In the weeks before the 1921 federal election, The Daily ran an editorial urging all those eligible to vote, while strenuously declining to endorse a party. The credo of the newspaper was at that time to “remain non-partisan and never to take a side in political affairs.”
A lot has changed in the ninety years since then, and most of what appears in The Daily proudly wears its politics on its sleeve. Rather than trying to feign neutrality, our mandate “recognizes that all events and issues are inherently political, involving relations of social and economic power.”
It’s because of our commitment to making these relations transparent that we try to focus on marginalized groups, both on and off campus. It’s also why we endorse candidates – in student politics just as in federal elections. This can provoke strong negative reactions. Our yearly SSMU endorsements often receive the most scathing criticism on our website, with commenters taking The Daily to task for perceived favouritism.
The pressure to find a supposedly neutral centre is strong everywhere, and growing stronger. In a repeat of last year’s call to be “green together,” the latest candidates for SSMU President ran platforms based on issues like sustainability, cooperation, and transparency – hardly objectionable ideals, but totally meaningless. Cooperation, sustainability, and transparency should be taken for granted, not presented as innovative platforms.
Following a similar logic, calls to abolish the General Assembly were couched in a neutral language of reform, ignoring the fundamentally political question at the heart of any matter to do with misrepresentation and legislative processes. At a time when the overwhelming impulse is to take the politics out of politics, The Daily’s approach can seem antiquated.
But the desire to transcend politics is neither harmless nor apolitical; it’s one of the most politically motivated and consequential positions out there. It limits what can and can’t be said. People who continue to focus on topics outside the boundaries of acceptable political debate are branded either as extremists, members of a radical fringe, or pedants needlessly harping on about something that should be buried away and forgotten. This applies to the Jobbook scandal just as it does to the question of Israel-Palestine.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum’s article in this issue of The Daily is a case in point. (For argument’s sake, I’m going to set aside the fact that her article is misleading: The Daily’s call for McGill to cut ties with Hebrew University wasn’t due to “political controversy in that university’s geo-political environment” but because of concrete – and highly political – actions made by the institution itself.)
Munroe-Blum’s response engages in all too common patterns of depoliticization when she writes about “knowledge and discovery that transcends specific political situations, promotes human understanding, and advances the civilizing power of knowledge.” This is either the naive hope of a political neophyte or a calculated measure to remove a controversial situation – the role of Hebrew University in Israel’s ongoing occupation – from the realm of what can be addressed in political discourse. Heather Munroe-Blum is no neophyte.
On the contrary, the Principal’s response is an attempt to limit what’s acceptable to say, what opinions are valid, and ultimately what role students have in shaping the future of our university. But the fact that the principal of a 35,000-student university would take the time to write such a response also points to something else.
What is most significant about the Principal’s response is not her obvious defensiveness, nor her disrespectful tone (accusing your students of cowardice, really?) What’s most striking is that it demonstrates that student voices can make those in power listen. Whether or not you agree with the editorial that provoked the principal’s response, you can’t ignore its effectiveness at making the administration pay attention.
Giving up on politics means abandoning the possibility of change. Agreeing to neutrality means accepting that only those with power – like university administrators – can make decisions and shape the future of our University. Given the looming prospect of tuition hikes, it’s vital that we resist these paradoxically political moves toward depoliticization.
Regardless of your own political bent, The Daily is one place where this can happen. Our editorials take up one page, and they’re going to remain as political – and potentially controversial –– as ever, but what we print on the others is up to you.
Emilio Comay del Junco is a U1 Arts student and The Daily’s Coordinating editor. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org