Wow, the power of the press. I couldn’t believe the response I got from my last article, Democracy Now an Illusion at UWM. I spent a year and a half as a senator trying to get people to care and to become involved the way students did over that one story. Apparently, I was going about it all wrong.
They tell me this started a stir around campus. Students have taken time out of their days to think about the Student Association. Call me a dork, idealist or just sick, but I got a little tingle from all that. That’s right something touched me – not a politician or priest – but rather, people who were informed. People caring and feeling outraged by those that represent them.
I can’t let this movement cease. They say, “Power to the People,” and I hear that “Knowledge is Power.” It seems to only leave one choice: Feed the fire and empower the people. That’s like having your cake and eating it, too. So here
A popular proverb states, “All great movements start with the power of an idea and end with a battle to maintain that power.” Student rights are the ideas that student government is based upon. Unfortunately, a battle for power is all we have left. A single climb to power may be the greatest illustrator of this point.
All senators that are elected in April take office on June 1st of the same year. These dates are plainly outlined in the constitution of the Student Association. If, at anytime during the term, a seat in the Senate becomes vacant, a student may apply to fill that seat nine days after it has been opened. Nine days must pass from the time a senator resigns or is kicked out until a new one can be eligible to take the open seat. A pretty clear-cut unambiguous law, isn’t it?
Not when you are battling to keep power. On June 4, 2006, the first Senate meeting of the year was scheduled to take place. The Vice President called the first meeting. For informational purposes, during the first meeting, a Chair and Vice Chair of the Senate will be elected to run the Senate for the remainder of the year. This is the first meeting of the year and this meeting was held only four days after the new term had started. This should ensure that only Senators elected by the student body during the elections would be eligible to run.
UWM student (not holding any other position) Russ Rueden didn’t see it that way. He and President Prahl claimed that a Senator from the College of Letters and Science had resigned from his seat weeks ago, leaving the seat open for more than nine days. But how do you resign from a position you don’t even have yet? No one became a Senator until the first of June. The meeting took place on the fourth of June. Doesn’t that leave just four days that the seat could possibly be open?
Regardless, Mr. Rueden was elected as a Senator that day. He then went on to run for Speaker of the Senate. The ballot was set and elections were ready to be held normally. Then, out of the blue, came a request for the election to be held on ballots featuring the name of the voter for public record. After the election, everyone would see who voted for whom. Why is this a problem?
You have to look at what has yet to take place. Nobody in the Senate had yet been appointed to paid positions in the executive branch. There were numerous members of the Senate that had already been acting as, and carrying out, the duties of positions in the executive branch, but nobody in the Senate was up for approval. Why is that? Why would you not put people up for approval who were already working hard for you? It is called “strong-arming.” Until you have a paying job, you are putty in the hands of the President, who solely decides who gets a job.
So, when the vote for Speaker is no longer anonymous, there is a problem. An anonymous election is called for in Robert’s Rules of Order. Furthermore, Wisconsin open meeting laws also require an anonymous election for this type of position. Beyond the legal issues though, there is now a device to abuse power. If you are president and interested in having a certain person elected, you can see who listened to you and who didn’t. From that list, you can literally decide who gets a paid job and who doesn’t. If they voted for the person you wanted them to vote for, you are ok. That is an enormous power to hold – totally immoral on multiple levels – but extremely powerful. No surprise, Rueden conveniently ended up winning the election.
That completes the story of how the powers at be gained their positions. How powerful is the battle for power? Does that battle allow any time for the meaningful discussion of ideas or of representing the students here at UWM? You know how I feel. When the battle to hold power is more important than the battle to use that power for a positive good, we have a significant problem.
I heard a story the other day. It is a satiric view of democracy. It goes as follows: Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed sheep contesting the result. I like the story because it has a ring of truth. I accept my role as a sheep and I have picked a weapon to arm myself with. I’ll take a pen and the press. I hope that will empower the rest of the flock with knowledge. That way there can be a battle for the right ideas.