In lieu of recent events surrounding the Social Justice Centre, one of the AMS Resource Groups, I solicited comments from some of its involved members. The following has been written by Mike Thicke, co-editor of The Knoll and an active member of the SJC. It reflects his own personal views.

The Resource Groups were created by the AMS to allow student funds to be
devoted to social and political causes while having the council itself
able to remain mostly divorced from these issues. Most of the groups
have multiple roles as support centres for victims of discrimination,
political advocates, and educational resources.

All of the resource groups were founded on very idealistic principles, valuing
consensus-based decision making and maximum inclusiveness. When they are
working well, they are one of the best parts of our university. For
example, the Student Environment Centre’s “Seeds for Change” conference
attracted over 150 participants from UBC, other universities and the
community for two days of lectures and other activities centered around
the environment. Colour Connected is the primary source of funding for
the Realities of Race week, which focuses on the continuing problems
surrounding race in our society, and particularly the reality of
systemic racism on campus. Both of these events are models of what can
be achieved by dedicated students working for what they believe in.

The Social Justice Centre (SJC) was birthed from the 1997 protests of
the APEC conference. The APEC protests, followed shortly by the “Battle
in Seattle” two years later protesting the WTO, helped push the
“anti-globalization” movement onto the world stage. The SJC was planned
to be a way to build on that momentum, and its extremely broad and
ambitious constitution spoke to the great hopes invested in the centre
by its founders.

The SJC’s mandate is extremely broad, and unlike most of the resource
groups, it is not focused on one specific aspect of oppression. Rather,
it is devoted to preventing all forms of oppression. If any can be
identified, the two focuses of the SJC are anti-war, and anti-poverty.
One consequence of this broad focus is that the SJC has more potential
for contentious political debate and infighting than the other resource
groups. Revolutionary-leaning left-wing groups have historically been
divided along what seem to be outsiders rather trivial lines. While to
most people the distinction between a Marxist-Leninist and a Trotskyist
may seem murky and unimportant even after a good deal of research, to
people who identify strongly with one of these camps the distinction is
very clear and important.

The Vancouver anti-war movement has been divided in recent years into
two main groups. is a large, fairly mainstream group that
puts on large but infrequent events (you may have seen stickers for
their March 17th rally). Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO)
is an extremely active group that puts on events almost weekly, on a
much smaller scale. MAWO was formed after internal strife within caused the majority to expel a group from the coalition that
they felt was overly disruptive to their operation. The expelled group,
and another that left with them, formed MAWO. (Notably, before joining
StopWar, some of these individuals were also expelled from the
Anti-Poverty Committee, a direct-action focused group which is much more
radical than StopWar, and has been very active recently in protesting
the loss of affordable housing downtown because of the Olympics.)

As a group that participates in events outside of UBC, often gives
donation to Vancouver groups, and has membership with involvements
around the city, the SJC inevitably attracted members that had strong
feelings about these two groups. The SJC also frequently went to these
groups as sources of potential speakers for UBC events, which had the
potential for trouble if potentially antagonistic speakers from either
side of the divide spoke at the same event.

At the beginning of this school year the SJC had planned several events
to encourage interest in the student body, always a nearly impossible
task. One of our first events was focused on the occupation of
Palestine. The SJC has traditionally been a very strong supporter of
Palestinians, and has worked closely with the UBC Palestinian Solidarity
Committee on many events. Although this is always a contentious topic,
it is not one we want to shy away from. The event was a
panel-discussion, with four speakers and a long time left for questions
and discussion from the audience. We were initially very happy to have a
large room filled with students listening to the panelists speak, but
the situation rapidly deteriorated. One speaker expressed unequivocal
support for Hezzbolah, another made comments that resulted in a formal
complaint of anti-semitism to the AMS, and another became very combative
with some members of the audience who he believed were attempting to ask
intentionally misleading and time-wasting questions. Overall, I at least
felt that oppressed Palestinians were not well-represented by our event,
and if anything their cause was dealt damage, rather than supported. At
the next meeting of the SJC, similar concerns were voiced, though not by
any means unanimously, but it was generally agreed that we should be
more cautious with our events in the future.

Our next major event was entitled “Canada in Afghanistan: A Roundtable
Discussion”. When we initially discussed speakers, one speaker was
suggested as someone who had been involved in activist work in Iran
and very knowledgeable about the region. He was approved by the members,
including myself. Immediately afterwards I learned that he was actually
one of the people expelled by, and one of the founders of
MAWO. Further, there was a widely-circulated accusation of assault
against him by a person who attempted to leave the Fire This Time (FTT)
newspaper, of which this individual is the head editor. Although this
was an accusation without any particular evidence, it raised concerns
for me, and a few people I spoke to suggested that this speaker might be
problematic. I emailed another member of the SJC who was very involved
with FTT and MAWO, seeking another side of the story, and expressing
concern that we make every effort to ensure that our Afghanistan event
not be a repeat of our Palestine event. In response, this person
publicly accused me of racism of the highest order, as the speaker I was
concerned about happened to be Iranian. This accusation would be
shocking to anyone, but it was especially so given the nature of the
group we both belonged to.

Partly due to concerns over the speaker, and partly as a reaction to the
email accusation against myself, we held an emergency meeting a few days
later to “uninvite” this speaker, against the vehement protest of some
members of the SJC.

We knew that the internal tensions of the SJC were coming to a head at
this point, but we were not prepared for what was to happen at our next
meeting. Two days before the Afghanistan event was to take place we held
a meeting to finalize our plans and confirm our replacement speakers.
The people who objected to our cancelation of the original speaker
showed up with several new people to the
SJC, and posters for an event
entitled, curiously, “Canada in Afghanistan: A Roundtable Discussion”.
Although it had the same title, and took place at the same time, this
was not the SJC’s event! It was an event put on by CAWOPI, featuring the
speaker we had canceled as their headliner. As we found out later, the
room they had advertised for their event was not even booked for its
duration. Their goal was to convince us to abandon our event and replace
it with theirs, and to use the room we had booked.

