In a sitting area tucked away from the noise of the lunch rush at Open Kitchen on a Friday afternoon, AMS President-elect Esmé Decker sat comfortably on a green couch, her right arm resting on the back as she leaned against it.
This place is significant for Decker as it was the birthplace of the face of her campaign, Remy. In January 2022, dining staff removed a rat — who was later named “Remy the Rat” by the UBC subreddit — after it was spotted at a grill station in Open Kitchen.
Decker said it was Georgia Yee, a student senator-at-large and Board of Governors student representative, who proposed that she run under the name “Remy the Rat” after speaking at a Climate Justice UBC (CJUBC) meeting before the 2022 AMS Elections.
“She was like, ‘You know what a good idea could be is having a joke candidate … Remy the Rat could be a really fun joke candidate. And it would just engage people more in the election again,’” Decker recalled Yee telling her.
“And I’m like, ‘I’m all about voter turnout ... getting out the vote,’” Decker said.
Two years and two campaigns later, Decker seems to have achieved her goal of increasing voter turnout — this year’s elections saw the highest number of votes in a presidential election ever, although other factors could have led to this. Decker was also elected the next AMS president.
She won under the Remy the Rat name, but Decker said she intends to serve as president as herself.
“As time passes from the election, Remy will kind of fade into the background and it’ll be more about me doing the job, representing students,” she said.
The mise en place of student activism
Decker will be the first non-AMS staff member to be the society’s president since 2017, but she has been involved with student activism on campus with groups like CJUBC, the Climate Hub and Sprouts.
Her interest in this work came from growing up in a household with what she called a “casual political bias.”
“I grew up in a family where my parents have been part of unions for decades,” she said, adding that her parents were involved in campus activism when they were in university and continue to support organizing around issues like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Decker said she plans to draw on this activism experience as president — much of her platform centred around climate justice — noting that she has developed an understanding of UBC’s governing structures, including the AMS, as well as the university’s finances from this work.
She added that she plans to work with these and other student groups like the AMS resource groups as president.
“I think that even though I am an outsider, I’ve been engaged on the margins.”
A recipe for success
While Decker ran as a rat twice, she said only the first time was a joke. This year’s campaign relied on Remy as a representation of a group of students and symbols.
“I think that I wanted to continue the work that we’d already put in last year and like the community that we’ve made as a base,” she said.
Remy came in second during last year’s AMS Elections, losing to current President Eshana Bhangu by a margin of almost 1,600 votes.
Rats also serve as a symbol of student movements elsewhere, according to Decker. She referenced the “rat rat” meme in China as an example of young people using a rat to represent their frustrations with the status quo.
“I want to be transparent about who I am and what I get to bring to the table, but also saying it’s not just about me, it’s about representing more of a community of students,” she said.
While Decker intends to serve as president as herself, she said Remy will still continue to make some appearances. For example, the Remy doll that Decker carried throughout the campaign will live on her desk in her new office.
She also said she’ll still use the @ubcrat Instagram account to engage with students.
“I might kind of just keep the fun going around that. But yeah, obviously taking my role seriously,” she said. “It’s a big responsibility that I’m really honoured to be voted into.”
Ready to serve
In the weeks since she won the AMS president race, Decker said she is being recognized more on- and off-campus.
She said she was recognized at Earnest Ice Cream where she works part-time (her favourite flavours to eat are London Fog and Cardamom, and her least favourite to scoop is Rocky Road) the weekend after she won because she was wearing the same yellow sweater she wore at Results Night.
Decker said she has also been meeting with current AMS student staff and next year’s team of vice-presidents to gain some institutional knowledge and start planning for next year.
While Decker will be the next AMS president, she only beat current AMS VP Administration Ben Du by a little over 600 votes.
When asked what parts of Du’s platform she intended to incorporate as president, Decker said she planned to use it as an example of how to create realistic expectations on what can get done within a year-long term. She added that her and Du aligned on wanting to conduct a procurement audit of AMS businesses to address food insecurity.
When asked if she would bring a Ferris wheel to the Clubs Fair as Du had promised, she laughed and said, “maybe not.”
Ultimately, Decker plans to bring the experiences she has gained from working with different communities to the AMS presidency.
“I’m excited to just bring in my principles, like community-based culture.”