Source: Rob Ford and Council Celebratory Jumping GIF from Deadspin.
So folks, I’m taking my primary exit from student politics—for now, I can’t ever say forever—in exactly sixty-seven days. I am not counting.
But folks ask me all the time: Brad, what in the name of Odin’s eyepatch are you gonna do with yourself?
Well, let’s break that down, shall we?
Zero: My Research, duh.
This isn’t even a proper priority here as its a dang necessity. I need to finish my bloody degree over the summer, just needs to happen. No-ifs-or-buts-about-it. It isn’t an option, it is what has to happen. So it will.
One: Remain involved in University Governance.
I mean, that’s something that transcends my involvement in any organization and looks to be the case over the next year certainly with Graduate Education Council (I’m not officially re-elected, but there is no election for the remaining seats). I will also be applying for one of the governing Board seats at UofT (likely University Affairs Board) when those applications become available. Also, those alumni seats back at Memorial are still very tempting when they open up, so I may yet take another run at those sooner or later.
Two: Other Campus Organizing.
I’ll be joining the organizing committee of Scientists for the Right to Know the day after I leave UTGSU, on May 1st. I’ve always loved their work and was present from the founding members’ meeting (on UTGSU’s behalf) onward, so that feels like a really good fit to me.
As well, I’m floating a run at one of UTGSU’s levy groups—as their former liaison, I do know them all quite well—but I’ll leave which ambiguous for now or when that’ll be.
Three: Getting a Day Job
Yeah, I need an actual job around the University. But I’m confident one will arise soon enough, haha, it’s certainly been something I’ve been scoping out since returning to Toronto in January. There are certain areas that make sense with my skillsets, but we’ll see where I can fit best.
Four: Media Projects
The first of these (UofT Free Press) will hopefully align nicely with my own organizing around campus, but I’m going to will this sucker into existence with my soul if I have to. Social Justice-Oriented and Investigative Journalism is sorely needed around here. I want some hard-nosed progressives to rock not just the University establishment, but the very student movement I come from and to tackle wider issues as well. On a related note, I’ll be starting up a podcast with Brendan ‘neurochems’ Lehmen soon (likely before my UTGSU exit) on politics and stuff—because I can’t fathom not working with Brendan in some capacity after the last, grueling two years.
So… yeah, a lot of stuff, haha.
If you enjoy my stuff, get ready for some new adventurin’, folks.
If you hate my shtick, get ready for just dealing with it, suckers.
All the best,
With UTGSU Election season off to a start and with Union elections all over going strong, I’ve been thinking about some advice I’d give folks entering or in student politic these days and beyond. I’ve been at this business for about seven years and have become a rapid maw consuming all info. related to such things over this time.
However, I’m about to take my bow as my tenure at the UTGSU comes closer and closer to its end. So… yeah, thoughts are a-bubblin’.
Honestly, when entering or being in student politics, you have to start thinking about your exit-plan. “What?” You say to yourself. Listen, if you aren’t setting timelines for yourself, the allure of this stuff, if you have got it, will keep pulling you back in to roles and responsibilities. Folks who don’t plan ahead inevitably become encrusted in particular student organizations and roles, eventually becoming outmoded and lacking in self-direction.
From the moment I decided to run for UTGSU, I knew I’d not be running now. I’ve kept that promise to myself because I know how deeply I invest myself in these kinds of things — everyone who loves this work does — and how I’d need to eventually move on from my current level of investment, both for myself and for the good of the organization. You aren’t doing anyone any good by becoming a barnacle stuck to the side of your Union. New eyes and voices will build on and destroy past work and you have to suck it up. When I left GCSU in 2011, that was a hard feeling to swallow initially — but it was a needed growth, one I know I needed, and you will someday too.
If 2007 Brad met Today Brad, he’d think I was quite unbelievable. In fact, he might even hate me. But, ideas and perspective shift and change as we grow generally, so too do they in this sort of work. If you deny yourself this and stick yourself into the muck of unmoved ideology, then you are as good as dead to the student movement. How can one challenge administrations and structures, if one cannot challenge themselves and their pasts?
For me, I think any reader knows the most dramatic example comes with the Canadian Federation of Students, but even more generally — my perspective on much of the politics of student unions has shifted so, so much (to something more radical, if I’m honest). Freeing yourself of the notion that you will always be a solid rock of ideas is best to do sooner than later, it helps build your capacity for new alliances, friendships, and partnerships across the board… and you need to be able to do that all with humility.