The extra people who showed up were there in hopes of forming a majority
within the SJC to vote for this to take place. One of the interesting
features of the resource groups is that all UBC students are, by
default, members of the resource groups, and any student who shows up to
a meeting has equal powers to students who have been coming to meetings
for months or years. As every student has part of her fees go towards
the operation of the groups, this rule makes sense. However, one of the
consequences of this is that the groups always have the possibility of
being ambushed. This time it didn’t work – they did not form a majority
– but we still decided to cancel our event as we did not wish to run
openly confrontational events. I think this would have just further
discredited our cause, especially coming on the heels of the Palestine

Over the course of the next several weeks, from about early October to
late November, the SJC meetings turned into a firestorm of emotion,
lasting several hours each week, as the majority within the SJC sought
ways to prevent these past events from reoccurring. We felt that the SJC
could not continue with members who would sabotage our events whenever
they were not to their liking, especially when one of those who did the
sabotaging was one of our executives. We attempted to remove this exec,
to change the constitution, and to have SAC prevent CAWOPI from
interfering with our events in the future. None of these measures were
successful, partly because the SJC constitution was built with the
ideals of consensus in mind, making forcing through decisions a very
arduous task, and partly because we did not see any clear solutions to
our problems.

At the heart of the matter, I am convinced, is the SJC’s approximately
$8000 per year budget. Unsurprisingly, activism around Vancouver is
ubiquitously starved for funding. A good portion of the budget has often
been devoted to donations to other groups in Vancouver in need of
support. It also, of course, goes towards promotional material for the
SJC and other campus groups, rental of sound and video equipment, and
other expenses. One of my core fears was that abandoning the SJC would
result in a good deal of these funds being devoted to MAWO and
associated groups. It was unacceptable to me that sabotaging our events
and creating a hostile environment in the group should result in such a
large reward for the perpetrators. Similarly, I expect the other side of
the conflict would have left and concentrated their activities within
other groups such as CAWOPI if not for the SJC budget.

In late November we passed a motion suspending the SJC’s operations
until the February, as most of us were extremely burned out and fearing
for our academic futures. The break, we hoped, would also diffuse
tension and allow for a possible mediation period.

In late February we began a series of meetings, now moderated by a
member of the AMS Ombuds office, aimed at revamping our constitution.
The aim of these negotiations, for us, was to create a structure which
would allow the two factions within the SJC to operate somewhat
autonomously. We also hoped to fix lingering problems with the
constitution that would help the group to function more smoothly in the
future. Our proposed changes, which would have the SJC move to a more
committee-based system where people would work in smaller groups funded
by a larger “board of directors” met with quite a bit of resistance,
from all segments of the SJC, especially because it allowed these
committees to vote to exclude people from their meetings if they felt
that were necessary. Many people understandingly felt this was against
the spirit of the SJC, and possibly the AMS bylaws governing the
resource groups. Nevertheless, we were able to come to something of a
compromise solution that most seemed somewhat at peace with.

This Tuesday, April 10th, we met for our final meeting of the year to
finish off the constitution and elect a new executive for September.
Given that many people in the SJC had papers to write and exams coming
up, we had several absences. We had also grown complacent due to our
recent successes in reforming the constitution. Yesterday, however, was
another terrible surprise. Many of the same people who showed up out of
the blue in October returned, along with many faces we had never seen
before. For the first time in months, the balance of power within the
group shifted dramatically. We handled this quite poorly, as we
proceeded to go along with, and even suggest, some final changes to the
constitution that gave too much power to the executive. In the elections
three out of the four executive positions were taken by people I had
been battling for months. We were naive in our constitutional changes,
giving the executive discretion to override many of the safety measures
we had put into place to allow the SJC to function, and now it looks
like the worst result has come to pass.

The SJC and the resource groups as a whole are a fantastic part of the
AMS. However, they are vulnerable to takeover by small groups that have
policies markedly in opposition to what many students at UBC would feel
comfortable with. I am very concerned now that the SJC will not be a
positive force at the university, and will instead serve as a conduit
for funds passing to groups in Vancouver that do not serve the student
interest. I am hopeful, however, that this might spur those concerned
with social justice, anti-war, and anti-poverty activities to come out
in force next September to rescue the SJC from its uncertain future. I
will not be here in the fall, and for my part in this mess I apologize
to all the students who inherit it, but I think it is of tremendous
importance for everyone to invest their efforts in ensuring that the SJC
can regain its positive function.


32 Comments so far

  1. Nathan on April 12, 2007 5:35 am

    I’m really unsure that people will seek to understand the details of our situation at the SJC. I’m worried that this post will leave people with a negative impression of the SJC. But perhaps the SJC has been negatively impressed in a permanent way by recent events…

  2. Anonymous on April 12, 2007 6:22 am

    Thanks for the post- it’s very effective in helping people understand the current situation in the SJC.

    I was wondering if possible, if somebody could elaborate on the wrong-views/actions by MAWO and those involved in more detail, why they were expelled from etc and what is exactly meant by the term “radical” in this context and the rationale behind this. Without specific definitions and examples, it’s a bit difficult to understand why/how the “fight” has been going on! It would also help to put things into more of a perspective than they already are!

