It’s a warm and sunny Sunday mid-afternoon. The soca is bumping and the scents of beef and masala patties fill the air. Friends both old and new acquaint themselves through hugs and handshakes as the bustling chatter grows louder. We’ve all gathered in eager anticipation of the guest of honour: Walied Khogali Ali.
When Khogali arrives at the scene — the backyard of his campaign office on Carlton Street near Regent Park — he grabs hold of a microphone to address his supporters. My eyes scan the scene before me, registering both the sight of an impassioned man delivering a gracious, heartfelt rallying cry, as well as the hopeful, inspired, and attentive expressions plastered upon the faces of audience members.
In what feels more like a block party than anything political, I realize that Khogali’s campaign is the product of an entire community, here to celebrate and support a young man they’ve seen grow before their eyes.
The UTM alum has been working hard on his bid for City Council in Ward 13 Toronto Centre. Between Khogali’s optimism, gratitude, charisma, and vision, it is difficult not to rally behind this man with a plan for Toronto.
A record of social justice
Khogali is originally from Sudan and has been a fixture in Regent Park ever since he and his family settled in the community in 2005. As one of seven kids, he never misses the opportunity to gush about his family. His mom often accompanies him to functions, ensuring that energetic, young volunteers never leave the office with empty stomachs.
Khogali evidently has strong familial and community ties, which have informed a decorated record of service and leadership all centred around critical social justice and human rights issues in our city. He’s fearless in fighting back for those he cares about.
For instance, he co-founded the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia, a cohort of some 170 organizations dedicated to anti-racism work. He’s been a leader in environmental justice and student movements, serving as president of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and Executive Director of the UTM Students’ Union. He also co-founded TTCriders, a transit advocacy group. And he has held key positions in the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council and the city’s Labour Community Services, and worked to support underserved Toronto communities with United Way.
Impressively, though he is a young politician, he’s not one to rest on his laurels. I can think of no better figure than Khogali who symbolizes the strength, resilience, and perseverance that Toronto desperately needs to weather a stormy political climate.
The reality of racism in Toronto politics
Khogali is a Black Muslim immigrant, perched at the intersections of insidious anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that lurk in the underbelly of Toronto’s government and people — even among self-congratulatory ‘progressives.’
Indeed, currently elected officials — including Mayor John Tory and councillor Giorgio Mammoliti — have made questionable comments about young Black men, labelling them as “sewer rats,” “cockroaches,” and “thugs” in discussions regarding violence citywide and social housing tenancy in Jane and Finch. Such hateful rhetoric often gets swept under the rug.
However, what is perhaps even more dangerous about all this is that it also emboldens other, more opportunistic politicians to capitalize on a narrative of violence, perpetuating their own hateful rhetoric while dressing it up as an innovative solution or ‘safety’ initiative.
For instance, Toronto’s most infamous mayoral candidate is a white nationalist whose campaign to “Make Toronto Safe Again” revolves around the view that refugees and Muslims are threats.
It is difficult to imagine how pushing out some of Toronto’s most vulnerable, marginalized communities that are fleeing conflict and persecution would make the city safer. I urge fellow students and all Torontonians to consider sensationalist figures like the aforementioned a serious threat. These kinds of candidates are not standalone; they are woven into the fabric of even the province at large.
After all, Premier Doug Ford had initially declined to address the photos he has posed for with the aforementioned white nationalist. Recall that it was Ford himself who was going to attempt to override the Charter, all to arbitrarily reduce the size of Toronto’s city council just weeks before the election. This has seriously compromised the ability of newcomer candidates from racialized communities to enter municipal politics.
Investing in youth
It is clear that the politics around us is steeped in racism. Despite such a negative political climate in Toronto, I still hold out hope for a brighter future because of leaders like Khogali who symbolize resistance. I believe that he can keep these regressive politicians in check.
He has already publicly confronted Ford about the possible restoration of Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy — a “racist police division,” which was ineffective and known for its use of carding, the stopping and questioning of individuals when no particular offence is being investigated — at a Somali-Canadian forum earlier this year. Khogali shared that the program actually “traumatized” many racialized youth with whom he had spoken. Many other concerned audience members applauded the response.
Indeed, Khogali’s work as a mentor and role model for racialized, newcomer, and other marginalized youth from his own community are what all leaders should aspire to become. It provides an opportunity to challenge the dynamics in the status quo.
After all, the youth of this city have so many challenges to overcome. Between the threats of violence, the impossibility of home ownership in a skyrocketing real estate market, and questionable government cuts to essential programs, we need young leaders who are focused on making our youth confident in their futures and proud to call Toronto home.
We can see proof in the solutions that Khogali has proposed for issues that affect racialized youth. Rather than cut essential programs and beef up the police, as Ford desires, Khogali is focused on investment.
He wants to ensure that youth have options for postsecondary education, access to programs in which they can develop leadership skills and civic engagement, and opportunities for recreational programs to build life skills, like swimming. These positive changes would represent the first step toward a safer and more productive Toronto.
The stride to match the swagger
Khogali’s commitment to anti-racism, among many other reasons, is why he is the perfect choice for the council selection in Ward 13. The ward — including Regent Park, Cabbagetown, and St. James Town — has 19 candidates who are all vying to represent a population of around 100,000.
Unlike some others, though, Khogali is not a career politician — he’s a grassroots activist and organizer, who has tirelessly dedicated years of his life to community-led initiatives meant to affect change. He has no money to spend on YouTube ads, hundreds of lawn signs, or cash incentives for prospective voters. His campaign has been fuelled by the generous support of his community, which has come together to stand and fight alongside him.
Khogali stands out because of his progressive platform, which includes affordable housing and transit, commitment to poverty eradication through familial support and job creation, and inclusive and hate-free community building.
It is not built on empty promises. From implementing the province’s first U-Pass program in his UTM days to organizing a national day of action in February 2017 in response to Trump’s Muslim ban, he has a history of fighting for important causes.
For the youth, for the marginalized, and for the future — I’m with Walied Khogali Ali.
Jaime McLaughlin is a third-year History and Political Science student at University College.