I guess you could say I was something of a “super-dork” in my freshman year at McGill. I read three campus papers every week, article for article. I took my vote seriously in student elections, and tried to follow the chaos they called “General Assemblies.” So it wasn’t until I stepped out of my postmodern philosophy classes and into ordinary student life that I realized I wasn’t alone in a sea of well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided ideologues, out to save the planet one organic-fair-trade step at a time.
I soon realized that, like me, the average McGill student didn’t really believe that we had a right to access free recycled vegan food. And while a handful of ideologically-driven SSMU execs thought it would be clever to lose $200,000 on Haven Books (despite the warnings of its financial auditors), a substantial portion of the student body seemed to be either opposed to the purchase or unaware of the whole fiasco.
I’ve come to the conclusion that most centrists and reasonable students at McGill just don’t give a damn. Political and social moderates seem to stay out of the spotlight at McGill most of the time. When is the last time someone ran for student government without promising to achieve free education and solve the crisis in the Middle East? When did more than a third of McGill students bother to vote in a student election? When’s the last time The Daily published something relevant to more than four people?
I guess it’s not entirely surprising that a majority of students seem unwilling to engage with student government and media. Inertia and apathy might simply be the fruits of long-term alienation from these institutions. Or perhaps, many normal students are busy with an even more radical project: schoolwork.
Still, the actions of our student government and media directly impact the student experience, from our ability to participate in clubs and services, to the image we have in that tiny place called “the world outside McGill.” It’s time we took just a little bit of responsibility for them.
I found the Vote No campaign during the DPS fee increase referendum last month infuriating. Not because its proponents weren’t raising valid concerns about the paper, but because no one bothered to publicly criticize it until there was a question of funding. The Daily fee increase passed by an incredibly slim margin. Almost 50 per cent of students voting stood behind a campaign that claimed The Daily did not speak to most of the student body and represented the views and interests of a very small minority of students. Why did it take a fee levy for them to voice this concern? Where were these moderates when it came to submitting articles to Commentary, writing letters, or running for editorial positions?
If you want to keep campus moderate, it’s not enough to withdraw from public life. Sometimes it’s necessary to vote in student referenda, if only to vote down the preposterous and polarizing motions. Without vocal opposition, radicals will continue to derive legitimacy from the claim that they represent student interests.
To ensure that student newspapers are relevant and adequately reflect your interests, you have to actually write to them. Apply to have a column in The Daily next fall. Believe me, the standards are not that high (see everything I’ve published in The Daily this year for proof of this point).
For all that I’ve criticized the radicals, I admire their tenacity and energy. While I disagree with almost all of their substantive positions, at least they’re willing to act on them. I’ve yet to see a sign plastered around campus that reads “Let’s establish a reasonable dialogue about a problem we actually have the means to resolve.” I guess that might lack a certain cachet.
Riva Gold’s a goner, but not forgotten. Keep in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.