Katichisms: Where have all the campus radicals gone?

There’s a new leftist media outlet at UBC called The Talon, and it got me thinking about the lack of vocal campus pundits. A few of the old Ubyssey folks, including Justin McElory and Arshy Mann, remarked on Twitter that there seemed to be no organized campus left–and maybe the Talon could change that?

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Remarking on UBC’s dismal campus left is a cliche, and I’m not going to venture there. But the truth is, Mann and McElroy are correct. I wrote a regular column in the Ubyssey for near three years, and–sadly–I was pretty much the only vocal leftist pundit that stuck around for any significant amount of time.

But you know what? There’s no campus right either. As far as I can tell, there’s no campus anything. At least not in any coherent, vocal, and organized sense.

I’m not really sure why. I could venture to say that it has something to do with BC being the most unequal province in Canada, and UBC surely being one of the most unequal universities. It has a lot of rich students who come here to ski the mountains, and a lot of poor students who spend all their time Skytrain-ing to the suburbs. For the former, there’s no reason to get outraged; for the latter, there’s no time to get outraged.

But I don’t have the time or the inclination to get particularly sociological, and I’ll let Talon take over the job of providing entertaining leftist screeds. I’ll just tell you a little bit my time in campus politics, and I hope that provides some small bit of insight to prospective pundits on the left and the right.

When things happen in politics, I always had this nagging thought — “why aren’t you saying something?” So I wrote things and tweeted things and shouted things, much more than I do today. And I often wondered why more people didn’t have that same thought. But then I realized, more people think “well, what do I even have to say? and what right do have to say it?” The truth is, that’s pretty well on the mark. As a 20-something, what can your limited skills, wisdom, and life experiences actually contribute?

You don’t have that much to say. Further, here’s a dirty little secret: most of the time when we tell you that you do have something to say and that you should say it, we’re just encouraging you. If you listen, you’re probably about to say something stupid (with a few important exceptions!). But that’s OK. In truth, it’s necessary. 

The first thought (why aren’t you saying something?) is the product of my entitled white privelage, which would never ever entertain the self-deprecative blasphemies in the second thought (what do I even have to say?). But the second thought is no better — it’s self defeating. There’s surely some golden mean between hubris and humility. But, on the whole, tilting things towards hubris is probably a good thing. If you were always waiting for the proper credentials, you’d never do anything creative or anything political.

If you read my first bit of public writing (oh God, please don’t), or listened to my first few radio documentaries (I challenge you to sit through one), you’ll notice it’s pretty bad. Clearly, I wasn’t qualified to do it. I hope I’m a little bit closer now, but honestly, there’s still a good argument to be made that I should feel some of the crippling self-doubt of that second thought. But fuck it. I’m going to keep doing it until I actually get good at it.

You’re not just going to reach some vaunted plane of human intelligence, then all of a sudden write a book, and then become a staff writer at the New Yorker. You’ve got to work things out in places like The Ubyssey or the Talen, and write things you probably have no business writing. At least in the process you’ll develop a real voice.

So I hope people write for the Talon. I also hope somebody starts some sort of neo-colonial pro-mining rag, or whatever UBC’s conservatives believe. You just need to say something, because this is the time where you’re supposed to be developing these capacities (it’s also the time when you can get away with a lot).

But, the biggest reason you need to say something: student politics has been boring lately. Can we get another impassioned cadre of students that produce entertaining scandal after entertaining scandal? Please?



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Gordon Katic (@gordonkatic) has been student coordinator for the Terry Project for over two years, and in that time started BARtalk, and the Terry Project on CiTR 101.9FM. A former Ubyssey columnist, and now a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, Gordon is trying to use journalism to tell important stories about global issues.