In the Blog
Interview with Morgan Baskin
Photo courtesy of Morgan Baskin.
Editor’s note: *This interview has been condensed and edited. Morgan Baskinis 19 years old and is running for Mayor of Toronto.
So what are you up to today? Today I have to do a bunch of things that have been sitting too long waiting for me to deal with them, like emails, and some party planning for election night. I also have a couple of events to go to tonight.
Sounds busy! Is that like a normal day on the campaign trail? Often I have more things that I have to go to during the day. I do a fair number of things at schools, with an organization called Student Vote. I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of schools. Sometimes there are debates during the day, or meetings. I also end up with a lot of things that are not strictly campaign related, but have happened because of my campaign. I talk to people about filming for documentaries about youth voting, or I work on my TedX talk. My life has gotten very busy.
Are you still in school? I finished high school this past June. It was a nice last year, and my graduation is on Friday. I turned down my university acceptances, because it felt like way too many things to be doing at once. It’s a certain experience to go to university at 19, and that doesn’t necessarily gel with trying to run a political campaign. They kind of assume they have your whole life [at university], so that wasn’t going to be a possibility. It felt like I was just going to be struggling one more thing that was new at a time in my life when I was already experiencing a lot of very new and busy activities.
Was it hard to make the decision to pursue your mayoral campaign? Not really. I’ve never been really attached to the idea of attending university right away. I think I’ve always been pretty clear that there were things I wanted to do in my life, and one of them was to maybe take a year off before going to university, even if I hadn’t run. It kind of felt like it wasn’t the right time. It’s still very odd to not go back to school for the first time, though.
You mentioned Student Vote. What do they do? It’s an organization that runs mock elections in schools. It’s a great organization, and part of it is getting young people used to the idea of marking a ballot. But part of it is getting young people excited about elections. A kid I know asked her teacher how to spoil her ballot by writing my name on it [because I wasn’t listed on her school’s ballot].
When asked about the youth voting issue, [some people think] we need to support mock elections, which we do, but Student Vote deals with children. That’s important, but as politicians, it’s not our job to do the work of an organization that is already happening. It’s our job to get actual young people who can vote to vote.
Do you see any particular solution to that problem? Part of the problem is that politicians don’t reach out to young people because they assume they aren’t going to vote. And then young people are in this weird space where no one is even seeking their vote. Not only is no one talking about their issues, or their values, or their opinions on anything, but everything that’s being talked about will affect them. No one is even inviting them to vote, and that sucks! If someone votes for the first time when they’re eligible to vote, the more likely they are to vote the next time, and the next time. So I think it’s really important to recognize that those first few years are incredibly important, because if they don’t vote the first time, they’re less likely to vote later on in life.
How do young people respond to you when you meet them? It’s a pretty mixed bag. I’ve found, in many ways, I’ve been able to transcend a lot of ideas about politicians, which has made my life a lot easier in terms of connecting with young people. I’ve tried to spend a lot of time in youth spaces and places.
What do you see as some big problems facing youth in the city? My whole campaign is based on the idea that all issues are youth issues and we need to be including young people at the table to talk about them. For me, environmental stuff is a huge one. I think it’s a conversation that young people are having already and are in agreement that something has to be done about it, probably because we have to live here. Issues of housing are also huge, because young people often live in weird housing situations, and finding permanent housing is incredibly difficult in this town. Also, unemployment rates in Toronto are the highest in Canada. We like to talk about how we’re booming and building so many things, and there are so many opportunities. It’s a really interesting narrative that is problematic considering our youth unemployment rate, depending on who you ask, is between 22 and 28 percent.
I really do think that the future of this city needs to include conversations with young people about what they need. We have to live with the decisions made for a very long time, and as we move forward as a city, we need to include that voice, and not just as a token gesture.
