Op-Ed, Opinion

OP-ED: Student Government: not by the people, not for the people

Op-Eds do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.

I heard both sides of representatives in the Constitutional Reform Committee decrying, “This isn’t democracy!” Throughout the constitutional reform process, there were those moments, including when graduate students were restricted from casting their votes or representatives were allowed the option to abstain from voting altogether or the executive board suggested casting a re-vote or some members encouraged allowing both proposals to go through.

In response to all of these options, members from opposing ideologies within the CRC denounced whichever option they believed least befit their own gain in the name of “democracy.” This attitude made me wonder how people in the CRC defined democracy — whether it’s a static and universal conceptualization or whether it may be left up to one’s own interpretation and devices based on the situation at hand.

Two main definitions consequently emerged in terms of what “democracy” should look like here at BU. While Students Against Silence championed a directly representational system in which one person received one vote and students could voice their own opinions during town hall sessions and pass proposals through the lower house, many others criticized this idea as numerically unrealistic and instead proposed a democracy where the upper house would hold proportional power over decisions to be reviewed and the Senate would oversee proposals similarly as to now. All, however, agreed at the first CRC meeting that the current system was unfair and undemocratic.

Despite these oppositional inventions of democracy, the term was thrown back and forth as if it pertained to a singular authority that everyone knew and accepted. In actuality, “democracy” kept being used as a tool to assert one’s own aims, as if “democracy” warranted a revote, or it was “democracy” that allowed an abstention. In truth, there was nothing democratic about the CRC at all. Most of the people involved came from the Senate because that’s where the message was made most available to, and none of us represented freely elected members. The only democratic part about the CRC was its inherent and intended obstruction and corruption.

It seems to me that American exceptionalism, which transcends democratic idealism, is mostly a tool used to accomplish one’s own political aims. When we look at the failure of democratic elections in areas of the Middle East, such as Iraq, after the vacuum of power following America’s usurpation of power and the Islamic State’s rise to power through democratic avenues, we can see how democracy is not immune from injustice. One could argue that the “failure” of democracy in Iraq was due to Western imposition of sectarian politics, but democracy has failed us here in the United States as well. When in 2013 a “government shutdown” defunded all government services, excluding essential or fee-based agencies, Congress was unable to reach a consensus regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for more than two weeks. It was Congress that shirked its democratic responsibility to govern not by crisis but “by the people” and “for the people.”

I heard time and time again within the CRC that if we were trying to gain efficiency, then we should implement a system of dictatorship — that is not what I am rallying behind here. Rather, that the system as it sits now does not work.

If the system that we currently have in place worked, conversations about race and representation on campus would not be characterized as “lively” in a forum with other students. If the system that we currently have in place worked, two women of color who were elected by a majority vote of students and competently completing their jobs as executive board members last semester would not have been impeached. If the system that we currently have in place worked, students and faculty would actually express interest and know that Student Government exists.

We kept declaring, “Democracy starts here! Right here!” Well, I believe it did. Gerrymandering, elicitation, duplication, etc. were all implicit to the CRC process as they are in the American democratic system. Even more disillusioned and disenfranchised by our student government as a whole, I feel that the CRC failed our student body. Now, the only tangible option that prevails is to work through the Senate, where all of this trouble began — it feels like two steps backwards. But we cannot allow our voices to be extinguished all together.

It is hard to argue that a democratic conclusion to the CRC was not reached when no one member of the CRC abstained and a revote was even cast with comparable results. So it is not the people from whom I dissent, but the “democratic” process by which this decision was reached. In the end, I do believe that the results were reached democratically, but whether that version of democracy was really representational of the student body is up for debate.

Perrin Krisko, danvers1@bu.edu

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