    Thanks again :)

  3. Maayan Kreitzman on April 12, 2007 7:04 am

    Pardon me for being a pro-capitalist troglodyte, but to me, a student with moderately mainstream politics, the SJC’s existential crises is nothing more than a bunch of selfish, out-of-touch power freaks intent on forwarding their particular radical agendas on my dime. The crises here is far more fundamental than the specific events you describe, which are mere symptoms of the fact that the SJC is student-funded exclusive ideological party – one which, since it has NO meaningful balance within it, is split along some arbitrary axis seemingly more related to affiliation than vision.
    What happened to the “resource” in “resource group”? This centre is supposed to inform students and allow them to be engaged in issues of social justice, along the entire diverse spectrum that might imply. Instead, we have a highly political core that apperently, spends more time worrying about non-student movements (embarrasing, rag-tag ones at that) than serving its mandate. Why? Even before this ‘takeover’ you describe the SJC was out of touch and reckless to the extreme. The Palestine event you talked about at the beginig of the term was one of the most disturbing and embarrasing events I have ever had the misfortune to attend – as a UBC student I was ashamed. The fact that members of your inbred pinko crew can’t get along is pathetic enough, but the reality that no event I’ve heard of the SJC planning or hosting represented a TRUE diversity of views is yet more disturbing. You are right to worry that the SJC is a mere tool to funnel money for campaigns most students either don’t give two shits aobut, or openly dissagree with, but what you fail to realize is that only by creating an SJC that is trully inclusive ideologically, or functionally neutral ideologically, will this fear be allayed. You say that the worst possible outcome has come about from your attempted constitution reforms – of course you thought your good guys would win. Sweet irony there.
    Forget the fiddling with governance structures: the front page of your website reads more like parody than a RESOURCE group. the SJC must strengthen it’s buy-in from the student population. It needs to abandon the ridiculous practice of having official editorial positions on things like OPPESING CAPITALISM AND OTHER AUTHOROTARIAN SYSTEMS and focus on having events that actually provide resources to students from experts on specific, focused world issues. I’m not saying issues of war and social justice are apolitical; they are not, and cannot be. But you, as a group, should be there to provide resources about these issues moreso than forwarding some collective position, whatever that may be. Internal jockying would not be an issue if this was the understood mission of the SJC. Clearly, the reality is quite different. The AMS and CASA are our policy and lobbying originizations; leave that mandate alone. [/rant]

  4. Matthew Naylor on April 12, 2007 7:06 am

    Out of curiosity, who won? I feel somewhat out of the loop (as a fee paying member who has tried to subscribe to the mailing list), so I wouldn’t mind knowing who the new exec is…

  5. Paul on April 12, 2007 7:20 am

    Great rant Maayan! I agree 100%

  6. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 12, 2007 7:39 am

    Am I crazy, or does this just read like any number of the other petty personality conflicts that dominate student politics?

    (Only problem is CAWOPI, MAWO et al aren’t necessarily students.)

  7. Nathan on April 12, 2007 5:33 pm

    I do not want to be confrontational, but when I read Mayaan’s post, I really feel that she is doing the same violence she set out to denounce. There are so many students caught in the middle the SJC conflict, well meaning students who are passionate about making the world a better place, it is very discouraging to see Mayaan place the SJC under a single judgment. I don’t expect Mayaan to understand the sensitivities and the complexities of the issue, but the least she could have done would have been to read this article, which gives a clear voice to many SJC members’ dissatisfaction with the group’s recent exclusiveness. It is a maximum irony that Mayaan complains of past exclusivity and suppressed diversity in the SJC while writing a rant that deliberately ignores the diversity of opinion that currently exists there. It really makes me feel awful and so discouraged to read Mayaan’s characterization of the SJC as an “inbred pinko crew” – not least because I had until now considered Mayaan an impressive young journalist with so much attention the to detail, and so much potential and dignity.

    Like Mike and many other members of the SJC, I agree with Mayaan that the SJC has been exclusive in the past. And so, for example, in November, the SJC took the reference to “capitalism” out of the constitution. I have a problem, however, with the way that Mayaan has equated radical activism with exclusivity. Many of us in the SJC see class society as objectionable centrally because of its exclusivity. This shows when we oppose its marginalizing hierarchies and its privileging of traditionally dominant racial, class and gender categories. We thus value a coalition and affiliation politics that is open and inclusive. In past years, the SJC has helped harmonized a wide diversity of ideologies – Marxists, Anarchists, liberals – for the productive organizing of local actions and events. The Knoll magazine is a current example of this type of alliance politics, with an ideologically diverse and cooperative editorial board.

    Turmoil came about in the SJC not because of exclusivity, but just the opposite. Many members of the SJC refused, out of a principled commitment to unconditional inclusion, to expel those members who prevented the functioning of the SJC. I would make a further correction: the split in the SJC did not result from “radical activism”, but specifically from activism that was exclusive and sectarian – not radical enough. The majority of active SJC members have been unfortunate enough to be faced with a group that imitates the system it opposes. It breaks my heart that Mayaan is so hostile and harsh to the students who have had to deal with this experience. If she disagrees with those students, it cannot be for their courage in standing up to authoritarian practices within the group. I plea with her that she must disagree with those members on the real issues, and give members the benefit of the doubt by offering real arguments, not uninformed, ad hominem disagreement.

    MAWO forced the most diverse world into the most cramped space, to make a cramped Enemy. I cannot help but to get the same sentiment when reading Mayaan’s post. She is desperate to denounce the SJC and so forces its diversity into the single fold of a monolith. I would go further and plea with Mayaan: you have to understand that not everyone has the same confidence in the capitalist system than you have. It seems that Mayaan is prepared to defend inclusivity only so long as it is a type that meshes with her own politics. But the only way to posit a social justice center that is “fully inclusive ideologically” is to posit a social justice that is not a social justice center at all. Anti-war and anti-poverty work are deeply political engagements. In fact, many students in the SJC are not convinced that ideological “neutrality” has any connection to inclusivity. We feel that to designate the “apolitical” act is a fully political accomplishment. Where Mayaan might identify something as “non-political”, we see in it a basic gesture of approval for the status quo, an endorsement for the way that things are in our world. And thus the larger UBC community is, to us, so deeply a political space as to make a counter-politics absolutely necessary. But when the SJC becomes exclusive and cliquish, it has abandoned its central aim: to challenge exclusivist society by building a diverse and inclusive movement for change.

