by Marco Vasquez
In the past few months, Associated Students has seen major events like proposed constitutional changes, the transportation crisis, numerous resolutions, and financial issues. The two events that stand out the most are the divestment from the prison industrial complex and the issue of pulling out of mandated reserves. I had a unique perspective in these processes, as I identify myself as a Republican.
This council in particular loved to pass resolutions or divestments. Resolutions or divestments are essentially written political statements that are supposed to represent the views of students. One that comes to mind is the divestment from the prison industrial complex, where council made a strong statement that anything related to the prison system (laws by legislators, police officers, judges, etc.) was blatantly and purposefully racist. The wording of the divestment bill was divisive, the sources were unreliable, and the claims were outlandish. Someone presenting the divestment bill even said that Republicans created the “War on Drugs” to purposefully place minorities into prison. The same presenter also said he is fighting for economic equality. I expressed my concerns on the council floor. As a Senator, I refused to vote on something with language I disagreed with. Regardless, there was still overwhelming support for the divestment bill. It passed with myself being the only “no” vote.
Divestment from the prison industrial complex was only the tip of the iceberg. The biggest issue of this council was over pulling money out of mandated reserves to fund remaining student organization funding requests. The Vice President of Finance and Resources had informed us that we ran out of the money allocated to student organizations. The following week, the VP Finance requested $60,000 to be pulled from mandated reserves to fund student organization requests for the remainder of the academic year. Senator Austin Peters (a fellow Republican) and I attempted to create a coalition of people to vote “no.” This was done for a variety of reasons. Primarily, the current request combined with previous withdrawals during the council’s session would constitute an approximate 35% decrease in the mandated reserves. Not only that, but no plan was proposed or outlined to eventually replace the money. When college councils were offering a listening ear and offering to help fund the remaining student organization requests, these offers were ignored. After a long night full of shaming, multiple recess breaks, being told to leave the room if you disagree, and being called “fascists,” “oppressors,” “members of a white-dominated institution trying to actively oppress minorities” by members of council and the public, the money was successfully pulled from mandated reserves. To make matters worse, a few weeks later the threshold to pull from mandated reserves was lowered through a bylaw change. I learned very quickly that the “progressive” individuals at the front of the “yes” movement would try to win at any cost. Thankfully, some members of Council apologized or denounced the tactics used. Others even came up to me and shook my hand, thanking me for my contributions and unique perspective that opened their eyes. But some of the council members’ tactics solidified the stereotype of Associated Students as true.
Identifying myself as a Republican in an overwhelming “progressive” council is by no means easy. This is especially true when council members were very hostile to opposing beliefs. Regardless, I joined council in order to bring a different perspective. But as the conversation moved more towards one that actually represents students, I was saddened to see the true nature of some campus leaders come out. Some council members perpetuated a culture of intimidation, something that can be seen across this campus and other campuses across the nation. College is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not an institution that silences opposition. By joining Associated Students, future Republicans can denounce these tactics and move the conversation in a new direction.
For future Republicans wishing to join Associated Students, I would recommend being principled, but respectful. Even if I made enemies by speaking up, I gained a lot of respect in the process. When standing for what you believe in, others who were too scared to speak up will start to have the courage to do so as well. It is also always better to stand by your own logic and reasoning, rather than cave to the pressure of those around you. At the end of the day, you have no one to answer to but yourself. Do not go out of your way to anger council members with inflammatory statements. It is not worth it to stoop to that level. Be reasonable in the issues you “pick a fight” with. You will have much more an impact on council if you stand for issues that matter to students and that are important. The fact that the slate “Tritons Forward” swept every single seat in the recent election demonstrates this truth. Associated Students was completely changed in a matter of weeks, and it was all because people decided to take a stand. It can be done. The road may be tough, but it is rewarding. Reason ultimately wins out.