As a paid employee of a levy group (thus my anonymity) and voluntary participant in levy group’s activities, I feel compelled to respond to Liam Ledgerwood’s letters. Any call to make the paid positions within my group and the organization itself obsolete is an attack on my “own unique version of happiness,” as Scott Berry of Trent Liberty would say (“Scott Berry”, 47.1, Oct. 29). By ironically quoting Berry’s libertarianism, I would also like to undermine notions of naïve individualism, which I think are at the root of Legerwood’s problem with levies (“I Want My Money Back”, 47.7, Oct. 29; “Re”, 47.9, Nov. 12).
In agreement with Ledgerwood, some levy groups would not exist should levies disappear, including my own. My first concern then is interpersonal (i.e., ethical and not moral), and should be for others as well whose livelihood depends on levies, whether from employment or benefiting directly or indirectly from an organization. Those who benefit directly from levy groups voluntarily participate by making use of the resources and goodwill of those involved. And even those who do not participate still benefit from the work. One need not be an activist, community organizer, or in Jack Braithwaite’s words a “Marxist and/or Anarchist” (“Re: I Want my Money Back”, 47.8, Nov. 5) to appreciate the efforts of the TQC, CGSJ, KWIC, Sustainable Trent, OPIRG, etc., in the fight against their versions of injustice, thereby trickling down to effect our own well-being; and one need not identify with a particular nationality or country of origin to respect their right to exist and share culture, as does the TISA. Not making use of the resources and goodwill of organizations is not an argument for cutting funding to a levy group (Ledgerwood, “I Want My Money Back”, Oct. 29; Jack Braithwaite, “Re”, Nov. 5), but an implied imperative from the mouth of the one who utters it to actually make use of a group’s resources, get informed on contributions and efforts, and respect cultures that are not our own.
The problem is not of levy groups’ finances, as Brea Hutchinson and John West-Carvolho note (“Re”, 47.8, Nov. 5), than one for Ledgerwood’s individualist sentiments. My second concern then is the misunderstanding and misuse of the language of majority and minority (Ledgerwood, “Re”, 47.9, Nov. 12). Some levy groups represent minority groups and marginalized persons. Although this was not exactly Ledgerwood’s point I hope, Ledgerwood needs to rethink his/her use of the terms, and be more conscious of what it entails to (almost) claim that minority/marginalized groups, existing by a coerced levy, are thus encroaching on the rights of those who are already in possession of full rights. Some levy groups have, in various ways, fostered the rights (for lack of a better word) of marginalized persons by providing venues to have silenced voices heard, creating events and spaces to gather within a social and cultural milieu often opposed to their existence, exhibited by such arguments as Ledgerwood’s (Who cares if we lose certain levy groups to economic Darwinism?). Some levy groups challenge Eurocentrism, heteronormativity, wealth, and individualism, and therefore constitute a minority, not a majority (and thus cannot tyrannize). I can understand how one could feel oppressed, as Ledgerwood does, if personal finances and personal happiness are the sole concerns – when you hold individualism in such high regard it will feel like the majority of the world is against you (analogously, World University Services of Canada aids refugee students, whose whole world seems against them, by providing scholarships to study here – all for a $6!).
Unfortunately creating spaces or events, or pursuing causes or actions that have no direct benefit to myself or Ledgerwood, takes a bit of planned distribution. Ledgerwood knows this as well. Without levies, individuals could not pursue their own unique versions of happiness because, as Ledgerwood notes in his first piece, the groups may be crushed under the weight of sink or swim capitalism. Ledgerwood complains that one must go to each levy group to get a refund; the problem then is that regaining the funds one did not wish to part with is a burden – there should be an (easy) opt-out button. Imagine then if one had to go to each levy group, which few people do to get a refund, and donate their extra money. If it is such a burden to get money back, because of the effort involved, it is an impossible dream to hope 7000+ students will visit levy groups and give a sufficient sum for that group’s continued existence. Coercion, in the case of a small donation, would seem to benefit even the Ceilie (personally never been there).
Making the world better means we share space, like it or not, whether we voluntarily participate as in Ledgerwood’s ideal, or involuntarily contribute to levies, that force is necessary to reap the benefits of having a student newspaper, pub, and community organizations. As David Tough wrote in his Sept. 10, 2012 declaration: “By working together, as students and workers, to improve each other’s position, we not only improve our conditions but create conditions of possibility for a different way of living together.” My own unique version of happiness is dependent upon student contribution to levies, and those who use and participate in the groups I assume, feel much the same.