  8. Gina Eom on April 12, 2007 6:55 pm

    It really makes me feel awful and so discouraged to read Mayaan’s characterization of the SJC as an “inbred pinko crew” – not least because I had until now considered Mayaan an impressive young journalist with so much attention the to detail, and so much potential and dignity.

    Hey Nate I felt the same way. I think a problem with the SJC is also a lack of transparency – like we never documented minutes and published them. This is why people aren’t aware of internal discussions and disagreements and perceive us to present a single “pinko commie fucktard” front.

    I also feel like Maayan probably has the worst impression of the SJC, ever – she did attend that horrible conference, and that is how she perceives the SJC. I can understand both of your views.

  9. Spencer on April 12, 2007 7:22 pm

    Like Mike and many other members of the SJC, I agree with Mayaan that the SJC has been exclusive in the past. And so, for example, in November, the SJC took the reference to “capitalism” out of the constitution.

    Here here! And not because I’m a liberal but because it frees up the SJC to deal with its others issues in a more constructive way – working with other parts of society rather than pre-emptively dismissing one of the underlying factors of their existence. Seriously, I think that sort of move bodes well for the future. The particular line was one of the reasons I’ve dismissed the SJC in the past.

    Also, I have nothing but incredible sympathy for any organization that has the patience to deal with MAWO and their brand of lunatic (I think that’s more accurate than ‘radical’) activism that exists mostly in a world where logic and reason as we know them are dead.

  10. Mike Thicke on April 12, 2007 9:39 pm


    I read your letters to the Ubyssey in the fall regarding our Palestine event. In fact, I responded to your second letter taking issue with you painting the SJC in a monolithic way. You replied that there was no way for you to find out about the SJC. That is a fair point, and this year the SJC has been particularly poorly represented because of our difficulties. If students are to make it helpful and accessible, it must be a priority to make the website, our public face, more reflective of our diversity and inclusiveness.

    However, I take issue with your demand that we must aim for some sort of political neutrality. Always aiming for the centre is itself a distortion. The “debate” over climate change is an example of this. The mainstream press felt the need to always contact “both sides of the story” when writing articles on climate change. This lead to a false impression in the public that the reality of human caused climate change was a matter of hot debate among climate scientists. It wasn’t, and isn’t. The neutrality of the press favored the status-quo: non-action on reducing the emission of climate changing substances into the atmosphere. Although this might be going too far, we could say that the entire mainstream press was complicit and even an active accomplice in creating the climate crisis we are now facing.

    The resource groups exist, in part, to amplify the voices of those that are not given attention in mainstream discourses. Ask most people about racism, and they will tell you it is a thing of the past, with only a few holdouts still holding on to antiquated beliefs. Ask the members of Colour Connected, and they will give you a completely different story. It is the job of Colour Connected to get the message out about systemic racism, not to maintain a neutral position on whether or not it is a fact of modern society.

    Along with Nate, I have been impressed by much of what I’ve read from you in the past. I understand your issues with the SJC can be emotional and divisive, but I would love it if you wanted to speak to one or all of us about the SJC to gain a more realistic idea of what we are about.

  11. Steven on April 12, 2007 10:20 pm

    Maayan, like Nate and Mike, I had respected your letter to the Ubyssey and agreed with your views on the Palestine event. Unfortunately, I am left completely shocked and dismayed at the abrasive notions you have extrapolated from that single experience. “Selfish, out-of-touch power freaks”? “Inbred pinko crew”? That’s the sort of mindless rhetoric I expect on American talk radio, but not in a mature dialogue between people with differing political views. And for me, that is exactly what the SJC should strive to promote: mature dialogue. But that does not mean abstaining from taking a stand. In fact, to abstain from taking a stand, to strive for “ideological neutrality”, and to not promote issues “students don’t give two shits about” would be already to take a very strong stand, as Mike pointed out. Social justice is about challenging the statues quo and challenging people’s views on it. The only way to do this is to bring in respectful and articulate speakers and the like to focused events, but that has nothing to do with striving for “ideological neutrality”. It just means expressing your views without resorting to name calling and generalizations. A great example of this was when Kevin Pina came to speak about his documentary on Haiti, but that was anything but “ideologically inclusive”. Even worse than all that, to me, is that it is evident you paid no attention to the careful and heartfelt explanation Mike gave of his experience with the SJC. It seems Nate’s initial misgivings were correct.

  12. Maayan Kreitzman on April 12, 2007 10:40 pm

    Thanks to both nathan and mike for your detailed responses. I take these to heart, and I would like to learn more about the SJC. My comments were general: not targeted towards you, but pretaining to the originization’s mandate and buy-in from the general student population it is meant to serve. The way I see it, avoiding the awful internal strife you have experienced is part in parcel of the need to focus your activities on students, and have a greater diversity of views represented. The very idea of compartmentalization (which was not adopted, nonetheless) to accomodate a lack of basic civility makes me angry, and makes me wonder what is wrong with the culture of this orginization. That is the thrust of my criticism. My comment came of as harsh – and I regret that this served as a distraction from the issues that genuinely concern me. Indeed, I am not well-versed in the group’s history, and I know nothing more than what mike’s post tells about the participants. I was exposed to the SJC in a very negative context; while I appreciate now that there was and is a split within it, it frustrates me that individuals cannot work together, when in the big picture, they are close to each other in the political spectrum. This frustration makes me wonder how an average student that was interested in getting involved (to plan an event on the sex-trade in thailand, or the current Darfur massacres) would be viewed and treated by active members.

    The issue of inclusivity and exclusivity relating to ideology is obviously complex. My approach is practical: have events that are as political as you want, with speakers as political as you want, but have a half decent variety as opposed to self-congradulatory mutual mastrubation. Events and discussions should be the venue for politics and ideology – not an official position that nobody will ever agree on.

  13. Gina Eom on April 12, 2007 10:47 pm

    could someone from the pinko commie crew please post on here who the execs elected are?

