Zach Pilchen ’09 has come a long way in his first five semesters at the College.
p. He joined the Student Assembly senate April of his freshman year. After just one year in the senate, he had attracted enough positive attention to run for — and overwhelmingly win — the SA presidency. His accomplishments during his first semester as president have included unprecedented achievements in student rights. But Pilchen has three semesters left and his most important work is still to come.
p. Upon his election to the SA senate in 2006, Pilchen quickly took an interest in student voting rights. When the senate attempted to win back the student franchise by passing legislation, Pilchen alone resisted, suggesting that they “pursue other routes.” He was ignored — the senate wrote a bill meekly requesting voting rights and, of course, nothing changed.
p. After that, Pilchen began seeking progress for students more aggressively, began his day-in, day-out fight on our behalf that has not slowed in over a year.
p. When Starbucks threatened to replace the College Delly, Pilchen listened to student outrage and responded. He started a Facebook group, “Not Another Motherfucking Starbucks!” where he held discussions with students, posted daily updates and recruited hundreds of student signatures on his petition to retain the College Delly, which he used to motivate the senate into action.
p. That fall, he also introduced legislation on behalf of the College’s often marginalized GLBT community. He penned a fiery, meticulously researched and damn well-written guest column in The Flat Hat in support of the bill, which passed.
p. But Pilchen’s most important task still lies ahead.
p. The crimes of the city of Williamsburg against students are well documented. We have been disenfranchised, gerrymandered and talked down to like second-class citizens.
p. Things have improved since Pilchen’s election as president. The city of Williamsburg recently appointed a new voter registrar who allows students to register to vote. In reaction, the city council, who did not appoint the registrar, voted to request a definition from the state on a specific term in Williamsburg voting law. This would have almost certainly ended the recently regained student right to vote.
p. Miraculously, Pilchen persuaded the city council to change its mind. For years now, student leaders have tried and failed to persuade the city council to pay attention to student rights. And yet, on the eve of what appeared to be the end of our short-lived voting rights, Pilchen stood up and made a speech to the five stern, suspicious faces of the city council. By the time he had sat down, they were convinced. On the spot, they unanimously overturned their request to the state.
p. Though a tremendous achievement for student rights, this is only a short-term solution. The city council still refuses to acknowledge student voting rights and the issue will certainly come up again. Noise violation penalties are still wildly high. Off-campus housing is still restricted, ridiculously, to three unrelated people. We are still second-class citizens.
p. As I have said before, and will say again, the only way to truly solve these problems is by electing students to the city council. We have the votes — when David Sievers ’07 ran in spring 2006 he lost by only 156 votes, and over 600 students have since registered. May 6, 2008, three of the five seats go up for election.
p. All we need now is a candidate. Who better than Pilchen? He has proven he can lead. He has proven he can rally students. Most difficult of all, he has proven he can work positively with members of the city government to effect real progress and change. Any one of those qualities is exceedingly rare. Only Pilchen possesses all three.
p. When I asked Pilchen whether he would consider running for city council, he was hesitant and skeptical. He voiced concern that all his hard work on registering students to vote might appear, falsely, as stemming from self-interest (his word was “sketchy”) if he ran. He also said he believes he “can probably serve students better anyway as SA president than I would sifting through Williamsburg pool chemical regulations.”
p. While it’s true that Pilchen could make significant contributions to the College with another year as president, the most dire and challenging needs of the student body can be truly solved only from the seat of the city council. Besides, surely a like-minded student could take Pilchen’s place in the SA.
p. Sometimes an elected leader has to do something very difficult, something contentious and audacious, not because he wants to but because his electorate needs him to do it, demands it of him. This is one of those times. Pilchen has never flinched in working for students before. I hope — we all hope — that he will not start now.
p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__