General Meetings

by uwchevron

The Editorial Collective

The Feds General Meeting on Monday was an exhilarating experience for the Chevron editors in attendance. Despite its significant length (five hours!), it was well worth the time to see students passionate about issues having a chance to debate them in their own student union, with a real opportunity to make change, even despite barriers (see the article in our previous issue, Feds Shuts Down Debate) which were put up by the Federation’s Board of Directors. What disappoints us, however, is that much of the discussion of the meeting ignores the issues entirely and seems to focus on the meeting itself, notably Alexander Wray’s (1B Planning) community editorial in the Imprint. Wray used very strong language in condemning the GM entirely, calling it a “travesty” and a “sham”.

In the opinion piece, Wray argued that verified majority votes at the GM constituted a “hijacking” of the meeting by “radicals and alternative thinkers”. Wray also made the very serious claim that proxies held by individuals voting were being “completely misrepresented”. The only claim Wray made that the Chevron editors can agree with, in fact, is that “[d]emocracy is broken at the University of Waterloo, and … the ideals of our federation are lost to the voices of a few.”

The larger implications of this statement are significant. For students, the university itself is an only vaguely democratic institution if at all, relying on a small number of student union executives and student senators to represent what students need and want. Something makes us doubt that these are the “voices of the few” which Wray referred to, since he spoke aggressively for a bylaw amendment which would give even more power to the Federation of Students Board of Directors at the expense of student members, and even more aggressively against every other motion proposed by ordinary members.

Also revealing, Wray suggested that in place of this student-driven initiative, the Clubs Library, the Federation should instead place yet another commercial enterprise in the SLC – presumably the greasy, overpriced food already sold in the SLC is not enough. As well, this is not a relevant suggestion for the room chosen to be the future Clubs Library (SLC 2139), as it is located on the second floor of the building near study tables, bookable space, and the offices of the Off-Campus Community and Campus Response Team (CRT) and the main access point from the ground floor being a narrow set of stairs near the “Vendors’ Alley”. Assuming the location was large enough to sell coffee or food at all, it would be one of the few businesses on campus located above the ground floor of a building. By mentioning this, Wray shows that he is motivated by obstructionism rather than actually trying to find genuine ways to improve the SLC.

While criticism and critical debate is an important part of healthy democracy and something which is often lacking in our union (the Federation of Students), it is important to not let criticism discourage students from participating at all. Instead, this criticism can be a sign to active, issues-conscious students who want to act in the collective interests of the students here at UW that what they do matters and far from being discouraged or ashamed from participating in their own student union, they should be emboldened. If students can start to directly manage how SLC space is used, what else can we do together?

In the end, reactions like these expose where our strongest possibilities lie for direct control of our union – in general meetings and referenda, where the students can collectively accept or reject ideas rather than relying on an individual to do it on their behalf.

Think on!