  14. Maayan Kreitzman on April 12, 2007 11:01 pm

    Steven – we were typing our comments at the same time, it seems. I agree with you (and mike) that taking no stand is a stand in and of itself, and that neurtality or objectivity are as consturcted as other stances. Still though, then you get to the basic question of who decides where the best politics for forwarding social justice lie. Obviously, on a societal scale, it has to do with the people we elect to government. On the scale of the SJC’s activities, I simply argue that it means fostering a culture in the group whereby these politics can be discussed in events, not enforced as official positions. I say this because for issues of politics and social action arriving at an authoritative position is harder than in science (where an “objective” truth is more or less possible, and concencuss is widespread), and depends completely on an individual’s ability to evaluate more than one perspective, plus relvant data, and measure them against each other.

    I apologize for the offensive terminology. I had fun writing it, but no, it isn’t the most accurate.

  15. Steven on April 12, 2007 11:29 pm

    Hey Maayan,

    I had a longer reply written out but its a bit obsolete now so I’ll just jot down some quicker thoughts. Basically, I think we are in agreement, so I’m not sure why you are insisting on still be somewhat contrarian and not fully acknowledging that what you said was wrong and you’ve now changed your mind.

    This sort of attempt at slipperiness bothers me:

    “My comments were general: not targeted towards you, but pretaining to the originization’s mandate and buy-in from the general student population it is meant to serve.”

    Quite obviously it did target us, since there isn’t much of an SJC other than its members. If your whole beef was with the way the SJC’s mandate was written ten years ago, you sure managed to read a lot into it.

    “The very idea of compartmentalization (which was not adopted, nonetheless) to accomodate a lack of basic civility makes me angry, and makes me wonder what is wrong with the culture of this orginization.”

    Again, I’m not sure if you are getting the point. There is no “culture of this organization”. There is only us, the members. And some of the members choose to act in a destructive and negative way. That’s all there is to it.

    “My comment came of as harsh – and I regret that this served as a distraction from the issues that genuinely concern me. “

    They did not “come off” as harsh, they were harsh. They were intentionally harsh, exaggerated, and insulting. But, I see you did apologize for them, and I appreciate that. It is still a bit odd that you would then follow that by saying “I had fun writing them”.

    “while I appreciate now that there was and is a split within it, it frustrates me that individuals cannot work together, when in the big picture, they are close to each other in the political spectrum. This frustration makes me wonder how an average student that was interested in getting involved (to plan an event on the sex-trade in thailand, or the current Darfur massacres) would be viewed and treated by active members.”

    I can in part appreciate your position here, but you are still jumping to conclusions without bothering to properly figure out exactly what happened. No, we are not all “close on the political spectrum” – there is a big difference between someone who believes in radically democratic organizing and someone who is authoritarian in their outlook. So, the situation is a lot more complicated than “why can’t you all get along?” At the same time, I completely appreciate your frustration about how someone could get involved to promote the issues they are passionate about. Before this year, I don’t think there would have been any problem. But since we have been forced to go on hiatus, that is exactly what my frustration has been: How do we get back to social justice? I’ve basically sat through six months of trying to work through all this shit for nothing. So, it doesn’t help when someone on the outside then calls me a “inbred pinko”.

    “My approach is practical: have events that are as political as you want, with speakers as political as you want, but have a half decent variety as opposed to self-congradulatory mutual mastrubation”

    Again, I agree completely. Unfortunately, that is very different from the view you expressed above, which is fine. But, I think it is a bit disrespectful to dodge around without acknowledging you were wrong.

    Gina – I don’t know everyone’s full names, but the exec was: Admin Natasha, Finance Alison, Communications Nita, Bookings Nate.

  16. Maayan Kreitzman on April 13, 2007 12:15 am

    Steven, I’ll just repond to this, since the blow-by blow aproach is arduous, and i think it’s a decent summary.

    Again, I agree completely. Unfortunately, that is very different from the view you expressed above, which is fine. But, I think it is a bit disrespectful to dodge around without acknowledging you were wrong.It isn’t different. I stand by my statement that the SJC should dispense with the practice of having positions on things as a group. What I meant by functionally neutral is that events, speakers, or activities do not have to conform to a proscribed ideology, and that it is possible to even invite a speaker the majority of members disagree with without going agianst any principle. Participants in the activities themselves can be as ideological as they want! Of course, members of the group will determine the direction of the events they organize, but if the idea is *resources,* not forwarding one “SJC” agenda, better discourse results. Maybe this difference seems arbitrary to you, but to someone going to the webpage and being faced with your manifesto, trust me, having something along the lines of including non-mainstream discources and providing resources for issues of social justice would make a BIG difference compared to the current one “oppose capitalism and other authoritarian systems” one.

    actually one more note: my criticisms to “you” were aimed generally, ie. both sides and the entire originizational vision (whose flaws I don’t claim to have a solution for). Yes, it was a non-detailed complaint about the whole monumentally messed-up shebang, and didn’t acknowledge the factions’ respective moral positions. Three of the more constructive active members read this blog and took it personally. To them I apologize. But hell yeah I speak as an outsider.

  17. Anonymous on April 13, 2007 1:45 am

    i thought “pinko” was a homophobic slur against people who question traditional gender roles. am i wrong?

  18. Anonymous on April 13, 2007 1:47 am

    ah! i was wrong! wiki says:

    Pinko and pink were widely used during the Cold War to designate those accused of supporting the Soviet Union, including many of the supporters of Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign with the Progressive Party. The word was predominantly used in the United States, where opposition to Communism grew strong among the population, especially during the era of the McCarthy hearings. One of the most infamous uses of pink is a quotation attributed to Richard Nixon, talking in 1950 about Helen Gahagan Douglas: “She’s pink down to her underwear!”, referring to the fact that at the time, pink was the main color of women’s undergarments. In his presidential campaigns, George Wallace often railed at “the left-wing pinko press” and at “pseudo-pinko-intellectuals.”[3][4]

  19. Mike Thicke on April 13, 2007 2:56 am

    I deliberately left names out of my narrative, but for those who care to read through the comments, the elected executive is:

    Administrative Coordinator: Natasha Shivja

    Communications Coordinator: Nita Palmer

    Financial Coordinator: Alison Bodine

    Bookings Coordinator: Nate Crompton

  20. Mike Thicke on April 13, 2007 2:57 am

    Correction: Natasha Shivji

  21. Mark on April 13, 2007 6:42 am

    Heh, on the pinko issue, im amused that came about. I can easily see how anyone could see the word ‘pinko’ and take it elsewhere from where it was intended…

    Oftentimes, as anyone thats talked to me about this knows, NDP’ers are referred to as ‘dippers’. I find this particularly odd considering, well, growing up, ‘dipper’ was used predominantly by westernised indo-Canadians as a derogatory term for non-westernised indo-canadians.

