Capitalizing on subtle yet significant demographic trends at the University, the Students First party had a stunning showing in last week’s Michigan Student Assembly and LSA Student Government elections. Securing 16 of the 20 open seats in the MSA balloting and seven of nine in LSA-SG the party delivered a walloping blow to the last vestiges of Blue Party prestige.
In its rapid rise to assembly dominance, the party has transformed itself from a feisty challenger to the Blue Party to the undisputed champion of University politics. Their strategy is sure to serve as a model to disaffected campus leaders across the nation. Pundits have already claimed that this Students First victory will represent a watershed moment in the storied history of University student governance. The Students First message rang out like a clarion call even beyond the hallowed walls of the University. The party’s inclusive message is seen by some strategists as a model for brokering peace in the Middle East. A consensus has emerged among experts on the Arab-Israeli conflict that any organization which can successfully unite Eric Reichenberger and Brad Sugar on the same ticket can surely reconcile the differences between Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat. But, Students First is still committed to focusing on the domestic agenda in the approaching months.
In a power luncheon with anonymous political analysts, the strategists argued that the key to Students First’s success was the emergence of a post-industrial worldview, the continual evolution of the Ann Arbor ideopolis and, most importantly, an appealing interior decorating scheme. “I just really like orange,” said an unidentified LSA sophomore. However, continued success of the party is not a given. An RC freshman, who wished to remain anonymous, found it difficult to identify with the color coordination. “Orange doesn’t speak to my generation,” he argued. Rapid changes in color preference among younger students could prove to limit the party’s appeal in future elections and may leave the door open for a grassroots movement to challenge Students First hegemony in the near future. The party however remains unperturbed by the possibility of future discontent.
To the victors go the spoils. And with their victory, Students First executives are certain to usher in a stunning new era of um … um … something or other.
Something is rotten in the state of student government. From blatant ethnic politicking (see: Blue Party flyers “He’s Jewish, She’s Italian,”) to vague and vapid pseudo-agendas campaigns are dominated by idiocy. I agree with the sentiments of the best GSI at the University, who bluntly advised his students at the end of the summer, “Stay the fuck out of MSA.” He was right and this election showed that he is going to be right for a long time. My vain attempt to make some sense out of the Students First triumph speaks to the gaping void at the center of the University’s excuse for student government. All of the effort and energy put into late nights spent plotting at the Fishbowl and early mornings chalking campus build up to nothing more than a fragile whimper.
The one solution – and it’s a drastic one – that could serve to improve the situation would be the immediate elimination of political parties. Although political parties are the constant subject of criticism for their cynical centrism, they usually serve as an effective way for voters to filter political information and make their judgment. In the case of student government, these advantages are less apparent.
At this point, blame should not be placed on individual parties, but on the entire party structure. Parties serve to reinforce and institutionalize the most irritating and unproductive aspects of student government. Each party is its unique subculture with its weird and slightly disconcerting rituals. Forcing candidates to run as independents will obligate them to advance their messages. No one will be able to rely on a coattail effect to gain a seat in one of the assemblies. Candidates will have to shape their own agendas and depend on their own skills to win election. There are serious drawbacks to this approach, but the obsequious clubbiness and corruption that has made these parties more problematic than productive.
The successes that have occurred in MSA and LSA-SG have been the result of individuals showing initiative and not the work of political coalitions. The most useful developments, like Fall Break, have occurred from hobnobbing with administrators and not through resolutions.
Student government needs to work to make itself relevant. This is an imposing task that will require a synthesis of ideas and dedication from a wide swath of government-oriented students. Abolishing parties is the first small step toward fruitful reform.
Zac Peskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.