Late Wednesday night, I received an invitation from one Zach Ruiter, a controversial activist (accused of misrepresenting, manipulating and betraying indigenous communities he worked with).
Hereafter: Activist Zach
Hereafter: Liberal Zach
Name of host organisation: The Rosedale Club.
Time/Date: 8 PM, Thursday April 18th
Dress code: suit and tie mandatory for men
Party format: scotch, cigars and political conversation.
Topic: aboriginal issues
Honoured speaker: National Post columnist Jonathan Kay.
Activist Zach’s beef:
The twistedness of having a scotch drinking, tie wearing party to have rich white people talk about issues that affect communities where alcoholism is a major problem and in which poverty often precludes suit and tie ownership, without even inviting a speaker from those same communities to represent themselves.
Activist Zach’s solution:
Bring an angry Native hip hop artist to call out the whole Rosedale Club for racism and privilege, and invite a bunch of other activists to tag along for a bit of fun.
The Rosedale Club.
Who were they? Well, I didn’t know about them in particular, but Rosedale I know quite well. Single wealthiest neighbourhood in Canada. Old money. Average personal income for the neighbourhood? Well over $200,000. Average household income? More like $440,000. Liberal Zach’s father’s income for 2012? $307,539.
I grew up around these people. From the ages of 5 to 13 I lived in Moore Park, and often hung out with my friend Tupac a ten minute walk away in Rosedale. I played cello in the Mooredale String Orchestra. Rosedale… my neighbours growing up, and my current employers (I’ve done landscaping at four residences there many times). And you’re telling me there’s a party where I can go dress up, drink their scotch and smoke their cigars? And Activist Zach is going to come make a scene? And his nemesis, Liberal Zach, is a graduate student in the Munk School of Global Affairs, the very organisation I rejected my degree to protest?
Relevant personal backstory:
On April 8th I’d returned to Canada from Guatemala. While there, I acquired from a Mayan shopkeeper the wooden mask of a stern, powerfully bearded man, only realising some hours later that it both closely resembles me (at an older age), and is an idol of a local deity: Maximon, affiliated with Judas Iscariot. Mayan god of tobacco, alcoholism, marital infidelity and revenge, among other things.
The constricted man, powerful to free himself: Tobacco Simon
… and the Rosedale Club is having a tobacco and alcohol party to talk about aboriginal issues? For which some activists want revenge? And I’ve been invited to come troll as part of the entourage of a guest speaker? And a suggested $10 donation covers unlimited cigars and scotch?
Well now! By Judas, Maximon and I had a party to go to!
My most colourful pants (ropas tipicas de Solola).
A jagged metal necklace cut from the G20 security fence.
A piece of a buffalo tooth shattered on the same.
My father’s tie.
My old Riff Raff shoes from my Rocky Horror years.
Senegalese mahogany cane.
Twisted red hat with black and white Guatemalan band, freshly washed and retwisted
I was stoked. The hilarity was simply unavoidable. With this mix of players, ANYTHING that could happen would end up being completely absurd. Oh the lulz… my last post online before leaving: “time to shenan again”
My father’s comment to me after hearing my plan and seeing my costume: “I love your life!”
I did not take any notes, have not conducted subsequent interviews, did not use a recording device, and I was drinking and smoking. The details below cannot be more accurate than my no doubt exemplary memory.
The Players Gather
I rode the subway from Coxwell to Spadina, during which time I said “buenes noches!” (a Spanish nighttime greeting) to about 8 people and had actual conversations with two. Got off, rounded the corner, saw the activists waiting for more people at the intersection and ducked into a coffee shop for a caffeinating kickstart. I bought and quickly drank a cappuccino and then met up with a very confused group being greeted at once by both my foolishness and by a very enthusiastic, well groomed young man in a suit and tie, telling us we were early but we should come to his place anyway and get started because it’s his place and why not? Most of us were wearing ties, so he thanked us profusely for coming in costume (?). We walked a block north and came across what appeared to be… a bunch of young nerds in suits?
