When the video of Neda Agha-Soltan dying on the streets of Tehran surfaced during the 2009 Iranian election protests, it quickly became an international symbol of the iconic struggle against the Iranian regime. The 40-second YouTube clip was seen by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, many of whom decided to tint their Twitter avatars green in solidarity with the Iranian demonstrators. The green overlay was a way for over 160,000 Twitter users worldwide to show their support for democracy in Iran.
The gesture, of course, was symbolic. The new green hue to your smiling pic wouldn’t stick a pin in Ahmadinejad’s side, nor would it motivate Iranian officials to open the floodgates to foreign media. But the idea was to offer ideological solidarity—a sometimes-powerful motivator to those pressing for change.
Now, as far as I can understand, fervent Tweeters weren’t looking to score a dark forest green over the default shade to demonstrate heightened support for the protesters. Nor did individuals race to go green before the herd, or boast they had convinced the greatest number of followers to adopt the tint. The idea was simply to offer solidarity; not to self-reflexively boast that one was doing so. That’s the attitude to take with these sorts of things, right?
Wrong. And here’s where I segue to the student movement. It seems to Adam Awad, student union president at the University of Toronto, showing support is about being seen and receiving proper recognition. Reflecting on Toronto’s recent Pride Parade in an interview with The Varsity, Awad said he hopes U of T will be featured more prominently in future years’ marches.
“As some of the most active members in the community and given the role that we have historically played, it would have been nice to be closer to the front of the parade, rather than the back, which is where we have been for several years,” Awad said. (He also erroneously said that the UTSU was one of the founders of the Pride Parade. The quote was subsequently deleted from the online edition. Here is cache version of the original story.)
The UTSU wants the prime real estate for next year’s parade—definitely an issue worth digressing from the cause. (Remember? The parade is about celebrating the LGBTQ community. Write it on your hand if you forget.) Offering support, demonstrating ideological alignment, exhibiting solidarity—it all means nothing if you can’t land a spot behind the Grand Marshall. Apparently, student unions are exceptional supporters and thus shouldn’t be shafted to the back of the bus.
Unfortunately, not only does UTSU’s naval-gazing distract from the greater issue, it sullies the genuineness of its support altogether. Are students there to march in solidarity, or there to be seen marching in solidarity? How much focus is being paid to the actual cause?
If nothing else, Awad’s comments do nothing to shake students of that dirty “me generation” reputation. But sorry, that’s just my egoism talking.