Show me a SSMU candidate who stands for nothing and I’ll give them my vote. Like most undergrads, my years at McGill have left me incredibly weary of student politics, as well as students in general, and worried about the future of Canadian society. I don’t know why we think student governments should facilitate or endorse pronouncements on Israel, abortion, or Canadian foreign policy. Whenever a student government allows any political statement to be made on its students’ behalf, it starts a new cycle of harmful, ineffective, and unrepresentative policies.
As usual, I can’t tell the difference between any of the current candidates for president. Each makes entirely vague or else constitutionally-required promises like “We’ll build community together” (Are we missing a community?), “We’ll increase accessibility” (What does this mean?), and “We’ll simultaneously stop global warming and lower tuition” (No really, it just takes better organization, apparently). What I do know, however, is that whoever gets elected has absolutely no right to endorse or allow official “political positions” to be made in my name.
There seems to be a mantra going around that as students, we must use student government to be “politically active and socially conscious,” thus taking collective stances on divisive and heated political topics. I think this fundamentally misrepresents the purpose and the capacities of our student leadership. My Canadian government should synthesize and represent collective preferences about foreign policy and human rights. My student government should synthesize and represent collective preferences about Frosh, club funding, and maybe snacks and napping on campus.
When we abuse structures like General Assemblies to make “communal political statements” condemning this, that, or the other, we undermine ourselves in two important ways. On the one hand, we waste important resources that could actually go toward improving student life, achieve nothing, and lose a whole lot of credibility. On the other, we polarize the student body and increase antagonism between groups on campus. For more information about the Choose Life and Israel debates, simply look to any old issue of The Daily or Tribune, or stab yourself in the toe.
As countless people have argued, the views voted on in General Assemblies and even referenda are hardly ever representative of the majority of the student body. Most students are too busy with say, class, on Wednesday afternoons to devote a day to touchy and public political debate.
It’s not as though there were an absence of non-SSMU channels for students to express themselves politically. McGill already has two student newspapers entirely devoted to publishing fringe political views that are, at best, irritating to the average student. We have clubs on campus that affiliate with specific political goals, from Conservative McGill to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. These are better outlets for our political opinions, because we can opt into them, and none claim to represent us without our unanimous consent.
Even positions and statements claiming to represent wholly shared or universally agreeable student interests tend to be dubious. Take the motion on “defending student’s right to body sovereignty” in this week’s vote. Now, to the extent that anyone’s bodily integrity is actually in danger, Canadian law will protect them. It’s not as though SSMU can save you where the Charter cannot. What it does mean, however, is that SSMU will probably employ this ambiguous motion as a justification to ban clubs like Choose Life, or otherwise pretend they have a new mandate for political action.
It’s time to ask how making political statements could possibly make us politically responsible. Let’s face it: a student government has absolutely no clout in the world of Realpolitik. I don’t know what students are thinking when they claim to be promoting peace by passing resolutions for or against Israel. Even if the statements were right, what would they achieve? Does no one see the absurdity in saying “Hey ‘Apartheid state,’ just so you know, the McGill Students’ Society doesn’t like you. You better do something about your policies?”
Student governments should stop wasting resources on issues that they have no influence over and which alienate the moderate majority. I want a government that raises money for student clubs and events, not posters and pretension. Without reform, SSMU has about as much political legitimacy as the current Afghan government. At least Hamid Karzai knows his own limits.
Riva Gold publishes her fringe views that are at best irritating to the average student, once a week in this space. Tell her of your ED issues: firstname.lastname@example.org.