Let’s pause for a second to look at a couple of the brilliantly incisive posters Activist Zach had prepared so as to raise the discourse and get us thinking in the kind of nuanced, open minded way that could help these clearly very powerful people to reexamine the situation in the world and work toward doing things in a better way that could benefit everyone instead of just taking everything for themselves.
Hm, yes. Yes I do. Though in fairness, two of the men pictured don’t identify as white but as Middle Eastern, which apparently isn’t white anymore/again? They could certainly pass as white, regardless of how they identify. Anyway, having met with and smiled next to powerful men seemed to be one of the worst sins Activist Zach could think to pin on Liberal Zach ahead of time, aside from all the sheer lulziness of the party itself. Content be damned; Activist Zach was indignant that suit wearing men are even allowed to talk to each other in their own homes. Surely they must be stopped. Social drinkers must never be allowed to talk about Aboriginal issues! Scandal!
Such compelling evidence! Subtle and well argued to be sure! Well armed with such brutally compelling and in depth commentary, Activist Zach and his friends arrived to confront Liberal Zach and his bunch of broke university students in their 20s having a powerful-person dress up party, throat deep in satire and irony from its very conception. lol. What’d we expect? Actual honest to Jarvis Rosedale old money types? What we got was a bunch of middle and upper middle class Liberal party insiders having a good, old-fashioned “Bait the Conservatives” party, who had to their amazement managed to also bait a bunch of radicals this time as well. They hadn’t even planned to have an event about aboriginal issues at all… they’d merely planned to drink scotch and argue about politics with some Conservative guests. But when one of those guests announced that he wanted to talk about aboriginal issues, the activists declared them to be evil racists for not immediately cancelling the scotch, the online argument escalated, and what quickly emerged was a fiasco beyond anything the Rosedale Clubbers could have anticipated.
Why is it “The Rosedale Club”?
The name, “The Rosedale Club,” was meant to be ironic. The Rosedale Golf Club used to have signs saying “no dogs or jews,” and all the founding members of The Rosedale Club are Jewish. Calling it “The” Rosedale Club made it even better, making it sound somehow official, and synergising perfectly with the suits, ties and cigars. None of their three meetings so far have even been in Rosedale; the two men who’ve been hosting live in the Annex and the Beaches. In the words of another guest, on looking in the bedroom, “nothing screams ruling elite like Star Wars bedsheets.” Probably the fact that the event was in a rental house in the Annex, not in Rosedale at all, should have been a tip off (it was not the house of Liberal Zach — whose family is indeed quite rich — but of one of the other Rosedale Clubbers, an indebted recent graduate with a useless and overpriced degree from the University of Toronto. A couple of years ago I lived in a similar house one block away; beautiful Victorian architecture notwithstanding, my rent was $600/month). Like making suits and ties mandatory, calling it The Rosedale Club succeeded in tricking us all into thinking the founders must be old money, and therefore that they should be paid attention to. And Activist Zach played right into it.
I didn’t take a thorough survey, but one man attending works as a pilot. Another works in construction. Another is a consultant who says he generally refuses to take Conservative clients. Most were graduate students studying a variety of subjects which in some way connect with politics. Liberal Zach was the only one from the Munk School, as far as I could gather. I was even reunited with a friend who I fondly remembered from a radio panel discussion we did together back when I rejected my degree (Yves Guillaume A. Messy, on the right in the following picture). I’d expected former neighbours… what I got were *current* neighbours: my peers.
This, of course, did not lessen the hilarity at ALL. It just meant that the hosts were in on the joke; they knew full well how ridiculous the whole thing was. They knew why I was laughing. They knew I was there to troll, and they were emphatically in favour of me doing so. They were trolling too! And they’d somehow gotten all these people with totally different perspectives and knowledge sets to the same party, to drink, smoke and talk respectfully and intelligently about the things we disagree on. Straight up Toronto stylz. All for a suggested donation of $10!