    Thus, when I heard the term after high school, I thought my friend was being extremely racist… Much hilarity ensued as it took about 3 days to figure it all out.

    Anyways, to the topic at hand…

    I went to the roundtable discussion on afghanistan, or some of it at any rate.

    I got into an argument with someone trying to convince me to go to it, shortly before it occurred. I apologise if that person is reading this, as the argument was, in my opinion, infantile and immature on both sides, we both said stupid things in effect.

    Anyways, the point was, I believed that for a true roundtable discussion, you should represent all sides.

    This roundtable discussion was no such thing, it was a group of, granted, by and large well qualified, speakers who all had the same view. That the afghan operation was wrong.

    Now, Im going to lay my bias on the table.

    I support the afghan operation, and will willingly volunteer for tour in 09, should we stay that long. I have numerous friends deploying for the 08 tour.

    However, I accept, and understand that others do not view the situation as I do, and, since we’re in a democracy, they should have thier voice.

    What I dont get, is the idea that the ‘social justice center’ would put on a ’roundtable discussion’ which only has one opinion…

    Shouldnt, by definition, social justice mean accepting and reviewing other points of view?

    Thats my problem with the SJC, and my limited experiences with it. Perhaps I should get more involved, and maybe I will, but I am unsure, as that ‘pinko’ reputation holds rather strongly.

    I went to a number of joint CAPOWI and MAWO events last year, I grew to rather like some of the organisers, despite my initial bias against anything related to MAWO, there are definitely people involved whom I would say are worthy of respect.

    In the end, this rambling post sums itself up with one major thought. Should the SJC look in upon itself? You betcha, and it should start by broadening its scope. What the SJC should be doing is presenting views to students that are legitimate.

    Is capitalism the be all and end all? God no… But if your goingt to have a discussion on the concept, have a decent speaker in favour of it. Is the afghan operation good or bad? I dunno, lets get people who are experts on both sides to debate the issue publically.

    The SJC should realise that one of its biggest roles these days should be in simply providing education to the student body, who, if theyve taken econ 101 (god help them), believe that minimum wage causes unemployment and rent controls hurt renters.

  22. bahram on April 13, 2007 6:58 am

    I think Mike, Nate and Steve have argued enough about (the fact) that SJC is (was?) no where as exclusive and monolithic as Maayan suggested. But Maayan should also appreciate that this whole conflict within the SJC was about choosing between a monolithic SJC and a more diverse one. To clarify this I’m going to say a little more of the recent history of the group.
    As Mike has mentioned in his post, the first threads of conflict became apparent right after the Palestine event. We all more or less agreed that the event went very bad; two of our new execs believed that the event went bad because the “Zionist” audience hijacked the event, and they were unhappy that a fourth speaker – the only one whose speaking,I believe, wasn’t embracing – was added to the panel in the last minutes. But there were a good number of us who thought that one part of the problem was that the panel was not diverse, and the other part was the fact that the speakers – with the above-mentioned exception – were not qualified. In our meeting following the Palestine event most of us agreed that the panelists said awful things; I suggested that SJC do comply with the request to write an apology. But because the addition of the fourth panelist had raised enough tension within the group, the controversial discussion of what went wrong, why it went wrong and what to do about it was pushed aside [In retrospect I think this wasn’t a good decision].
    Fast tracking to more recent story: the project of revising the constitution was a torturous one. The most difficult part, as most people who were involved in the process would agree, was ratifying the section that delineated the workings of a committee system within the SJC. The committee system was attracting to people for two reasons: first it permitted the two factions to work separately and independently from each other; second, it was particularly suitable to make the resources of SJC available to other UBC groups, like Oxfam, that didn’t work in the “Revolutionary” paradigm that SJC is perhaps associated with. In order to protect the new SJC committees, which were supposed to work independent from one another and include clubs and independent student initiatives, from being hijacked or attacked [by the people who had already shown the will to go that far to make a point], and also to prevent committees from being unjustifyingly exclusive, considerable judicial power was given to the executive members. What was not foreseen was the possibility that the people from whom we were trying to guard the SJC, hijack the new constitution and the executive roles on an easy occasion that most of the active members of the group were busy with the end of term stuff.
    And does my writing here seem self-righteous, portraying the group who’s taken the executive positions of the SJC as bunch of fanatics? Yes. But after being part of this conflict for six months, I cannot write but like this. Would Mayaan find these comments ironic? I hope not.

  23. Steven on April 13, 2007 8:28 am

    Hey Mark,

    I’m a bit confused. Are you talking about the Afghanistan roundtable that happened around October? The SJC didn’t organize that, MAWO/COWAPII did. That’s where the entire internal conflict originated – some members objected to a speaker from MAWO and as a result other members organized an identical event at the same time behind our backs. So, the SJC had nothing to do with the views expressed at the event.

    And Maayan,

    “I stand by my statement that the SJC should dispense with the practice of having positions on things as a group. What I meant by functionally neutral is that events, speakers, or activities do not have to conform to a proscribed ideology, and that it is possible to even invite a speaker the majority of members disagree with without going agianst any principle.”

