Red Tide, Vol. 2, No. 6 [Issue #10]
Challenging ASB Elections
[By Michael Letwin]
Nobody at University High School has ever run in the student body elections before, without the intention of winning or with the intention of using the occasion to carry on education.
Well, the precedent was set in May of this year when a group of students called the United Students for Democratic Education ran 11 people for various student body offices on a platform which included, among other things: Full democratic rights in the schools, joint control with teachers of the schools, an end to racism and sexism in the schools, and various other educational demands intended to get the students thinking about real issues, instead of who has a nice face or a pretty sounding name.
Hassled From the Start
But the slate was in trouble with the administration and its “Student Government” lackeys from the very start. The first thing that happened was that the teacher sponsor of the elections, backed by the Boys vice principal, attempted to deny room on the ballot to many of the USDE members[,] on the pretext that they had not returned their applications on time.
In reality, all USDE applications were in on time, but the advisor, using the “Student Government” commissioner of elections as a figurehead, did not want the USDE to be able to carry on a decent campaign, which was challenging the whole basis of student body elections, the impotency of “Student Government,” and which was attempting to deal with real issues.
So from the very beginning, the USDE was doomed to either drop the elections or to run over half of its members as write-ins. It chose the latter, but resolved itself to fight the issue.
However, even after the matter of late applications was discarded, new and more exciting obstacles stood in the way of the slate. This time it was that many members of the slate were not “qualified” to run for office. USDE thought that it was kind of strange that “Student Government” and the administration were deciding for students who is and who is not “qualified.”
So it was explained that in order to run for a “high ranking” office, one must have served in the “Student Government. Since “Student Government” neither has any power, nor does it serve any useful function except to fool the students into thinking that they have real power, it just didn’t make sense that you had to be in that, but rather that students should decide who is qualified to represent them, and that this can be decided by a simple majority vote of the students. Alas, everyone knows that students have no way of knowing whom they should vote for!
So USDE found out that in order to get on the ballot, you must obtain “equivalent service” from the “Student Senate.” Eventually, several members were granted this by the “Senate,” and several were not. Aside from the fact that the “Senate” should not have the right to determine for students who is “qualified” and who is not, the “Senate” made the most ludicrous kind of decisions.
For example, Karen Pomer, USDE member attempting to run for Girls League President, was denied permission to run on the ballot, even though she had been voted this right by the Girls League Cabinet, and that she had done more for women at Uni than anyone in Girls League by organizing this year’s Women’s Week. Soon after, the “General Assembly” of the “Student Government” voted not to give “equivalent service” at all because they didn’t like the “wording” of the proposal.
On the 22nd, 23rd and 24th, the USDE campaigned, putting its emphasis on discussing their platform with students and discussing how “Student Government” did not really mean anything.
It was in this way that the slate differed from any other candidate. While everyone else was campaigning on the grounds that they were funnier than anyone else, or that they would do the best things in “Student Government,” the USDE was explaining that no matter how good one’s intentions are, no significant change can be made through an organization that has no power, which is controlled by the administration and which forces the members in it into the role of being junior cops or administrators.
This is something that[,] apparently, many people at Uni understood, for out of 3200 students, only 700 (tops) voted. People figured why waste their time when it doesn’t mean anything? They were right.
The day of the elections came on the 24th, and the USDE slate won one office, that of Girls League Vice President (Gail Mautner), who was a write-in. Two others were in the runoffs for ASB President and Senate President. On Friday, both of the USDE candidates for these offices lost, both by a margin of about 100.
Not surprisingly, these figures were hard to find out, for the administration is not making it known who received how many votes, for which there is not any logical explanation except that it did not want the write-ins or other members of the USDE slate to be able to gauge their support.
This was important for USDE to know, for the point of running was to see how many people would vote for its platform, which was hard enough as many were write-ins. In fact, since the ballots are not public information, there is no way of knowing who really won.
In fact, one USDE candidate said that he heard the commissioner of elections talking with one member of the administration how they were going to keep the USDE write-ins from taking office if elected. The administrator said: “Are any of those dingbats winning?” She replied, “Yes, two of them are and one of them won.” He said, “We’ll have to stop them somehow.”
Lessons To Be Learned
What are the lessons to be learned from the first campaign of its kind at Uni Hi? Well, it is apparent that students are not willing to waste their time in meaningless elections in which their choice will be of no consequence.
It is also apparent that the administration — using “Student Government” as its figurehead — will do what it can to insure the defeat of candidates who challenge the basic school structure (it is rumored that Gail Mautner will not be allowed to take office, though she won by popular vote). And it is also clear that the job of true education through any means possible, including student body elections, is still at a very low point.
It also must be understood by students at all schools that we cannot look to “Student Government” or to elections as the answer to our demands and problems, but we must rather organize independently to force concessions out of the power structure, for this is the only method of securing real power.
[Historical Note: The Red Tide was a revolutionary high school underground newspaper and youth organization that existed from 1971-1981. See: http://theredtide.wordpress.com/]