Voting goes beyond SA
March 30, 2007
By the time this column arrives in your hands, perhaps the mishap postponing yesterday’s election results will be corrected, and barring a catastrophic student uprising — which, viewed in a certain light, strikes me as oddly exciting — the wheels of democracy will have continued to turn. But to what end?
p. In a body whose name most often appears alongside the descriptors “out of touch” and “homogeneous,” it came as no surprise that both presidential campaigns championed the return of responsiveness and diversity to the Student Assembly. Now, the question emerges: will the winners make good on their promises?
p. The responsibility for affecting these changes, however, was (and will be) left largely on the shoulders of the student body. To this end, referenda (which you may have noticed are becoming more popular) are terrific for shifting accountability to the voters and away from their elected leaders. After all, if referendum policy goes awry, those in office aren’t the ones taking the heat because, hey, we were the ones who decided on it.
p. Referenda often determine nothing at all, as in this year’s question asking us if two women were adequate representation in the senate for a student population which is 55 percent female. I’m sure it will prove stiff competition for last year’s “Should the SA do more to increase opportunities for student nightlife?” in the battle to uncover the blatantly obvious. Perhaps next time around, we will be asked if we’d like to cancel Christmas.
p. But despite its irrelevant results, in terms of student responsibility, the referendum was successful in highlighting our opportunity to elect up to nine women to the senate. Certainly, the winning presidential ticket now has the chance to make its cabinet the quintessential example of diversity, but if we failed to elect these women, then we are at least partly to blame when we start complaining once again about our homogeneous student government.
p. More important even than diversity, however, were the promises to become more responsive to student needs. And, with more than 400 students bumped from the housing lottery this year, it appears advancing student concerns in the city will be paramount among these demands. If the winning camp wishes to have any hope of making good on their pledges to deal with the city, they’re going to need student backing — and a lot of it.
p. We’re all aware that students comprise about half the city’s population, but it’s disappointing to admit we’re only a tiny fraction of the registered voters. The problem, then, is that even if city officials are fond of us and want to work with the SA, there’s no reason to do so until we can vote; it would be political suicide. Just ask Billy Scruggs, the only true student advocate on city council. He wasn’t re-elected in 2006.
p. At present, the powerful actors in Williamsburg city politics are the concerned voters the ones who show up to council meetings in vehement protest of policy. These are the people who will not stand idly by as the new administration tackles the three-person rule. And why shouldn’t the city listen to these folks over our student government? Put simply, our legitimacy in the Williamsburg political arena rests not on our new president or vice president, senators or executive branch, but on the student body itself and its willingness to vote.
p. But to reach the point where voting is possible, we must look to the SA. If the new administration truly has responsiveness to student issues in mind, so that everyone may voice his opinion in the city with the backing of his vote, campus-wide voter registration must be the administration’s foremost responsibility. Even now, steps in that direction have been taken by both the senate and the executive, but to the president and vice president, whoever you may be, we’re expecting big things, and with our help, this is one promise you cannot afford to break.
__Andrew Peters, a sophomore at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear on Fridays.__