Counterpoint: Of the Knolligarchy and Other Phantasmagoric Creatures of the AMS Politics

An opinion piece by Bahram Norouzi

When Maayan emailed me a week ago and asked me to write an opposing perspective on “power-mongering in the AMS assisted by AMS funds” by the “Knolligarchy” I knew that I was up for some crap, what I didn’t know was its magnitude. Having read the opinion piece by Jesse Ferreras, I now have a good estimate of the magnitude as well: a lot! If you are interested, Nate and Steve have addressed a good portion of this “objective journalism” in their response comments.

First, let us evaluate Jesse’s piece at his own level, at the level of the much-adorned ‘facts.’ Are the Knoll’s article published anonymously? Not the Knoll Weekly that I know. Please read all of our previous issues: besides the editorials, credit is given to the author of all pieces. The only issue with many anonymous pieces was the “People’s Guide,” but it is not particularly uncommon to publish guides with anonymous writers. Second, matter of fact, now on the subject of electoral fraud: does article 8.1 of the Electoral Code exclude submission of grievances and complaints after 72 hours from the announcement of the result? No. If Jesse had taken time to read the Electoral Code closely enough, he could see that paragraphs 8.21.c and 8.21.d of the code actually give the power to the court to, considering circumstances, hear cases even if the appellant did not meet the deadlines. Indeed, the fact that the court is hearing the case is a sign that the complaint is still valid. Other interested groups have tried to question the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, but the court has already decided that the circumstances justify the hearing of the case. So, what does Tristan’s “defacing” of “I Support Alex” poster have to do with Crompton’s appeal to the court? It is up to the Student Court and the AMS Council, and no one else, to decide whether there should be a by-election or not. Why is it so “scary” that a by-election mandated by a judicial and democratic process might result form this episode? (Jesse refers to the possibility of the by-election as the “scariest thing” in his article)

And since we are talking about facts, where has the idea of “power-mongering in the AMS, assisted by the AMS funds” come from? Neither this year nor last year did The Knoll receive any money from the Resource Groups to publish its elections issues, (I presume that by “power mongering” the “Knolligarchy” rhetoricians are referring to everyone’s democratic right to run in elections for positions of power?). Both years, The Knoll registered for the Voter Funded Media contest, won handsomely, and the Knoll covered the costs through our VFM prizes. We do receive funding for other issues from the Resource Groups, but first, when it comes to UBC, the Knoll is almost always, except for in its Elections Issues, directing its criticism towards the administration and not the AMS; secondly, the Knoll is not the only publication that has received funding from the Resource Groups; third, considering the mandate of the Resource Groups, which as their constitutions declares, include fighting imperialism, war, sexism, heteronormativity, and “oppressive structures like capitalism,” funding a publication like the Knoll is a fairly natural thing for the Resource Groups to do. Among many things, one purpose of the Resource Groups is to make critique and debate a part of the UBC experience; this is on the understanding that criticism of the status quo is a healthy part of any democratic community. Furthermore, the Resource Groups are more than a space for activist politics. There are six Resource Groups: Pride, Colour Connected Against Racism, Feminist Collecive, Social Justice Center, Allies (men against violence against women). Some of them are more focused on political activism, while some also provide a safe space for minority communities who feel unwelcome or unsafe at UBC. We also house a wonderful library of alternative literature.

Above I showed that Jesse too has made multiple unfounded or crassly false claims in a rather short article, some of which I have not noted. Surely the fallacy of the claims point to the poor quality of his article, but it also shows that it is fairly easy to pin point factual mistakes in almost anyone’s writings or spoken words. So, the question arises that even if we agree – just for the sake of the argument – with Jesse that The Knoll and the “Knolligarchs” have made some factually false claims, what does this have anything to do with the “Knolligarchy,” abuse of power, misuse of AMS funds or, indeed, what does this have to do with anything at all?

