Tragic Irony, or Poetic Justice?

Chaos in Print

I think that to grow up means to become selfish and to learn that other people are for stepping on. . . . Growing up is to abandon, at least in some small way, the compassion and honesty and passion and virility that we are all capable of.
— Brad Goertz, President of the Augustana Students’ Union, in the November 1998 issue of Augustana’s Student Paper, the Dagligtale

They’re quite capable of coming in here if they start acting like adults. They’re trying to break down the door and trying to break the security cameras.
— Lyle Oberg, Minister of Learning of the Province of Alberta, explaining why a group of Goertz-led protesters weren’t allowed into the Alberta Legislature. From the November 19, 1999 issue of the Edmonton Journal

All my life, I’ve wanted to make a difference. In junior high, I was elected the grade 8 class rep for the students’ union. In high school, I was treasurer of the students’ union in my senior year. And, in university, I applied to run the radio station, ran for the position of VP External, and even ran an opposition campaign to Brad Goertz’s un-opposed presidential bid. But, it seems that there are cosmic forces at work to keep me out of leadership roles. I eventually had to resign as class rep in grade 8 because no one would tell me when the meetings were and I was constantly left in the dark. By the time my senior year was finished, I was halfway through sorting out the messy books that the treasurer before me had left, and I had yet to start books for my year. And, in university, I lost my bid to be station manager and the election to be VP External, plus my opposition campaign turned me into the most hated person on campus. Actually, it’s that opposition campaign that sticks out the most in my mind.

For those of you who don’t attend Augustana, let me explain how things work. If one person is running for a Students’ Union position un-opposed, that person is put to a yes/no vote, rather than get in by acclimation like in the real world. Throughout my 3 ½ years at Augustana, I was always frustrated at how people under-qualified for a position would get in with results of 99.9% for yes, and 0.1% for no. And so, in my final year, when I learned that Brad Goertz was running un-opposed for SU president, I couldn’t take it anymore. This was a man who had been suspended twice from his position as editor of the student paper for drinking on campus (Augustana is a dry university; no alcohol on campus). Throughout the many issues of the paper that he had served on as editor, quite a few people didn’t agree with his political views. So, I felt I should make the people aware of why they should vote no for him. I printed up a series of posters. One highlighted how he’d been suspended twice from the paper, and urged people to vote no. The other utilized a quote from one of his prior editorials in the paper, describing his opposition in derogatory terms and essentially telling them to shut up. Within hours of putting these posters up, they were torn down by Goertz supporters. This hurt me, because the Chief Returning Officer of the election had approved my campaign materials, and assured me the same protections as all other candidates. I tried putting the posters back up, only to have them torn down again and replace with posters mocking my work. So, I softened the posters somewhat. I replaced “Vote No for Brad Goertz” with “Know who you’re voting for!” After being accused of taking that quote of his out of context, I added a few more comments on the poster to try and place it back into context. But that wasn’t enough. A supporter of Goertz’s, a Mr. Andre Goulet, continuously verbally assaulted my supporters, and myself. This made me upset, so I made a poster stating how Goertz had organized his supporters into a goon squad and was trying to silence us. I was originally just going to put it on my door, but after some of my supporters saw it, and liked it, they wanted it for their doors, too.

Things came to a head when Goertz challenged me to a debate, and I agreed. On my way to the debates, one of my supporters wanted to meet with Brad before the debate. So, I went with her to support her, but Brad gave me the verbal brow-beating of my life. He was twisting my words, and made me so distressed that I no longer knew what I was saying. When the debate came, rather than give my prepared opening statements, I apologized for what I was doing, and quit the campaign. I then made (in what I will admit was mostly for dramatic effect) an exit from the cafeteria. My only regret in my short life was that I left that debate. Apparently, one of my supporters stepped in for me, and the look on Brad Goertz’s face throughout the debate showed shock and dis-belief as he began to learn that I was not a lone crackpot, but the sole voice of a silent majority. I tore down my posters the next day, and the final results were roughly 60% yes, 40% no. It was the closest yes/no vote in Augustana history. This still sticks in me because I graduated from Augustana, so all this year I cannot stay apprized of what kind of job Brad is doing. I can’t get closure on this issue.

When I returned to Augustana to visit some friends, some of them advised me of Brad’s upcoming protest. He was going to march from Camrose to Edmonton in support of a proposed tuition freeze. I thought that this was a bad idea, as I had flashbacks to a similar protest. A group of people were going to march from Edmonton to Jasper to protest a coal mine, but it was nothing more that 10 people behind a bus. The evening news said that Brad had 200 people with him. When I was back at Augustana, I actually ran into Brad and he asked me to be part of his march. I told him that I’d think about it, which is my diplomatic way of saying “No f**king way.” The article in the paper said that this was actually a scheduled meeting that Brad had with the Minister of Learning, but that the Minister wouldn’t meet with him because he brought 200 rowdy protesters with him. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between this and my vote no campaign. Brad told me that what I was doing wasn’t part of real world politics, and that he wouldn’t acknowledge what I was doing. Now, here’s Lyle Oberg, telling Brad that what he’s doing isn’t part of real world politics, and Lyle wouldn’t acknowledge what Brad was doing. Brad accused me of goon squad politics, because of my poster accusing him of goon squad politics, and the fact that when he gave me the brow-beating of my life, I had with me one of my supporters and a friend who was just following the two of us to the cafeteria. Lyle wouldn’t meet with Brad because of his 200 rowdy protesters. I can’t help but see the parallels.

My first instinct was to gloat. I wanted this article to say “See, Brad! See what you did to me! All that effort to try and make a difference, only to be shouted down by someone who was louder! Now you know what you put me through!” But I thought about it for a while. I am right. He does know now what he put me through. I know how disappointed he his. I know how hurt he’ll be that all his work was for naught. I know that because the media is only pointing out how rowdy things got that he’ll be upset that the wrong image is being projected. But they were only rowdy because they were passionate about their cause. I was passionate about my cause, that’s why I made the poster accusing Brad of organizing a goon squad to silence me. Passionate people sometimes do regrettable things in pursuit of their cause. So, my original intent of gloating has become one of sympathy.

And, if I know Brad, this isn’t the last we’ll here of him. He’ll take a break, have a few beers, and then come back stronger than ever. If he’s like me, he’ll take solace in the little victories that came out of this. He did bring media attention to the tuition freeze, after all. And again, I go back to my opposition campaign. I received this one e-mail, the gist of which was the following: “I am a supporter of Brad Goertz. I will be voting yes for him. But I am in complete agreement with your campaign. People should know who they’re voting for.” Small victories. Maybe that’s why Brad and I never really saw eye-to-eye. We’re just too much alike. It’s going to take me some time, but I think I will try to make a difference once again. It’ll just take some time for the wounds to heal, to marshal my forces, to assemble the Avengers, stuff like that. But, as much as the universe has tried to tell me not to, I will forever be compelled to try and make a difference. We just have to learn from our opposition, use their arguments to make ours stronger, and try to see that we all have the same goals after all. Like those 13-year old kids on junior high Students’ Unions, we all just want to make a difference.