On money: they ended up with enough donations for a $23 profit on the night, and decided to donate the proceeds to a local aboriginal group, laughing about it as a joke PR move. “All [insubstantial] profits donated to…”; a perfect parody of the tokenistic philanthropy of the powerful people we were there to mock, who might poison the water and compensate for it by building a park for tourists. Nobody but the LCBO and tobacconist were paid; not the speakers, nor the organisers, nor our lovely assortment of photographers and writers.
How they managed to bait both Conservatives and Radicals at the same time:
It was the suit and tie dress code that did it. Stroke of party planning genius. By adorning themselves in status symbols (scotch, cigars, suits, ties), a group of Liberals were able to look rich enough that everyone treated them as if they were important. As if they weren’t just a bunch of underutilized young people, overeducated, in debt and disenfranchised by the very same mass alienation system that’s looming over the rest of us: neoliberal capitalism, which, in the words of Vandana Shiva, “makes Indians of us all.” A system which, it should be kept in mind, simultaneously rewards Toronto — and therefore everyone present, not just the whites — for having some citizens willing to profit massively by poisoning the groundwater and murdering the indigenous who object in countries like Guatemala and Papua New Guinea. Indigenous folk lose their land, we get fancy hospital equipment. Turns out, even if you’re a broke 20-something with no career prospects, if you can at least *look* like you might hold office or own a mining company, people take you seriously. A cigar and a suit can be all it takes. Symbols are powerful. Because of the ties, the Conservatives felt comfortable showing up. Because of the suits, the activists had something extra to be indignant about and therefore more reason to come. Suddenly we had Liberal party insiders, Radical hip hop artists and influential Conservatives all in the same space, drinking, smoking and talking. Recipe for an Epic Win.
Oh, the other thing about encouraging the men to wear suits and ties? Makes for some dashing photos.
(from left to right: activist Derek Soberal, guest speaker Cameron Monkman, aka Young Jibwe, and Darius Mirshahi, aka Testament of “Test Their Logik”)
How it All Went Down
Liberal Zach had initially arranged for two powerful Conservatives to show up, speak and debate with the attending Liberals. The two speakers were to be former Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario Ernie Eves, and National Post columnist Jonathan Kay. Then, Eves, perhaps sensing shenanigans, cancelled — leaving open a spot for Activist Zach to arrange for Cameron Munkman, aka hip hop artist Young Jibwe, to speak instead. Instead of listening to a former Tory Premier say what he thinks about aboriginal issues, we got an angry Native hip hop artist. Activist Zach’s idea was that he’d call the club out on racism and rip them a new one over it. Because we still didn’t have quite enough controversy, the Facebook wall for the event got so nasty that several people complained about feeling threatened until, as damage control, the event was made private, and some of the discussion deleted. Evidently, Cameron had never actually clicked “attending,” so this meant he could no longer see the event page. He assumed he’d been banned, and arrived ready for a fistfight, wondering whether the event might even have been cancelled altogether.
With Activist Zach manning the camera, Cameron confronted Liberal Zach, demanding an apology, only to be met by a bunch of conciliatory men in suits insisting that it was all a misunderstanding, and saying how they’re thrilled to have him and excited to hear what he has to say. One even professed to being a fan of his hip hop and podcasts. Cameron commented that finding a suit and tie to wear to a Rosedale party would be the last thing on his mind when he’s dealing with poverty and trying to help his people, and Liberal Zach responded that as a speaker Cameron can wear whatever he wants, and the dress code was just for fun anyway; it was never meant to be enforced. Meanwhile I stand in the background laughing at the whole situation, sporting my artifacts of freedom and control, displaying an idol of a Mayan god of vengeance in my right hand.
