By Stephen Tagert
As Americans, we love politics. David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote an article that described politics as the space in which individuals can make the greatest difference. He states, “You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty.” In fact, all of the Academy Award frontrunners this year—Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty—show how politics can make a real difference in instituting justice and putting into practices political policies that the people desire.
However, we have become disenchanted with politics, and this disenchantment goes so far as to affect the workings of our own Student Government Association.
As the President of the Senior Class, this year I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of SGA. I have heard many students say that SGA is a pointless organization that does nothing useful, and I have seen some that were very grateful for how we handled situations. Regardless of your opinion, I want to present to you a problem with voting in SGA elections. This problem comes from the apathy that the students have about the organization whose mission statement is “we are students serving students.”
The problem is the role of block voting in elections. SGA elections feel more like a popularity contest where candidates tally the most votes by getting a block of fraternities, sororities, religious groups, political groups, major, etc. to vote for them rather than selling policy ideas or emphasizing how they will help the school.
This is exactly how I got elected last year. I approached my friends and asked them to convince every senior that they knew to log on to OrgSync and vote even if they knew nothing about who I was or what I wanted to do. I don’t think this is how politics should work on campus or in any level of government.
Some of you reading this are apathetic about SGA, thinking that it can never do anything useful for the campus. I can tell you that we already have and want to continue to change the campus for the better. To all of you who are enjoying alcohol in North Village, using the charger stations in the library, and riding in the SGA Shuttle (the “drunk bus”) every weekend, these are products of SGA. We want to continue to serve you and help create the best possible environment for our mutual success. For us to continue doing this you need to choose the best candidates for the positions in the upcoming SGA executive and class officer elections instead of just voting for your friends and turning this into a popularity contest.
Last year, only about 19% of the student body voted in executive council elections, and about 10% per class voted in class elections. Most of these votes came from friends of the individuals running rather than unbiased voters who want to help institute policy.
You need to be informed. Don’t make this easy for your potential SGA officials. Read what they post on Facebook, take five minutes to email them your questions, and pick those who will make this school the best it can possibly be. We can’t create a campus that is best for students if we determine our leaders through popularity contests.
To students running for office, don’t just emphasize that you love Furman and want to do what is best. Go out and actually show what you have done and what you will do to make this school better. Intentions are meaningless if you can’t produce results. Don’t rely on connections to carry you into power. You will not do the best that you can as an elected officer if you passively allow yourself to be elected, instead of putting in the hard intellectual work of making arguments and proposing solutions. We have the institutions available to help students, allow voices to be heard, and fix problems. However, these structures require effort and commitment to achieve the best possible results.
Politics can be a wonderful thing. It gives us the ability to make major changes that help a multitude of people. But when used ineffectively, politics become similar to how Shakespeare’s Macbeth describes his failed political life, something “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”