Commentary  SSMU dropped the ball

Held once a semester, general assemblies (GAs) are an important opportunity for undergraduates to make proposals directly to the student body and to have their voices heard. Too often, however, those voices are stymied by a lack of participation and a failure to reach quorum. Student apathy might explain part of this phenomenon, but when SSMU fails to advertise a GA until the day before, it’s hard to blame the students for not knowing to go.

Yesterday’s GA lost quorum after four motions. It’s unfortunate that the fourth motion, regarding the installation of desks in bathroom stalls, was such a joke – but it’s no surprise, since the GA coordinator this year was hired two weeks ago and wasn’t involved in the process of soliciting motions. The low attendance also wasn’t a shocker, given the completely inadequate, last-minute advertising by the SSMU representatives responsible for the GA’s organization. VP Internal Alex Brown sent an email about the event on the SSMU listserv at 8:33 p.m. Tuesday night – that’s quite short notice if she was expecting to draw a larger crowd. And while the GA Facebook group may have been a useful way to get the word out, it wouldn’t exactly qualify as an all-out publicity blitz. Information about the GA wasn’t even available on SSMU’s web site until Tuesday – no motions, no listing on the events page, nothing. Not even a link to the GA’s official page. Where were the links, the posters covering campus, the SSMU members standing at the Y-intersection to actively promote the event, or the repeated emails providing students with information?
During last year’s elections, the SSMU executives-to-be promised to tackle student apathy by improving communication, information, and student access to representatives. President Ivan Neilson said that he would “take a more active role in information campaigns.” VP Clubs and Services Sarah Olle said she’d thought a lot about how to counter apathy and wanted to make SSMU’s importance clearer to students. VP External Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan said students needed to feel passionate about the issues, and that they would feel inspired if they were better informed.

The executives fell far short of those promises this week: their advertising for the assembly was anything but informative and inspiring. Listing the event on the SSMU and McGill web sites a day before the event, a last-minute listserv message – these are traditional, demonstrably unsuccessful ways of getting students’ attention.

The one innovation SSMU attempted – targeted advertising – was highly problematic. Sending a message out only to environment majors about green issues denies other students’ interests in the issue and seems to point to a desired outcome. SSMU should not be shaping the results of students’ direct democratic forum.

And as for Neilson’s comment that the executive was hoping to spread word through “friends telling friends” – let’s be serious. That’s nowhere near a legitimate publicity campaign.

But we shouldn’t just blame the SSMU executive – SSMU councillors should have shown greater initiative in promoting the event and participating in it. Of the 27 councillors, thirteen didn’t show up, five showed up late, and left early. Only one of the twelve absent councillors provided an excuse. Six stayed for the whole GA. What were our other representatives doing? Why were they not more involved in the promotion of this event? Why did they not even show up?
The last GA exceeded quorum – but only due to a debate on a motion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once that motion was indefinitely postponed, quorum quickly disappeared. Controversial motions or not, SSMU has a responsibility to promote this important decision-making event for more than two days, and SSMU councillors have a duty to leave at the least an adequate excuse for not attending. This lack of communication and follow-through is simply embarrassing.