Volume XXXV, Issue 3, April 19, 2013
There’s a comforting ebb and flow to AAS presidential elections. The posters go up, the posters come down. We read angry articles, we forget angry articles. Tempers flare and recede; for a moment, the student body cares about the AAS and what happens there. The beautiful, proto-democratic question rises from each pair of lips: “Who are you voting for?” Come Thursday, then maybe Tuesday, the student body casts its votes and a president is chosen. Every year. Democracy. Fuck yeah.
But all is not sunshine in this Pioneer Valley mini-democracy. A storm of Amherst Student articles reminds us that George Tepe is in Chi Psi and that Will Savino is in Gad’s—the shadowy influence of Super-PACs! Soon, the pundits roll in: Dan Adler’s endorsement of Will Savino asks you to vote for “one of us,” and presumably, not one of “them.” (The “career politicians,” that is.) Chris Friend, a senator, praises Mr. Tepe for handling the “self-important people” of the AAS. Tania Dias warns you to fight against the nefarious practitioners of “AAS-insider thinking.” The repugnancy of the AAS is the one thing that every candidate seems to agree upon.
I don’t want to talk about whether this opinion is “true” or not. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is creating an AAS that feels effective, approachable, and connected to its students. (I am an AAS senator, and I want this too.) Mr. Savino and Mr. Tepe claimed that electing them would help to fix the system. The presidential candidates claim this every year. But if Ms. Dias’s end-of-term exasperation is any guide, they have not yet been successful. In the spirit of democratic optimism, we vote them in anyway. The revolution lives on, heedless of historical precedent.
The question I want to ask cuts beneath the presidential election. We asked our presidential candidates to fix the AAS, but we ourselves do not know what is broken. We know that we are un- happy with the current system, but we do not say what contentment would look like. Every year—every, every year—we charge our president with the housecleaning we really ought to do ourselves. We should identify what— specifically—is wrong and seek to fix it. Yet we never do. We elect senators (like me) who do their best, but not enough, so that next year (like now), we can voice our discontent and elect someone new (like Mr. Tepe). It’s so elegantly cyclical, only an Amherst student could have come up with it.
To some extent, we elect our representatives to answer these questions for us. Amherst students are busy people; we don’t have time to ponder the inefficiencies of the student government. Representation is a hallmark of the democratic system, and I don’t mean to indict it here. But when the system cannot fix itself, when each year results in the same old patterns, then perhaps we need to do more than pull an electronic lever in the elec- tronic voting booth. Perhaps it is time for Amherst students to ask each other, themselves, their representatives, the administration, the damnable question: What can I do to make the AAS into what I want it to be?
I want to offer several suggestions for how you, the voter, can begin to break the cycle.
The first, and most important, is to think about what you want Amherst to look like. Identify problems, consider solutions, and then strategize how to implement them. Don’t leave the troubleshooting to your elected representatives. We’re not nearly telepathic enough to know what both- ers you. We rely on Twitter for that. Please, keep your eyes open to the Amherst you want to see.
Second, tell your representative what specifically you want him or her to fix. Once you’ve identified a problem and speculated about a solution, we would love to help you make it happen. It makes us feel valuable. It assures us that we are more than “career politicians” bobbing around the Red Room every Monday disgorging our own hot air. If I wanted to hear myself bloviate for two hours every week, I’d have stayed in my dorm room and shouted at the Microsoft Word paperclip.
Third, hold your Senators and E-Board account- able. Send them an email when they support a motion that you do not like. Leave a post-it note on my door calling me a nincompoop when I draft poll language that you think is stupid. I promise we’ll engage you. And if we don’t, that’s when you vote us the hell out of office. Ultimately, democracy only works when representatives are held responsible to their constituency—so run for Senate! There are too few candidates for too many races. This dearth of candidates can indicate satisfaction with one’s representatives or apathy about the AAS—but not both. Vote us out. Vote us in. Make democracy happen.
This is not a comprehensive list, because I do not know how to fix the AAS.If I did, you can bet your grandma’s cookies I would have fixed it by now. I cannot fix the AAS any more than George Tepe can. To be frank, “you” (the singular reader) cannot fix the AAS either. But if “you” (the reading audience) ask yourselves what you can do to make the AAS into a competent, well-functioning organization, then I promise we can make those changes happen. It’s not a sexy solution in that it does not come coupled with a cool graphic, like a purple circle with white lettering (and a grinning Will Savino). Fixing the AAS requires way more collective effort than electing a new president or penning a witty Indicator article. It requires us to think about what we can do to make this college into what we want it to be,rather than delegating our Senators to think about it for us.
The cycle lies in wait; the Class of 2015 would be happy to elect a President who will “fix the system.” Next week, when Amherst students return to their final exams, and the seniors resume post-Thesis binge drinking, the AAS will hobble on, “broken” as always, moribund under Mr. Tepe just as under Ms. Dias or Mr. Borsellino. If we want to fix the AAS, then we have to do it. We cannot expect the president to fix it for us.