How do you get ready for interviews, debates, and other appearances? I definitely get nervous. I also find it really exciting. It does get easier with time, as you get used to something and can practice. For me, a lot of preparing has been using the things that make me feel strong. I’ve always been pretty focused on my own appearance, in terms of being interested in fashion, and that’s changed in terms of how willing I am to conform to what society’s version of a woman is. Like, in grade 6 I shaved my head and wore pajamas all the time. Right now, high heels and red lipstick have sort of become symbols of my campaign in ways I didn’t expect. I feel strong when I wear high heels, and I feel strong when I wear red lipstick, and I also feel strong when I’m prepared and know my stuff. I think it’s about using the things that make you feel strong and make you feel powerful to deal with those nerves, but just making yourself feel prepared and strong.
I’ve also noticed that you’re active on Twitter and Tumblr. Have you found that to be a good tool for the campaign? In some ways, it widens my base a little far! I had a Tumblr post where I took a screencap of messages I got that were pretty awful at the beginning of my campaign, during the #YesAllWomen campaign. I shared it, and it went viral. I started getting messages from young people from all around the world, and it was pretty crazy. That’s been really flattering, and I’d rather all those people lived in Toronto [and could vote], but no matter what October 27th brings, I inspired those young people, and that’s something that needed to happen. I feel pretty good about it.
A couple of days ago on Twitter, you were talking about teen girl culture and how it’s perceived by mainstream media and the general public. Can you elaborate on what you were getting at in those tweets, and what you see as the problem with how we treat teenagers? I think that girls love things the rest of the world doesn’t, and usually we love them first. The rest of the world doesn’t realize it, but girls are huge tastemakers, often with disposable income, The Beatles wouldn’t be the Beatles if it weren’t for teenage girls. People forget moments like that.
I think that teens, especially with Tumblr and Wattpad and other Internet things, have gotten this amazing ability to create content that they feel good about. That content is often fan content, so it’s derivative content inspired by something else, but often female-centred, queer positive, all sorts of things. It’s also created safe spaces for young people to express their wants and desires about so many things, and to love really loudly. There are a lot of space where they get love and compliments about their work. It doesn’t matter what you’re drawing, or writing, or singing, the fact that you’re doing it at all is amazing. You know, people who write fan fiction have higher English grades. Young people who edit each other’s fan fiction have higher English grades, and better literacy. Young people who are drawing and illustrating are practicing their skills and getting help from others. The general public puts those communities down so intensely, as cesspits of terrible content, so we cling to them harder to make them safer spaces, because there are so few in the world.
Who are you looking to for guidance or inspiration during your campaign? I don’t really have anyone who is in traditional electoral politics. In many ways, I admire Hillary Clinton and Kathleen Wynne, because of their own trailblazing in different forms. The closest I get to a political hero is Jane Jacobs. Her work, and the way she shaped Toronto and North America is really impressive and amazing. I can only hope to be half as influential as her.
Are there other young people running campaigns in the city? Do you know them? I definitely talk to other young candidates, like Idil Burale and Munira Abukar running in Wards 1 and 2, respectively, along with Keegan Henry-Mathieu. They released a statement along with Andre Domise and Lekan Olawoye after the shootings this week. Those are some of the amazing young people who are doing amazing work in the city.
What are you doing for fun these days? Do you get to have any fun? Yes! Sometimes. I can unequivocally say that my friends and family are looking forward to the election being over and being able to spend more time with me. I watch television sometimes, when I just need a couple of hours to escape, even though too often they come in the middle of the night. I try as much as possible to spend my downtime with my friends and family, especially since it’s Thanksgiving this weekend.
Any post-campaign plans? I’m not making a lot of plans for after. I’m going to want to take a break. My TedX talk [at the Ontario Science Centre] is on the 15th [of November] and so that is going to be a lot of prep. The Taylor Swift album comes out on election day, and the Raptors game is two days later, and then it’s Halloween, so that should keep me busy. I have no idea what the next few years of my life will be like. I want to stay in youth activism and work in issues of youth issues and youth voting, but I want to explore all my options.