Leadership through Forfeiture
For those out of the social media loop, student news feeds were overrun today by links to a public Facebook note by Sana Ali, the unopposed Team RENEW candidate running for the position of VP External in the on-going UTSU election. In her note, Ali forfeited the election and terminated her relationship with Team RENEW, and offered some heavy criticisms of the party’s practises regarding open discussion and diversity of thought. She describes attempts to “squash dissent and individuality”, and reveals that her official candidate statement was written for her by the team. She accuses Team RENEW of drastically altering their platform from past slates’, of choosing her because of her ethnicity, of restricting her communication with opposition, and of manipulating students’ ignorance and apathy so as to gain political advantage. Her criticisms are concise, clear, and specific; entirely unlike the whole of her former team’s platform.
At time of press, over one thousand students have liked Ali’s note, an impressive number considering how few follow student politics and how little time the content has had to spread. There are dozens of comments as well, almost all of which are complimentary, often lionizing. Ali’s note is being heralded by some as “an inspiration” and indeed it should be: she’s got us all caring, though perhaps just a little, about a one-sided election.
There is something unintuitive in commending Ali’s action, though. How, exactly, is forfeiting noble? Why are we commending inaction? The answer is both chilling and condemnatory, not of Ali but of the campus that has nurtured the rise of Team RENEW: our state of political affairs is such that the most brazen, powerful action taken by one of our political candidates in recent memory is refusing to take part in something unethical. Ali’s decision is impressive because it is brave and principled, but the consequences of her decision are important not because they are good but because they are not bad. So surrounded are we by the haze of political doublespeak and the murk of self-serving governance that plain honesty’s dim glow is enough to draw us near.
I’m not going to chastise a body of tens of thousands of students, including me, if only because I know it could do no good. We, students, are among the most opinionated and vocal demographics in the world; we are surrounded by geniuses and innovators whose insights we absorb and analyze daily. The discord between our beliefs and refusal to act on them is so immense that there must be an underlying cause so powerful it not only compels us to apathy but blinds us to the extent.
I don’t believe, as Ali suggested, that there is a campus-wide epidemic of mass ignorance. Nor I believe that we are too lazy to mobilize. Apathy is a thing of its own kind; it is emotional inertia. We act only when we care, we care only when we must. We are not an active entity conflicted by the obstacles of ignorance or oppression; we are a motionless body with no apparent incentive to get up and improve our environment. There is, fortunately, unfortunately, simply nothing so terrible or unjust to compel us to take action at all.