Reflections on the AGM: The UTSU and “Opposition” are Not the Yankees and Red Sox
In perhaps my most treacherous act as part of the newspaper team, I was quoted in The Varsity after last Wednesday’s UTSU Annual General Meeting. I was quoted because I submitted five motions to the AGM and none were voted on before the meeting was adjourned. I will likely get to pass my motions through the UTSU board of directors, but I was nonetheless disappointed that I could not start a public debate to build legitimacy for my largely activist-oriented motions.
That said, I left the meeting feeling low, not because of the failure to get to my motions, but because of the aggressive climate in the meeting. Despite objections from the chair and the equity officer, loud, often aggressive cheers periodically burst from segments of the crowd. While the anti-cheering rule was broken by both sides of the UTSU ideological spectrum, some of the most unpleasant chants came from members of the UTSU “opposition.” For instance, during one speech in favor of a controversial proposed reform of the UTSU board of directors, an opposition supporter yelled “HA…HA…HA!” from the crowd.
It is understandable of course, that people have strong feelings about their political positions. To paraphrase Mao Zedong, politics is not a dinner party. Politics, however, should not be a sporting event either.
Prior to the vote on the board reform motion, I asked the equity officer to make sure that there was no cheer after the result, as it was a sensitive issue. She was not able to act in time, and the crowd went wild. The motion was defeated, and opposition supporters cheered wildly—one even blew a vuvuzela.
The image of the AGM voter as sports fan is an uncomfortable one for “losing voters.” In sports, fans tend to cheer for one team unconditionally and celebrate when their opponent is vanquished. That should not be the case in politics. AGM voters should not vote for an issue or cheer on a speaker because they are on their team, but should carefully consider the politics of each decision they make. Furthermore, while some votes may be over deeply divisive issues (ie: if there was a vote to support BDS), not all of them are. I, for instance, could see reasons to vote either way on the board reform motion, and in a vacuum would not think any differently of a peer for voting one way or another on it. When the defeat of one side is celebrated with thunderous applause, however, it sends the message that that side isn’t worthy of basic respect in defeat.
On another note, I was particularly bothered by students who walked out of the AGM almost immediately after they voted down the proposed board reform. When I go to open mics, even when it’s late, I always stay for at least one act after I’ve performed, out of respect for my fellow performers. On a deeper political level, however, its perplexing that people who supposedly care deeply about their representation on the UTSU would leave the meeting before policy discussion actually began. After all, what is the point of representation, if not to develop representative policies?
I’m sure I could come up with a plethora of complaints about conduct and politics at the AGM. At the end of the day, however, there is no use in complaining. Instead those on the pro-UTSU left must draw lessons from the AGM and the defeat of the proposed board reform. Those who opposed the reform could sum up their cause with the simple, impassioned slogan “save college representation.” Those defending the proposal were not able to do the same. While the equity-inspired structure of the board proposal could perhaps have been the source of a rallying cry, that would not have made sense, as the reason for reforming the board was not to establish a more equitable union. Rather, it was to rebuild the board to be compliant with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. The proposed equity-inspired model was simply one way to do this.
The lesson of the AGM, therefore, is if one is to pass controversial motions, one must really believe in them, and be able to express that belief in the form of a simple but meaningful slogan. If you propose the right motions in this spirit, all UofT students, not just “your team,” will be world champions.
Zach Morgenstern was elected as an independent to be one of the UTSU directors for Victoria College in 2014-15. He is also an op-ed writer and comment editor for the newspaper. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the rest of the editorial team. The newspaper is open to publishing ideas from a vast array of perspectives.