So much for discussion of facts, and let us go a bit deeper than the surface of facts. Jesse Ferreras has arrived at the great revelation that there is a logical link between the title of a facebook group called “Freeman Poritz Watch” and an anti-Semitic website called “Jew Watch”; the only link being that the two titles share the word “Watch”. What kind of mind can be reassured by this damning link? I, personally, learnt about the existence of the “Jew Watch” website after reading Jesse’s article. But if there is an organization that comes to my mind when I hear the word ‘watch,’ it definitely is the Human Rights Watch (HRW). I googled ‘watch.’ HRW is the fifth entry, and many “_____ watch” websites make the first ten pages, but Jew Watch doesn’t. So I am probably not the only person who had never heard of Jew Watch before reading Jesse’s piece, nor am I the only person who connects “watch” to HRW. Talking of Human Rights Watch (by far the most reputable human rights watchdog in the world) I would want to remind those who think of the membership of the IDF as a mere matter of personal choice, of the multiple reports issued by the HRW about continual crass violations of human rights by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). To take a strong stance against any proud member of the IDF (e.g. Freeman Poritz), for me, is a matter of ethics and respect for human dignity; in the same way that it is a matter of ethics for me to oppose the violations of human rights by those on the Palestinian and Lebanese side of the battle in question. There simply is nothing anti-Semitic here. To call Jasmine Ramzee Rezae anti-Semitic on account of a wishy-washy link between “Freeman Poritz Watch” and “Jew Watch” tells us a lot about Jesse’s degree of professionalism and his concern for biased journalism and defacement of people.

However, Jesse is indeed concerned about defacement and defamation, although apparently he has a special concern for the defacement of…a poster. On February 27th , Tristan Markle, an alleged member of the “Knolligarchy,” was caught on camera while writing “Right to Cheat” on a handmade poster reading, “I support Alex Lougheed!” This story, which has previously also captured the imagination of Mayaan Kreitzman and the editorial board of the Ubyssey, requires a bit of analysis. Nathan Crompton has made a complaint against the Election’s Administrator (EA) because the EA failed to consider the act of multiple voting by Alex Lougheed as a serious electoral irregularity. The forthcoming decision of the court has clear implications for Alex as the court might nullify the results of the VP-Academic election race. But let us consider what the posters were meant to support. If it turns out that Alex has not voted multiple times, then there is nothing to support him for. And if it turns out that he indeed has voted multiple times, then the producers of the posters are not supporting anything other than Alex’s “right” to vote multiple times. It might soothe Maayan, Jesse and the editors of the Ubyssey that the multiple ballots did not change the final result of the elections, but what is at stake here is not only the outcome of the elections, but the integrity of a democratic process. Multiple voting, independent of how it might influences the outcome of the elections, is a prosecutable crime in democratic states, including Canada. Whether or not it is also a serious electoral irregularity in the AMS is to be determined by the Student Court in a few days. But to interpret an act of multiple voting simply as “a joke gone awry” and to issue support posters for someone who is alleged to have voted multiple times, is to assume especial rights for especial people in a supposedly democratic process. What surprises me is not that Tristan corrected the posters – after all that is precisely what is expected from someone with true commitment to a democratic process. The surprising matter is that Ubyssey, UBC Insiders and other active participants or commentators of student politics in UBC did not help Tristan to correct the posters.

This brings me to my final point. Ubyssey, UBC Insiders and many of the AMS politicians have greatly succeeded in recent years to make student politics in UBC look like a joke game with relevance only to the insiders who are on their path to become the great politicians of the future. No wonder then that Jesse Ferreras takes great pleasure of downplaying student protests, seeing nothing other than a trash heap in the late Trek Park 1.0, for example. It is fairly difficult to build a park; it is more difficult to keep it clean while the park is vandalized on a daily basis, literally. I wish the AMS journalists and politicians who pay some lip service to the park, and yet bring nothing better than their sharp critical eyes to it, could spend some time helping us clean the park, or at least could write reports about the constant vandalism of the park. Jesse almost makes my case himself: on the one hand, he argues that “the Knolligarchy’s strength resides in caring about the things that most students don’t” and on the other hand he says the Knolligarchs “have managed to inject just a little bit of excitement into campus life with events such as Trek Park and Trek Park 2.0, as well as the recent conference.” At the factual level he is right: the “Knolligarchs” care about things that most students don’t care about simply because most student don’t care about student politics and campus activism of any brand, not least because there aren’t the proper democratic channels through which to learn and participate in campus politics. But of those who care about student politics, it seems to me, a good number of them care about what the “Knolligarchy” is caring about; at least, that’s how I explain the election of Tristan Markle and Stef Ratjen in the AMS elections, and the fact that Nathan Crompton lost by a very small margin in a race with a validity yet to be determined. The popularity of Trek Park among students is another testimony to the fact that the Knolligarchy and many students care about similar things – now, twice, The Ubyssey has run video specials about the park, asking students to comment on the park. Each time, The Ubyssey videos demonstrate a simple fact: people like the park!

For me and many of my friends, who the UBC Insiders might brand as “the Knolligarchy,” UBC Insiders and the various AMS insiders have long been irrelevant to student activism. Our activism perhaps is making the cohort of AMS elites obsolete as well. This fear of obsolescence, I would suggest, is the motivation for the magnificent piece of investigative journalism by Jesse Ferreras that has prompted this long response.


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