April 18, 2008

Why coalitions matter

Disenchanted with your student government?

Raise your hand if you know your Student Government (SG) reps. Keep your hand raised if you know what they have done and what committees they’re on. Keep your hands up if you’re not already in SG. If everyone with their hands raised were in a room together, by now all you would see is a select group of people who are most likely dating, living with, or best friends with a candidate for or current member of SG.

I have to admit that until recently I didn’t know much about SG, either. I can only vaguely remember whom I cast a ballot for: I remember voting for Ashley Alger because she was in my calc class; I pulled the lever for Jarred Wolf because his last name was Wolf. I can’t even recall why I voted for Jay Kim. Nor can I remember hearing if or when any of the other candidates got elected. (Though, in my defense, this is a step up from high school in which my choices were completely random.)

The point here is that SG just seemed like some group of kids who put their names on things and said they sponsored them. There were some highlights that I do remember, like the UnCommon Fund, Kick Coke Off Campus campaign, and something about donating blood, but that’s about it. I must admit that it seems they have been getting better; earlier this year I actually got an e-mail from them with their names, finally giving me the ability to facebook the people who represent me. I didn’t actually facebook them though. I think I took a nap.

Now, I’m not saying there wasn’t any outreach, but I think the fact that I only heard from SG when they wanted my opinion on printing and bus routes says something. Worst of all, on some issues, SG is only consulted after the decision has already been made. So instead of trying to work through a system that never seemed to work for me, I decided to work through RSOs in order to get things done. Assistant Vice President for Student Life Bill Michel told a group of us in a meeting to go through SG instead of going to see him and other administrators. I almost laughed. “Student government! You can’t be serious. Why would I want to do that?” They never seemed to seek me out, and at least I had tried to reach out to students.

Nevertheless, I began to wonder: How could I use the system? As it turned out, others had the same question. During a conversation with a surprisingly random group of students, an idea was bounced around: Why not just run? Brilliant, I thought. If we have a problem with student government why not just become a part of it? When we put our heads together we decided to create SGProgress: a progressive caucus for Student Government. In the end, we assembled a group of students to run for 11 of the 12 possible College Council positions.

What I didn’t know at first was that this had never been done before. So now this begs the question: Why is it good to have a caucus? The simple answer is competition. Had the caucus not been formed there probably would have been only four students running for third-year rep. That does not do much for anyone; SG would have ended up completely self-selected. The second thing a caucus does is give the student body a clear platform to evaluate and decide what to vote on. If you like us, then it is most likely that you like our platform and will vote based on that. Ironically, I think it is actually more important for the people who don’t like us. In the past, people would have simply voted for their friends and for people with cool names. Now that we have arrived on the scene, more people are starting to care about our policies. So in a sense, if you don’t like us, you at least took the time to evaluate our ideas and not just our posters.

So now I find myself writing to all of you to say that we pay up to $50,000 a year, and we only get one vote, so let’s do something worthwhile with it. Don’t let some people you’ve never met and never heard of make important decisions that affect us every day. Take the time out of your day to take a close look at all of the candidates. The incumbents’ committee results are all on the SG website. Almost all of the candidates have Facebook pages. Soon people will be giving out candy and telling you about themselves, and it takes less than five minutes to vote. Find out what are they going to do and what they have done. Make SG what you want it to be.

Aaron Goggans is a second-year in the College.