By Thijs Ringelberg
The writer of the article Activism under the UCSA in the February issue of the Boomerang makes sharp observations about the status of (political) debate in our community. Her call for a renewed discussion about these issues is supported by many people, and I gladly count myself as one of them. However, opening such a debate on this campus can be a slippery slope, as we have seen in the delicate case surrounding the Feminist Society in fall 2015: on all sides, people’s passion about the matter made their words too harsh to be effective, and the fiery discourse burned all possible compromise. The effect was that a “hasty, drink-fuelled shouting match at 2am” resulted in a narrow vote, that concluded the discussion – to many people’s dissatisfaction.
The narrative that dominated the debate in 2015 was one of conflict: it was those who believed that the UCSA should be apolitical, and those who disagreed. This is the backdrop that the article in question is written against. It is also a narrative that I deeply disagree with. In this article, I will paint another picture of recent events, in order to provide you with another perspective on the topic “Activism under the UCSA”. My thesis is that the UCSA is inherently political, and that it is up to the members to decide to what extent.
“An organisation formed by so many people who are so vocal about their opinions, cannot try to stay away from political activities”
In Activism under the UCSA it is said that the current UCSA Board told the Feminist Society to drop its activism stance, and that that same Board justified this “by saying that if FemSoc carried out political activism while funded by the UCSA, people would assume their views represented every UCU student’s views.” This is further extrapolated to saying that the UCSA does not allow any political activism, and tries to be apolitical.
Being part of the Board the writer refers to, I am deeply surprised to read this, as I do not recognise the story that is told. As a newly installed board, in September 2016, we realised that the then Feminist Society was a wonderful addition to campus, and we thought it a shame that it was not part of the UCSA. We knew the General Assembly of September 2015 had voted that committees were not allowed to participate in demonstrations or sign petitions, but we also knew that since that vote, the Feminist Society had not engaged in any such activities. In other words, there were no concrete obstacles to the Feminist Society becoming a committee. We approached the Feminist Society and asked them to consider applying. As Grace Murray, co-chair of the Feminist Committee, phrased it: “We agreed establishing a dependable presence on campus was more important with our goal to educate and create discussion. For us inspiring people to become social activists is more important than becoming an activist committee.”
Claiming that “inspiring people to become social activists” is not a political goal would be hard to argue, and I would suggest that it even falls within the category “activism”. So why did we approve of it?
The answer is simple: the UCSA is not an apolitical organisation. It does not aspire to be one. An organisation formed by so many people who are so vocal about their opinions, cannot try to stay away from political activities. Indeed, the UCSA has a political philosophy: Article 3.3 of the Statutes says “The Association (…) pursues its objects without differentiating on the grounds of gender, nationality, race, personal beliefs, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation”. The UCSA is in fact deeply political.
Article 3.3 also shows that the UCSA is by nature a pluriform and vastly diverse organisation. Within the philosophy of equality outlined in Article 3.3, it offers a stage for the many different views its members have. However, there will always be activities that members do not feel comfortable with being done in the context of their Association. To avoid situations where the UCSA is in conflict with itself, or a large part of its member base, it establishes restrictions on what it can do. To keep this process as equal as possible, it paints everyone with the same brush: the question is not “can the Feminist Committee walk in demonstrations?”, but “can committees walk in demonstrations?”
Not the Boards decide what the restrictions are, but the members. All resolutions, once accepted by a General Assembly, are honoured, unless they are contradicted by a newer resolution. These resolutions, together with the Policy Manual and the Statutes, which have also been voted on by the GA, outline the rights and duties of all committees. The rights currently consist of, amongst other things, getting funding for events aimed at raising money for charity (resolution 6 December 2011). The duties currently consist of, amongst other things, refraining from participating in demonstrations and petitions (resolution 21 September 2015), and not being dependent on religious or political organisations (Statutes Article 3.3).
In Activism under the UCSA, the writer says that a constructive conversation is necessary in which we discuss what the UCSA’s role should be on campus. I agree. Imposing restrictions on oneself is a tricky business prone to error, and if the UCSA wants to remain a well-functioning organisation, it is vital that the restrictions are under constant scrutiny by its members. So if you feel strongly about something, make it known! Send us an email, attend our brainstorms, raise a point at a GA, drop a message in our anonymous online suggestion box. Anything is up for discussion. It is not accidental that we are called an Association: we are in this together.