The hilarity hit an early climax when Activist Zach engaged Liberal Zach directly. The whole interview, from my perspective, was completely absurd. Insipid questions, insipid answers. Highlight: Liberal Zach believes there’s no such thing as white privilege (and argues he’s not white but Jewish), falling back on how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes everything equal. Because, yeah, look how equal everyone is today, right? (btw, that’s the new drinking game: every time a Liberal mentions the Charter in the leadup to the next election, take a drink)
I wish I had images or a transcript of that interview to share, but I must wait for Activist Zach to edit and release his take on the event before I get to laugh at it again. Suffice it to say that neither Zach could have possibly played his part any better. The perfect face for The Rosedale Club, career politician to the bone, confronted by his antithesis, the career activist. And they even spell their names the same way! I defy anyone to ever perform more convincingly as an overprivileged career Liberal, or as a narrow-minded and self-righteous activist. Hats off to them both on their stellar pageantry.
Meanwhile, uncomprehended but somehow liked by both sides, Maximon and I stood in the background, cackling. But did he really just deny the existence of white privilege? This man, whose father made $307,539 last year, whose name can get Ernie Eves and John Tory to speak for free in front of his student group just by asking, thinks that his background has nothing at all to do with his power? I guess, to be fair, he is a student at the Munk School, so he probably never received a decent education. The worst that too much money can buy.
Nearby, several activists congregated awkwardly at the side of the road, refusing to engage with any of the various friendly people present (behind me in above picture; note the crossed arms. I’m blocking the view of more people). They waited until people started to go inside for the beginning of the actual party (not just this road-side side-show), and then started throwing eggs at the house. Keeping it classy as always, Toronto.
Cameron, profoundly embarrassed, apologised repeatedly for the disrespectful conduct of his “comrades,” by this point talking about how earlier he’d wanted to come here to fight someone but now he was happy to be here and impressed with how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Everyone seemed pretty much in agreement that egging the house was uncalled for, possibly with the exception of Activist Zach who wanted more “direct action,” disappointed that I’d opted to stand back and laugh my ass off rather than disrupt the event. Personally, I was unconvinced on a theatric level. If you’re going to troll, at least do it in a lulzy manner. Eggs while nobody is watching? Please. I can, and will, do better.
I took Maximon over to the selection of scotch, poured myself a nice large glass and gave a little to him before drinking from it myself. I placed his idol next to the “IDLE NO MORE” sign (pun intentional), directly behind where the speakers would speak. I lit a cigar and gave him some smoke. And then I left him there, to observe and background whatever would be said, while I drank, smoked and talked politics with a bunch of Liberals.
I told them about how I’d rejected my degree. I told them about Peter Munk and the Munk School of Global Affairs. I was expecting conflict on this, but Liberal Zach said he hates the Munk School too (for different reasons than mine) and no longer wishes to be affiliated with them. He will still finish his degree, but will say he got his degree from the University of Toronto without specifying the Munk School. I guess resentful complicity is better than enthusiastic complicity? Maybe? Meh. We’re all still complicit merely by living in this city.
The event is called to order. Cameron gave an emotional speech in which he expressed both the gratitude and disgust he felt toward the others present, while making clear his rough background, the awful conditions some FN people are living with, and the absolute necessity for Canadian society to respect Native land claims. We all applauded him at several points.
Then it was Jonathan Kay’s turn to speak (see image below). His talk focused on how people on reservations are currently at an economic disadvantage due to not being allowed to own their own homes, therefore having nothing to use as collateral against a loan, therefore unable to GET a loan, and therefore are in a worse position economically, whether for starting a business, building a “nest egg” for retirement. Their entire ability to participate in neoliberal capitalism hamstrung by the capitalist’s worst enemy: communal ownership. The solution, he believes, is integration into capitalism: give Native individuals the same right to own their own house as everyone else has. Then they can mortage it. Because I guess the real Indian problem is that they don’t currently owe enough to the banks, and if we could only do away with their collective land ownership, everything would be better. You know, like how things have improved all the other times we’ve taken land away from FN groups for all sorts of noble reasons that always situate “us” with the education, suits and answers as separate from “them” who “we” need to come in and help. Because nothing is quite so helpful as having bankers take control of your land while getting a PR bump for doing things “in the Native community’s best interest.”