    This is exactly how the SJC has been operating and how it should operate in the future. Basically, all I can gather this is that your entire problem now has been reduced to three words in the constitution (we oppose capitalism) that were removed last fall. Other than that, the SJC has never “had a position on a thing as a group”, and, from what I can gather, has accepted a wide variety of speakers in the past. In fact, I’m really at a loss as to what evidence you are basing the notion that the SJC has not been doing what you are arguing it should be doing, other than those the three words in the constitution.

  24. Gina Eom on April 13, 2007 9:15 am

    This blot itself doesn’t feel the need to publish the views of the MAWO affiliates as a mean to arrive at a net ideological balance of the situation. I think all three of us agreed on that.

    Sarah Naiman (call me lady!!!)went to the SJC last fall, and wanted to put on a joint even with Hillel. To my limited knowledge, the SJC was going to go ahead and plan this event and it would have happened, if it weren’t for The Great Implosion (that’s why you weren’t able to sign up for the mailing list Matthew, fyi).

    To me its inclusivity is the most beautiful thing about the SJC. I think what makes people shy away from it is the perception of this “culture”, which I would argue has normative validity – the people who are involved have spanned a niche of a particular set of political views. Through this they have, also, unintentionally formed a clique. People with similar political outlooks find emotional affinity and precipitate around an organization as a focal point. By no means would I say they intended to seal off access for people with other views. No one trying to be exclusive. So in fact I would say the problem is not an established culture, but a misperception and misrepresentation of a culture.

    Does this sound familiar, anyone?
    Making it a principle to always be approachable (ehem, the SJC website is very outdated) should be a priority to any group. I would go so far as to say this theme is the raison d’etre of why this blog exists, at least in principle, or at least for me.

    This blog, like the SJC, is striving to be a resource. We too have a problem of esotericity/clique/mafia/culture. See my desparate attempt at gathering feedback in the form of a clumsy post earlier this week.

    While my rant here may be reductionist for some, it also identifies us in social locations from which we can hopefully work together in “making the world a better place”, to quote my dear Nathan.

    The greatest barrier to each of our projects, then, is our own complacency, regardless from which political position we source our activities out of.

  25. Matthew Naylor on April 13, 2007 3:40 pm

    I think that this may be a step in the right direction, at least in principle. I think that Mike may have had a strange idea when he was upset that the “wrong people” won the executive positions – unless they lack the commitment to inclusiveness that has been so espoused.

    For those centrist liberals among us (I can’t really identify myself beyond that – damn it POLI 240!), there has been a problem with perception of the SJC as an enclave of radical left wing thought. Doing things like calling Hedy Fry a war criminal are somewhat of a testament to this. However, if there truly is a commitment to inclusivity, there should be a home there for pro-capitalist or pro-war individuals, because they may find that it is the best way to support social justice.

    Out of curiosity, is there a list of donations that the SJC has made in the past, say, three years?

  26. Paul on April 13, 2007 7:26 pm

    Steven and Nate –

    You might be completely right that the SJC is open and inclusive and that calling everyone in it “pinko” can’t be substantiated. The problem, I think, comes with image. It doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not – it matters that a lot of people believe it.

    Centre-left or even centre people who do care about social justice feel that they have to accept that Canada’s an “occupying imperialist” force in Afghanistan and that Israel is the cause of everything that’s wrong in the Middle East. I’ve since learned that the SJC as a whole doesn’t actually think this (although I’m sure quite a few do). I was actually quite glad to see that Steven and others were disapointed with that Israeli/Palestine speaker back in the fall. It in some ways changed my view on the SJC.

    But the reason I said I agreed with Maayan’s rant was not because it was necessarily factually accurate, but just because I know so many people who think that and until this year, myself as well.

  27. Anonymous on April 14, 2007 1:33 am

    tristan here:
    there is too much to say about this, and there is not enough time, but i’ll try to add a different kind of context to those provided above;

    1) regarding “capitalism”; there are infinite “definitions”; but the one that the has historically been employed by the SJC is something like this: there is an investor class, positioned in the G8 countries, which accumulates profits by investing in large corporations (mining, textiles, etc). the headquarters of these corporations are also positioned in the G8 countries, and (part and parcel of the deindustrialization of the global north) they subcontract production to the 2/3’s world to drive down costs by skirting labour and environmental standards. thus the investment class accumulates/extracts profits and seeks to reinvest everywhere. investment barriers are removed through structural adjustment programs through the IMF and World Bank. foreign direct investment allows the takeover of national industries in the majority world. thus the G8 (mostly wall street) investment class holds majority world countries hostage, and can threaten them with capital flight. this arrangement we called “the washington consensus”. for example, around the time of the alter-globalization movement, when the SJC was formed, argentina’s economy collapsed because its structural adjustment program had led to a privatization of its essential industries, and capital flight and other effects of deregulation, caused by the unelected G8 investor class, completely ruined the argentine economy. similar scenarios have led the the election of anti-neoliberal governments throughout south america, whatever one might think of the various self-aggrandizing figure-heads there.

    thus capitalism, as so defined, is inherently undemocratic, because it allows a small investor class to control the economy, and dictate public policy; even worse when G8 investors control foreign countries. it is in this spirit, and according a definition as such, that the SJC was formed in 1997, and opposed “capitalism”. now, if capitalism is, for you, just going to the store and buying some local organic ice cream, then don’t worry; ain’t nothing wrong with that.

