Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Students for a democratic voice’ coalition emerges before Student Government Association election

By William McGuinness

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Something bubbles slowly in the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association’s (SGA) senate election this year.

Late September typically produces a lukewarm stew of mini campaigns, but the current ballot features a gang of students pooling their grievances and resources. Some 22 individuals from six residential zones will add “students for a democratic voice” to their names in a move they think will lead to more effective governance that better reflects students’ thoughts.

Commissioner of Elections Chris Faulkner said that, while the SGA does not recognize political parties in the election process, students are allowed be identified as they wish so long as their last names are included.

Charlie Felder, a candidate for senate running as a commuter, said the “democratic voice” is more of a coalition than a party. He explained his decision to join the group as a reaction to politics as usual in the SGA. He claimed the body had stopped representing the majority of student opinion some time ago. The result, he said, is an SGA that stymies political dissent and the flow of information between the senate and the students whom they represent.

Their talking points are similar to those of senators who have campaigned openly against the SGA status quo in years past. This year’s difference, Felder said, is that these voices will be louder, more plentiful and should carry more influence.

“After watching candidates lose in the past and hearing, seeing and reading up on their stories, it’s clear that they fail to have a major impact because they don’t have a network – a wide group of individuals – supporting their views,” Felder said.

Joshua Davidson, another democratic voice candidate running as a commuter, said that while the idea of political parties in a student government may seem excessive, they already exist.

He said that in any political environment, lines are drawn and circles are formed around senators with similar viewpoints.

Derek Khanna, an early organizer of the group and a commuter candidate, said the former senators were disproportionately influenced by members of the ALANA Caucus – a dynamic he said lead to a dangerous consensus that consistently failed the student interest.

SGA President Ngozi Mbawuike said she’s committed to serving with whoever is elected. Whether the coalition results in good change or bad, she said they will all have to work together.

While this loose coalition is simply working to get elected now, most interviewed candidates said there is potential for the group to carry its influence into senate deliberations. Khanna plans to apply the “democratic voice” tag to amendments and motions should he be elected.

Felder hopes the coalition will second guess how money from the Student Activities Fee is appropriated, and Khanna hopes for a boost of support for his failed push for online elections last year.

Mbawuike added that once the seats are filled, she will look at the senate as a group of senators first. Like others, she plans to wait and see how much of a role the group will play in the SGA’s future.

William McGuinness can be reached at [email protected]


3 Responses to “‘Students for a democratic voice’ coalition emerges before Student Government Association election”

  1. Ed Cutting on September 28th, 2009 6:58 am

    This is the old “Pro Student Caucus” with a new name – although I am not so sure if Khanna is the ideal person to be leading it…

    And is anyone else disturbed by how SGA politics break down along racial lines? There was the era of intergration and now we are entering a new era of segregation.


  2. Derek Khanna on September 28th, 2009 12:52 pm

    Mr. Cutting,

    I am not leading it, it is a network of individuals with no such leadership structure.

    This is nothing like segregation, that is preposterous. Our network has men and woman, Massachusetts and non-Massachusetts residents, Commuter students and on campus students, and we have members who are Chinese, Indian, African-American, Latino, and white students. We are a group of individuals of various political perspectives. We are the answer to the previous racial lines in the SGA, because we don’t believe in race-based politics.

    I have been told that I’m not an Indian because I don’t vote as an Indian, this is exactly what we are against. We don’t believe any person should be compelled to feel one way politically because of the color of their skin.

    But if I am mistaken in your allegations Mr.Cutting then please inform me. Our goal it to represent all students on campus. This is why we sponsored the online elections referendum to allow for greater enfranchisement of Commuter students. We believe in transparency, we believe in accountability, we believe that it is time for the student government to be a student government as opposed to a student activist group.


  3. Justin on September 29th, 2009 6:46 pm

    The Umass community is suffering from re-segregation you have that right. Students for a democratic voice seems like a step in the right direction – so long as they are true to their goals. Creating an inclusive influential coalition that is diverse to begin with, seems precisely like it would be the only way to actually fight racism, as opposed to just swinging the pendulum the other way. Also without an explicit hierarchy the constituents are free to establish their goals how they please and hopefully shouldn’t be subject to a more racially based or ideologically based agenda coalescing in the upper ranks. Perhaps even senators who disagree on policy can work together under this umbrella to establish something resembling non-racial politics. We’ve gone for so long fighting racism by pitting the races against each other, naively thinking that if we artificially engineer them equivalently they would become equal. Affirmative Action doesn’t sound bad in theory but it didn’t work and for quite obvious reasons, now move over and let some others try. An idea like this in national politics would be wonderful.
    With Khanna already being a high profile figure, naturally people will assume his influence as no organization can remain without something resembling a hierarchy for long. Khanna may not understand the executive branch but he does a hell of a job as a legislator, especially when acting as an underdog. Go SDV


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