Our Broken Senate(s), Part III: Why We Need the Union

Another post from the summer I never got around to publishing. Part I is here. Part II is here.

One more thing about the Union – I think some criticism of the Union is misplaced for a different reason. I find people, even/especially people on the left, hating the Union so much that they advocate tearing it down, dissolving it, or weakening it. During the Budget Fight of 08-09, we frequently advocated for the administration to deal directly with students and bypass the Student Union.

I now think that was mostly a mistake. The Union has many flaws. Many, many flaws. At the end, it’s made up of people – and you need good people doing good works for the Union to be a success. Warts and all, however, the Union is our chosen way of projecting power as students. Dismantling or bypassing the Union gives students less power, not more. The Union is the way that generations of students before us have pressed their demands, gotten the stature to speak up for students to the administration and Board of Trustees, and gotten shit done. It’s kind of like the government. If you disagree with the government, you deal with that through taking it over or lobbying. You don’t try to dismantle it.

During my time on the Constitutional Review Committee, I heard a lot of negativity about the Union – for good reason. What I couldn’t stand, however, was the following line of argument: “Barely 30% of students bother to vote, even for Presidential elections. That’s a signal that the Union doesn’t matter that much – and it should bow to the will of the people, give up power, and not advocate for students”

I disagree with that analysis. People aren’t seeing an effective Union that stands up for them or matters in their daily lives – that’s why there’s low turnout. The last Presidential election had over 50% turnout – people care when they believe in the Union and its possibilities. The Union needs to deal with its low turnout problem by being relevant and bold, an inspiring figure for students – not by crouching defensively and not doing much of anything.