When I pressed the doorbell, a bit of yellow goo dripped onto my fingers. Then I noticed the broken shells.
The April meeting of the Rosedale Club had been egged. I didn't know people did that in real life.
Situated deep in the valley between knowing parody and inscrutable obliviousness, the club is a project of early-20-something Zach Paikin and his friends. Paikin, son of TVO broadcaster Steve, is a right-leaning Liberal, full-time networker and grad student at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Seven of his Facebook profile pictures show him posing alongside past and present Liberal leaders.
"Join us for the third monthly meeting of the Rosedale Club, featuring former Ontario premier Ernie Eves and the National Post's Jonathan Kay, for a conversation on aboriginal issues," read the Facebook event. "Scotch and cigars will be provided."
At the top: "NOTE: Dress code is business formal. Suit and tie are mandatory for men."
Listings for previous occasions (featuring Adam Giambrone, John Tory and Andrew Coyne) had sparked pockets of online backlash against the exclusionary anachronism of the premise.
But word of this month's gathering - a talk about "aboriginal issues" by two neo-conservative white men, for the presumed benefit of other neo-conservative white men - had provoked an internet firestorm that was bound up with real anger.
Hence the eggs.
In the end, Cameron Monkman (aka Young Jibwe), a hip-hop entrepreneur and photographer of Scottish Ojibway descent, volunteered to address the gathering and was added to the bill. (By this point, following the early waves of online response, Eves had already pulled out.)
"I came here tonight, I wanted to smash somebody," Monkman told the assembled, "because I was so pissed off. And I apologize for my comrades egging the house earlier."
Dressed in variations on the required suit and tie, the handful of activists who showed up to support Monkman ultimately represented a quarter of the event's turnout of two dozen.
In a nine-minute speech - not always coherent but consistently passionate - Monkman pierced the peculiar bubble of privilege that Paikin and crew had taken pains to construct. He railed against colonization, corporations and the tar sands. And, in the moments of greatest resonance with all the aspiring leaders in the room, he explained their potential to do real good in the world.
"I am here because I believe that political power can make a change with the right people," he said. "In other words, evil shit can be good if it's in good hands."
All of this unfolded in front of an Idle No More banner, which the activists had set up in the bay window with the organizers' blessing.
As promised, there was a Ziploc bag's worth of cigars, the smoke from which soon choked the room. There were four types of whisky, later growing to six. The activists enjoyed appropriating these symbols, posing for photos with their drinks and their smokes.
I had some Scotch. I did not have a smoke.
For Paikin, the suits, Scotch and cigars are about enforcing a level of decorum. "What we wanted to do is to ensure we could have a forum for in-depth conversation and civil discourse," he told me, "and if we just had people come in dressed however, and we had beer and vodka and whatever, the result would have been like a house party. And there's no shortage of house parties."
But a Rosedale Club meeting is more or less a house party anyway, as one of his co-organizers later admits to me: it's a high-concept house party in fancy dress.
If it served to subvert the traditional trappings of power instead of reinforcing them, it could easily be an ironic hipster performance piece. The thing, however, is that its organizers do think of it as an exercise in irony, even if others have their doubts.
The Rosedale Club, for example, doesn't gather in Rosedale. This edition was in the Annex, and next month it heads to the Beach.
"We thought it was a funny name," Paikin explains. "It's meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Number one, it doesn't actually meet in Rosedale (which is what's funny), and number two is that the three co-founders of the club are Jewish, and obviously the Rosedale Club sounds like something that, back in the 1930s or 40s or 50s, Jews in Toronto would not be allowed to attend. And to celebrate Canada's diversity and the rights that every single group in Canada has now, we decided to call it that to basically say we've arrived. It's meant to be funny."
On the one hand, it's fascinating and almost endearing to see a person enact an imagined ideal of an experience his grandparents were denied. On the other hand, well, one would hope that the oppressed would aspire to something greater than to one day mimic their oppressor. If there's a line past which reclamation turns into a full-on embrace, the Rosedale Club would appear to have crossed it.
Paikin justifies this performance of whiteness by explaining that he, as a Jew, is not white. Jews are Middle Eastern, he says, "and DNA tests confirm this." He believes that labelling Jews as white is not constructive; he is "an ethnic minority."
Zach Ruiter, one of the activists who crashed the party, is also Jewish. He's critical of the "issues of paternalism, patriarchy and entitlement" in which the whole enterprise is wrapped.
But, like me, he kind of found the event inspiring in spite of itself. The Idle No More activists confronted people with things they would not otherwise have heard. They challenged Jonathan Kay on every one of his points, and Kay was happy to engage with them. In both the formal and informal proceedings, conflict turned into debate, which then turned into conversation (except for the part at the end when individual tensions boiled over into a brief shoving match on the sidewalk outside).
"A lot of activists tend to be clicktivists on the internet; they like to rail against things rhetorically," Ruiter says, alluding to the earlier Twitter and Facebook rage. "But this was actually direct intervention. And instead of disengaging into silence, it was actually an opportunity to disrupt the discourse."
Perhaps Idle No More is another kind of performance project.
"So did they get it? No, they're not gonna get it right away," says Ruiter. "But they're gonna get it sooner or later."
UPDATE (04/25/2013): This article originally identified Cameron Monkman as "aboriginal." Monkman identifies as "Scottish Ojibway." We regret the error.