    2. following on my above gloss of “capitalism”, my own personal opinion (which is not, unfortunately, shared by most in the SJC) is that
    “anti-capitalist” analysis is not a problem for inclusivity, diversity, etc. the problem is that after september 11th, the activist community stopped developing a thorough informed critique of the global economy, and began reacting to bush’s wars. the real controversial/destructive issues, when you get into the details, which continue in the blog above, are the wars in the middle east, central asia, and the occupation of palestine. people have ended up picking “sides” in these horrible wars, and thereby justifying away various forms of terror and counter-terror (thus human rights fall by the way-side). beware of all new theodicies. activism is supposed to be about questioning the status quo, questioning the us and them of rhetoric, and imagining that “another world is possible” as the alter-globalization slogan went.
    to answer matt naylor’s question, no, the SJC should not be open to pro-war people. the SJC is about envisioning alternatives to war. however, you will find that the current SJC executive is in fact very pro war; they sanction all forms of violence that they perceive to go against the “monster america”. perhaps you will find their affinity to war comforting. i do not. in sum, choosing sides in a war, or even hearing a “balanced debate” between those who choose sides in a war, is not constructive.

    when the SJC was formed, there were strong alliances between environmental movements, labour movements, aboriginal movements, women’s movements. diversity was explicitly sung about in the streets. not diversity of warmongers, but diversity of those with visions of a society where equal rights and possibilities are shared by all; where everyone is empowered, not just a few.

    3. on this thread, the statement showing the best understanding is, surprisingly, spencer’s:
    “Also, I have nothing but incredible sympathy for any organization that has the patience to deal with MAWO and their brand of lunatic (I think that’s more accurate than ‘radical’) activism that exists mostly in a world where logic and reason as we know them are dead.” cudos, spencer, for separating the truth from the chaff, as this blog aspires. if you don’t believe spencer, find out for yourself. (try not to be too discouraged that people can be so successfully transformed into sheep. no offense to sheep.)

  28. Anonymous on April 14, 2007 2:12 am

    i mean kudos

  29. Gina Eom on April 14, 2007 7:05 am

    I think that Mike may have had a strange idea when he was upset that the “wrong people” won the executive positions – unless they lack the commitment to inclusiveness that has been so espoused.

    Whoa I think we’re squishing two issues into one here.

    Inclusivity is one thing identified in Maayan’s post. It’s been a long-standing issue. That’s what most of us replied to, including myself.

    The other, more urgent(though related) issue is the execs which has been elected /Issue Mike if you will, who may continue to exercise their powers to invite speakers like the ones we have observed at that notorious conference. Because I haven’t seen the nature of the constitution and new exec powers which was approved, I can’t comment on the extent to which they will be able to pursue this.

    And while we can clearly see the connection between Issue Maayan and Issue Mike, what we should lament is the loss of an opportunity to continue to work on Issue Maayan, which has been crippled by Issue Mike.

  30. Anonymous on April 14, 2007 10:09 am


    This post is more for the students who, like me, have little understanding and previous engagement with the SJC.

    I have little knowledge of what actually went down in the SJC last year. As far as I know, I was away for a term, and when I came back to UBC, the SJC, in which I had hoped to become more active, wasn’t even meeting. Not cool. After asking a few questions, I gathered that there had been significant internal turmoil between the two groups of students most active in the SJC.

    Despite friendly warnings and in spite of the neverending amount of schoolwork, I decided to pursue my interest in “social justice,” and braved the SJC AGMs. Plural emphasized. It took three arduous sessions of about three hours each, and the necessary assistance of excellent team of “professional” moderators.

    As discussed above, the outcome is mixed. There have been a variety of constitutional changes and the new executive board members are not without controversy.

    As a student new to the SJC and having witnessed the constitutional changes, I want to emphasize in this post that the SJC remains open to all students with a variety of opinions on the broad category of “social justice.” In the new SJC constitution, it states that any two members of the AMS can form a committee and are eligible for funding, as long as the committee’s goals are in accordance with the general mandate of the SJC. It does not give directions on how one is to go about doing so. Furthermore, although I can’t remember the exact wording, in contrast to the “old” mandate, the new one does not specifically oppose capitalism.

    The historical struggles within the SJC, I believe, have been a result of a small number of people addressing social justice issues with whatever means they feel were necessary. This minute number of active students involved in the SJC is also one major reasons for the SJC members being perceived as exclusive and even intimidating group.

    But this misguided perception is around because the general student body accepts it as an excuse to not get involved. If you don’t like what you hear/see, even in regards to the SJC, change it. The SJC is a student resource supporting those that wish to challenge the status quo. Let’s make it happen.


  31. Mike Thicke on April 14, 2007 10:24 am

    “Wrong people”:

    My problem isn’t that the new executive has a very different political ideology than I do, but that I believe the new executive will blanket refuse all committee applications that have provisions for remaining autonomous by refusing membership to people who they find threatening or overly disruptive. We put provisions in the constitution that allowed committees to regulate their own membership, but gave the executive veto power over this activity. Since 3/4 of the exec voted against this part of the constitution, I suspect they will just automatically veto any attempt to use this part of the constitution.


    The SJC did not run the Afghanistan event. I didn’t go to it, but I expect it was everything I didn’t want our event to be.

    Allow me to recommend a book! I is called “Punishment of Virtue” and it is by an American journalist who is actually fairly interventionist in her politics (that is, she supports the US going into various countries and using its military power “for good”). Her book is a documentation of how utterly wrong this project has gone.

    While I can sympathize with the DESIRE for a way for our country to be a positive influence on Afghanistan, to assist in the formation of an inclusive democracy, and to help build essential infrastructure, these are not, by and large, what Canada and the US seem to be spending the bulk of their resources on. From the accounts I see, the net effect of the intervention in Afghanistan is NEGATIVE. So I would be very careful about confusing what is possible with what is actual. Don’t assume that what you wish the Canadian military and government does is what it actually does. Be suspicious of arguments that start from theoretical grounds, or assume that without us the Afghans have no hope. While the Afghans are certainly in a terrible position, and much in need of assistance, I believe our role in the country is not one of assistance. It is conceivable that it could be that, but it isn’t now, and if the current people in power stay in power, I doubt it could be. So I see a call to withdraw from Afghanistan as a pragmatic one, saying, “What we are doing now is WORSE than nothing.”

  32. Maayan Kreitzman on April 14, 2007 6:01 pm

    thanks for your posts Gina and Stef. Clarification is good. Is the new constitution available for viewing?

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