Speaking of humility, this is something I have trouble with. I really do like being right. I like arguing for my position. I like seeing my view implemented. However, I am not always right. One has to accept these things, learn to compromise more, and just get on with life in these circles. It can only be less productive to take positions that are so solid in their colour that you cannot back down from them without losing all credibility. So, um, don’t do that. It really isn’t worth your time and will weaken your ability to workout problems in a wider, more consultative way.
I hate failing too. It just sticks to your gut in this work and hangs over you, especially if others are counting on you. But you will fail. We all fail. This doesn’t excuse a poor work ethic or sheer failure to do one’s work at all… but, we have to accept and learn from failure generally. If we don’t or can’t, we risk becoming brittle in our handling of situations and simply misguided in our overall judgement. Besides, failure isn’t something to ever be really ashamed of, even if it stings greatly in those first moments.
I hate poor winners. I hate boastful winners. I hate people who feel the need to drop a f’ing banner over every moment of triumph. But, none of that will matter in time. No one will remember your victories like that, only how big of a pompous jerk you are. I mean, this isn’t to say “don’t celebrate ever” — you must to build a movement! — but, good lord, just don’t become a sneering mess about it. Superiority does not equal solidarity, friends.
My friend Abdullah has covered this in detail here, so… go read that, then come back.
Sometimes, people suck in meetings. They really do. Fact is, though, so do I. I can be an absolute dick — this is the product of the kind of environment folks in these roles find themselves in. Instead of getting too worked up about it, these days, I’ve decided to turn inward and focus on self-care. Encourage others to do the same. We’re all trying to get through this stuff together and sometimes our ideas clash — it happens. It sometimes leads to people acting out of character, but you can’t prevent this for anyone but you. That doesn’t mean to be passive and get your throat stepped on — no way, man — but it does mean folks should just be mindful of the fact you’re dealing with other humans, not robot-rage-machines.
People say to me, often times, that I seem really positive for the amount of energy I put into these things. That is true, I try to be and am naturally inclined so — but it is also a conscious choice I make in many a situation. While I’m really against tone-policing, it is so that you will catch more flies with honey. Even points that are fairly critical of the status quo can be presented in a more uplifting, hopefully oriented light and I’ve found that works well for me. Even when mad at folks, I tend to moderate my tone when I finally talk about it (if in public) as I really don’t see the need to drop an anvil on the head’s of all the folks in the room or drag them through my beef. That said, I’ve got skill in the righteous anger department as well – sometimes to a very harsh extent – but this still isn’t as effective as when I eschew such a reaction and choose another path. This isn’t to advocate pacifism, mind you, but rather even when enraged try to reach for a higher, more meaningful ideal than just rage alone. People can tell the difference, even if they think you’re wrong.
Service, likely due to my Catholic upbringing, is a pretty important concept for me, even as a godless heathen. As an individual, I don’t think the way to lead is to put one’s self or one’s brand ahead of the act of serving others in one’s work. It just hollows out the good intention of such work and really just empties the end goal you’re working on of any real meaningfulness. I mean, you cannot tell me folks in student politics don’t have egos—we all do, don’t be a martyr—but that doesn’t mean we have to feed them every time we do something or even some of the time.
You represent people other than yourself and they expect you—when they know you exist—to keep their needs front and centre. This is a challenge when there are 14,999 needs for you to consider (and, your own count in the personal wellness sense), but the important thing to consider is this question: “Is what I’m doing for the good of those I represent?” and, more importantly “Why is it so?”. We have a responsibility, a trust given to us by those who elect us and those who abide us to honestly consider the last question the most strongly. We can, I think, easily convince ourselves we’re making the right call, but it is always important to be able to answer more than just a quick ‘yes’ to placate the mind.
I was just talking about ego and the greater good and this is related to those points.
In the end, you are not the Union. You are not indispensable. You are not worth more than the members who determined to put you where you are. You are not smarter than them. You are not better than them. You deserve nothing more than any one of them might. And if you lose sight of that, then you deserve it when the Union reminds you of it—harshly. Take praise and remark with humility, take criticism with an open mind, and never doubt that if you overstep, you will be reminded of the above.
Anyways, I hope this has been some interesting reflections and I do hope you meme the bejeebus out of my face above. I will regret this.
All the best,