focused on students. Because of this counter-protest, students presented a divided front unlikely in my opinion to demonstrate sufficient force to stave off the dismantling of the tuition freeze. What the Left should have done was to practice solidarity on the tuition-freeze issue on the National Day of Action, and then criticize the CSU <later>, perhaps on the hypocrisy issue and certainly on the crappy organizing job. While in principle I applaud protesting the CSU for screwing over students, that doesn’t make it okay to screw over students even worse by breaking solidarity with the student movement — however flawed it may be — on the National Day of Action, thereby opening up Quebec to soaring fees. Any student activist who’s learned their politics in Manitoba, hearing the old guard’s stories about the history of the Manitoba Left, will maintain a healthy aversion to this kind of sectarianism in the student movement with respect to protesting against the government.

This is a very different situation than the one I confronted as a student activist at the University of Manitoba, where the right-wing slates we fought against were <really> right-wing slates. Those people were dyed-in-the-wool, party-connected Tories — almost fascists, in some cases. Compared to them, the Evolution/Experience people — who were willing to organize for the Day of Action, even if ineptly — are hardly “The Right,” for all their many shortcomings.

So, those are some views from me, Ezra. I entertain little hope that they will satisfy your concerns, but I’m willing to keep discussing, if you are. All the best!

My Response:

Hi Edwin,

I completely disagree with you on the Day of Action (in)actions and actions. “The Left” managed to bring out more students – considerably more – to protest tuition hikes, while we found several Experience executives in a BEER TENT being yelled at by Brent Farrington “to get out there and organize!” You don’t mobilize students into action if you are so completely and utterly disconnected with activism and with any “movement.” To organize in solidarity with these people after they have systematically launched a protracted attack against all forms of political activism on campus and have done more damage to the student movement than any good would be on the one hand allowing them to take credit once again for things they are not responsible for (I see suddenly the “sustainable campus” is at the top of their list – SC was born out of a working group at QPIRG, a building none of these people have set foot in and an organization none of them have interacted with except to challenge and jeopardize funding), and on the other hand allow ourselves to be “kicked while down.” At some point, people have to make a stand, and unfortunately it came on the day of action, which I don’t think did more damage than it did good. This is precisely the type of reasoning Ralph Nader uses when he runs as a third party to expose the anti-democracy and hyprocicy of a two party system and I respect him for it enormously. That he is so completely misunderstood, abandoned by his former friends, and wrongly accused of handing over votes to Bush is a similar – although more macro – situation to the Day of Action proceedings.

While “GO” may not have as well as developed platform as “Unity,” I’d like you to consider three reasons why this is so:

1. Go has not been in power for four years and therefore been working on platform posisitions and (false)promises for nearly half a decade with the essentially the same group of people
2. Go has made realistic promises – Evolution/Experience/Unity has been making the same promises year after year, not fulfilling them, yet are still applauded as having a “great platform” – the institution amnesia of the student body is astounding in this respect. How is that “green” and “revived” terrace that’s been promised since 2003? How is the “revived hive” promised since 2004? And how is the “heated bus shelter” promised since 2005?
3. “The Left” has been so dismantled by this four year franchise that is anti-activist, that finding what you might call “hard core” lefties has been more difficult than in the past. Evolution/Experience and now Unity, has and will continue to, fulfill their mandate of working with the administration to cleanse our campus of political activism. This has caused more fragmentation amongst the left and isolation into specific projects than ever before. I find it very interesting that the CSU, in its infinite wisdom, finally acknowledges clubs on campuses with an awards ceremony (something “the left” suggested doing back in 2003) and when do they do this? Right at election time. They are opportunist who manage to sway even great people on campus like you and your friend you support in their campaign.

As long as students continue to support this group they shouldn’t complain about the CSU not representing them and not being there for them, when they (and you this election, and the hundreds of arts students your letter will undoubtedly sway) are the people responsible for keeping these careerists in office. At the VERY LEAST, a team like GO should be supported because they will make the electoral process more fair, just and balanced. I mean, it is widely believed by students that Conscious actually WON last year, but with former roommates and best friends as CEOs, Evolution/Experience/Unity is guaranteed victory year after year. It is disgusting in not so many words.

FINALLY, a few of us have been looking into the whole Art Matters posters being ripped down and it seems that it just might have been two supporters of Unity who perpetrated this act and put up GO posters in their stead as a way of fostering total hatred for the group amongst arts students. The year I ran Evolution was charged and reprimanded for hiring football players to rough people up on poster night, so I wouldn’t be surprised if our investigation turns up similar tactics.

The issues are not simple, and it is unfortunate your endorsement letter was so simple. Endorsing your friend is one thing, but endorsing such an anti-activist, anti-democratic, inept and corrupt group (save one or two of them running this year, like maybe your friend and in a past life, Noah) is irresponsible and unfortunate coming from you. That’s all, I’m leaving this school, but I find it so utterly depressing that students LIKE YOU are dissatisfied with a CSU that students like you keep re-electing for another ill-fated and destructive tenure.