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On irrelevance and inspiration

by Archives January 15, 2008

“When you focus on solving problems instead of scoring political points, and emphasize common sense over ideology, you’d be surprised what can be accomplished.”
– Barack Obama, in a publicity interview for his 2006 book, Audacity of Hope.

As a party, the Democrats are fighting bitterly. Intense divisions of race, class, gender, political experience and philosophy are causing extremes of slander to characterize their leadership race.
Despite their differences, however, the Democrats’ internal conflict is only temporary. Once a leader is elected, the whole party will back them to the hilt. Whatever their differences, come election time, Democrats know that only through concerted action can they effectively reflect the interests of their supporters.
At a time when the Liberal Party of Canada is self-destructing through infighting and the oft-mocked Stephan Dion is losing whatever leadership edge he had, the contrast is marked. As a party, the Liberals are casting about for any real vision and seem to be sidelined on the political scene more and more by their own irrelevance.
Whether to follow the example of the Libs – be seen as obsolete, or the Dems – become unified, is the problem currently facing our school.
At the beginning of the year, our council was comprised of members with wildly divergent views. After seven months, it should by now have coalesced into a team able to pull together in the interests of students. Instead, it continues to be divided over infighting and petty, inconsequential squabbling.
Student papers and opposition councillors (and those unable to win election) have spent much time obsessing over any and all alleged failings of our student government, bickering over the minutia of elections, and generally detracting from any real work of government.
But by focusing only on the weaknesses of our CSU, we have only won for ourselves a political climate that the average student sees as
boring, wasteful and petty.
But it is not too late. With a new year comes new opportunity.
The question is now: Will the bitterness of an unelected, unelectable minority undermine another semester’s potential, or will councillors be able to rally the Union to actions that truly benefit students?
I propose a shift in the usual, redundant “Didn’t-we-do-this-last-year?” plan. Instead of challenging the “average student” to rally their wits and start contributing to the governance of Concordia, I say, let us recognize those who would never step foot inside a council room who are doing as much or more to develop Concordia’s culture.
I cannot bring myself to criticize the general climate of apathy with regard to student government at our school. Punishing people for apathy only breeds more apathy out of resentment. Who wants criticism? I’m certainly sick of it. If I were to write an editorial to combat “student apathy,” I would start not by encouraging a student to get involved in government.

I say, let only those who truly want to be there come to council meetings. To those who don’t, my advice is this: go and fall in love with something – with anything, no matter how benign and trivial it seems – and get inspired.
Fall in love with fine food, and write a review of your favourite restaurant. Fall in love with football and pick a World-Cup worthy team to cheer for in a pub. Fall in love with the environment and pressure your student council to ban ridiculous, paper-wasting posters.
Become inspired by writing a thesis on Rembrandt, with your prickly poli sci prof, with that band you admire, with those bowling shoes you crave. Fall in love, and you will be inspired to change things.
Because then, instead of waiting for others to do it for you, you will start making a difference in your culture in spite of yourself.
The most inspiring and entertaining story I encountered this week was, relative to the grand scheme of things, a small one. Four Concordia students who are in love with hockey. They aren’t collecting funds for Rwandan refugees (though I wouldn’t put it past them.) They aren’t picking up garbage in Montreal’s streets (though that wouldn’t be bad either.) Nor are they lobbying the federal government for stricter gun control. They aren’t doing much but talking about the game they love, but they’re on their way to doing it with excellence.
Let me tell you, I am not a fan of hockey. I don’t understand the game and my family, bless them, never saw much in my home team, the Vancouver Canucks.
In fact, the only way you could have forced me to watch a hockey game last week was if I was stuck in a shack in the middle of the desert, with only a TV and the CBC for company and a beer in hand that was colder than the air was outside – then maybe I’d watch a game through.
But something in the strange, compelling, intense passion of those Habs-lovers got through to me and for the first time in my life, I picked up the sports section of The Gazette this weekend before the A-section just to see what was being written about the Habs.
It’s a strange thing, passion. It compels people to do things they might not otherwise, and inspires those with whom the passionate interact.
And so, a little at a time, does a society form itself.
Let’s move beyond the idea that the Concordia Student Union begins and ends in a council room with its elected officials.
What I propose is this: those students who still have the spark of imagination left in them, why don’t you propose your own ideas to your student union and elected officials? Provoke them to look beyond the status quo. Challenge them to take on projects that would interest you.
Better yet, start one yourself. In the good old days before unions and welfare systems, corporate donations to offset year-end profits (Hello BMO!) and tax-breaks to inspire “goodwill,” people had the will to make things happen all by themselves.
So go be inspired.

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