Darius immediately, well, tested this logic. He called Kay out for advocating policies which would over time lead to the loss of land for the communities concerned, and therefore the extinguishment of sovereignty, effectively destroying some First Nations altogether. The two went back and forth, both coming across as intelligent, widely knowledgeable and eloquent. Quite the contrast to the farcical Zach-off witnessed earlier, these two men, Darius and Kay, both had things of substance to say! Their essential difference was that Kay believes individual suffering should trump identity preservation, while Darius believes that it’s essential to protect FN control of their ancestral lands, and won’t sacrifice that just so a few more Natives can afford to retire in Florida, or whatever it is Kay thinks they should be doing with their home equity. More questions, more debate. Great discussion. Good mix of perspectives and opinions. Respect and openness all around. Some of us were pretty weird about the idea that neoliberal capitalism, a system currently in a state of crisis, is an appropriate solution to ANY problems, let alone endemic poverty in marginalised communities. But, hey, that’s what you get for inviting a Conservative over for scotch and arguments.
Kay argued well that letting the banks own more Native land would help some people currently alive to lead better lives, but Darius countered that it’s more important to play the long game, to think in terms of seven generations from now; under Kay’s solution, he pointed out, the land would almost certainly belong to the banks within just two or three generations, rendering this neoliberal excuse for a “solution” completely unacceptable. This “solution” reiterates the long standing desire of some white Canadians to “solve the Indian problem” by forcibly removing any separation between Natives and the rest of society. Total assimilation. Perfect choice for an honoured guest! It was like 1899 all over again.
Next time let’s honour Darius instead.
Group photo time!
Aren’t we all so pretty in our suits and ties? Here I am practising my stern face. Grrr. Notice the copy of Watchmen on the bookshelf, and R2-D2 on the bedsheets in the background.
Shmoozing and boozing time! Great conversations with a number of insightful people. The fourth man from the left above taught me about the history of Somaliland, a small country which seceded from Somalia with a 97% vote in a referendum years ago, but which is still not recognised internationally. The woman in the centre and a couple others of us had a conversation about how we can work to prevent rape, focusing on teaching the values of consent, respect and physical autonomy. I also explained to several men what privilege is and why, yes, as white men living in Toronto we most certainly *are* at an advantage and should acknowledge that.
I for one love my privilege. It lets me get away with things, so I can shenan all I want and still traipse across borders without ever really getting hassled (well, so far). This is of course not exclusively because I’m white, but because of my class background, of which race is certainly an important part. My family might not have had the same money as our Moore Park and Rosedale neighbours, but we had the same ethnicity, so we fit right in. And I still do. I can treat residents of the wealthiest neighbourhood in Canada like my peers. I could be a Rosedale Club member unironically if I really wanted to. Of course my race is part of that, even though, yes, upper class black people have things way better than lower class whites. Race is an important factor, while class is most of the story.
Good conversations, good scotch, good party. One of the men described me as one of the most rational people he’d ever talked to. The few women present (there were five at first and only two later in the evening) seemed to have a great time, made great points and were listened to and included in the conversation (it says a lot about contemporary gender relations that I need to *specify* that the women participated and were listened to, doesn’t it?). Racial mix, pretty diverse… gender not so much. Notice that the dress code only applied to the men, the drink was a traditional “man’s drink,” we had a mandatory phallic symbols to wear around our necks, and secondary optional ones to suck on in our mouths.
Wait, why is Liberal Zach ordering everyone to get/stay inside? Are you serious? Cameron is outside potentially fighting someone and the Liberals are scared?
