Headshot of Renee Jagdeo
Munk One, Munk School

An aspiring politician’s reflection on taking up space

I recently ran to be the youngest City Councillor of Toronto. A lot of the media coverage you might see regarding my campaign makes the idea of entering politics as a young person seem like a feat. Was it an interesting journey to follow? Sure. But I cannot say it was any more difficult than an assignment you’ve procrastinated on.

I want to share my brief political career with you all in an honest manner that doesn’t contribute to the already destructive narratives around politics. Every bad thing you’ve thought about politics is likely true, but that can only change once we disrupt that vicious cycle. I believe this is accomplished by taking up space in places others may think you shouldn't.

My experience with taking up space started with a text to my Munk One group chat, and ended with 108 votes for a maybe too ambitious 19-year old.

To be specific: “hey guys : )))))))) dkm but ive decided too run for a city councillor seat”.

Since switching out of U of T’s Political Science program, I have viewed the political realm as a sort of invite-only old boy’s club. In my experience – it still is – but I’ve come to realize I can forge my own invitation.

You can probably imagine all of the pushback I received, being a young woman of colour wanting to get involved in municipal politics.

“My 19-year old doesn’t even get up before 12!”

“Why don’t you have a family and run a household first?”

“If you’re smart, you’ll wait a few decades when you’ve gained some wisdom.”

While these statements may influence the decision of some voters, I found comments like these funny because in my opinion, raising a family or being over the age of 45 isn’t what makes a good politician. Politics is a game of representation, and I’d love for my politicians to be representative of the communities I exist in. Precarious working and living situations, depending on public transit, and valuing a sense of community over capitalist gain? Now that, is what I can relate to.

Unfortunately, effective representation is not the reality, and we continue to see racialized and young people be underserved and not respected. That is why I chose to run – to share the innovative ideas of my peers and attempt to represent a marginalized voice in the city.

The space that I took up, however, needed to be bigger than myself. It included room for my campaign team and the love and support of my peers. I feel incredibly grateful for the work accomplished by my Munk One and U of T community, which only further speaks to the brilliance of young people in Toronto.

Together, we developed a strong platform filled with creative policies and solutions, COVID safely engaged in canvassing efforts, and grew a large social media following. My team helped me enter a space a lot of people thought I was unfit for, but most significantly we proved that a gaggle of second-year university students are just as qualified to run a successful campaign. So if you helped make graphics, pitched stories, gathered gossip on other candidates, planted questions in virtual events, or were supporting me in my Twitter mentions – thank you.

Running a campaign for City Councillor was fun. I consider it successful because while we were nowhere close to winning we accomplished a lot. We’ve drawn attention to people and organizations who are actively addressing challenges in the city, and encouraged many young people to consider doing the same. I am most proud of our ability to showcase the strategy, dedication, and intelligence of our peers to a crowd who would otherwise doubt us.

As we work through this pandemic and begin to envision what the future may look like, I am excited to see myself and my peers continue to disrupt our fields of interest. With all of this completely undeserved clout, I am hoping to return the favour, so if there is a way I can support you in your endeavours – please let me know! It is time for us to take up space in the rooms we might not be expected to be in – and once we open that door, I look forward to us keeping it open for others to walk through.

Renee Jagdeo is an alumna of the 2019-2020 Munk One cohort. Recently, she concluded a run for City Councillor in the Toronto Ward-22 Scarborough-Agincourt by-election as the youngest candidate in the race. In this blog post, she writes candidly about her decision to run, and her reflections on the experience in the world of politics.