February 12, 2009

Sitting Around Taking A Stand

I had begun to feel that this year’s student government was a fluff fest. We weren’t dealing with any important issues. We were passing resolutions and bills with no discussion and unanimous votes, when we even had anything to vote on at all. Turns out, as usually, they were saving all the fun stuff, for second semester.

For the past two weeks we’ve had debates that simultaneously make me encouraged and despairing. If I were a dog, my ears would be perked and flattened at the same time. I enjoy a rousing debate, perhaps too much. I sometimes wonder if it’s rather un-Buddhist of me to like to argue, a strange flaw in my otherwise mellow personality. Then someone comes up to me after senate and tells me how much they appreciated my voice and how important it is to them that I am there to debate the issue. I am always surprised. For some reason I still never expect anyone to agree with me, even after all the debates in which I’ve joined other like-minded students to argue for or against issues.

I’m encouraged to know that I’m making a difference, but also discouraged to see how many people suffer from wrong views. Oh, I try to tell myself that they just have different opinions which may be well justified and founded in different, but perfectly valid, belief systems. I tell myself we all want the same things, we just disagree on how to achieve them and that this disagreement is healthy and even necessary. But let’s face it – most of the time I just think they are plain wrong. And I despair to see how wrongheaded they are and to think that others will suffer from their small mindedness. Maybe that’s small minded of me, but it’s the truth.

So I show up, and I pay attention, use to good effect my auditory memory, and I argue. I’ve learned a thing or two in the process and I’ve gotten better at it. I write down my points now as they come up, so as to be more coherent when my turn to speak comes around. I use my two allowed speaking rounds wisely, avoiding reactionary jumping on any single person or topic. I suppose I’m something of a passive-aggressive debater. I lay in wait, lurking. I excel at the rebuttal. I’ve learned (the hard way) to avoid over the top metaphors and rhetoric (most of the time) so that no one has anything to pick apart that could distract us from the topic at hand. I’m never afraid of a controversial issue and I never weigh the likelihood of my success against the worthiness of the cause, though perhaps that is not always wise.

Of course, I’m not fearless. But I’ve noticed, I’m not the only one whose hand shakes when reaching for her placard (setting it up on end indicates a desire to speak and laying it down indicates when your turn has come around). I’ve learned to keep an eye on the faces around me and read their expressions for agreement or disagreement, approval or dismissal, confusion or boredom.

It may seem like student government couldn’t possibly debate serious issues. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we go on about the merits of trays or no trays in the dining halls until I want to scream. Then we move on to a rousing debate about birth control or election day registration, and I perk right up, ready to take up my sword and shield and do glorious battle. And to those who claim these issues are too divisive for student government to take a stand on, I say nay! We didn’t get elected to sit on our butts and not take a stand, even if the vote passes or fails by a margin of one. (Of course, I didn’t get elected at all, I got appointed. And we still sit on our butts because, let’s face it, this is America, not Britain where apparently they like to stand up and shout at each other. We stay calmly seated and pretend to be polite, instead.) That’s how democracy works, or fails, for that matter. We’re not there to represent every student. We’re there to represent the majority of students. And if they don’t like it, they can vote us out.

So, after a flurry of government bills, directing our government liaison committee to lobby for or against either federal or state legislation, we get to move on to fee setting season and argue over money instead.

I’m not sure if I should be sharpening my sword or using it to pry open my mind.

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