Complex situation. Lots of intense emotions. Lots of people freaking out or feeling threatened. Here’s the consensus the shaking suited men inside seemed to have arrived at: Cameron, fresh off a recent family tragedy, received a call from his fiancee (or girlfriend?). She said something that upset him, and he almost took it out on his interlocutor, the young dorky host who’d been feeling like they’d really been seeing eye to eye and was profoundly disappointed that they didn’t get to talk more. A man named Ehssan tried to separate them, pushing Cameron. Cameron raised a fist. Everyone lost their shit. Liberals fled inside, activists gathered on the porch to try to calm Cameron down, drunk and upset for dozens of different reasons all at once. Darius, Activist Zach and Cameron remained huddled there for what felt like a long time while inside, visibly shaken drunk men in ties speculated about how they might be able to get people to safety, as if the now-crying Young Jibwe was going to chase us all down and kill us. Now, I felt bad for Cameron, and I could sympathise with the men who were shocked at even this mere hint of violence. Living in a neighbourhood like the Annex in downtown Toronto, you don’t often get threatened physically, so it’s understandable that they were rattled. Mostly, though, I thought the whole situation was hilarious. Completely unplanned, and through his own personal suffering (it was his lover, not even a guest, who’d really set him off), Cameron had actually succeeded in taking what was already a ridiculous evening to a whole new level, and succeeded in injecting into the bougie Liberal privilege bubble a taste of the pain and danger that he and his community deal with every day. Now it was not just words: now they were feeling it. I could not have scripted it better. It was energising, uncomfortable, illuminating and totally unforgettable.
I’m told that after he left, he was beaten by the Toronto Police near Kennedy Station. The well spoken Native man, the hip hop artist, Young Jibwe, fresh from drinking scotch and debating politics with a bunch of young Liberals, apologising for getting their house egged and then almost punching someone out before leaving and getting his shit kicked in by the cops.
What a night.
Thank you, Cameron, for your sacrifices.
Back at the party, more of the same as before. Good, in depth, respectful political discussions between people with differing viewpoints but lots of knowledge, patience to hear each other out, cigars and scotch all around. We even smoked a little Chocolate Thai before leaving — nobody objected in the slightest to the recreational burning of hemp flowers, although most of the group didn’t partake. I packed up the Mayan idol, left and rode the subway with two other revellers, continuing to talk about politics as we went. I walked one of them to his home in the Beaches and we agreed to meet for Ethiopian food or beer some time soon.
I wandered around the Beaches for a time, thinking thoughts, getting high, practising martial arts with my cane and making my way gradually back to Coxwell & Danforth, where a man in a sandwich shop said he was going to rape me and implied he already had another victim. I opted for getting the fuck away and calling the cops, although afterwards I considered whether the better thing to do might have been to simply brandish my weapon and confront him directly. I just don’t know.
As always, these things are complicated.
As a postscript, I’d like to refer you to an article written about the same party by someone who wasn’t there who figures it was all about white suprematism.
and, here’s a more informed piece also about the Rosedale Club, discussing privilege and race:
Activist Zach’s no doubt stellar and utterly unbiased video is still forthcoming.
Cameron says he’s fine, just a little sore. And he said he liked this article when I sent him a recent draft. Woo!
In the matter of Darius against Kay, they both made good arguments, but I’m going to pick Darius as winner because, frankly, what Kay is advocating is an awful idea, and Darius demonstrated that quite effectively.
In the matter of Zach against Zach, they were both insipid, but I’m going to pick the Liberal as the winner, because, unlike the fanaticism of Activist Zach, Liberal Zach actually seemed open to and interested in listening and debating with people he currently disagrees with. Also, he was in on the lulz in a more meaningful way. He needs some serious educating, and needs to step outside of his privilege bubble, but he’s young. He doesn’t need to become Dalton McGuinty. Even if they look the same.
(none of the photos in this article were taken by me. Most were taken by Activist Zach, who was courteous enough to share them despite our disagreements. The rest were internet scavenged)