Michigan Student Assembly elections are less than a week away, and you know what that means. Oh, right. You don’t care.
This may be obvious, but bear with me for a moment. You really ought to vote. A paltry 2,100 students cast their ballot in last semester’s unnoticed elections. Even with my history-major math skills, I was able to use my cell phone to calculate that over 94 percent of University students didn’t vote. That awful turnout occurred amidst a scandal that would eventually lead to then-MSA President Zack Yost resigning.
Despite the basically uncontested elections, your voice still means something. With a mandate of 40,000 students, MSA would have some clout with the administration, and those things that you want – pep rallies, concerts and longer breaks – would be more likely to happen.
Originally, I was going to use this space to guilt you into voting. Don’t get me wrong, you need to vote, but the real problem is much deeper. The real problem is MSA’s party system.
I covered MSA as a Daily staff reporter for two years. Every semester, I’ve seen the same things promised: cheaper textbooks, off-campus Entrée Plus, a more transparent assembly and a football National Championship. OK, it doesn’t promise a national championship. Regardless, these changes won’t happen as long as the current system is in place. Instead, representatives toe the party line and follow orders until it’s their turn to be on the executive board.
Think about the scandals last semester. A representative pled guilty to a felony charge that took place during an MSA election. This wasn’t just a normal “we all make mistakes” misdemeanor. And where was the outcry? Not a single person in MSA stood up against this. When Yost resigned last December, several representatives spoke about how sad they were that “it came to this.” Came to what? Regardless of Yost’s talent and drive as president, he – foolishly – mocked someone’s disability. A comment like that could take down a state governor, yet people felt that it was blown out of proportion.
I know there was dissent on the assembly. I heard it. But I’m sorry to say that most of these people were outside of MSA’s core. They were independents, Defend Affirmative Action Party members or representatives on their way out. The issue wasn’t that everyone agreed with what Yost did, it’s that so few people would publicly speak their mind. You keep your mouth shut if you want to advance.
The biggest lie MSA tells is that there isn’t an insular MSA culture. Ask MSA Rep. Tim Hull what happens when you speak up – especially if you’re an independent. You get threatening e-mails and people mock you publicly and privately. I saw him get personally called out at a public meeting for writing a disapproving letter to the Daily. I was forwarded a few of the nasty e-mails. That sucks.
Yet, the monolithic umbrella party, the Michigan Action Party, is virtually indestructible. These umbrella parties are made to win elections, which makes them difficult to take on. Two years ago, an upstart party, the Michigan Progressive Party seemed to pose a real threat to the dominant umbrella party. Voter turnout was the highest it’s been in years, with roughly 10,000 students taking part. Yet, MPP failed to win much, aside from a representative here and there. Its label as the liberal party gave it an ideological face, which MAP’s predecessor Students 4 Michigan trumped with its bland “we won’t rock the boat” mentality.
Look, MSA does a lot of good sometimes. Things like pep rallies and last semester’s march on Lansing are really good things. But MSA could do better and needs to. Voter turnout should be a major priority. But it isn’t.
Instead of just talking about the problems we have, I’m going to propose a solution. The only thing that can be done, rests on you, the apathetic Michigan masses: Start your own party. New parties have never quite been successful, but maybe you can turn it all around.
MPP founder Walter Nowinski (who joined the Daily after giving up on student government) said you can’t buy into the MSA model of joining committees or commissions because no one actually cares about MSA experience.
“The whole thing is predicated on being an outsider,” he said.
After my time covering MSA, here are a few steps to get you going.
1. Come up with a clever name.
2. Try not to have a polarizing ideology (i.e. “liberal” or “conservative”), but make sure your party stands for something.
3. Pander to MSA’s three major voting blocs: freshmen, Greeks and Jews.
4. Come to MSA meetings and start trouble during community concerns. Leave immediately after.
5. Do a lot of stuff like holding events or meetings and get the Daily to cover them. We’re always looking for things to cover, and if you’re relevant (and sometimes if you’re not), we will cover you.
6. Point out the ineffectiveness of the past decade of MSA.
7. Run a clean election. (But not too clean.)
8. Win. Change the system. Rule nobly.
– David Mekelburg was a Daily fall/winter associate news editor in 2007. He can be reached at email@example.com.